A MANIFESTO FOR A DELTA GREEN NEW DEAL

DELTA: ATLAS OF EXTRACTION AND RESISTANCE

By Green New Deal Superstudio

Acts of resistance, such as the Yellow Finch tree sits where activists have blocked the expansion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline by camping in trees along the pipeline path for over 800 consecutive days, are integral to the Appalachian identity. 

 

Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough 

The studio addressed multiple forms of extraction in the Delta and sought to transform lives by envisioning a new world under the Green New Deal.

Source: GND Studio

DELTA AS A PLACE OF WEALTH


Water is life in the Mississippi Delta, and sometimes, also death. Constrained by levees the height of a five-story building that both protect and threaten those on the other side, the Mississippi River drains water from about 41% of the United States, carrying with it the nutrients, barges and flotsam of faraway cities and fields. The flow of the river guides the gaze, making it natural to orient downriver, to assume the Delta is defined by what it receives. The fertile land along the riverbanks and lush maze of the bayous echoes a similar story. But the Delta has never been merely – or mainly – a terminus, it is more often a point of departure, a tap, a mine, a meandering corridor oriented towards many elsewhere. The wealth is embedded in the layers of topsoil, sediment, and fossilized organic material trapped over 2,000 feet underneath the current river’s edge. This wealth also lives within the bodies and cultures of those who work and know the land, who have surveyed, measured, and priced it, and who themselves have been surveyed, measured, and priced. Their value to the Delta’s farmland has been immeasurable, yet the region’s slaveholding planters and contemporary corporate landowners have held a monopoly control over the fruits of this labor and knowledge.

The worship and extraction of land, labor, and resources in the Delta, even as their value is marginalized and cheapened, is one of the region’s many paradoxes. It is one that produces and re-produces violence and dispossession across the landscape at multiple scales.

A corollary paradox is the role of technology in this land of many literal and figurative ‘backwaters.’ Technology has always been integral for processes of extraction, beginning with enslaved people being treated as instruments to transform the rich Delta soil into financial riches for the planter class who owned nearly all of the land and many of its people.

THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER AND ITS SEDIMENTS ARE A PRIMARY SOURCE OF FECUNDITY.


River deltas are so named because of their triangular shape, which recalls the shape of the Greek letter Δ. The term emerged among Greek writers around 600 B.C.E. to describe the Nile River Delta, whose cyclical floods and millennia of agricultural abundance have very literally given shape to the global imagination of what and who deltas serve. The Mississippi River and its sediments are a primary source of fecundity.

Further south, the northern Gulf of Mexico meets the Mississippi River Delta creating a point of convergence between the salt and fresh waters. Along the Mississippi River, the relation to water and empire are explicit in the American town names that recall its North African cousin: Cairo, Illinois; Luxora, Arkansas; Thebes, Illinois; Egypt, Tennessee. They are/were places of plenty, buoyed by the meanders and floods of a river coursing through what became – through settler colonialism – the middle of the United States.

The letter Δ is also used in mathematics to denote change, a concept that resonates in a riverine landscape where water shapes land, labor, and resources, and is itself shaped by the land, labor, and resources of the cultures that bind a river and its community. Petroleum, people, cotton, sugar, music, benzene, and plastic have made their exodus via the river in a constant stream, carving out channels to new markets, new buyers, new visions of profit, remaking the Mississippi and its people over and over again. You can never step in the same river twice.

Three powerful forces of extraction are particularly evident in the Delta:

  • Extraction of land

  • Extraction of people or labor

  • Extraction of resources or survivability

These extractive forces have not been perpetrated uncontested: significant resistance, opposition, and resilience towards each type of extraction has been fostered in the region, and we will be highlighting examples of these to show the fertile ground for change.

THE DELTA IN 2020 IS AT A TURNING POINT, CREATED BY THE CONFLUENCE OF ECONOMIC INEQUALITY, A HISTORIC HURRICANE SEASON ENHANCED BY CLIMATE CHANGE, AND A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.


Perhaps put more appropriately, the Delta is about to crest its levees, no longer able to sustain the toxic processes and relationships that create wealth elsewhere at the expense of life here. Those at the margins continue to demand to be centered on their own terms. We echo the calls from signatories of the Gulf South for a Green New Deal for self-determination and reparations, for an inversion of how wealth is measured and distributed. The seeds of transformation are already here, this project aims to add just a bit more sunlight.

Winning a Green New Deal for the Delta will have to fundamentally transform the processes, relationships, and structures that commodify the land, labor, and resources of the Delta. Transformation is a process more than an outcome, and as such procedural justice (the ‘how’) will matter just as much if not more than substantive justice (the ‘what’), particularly because many of these processes never end; they continue evolving. In that spirit, there are three overarching goals in transforming this region: 

  • Reform and empower systems of resource redistribution and governance to link the local with the regional and national within a culture of respect, creativity, and accountability.

  • Invest in processes of care and regeneration that center justice, healing, and environmental regeneration that ends the cycle of extraction in the Delta.

  • Incentivize and resource collective and collectivist ventures while organizing structures within a framework that safeguards the right to self-determination and takes land, people, and resources out of commodity markets wherever possible.

These goals are meant to honor and reflect the demands that grassroots and social movement groups in the Delta have been imagining. They are meant to build radical alternatives to the region’s extractive economy over decades and centuries. In this moment, we seek to follow the path set out by the coalition behind the Gulf South for a Green New Deal, Movement for Black Lives reparations platform, the Roosevelt Institute’s True New Deal, NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program Goals, Partnership for Southern Equity’s Just Energy equity ecosystem, and many others.

 

These goals are intended to be abstract enough to guide action at all scales. In the spirit of Adrienne Marie Brown’s guide to emergent strategy, they should be viewed as almost fractal-like, and produce similar structures and frameworks for interaction at the scale of a single site design or a Congressional budgeting session. This nested model allows for action at a variety of scales — a kind of intra- and inter-regional operability that is necessary to build a just, democratic Green New Deal. A site design is not meaningful without the congressional budget appropriation that promises to make it a reality; nor is the closure of a federal prison facility as meaningful if it is accompanied by an expanded state prison-building program. The national policy shifts called for in HR 109 and the Roosevelt Institute’s True New Deal are in many cases ideal preconditions for the Delta-specific program outlined below. This relationship is not linear or one-directional, however. A holistic approach to meeting these goals at the regional level will create a larger and more vocal constituency for national policy and funding changes. In turn, national funding, assistance, and enforcement would help activate a local constituency to lead and support implementation efforts. Ultimately, our vision is one of agency – for the people of the Delta to wield the power and resources they need to build the kinds of futures they have been organizing around for generations.

 

Using these three goals as framing devices, we have traced out the potential shape of a new delta, leaning on all definitions of the word. A delta that embraces change, one that orients both upstream and downstream, one that leans into the strength of its triangular shape, imagining land, labor, and resources, as the three inseparable sides of a Green New Deal for the region.

The Mississippi River drains water from 41% of the contiguous U.S. and has been transformed by a system of levees.

Source: GND Studio
 

Appalachia embodies more cycles of extraction. 

Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough 

The Delta region is a collage of complex eco-regions. The fecundity of the eco-regions is clear. 

Source: GND Studio

The extraction of land, people, and resources in agriculture, fossil fuels, and the carceral system are continuously met with resistance.

Source: GND Studio