A conversation with Dacia Green
Transcript from EP 3 of the Good Folk Podcast.
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Spencer George: Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Good Folk podcast. My name is Spencer George, I am your host. If you have been listening, I'd love to give a special shout out to our producer as well, Victoria Landers, who is doing all of this awesome work on the backend. We are joined here today by someone who I'm so excited to have on the podcast. Dacia Green is a multimedia artist, performer, Floridian, and child of the African diaspora. As a graduate from Williams College with an Honors B.A. in Women's, Gender, and Sexualities Studies and Africana Studies, Dacia relies heavily on the audio-visual form to repair and disrupt the intricate intersections of identity. At Williams, Dacia published an audio-visual zine entitled Our Home Will Be Underwater By 2040. Tormented by the question: “What does it mean to exist in a place that will cease to exist in my lifetime?”, Dacia Green, in alliance with (F)empower, uses (F)empower's queer and intersectional lens on environmental politics to offer a site for a queer reimagining of South Florida’s history; a history saturated in colonialism, settlerism, gentrification, and violence.
As if that bio was not impressive enough, you can see there are many similarities to the work we do here at Good Folk. We're very lucky to have Dacia here. We're going to be delving into the idea of climate change in the coastal South and the effect it’s going to have on communities of marginalized identity. We're going to be talking about creative work in terms of environmentalism and activism, looking at the question of, where do we go from here? Which is a question I am also asking myself in a lot of my work. This is definitely going be a conversation you want to listen to.
I'm going to turn it over day over to Dacia now to add anything that you would like to, and just tell us a little bit more about your work and how you got started with it.
Dacia Green: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Spencer. Just such a warm welcome to the podcast. So hello everyone. I'm again, I'm Dacia Green. How I got started with this work… You know, I went to Williams and going into Williams, I was like, all right, great. I'm at this elitist PWI, like, what am I going to do with my time there?
And before even going in, I saw the major and I was like, yes, this is exactly what I want. Like, all right, sure. I'm going to be at this place. But like, let's do this thing that I find, you know, to be worthwhile. And that really spoke to me.
So it was my senior year. I was in the midst of COVID, as was the rest of the world, and I knew I wanted to produce a thesis, but quite honestly I was really tired of writing papers. And I felt like I didn't want to write something that was just going to sit in a Williams library. I really wanted to produce a film. The inception of the project came when I was like, okay, I want to do something that is about my hometown, so south Florida. Just the area. I wanted to touch on a thousand different topics that are all sort of inextricably linked, from climate change to intersectional feminism, queerness, blackness, being a young activist in a climate that hates young queer black activists.
I initially had planned for it to be a documentary. I really wanted to interview everyone in person and get all of this footage. But we were in the midst of a pandemic, so I had to sort of pivot. I was able to get in contact with members of (F)empower who were just absolutely amazing and welcoming considering they had a pretty violent past summer. Right before I started filming, the governor of Florida was like doxing them and tweeting their information, essentially calling them, you know, anti-government, fascists. So they had their personal information leaked. A couple of them actually had to flee the country for fear of like their safety and their family's safety. So I was really just honored that they were so welcoming to me and they gave me unprecedented access into their worlds, but I wasn't able to shoot with any of them in person.
The project itself relies purely on archival material. And I was sort of like, okay, how do I tell the story that I want to, but I also have to tell it through this framework of this institution. I landed on the concept of an audiovisual zine, because a lot of the film is pictures or images, all archival material. I really had to weave and stitch together different materials and timelines and stories to create something that was personal, but was also a call to action— much like the feminist tradition of zine making.
Yeah. When I think about it now, the process was wild. I accomplished a lot in a really short amount of time with a lot of limited materials. It's a project I'm really proud of. I didn't want to focus solely on, you know, the impending environmental doom of Florida, despite the title of it. But I felt like if it was going to be something that did something, it had to be a piece that was like, hey, listen, our home is going to be underwater by 2040.
And that is actually inspired by a piece in The Guardian that projects many areas of South Florida, specifically Miami, to be underwater by 2040. And that was just something that tormented me throughout the process. Like, how do I archive this place? Florida is often seen as the strange distant cousin of the South, sort of the ostracized family member of the United States. How do I tell the story of Florida? That’s one that I haven't seen and one that's my experience. That's inherently black and queer and unapologetic. So yeah, that's, that's a bit about the story and how it got there and yeah. Yeah, that’s it. That's all I got.
SG: There's so many things I want to touch on about what you just said, but if you're listening, I want you to pause this right now and go and watch the video, the audiovisual zine. We're going to link it right below because it is amazing. And I love what you're talking about of the idea of it being almost an archival work, but one that's going to exist beyond the library. You know, you and I met both working in a literary nonprofit. We both have kind of some experience working in the publishing world. And one thing that I have found is the way that so many amazing things are being put out into the world all the time. And it's the problem of getting an audience to them, right. We've talked about this a little bit on our podcast with Alexis, which I will link back to as well.
I feel the same where I always thought, oh, I'm writing about the South and about the rural South and nobody else is doing this right, because I hadn't seen it. And once I took a step back and started digging into it, I found people are already doing this. Just kind of exactly what you talking about. This work is already being done. How are we getting eyes to it?
So moving beyond something that's just going to sit in a library, but really being able to showcase in a way that's weaving together this archive and this history, but to get people's eyes on it, I think is so amazing. And I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about what (F)empower does for people who might not be familiar or who have not gotten a chance to watch the film yet. If you could just explain a little bit more about them, cause they're awesome.
DG: Yeah, totally. So they're a black feminist, socialist, eco-feminist, anti-capitalist organization made primarily of black and brown femmes in Miami. That's where they're based. Sort of how they started is Helen Peña, the founder, Nikki Franco, and a couple of others created a zine. So that was also inspiration for the project, (F)empower being born out of a zine. Then it sort of evolved into this community in Miami. They have a lot of different branches. They have a liberation book club where every week, they have a community space to read different liberating works by black and brown revolutionaries. They have a femme fairy garden. It's a local community garden in Miami where people will come and they'll harvest or they'll plant, and it’s really just a space of shared community. They also have Masisi, which there's clips from in the project. It's essentially the coolest party you've ever seen, but it's really supposed to be a celebration of blackness and queerness.
They also have a community bail fund where they work really closely with other important non-profits and organizations in the area. Yeah, they just do really, really kickass awesome work. There are a ton of youth involved. They'll go to town halls and they'll hold rallies and they just create really beautiful space that is exclusively, or I should say primarily, for black and brown queer people, which we don't always see in Miami.
Miami is a very diverse place. And I think for those visiting the diversity is palpable, but there aren't many spaces where that black and brown queers have an opportunity to sort of work in conjunction with one another and work for positive change and revolutionary change specifically.
So I think that (F)empower, they're a group of revolutionaries who are doing just really brilliant, brilliant work. And yeah, I just feel so honored to be able to highlight their contributions and be able to archive a lot of the really impressive, incredible work that they've done.
SG: I love that you used the word kick-ass cause that's the exact word that came to mind for me as you were talking. It was like, this is just a really kick ass group and we need one in every city. Yeah. I can't say anything more because they just sound incredible. So if you're not familiar with their work, definitely check them out. Definitely watch them in the film. And if you are in Miami, definitely try to get involved and follow their work because they are awesome.
One thing that you brought up is Miami. I think this is fascinating and I think people forget about Florida as part of the South. As you know, Good Folk is a podcast and community project geared largely towards telling stories of rural communities, specifically the rural South. But people forget about Florida a lot. Florida is this weird middle ground where I think if you were to ask somebody— you know, we've both worked in New York City. I think if you were to ask somebody in New York, like draw a map of the American South, they probably would leave Florida out of it.
I think even I sometimes leave Florida out of the South. And especially Miami cause it's like, there's Florida. And then there's Florida.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your feelings? Do you consider Florida part of the South? Do you think of yourself as a Southerner or do you think of yourself as a Floridian, and what does that line kind of look like to you?
DG: Yeah. I definitely think, especially after moving to New York, I'm definitely like, oh, I'm from the South. Also going to school in, you know, rural Massachusetts, I was like, oh yeah, I'm really from the South. I think just my love of the word y'all showcases that.
SG: It’s like an awakening that happens. I didn't think of myself as a Southerner until I moved to New York and then I was like, oh no, I, I am definitely from the South. But it's this weird shift where, when you're in it, you're like, oh, I don’t know. And then you leave, and go, like, oh, okay. Maybe I am from the South.
DG: Yeah, exactly. I was talking with a friend about how all of Florida's schools are just outside. Like, I mean, the classrooms are inside. There's a door that closes, but otherwise, all the schools are outside. It’s the little things like that.
But I would definitely consider Florida to be part of the South. There's actually sort of a funny saying in Florida. So in my brain and in a lot of Floridian’s brains, there's three parts to Florida. There's north Florida, there's central Florida, and there's south Florida, which is also why I really like to make that distinction that I am from south Florida.
Because if you're from Florida, you know that there's a distinction between the three. And the saying in Florida is the more north you go in Florida, the more Southern is. If you think about the panhandle, even like central Florida around Orlando, that is where you feel the most like you're in, I guess, the South, whatever that is categorized as. You have a lot of open land and ranches sometimes even, you know, the negative attributes you see with the south, like overt racism and homophobia and transphobia, all of those things.
And then you also notice people just have an accent and live at a more slow pace, you know, a typical Southern way of life. Central, and more specifically north Florida and south Florida, is really interesting because it really is a conglomeration of hundreds, if not thousands, of cultures in one place.
And I think it's interesting that a lot of people leave out Florida as part of the South because, you know, Key West is the southernmost place in the United States. Like it is the most South that you can get and it is in Florida. But yeah, south Florida is interesting. It tends to have more people from different background and leans more liberal than other parts of Florida. So you'll see in the election season if you look at a map, it tends to be like the area that I grew up in is just this little pocket of blue and then there's little pockets everywhere else, but we'll often flip red and you can sort of account that to the north and central areas.
But Miami is also a very interesting place because it's a tourist destination and that's where everyone wants to go. And so it also has this very glamorized view, or I guess this glamorized image that people think of.
But I think that I would identify like, as a Southerner, but also Floridian. I actually wasn't born in Florida, but I lived most of my life here, and definitely my adult life has been in Florida. It's this weird thing where in Florida, there's not really that much of a stigma, but like the second you leave and the second you open your mouth and you say that you're from Florida, you're met with like very obvious opinions of like, oh, the Florida man, the Florida woman. I've told so many silly stories about like in school, you learn how to run away from an alligator. And like you take a trip in the fourth grade to the Everglades and things like that.
But one thing that really was the driving force behind the film was that there's a lot of things, even as a Floridian, that you don't learn. I mean, you sort of find like, oh, the Spanish conquistadores came here in the 1500s, and that’s sort of it. But there's a lot of history that's left out, specifically about how Florida was a refuge for a lot of enslaved Africans in the United States. Like there were entire communities in Florida and that Florida wasn't really a part of the United States for a long time, primarily because it was governed and ruled completely by indigenous people. And they protected the Everglades, which is an integral part of the ecosystem. You can sort of predict the trend of Florida's impending environmental devastation by how much of the Everglades was destroyed because the Everglades is the heart of Florida and it stretched thousands of miles across the state and regulated every ecosystem of its kind.
And then we see, you know, the Spanish come in, and over time we see Florida become this tourist destination where Disney World wants to be built and shopping malls and airports. And to do that they drained the Everglades and they created canals that divert the water away from the heart of Florida. And I think that if the Everglades remained as it once was that I don't think Florida would be in as much trouble as it is right now because the Everglades is the heart and is the regulator of the state. And now that it is now been diminished to like 40 miles or something like that, yeah, it's scary, honestly. So that was a long way of answering but yes, I'm a Floridian and I believe it's in the South.
SG: Unseen history I think is a major problem in Florida. Like, I didn't know any of these things you’re saying. And also just across the South in general.
I also technically was not born in the Carolinas, but have spent my entire life here. And my whole family's here. But it's hard to figure out if you identify with it, which is something we will touch on. I would love to talk about that in a little bit. But I hear you on the unlearning. Like, I learned the Civil War as the war of Northern Aggression, right? It’s like, you inherit these beliefs that are around you, and if you're not having access to these histories that aren't being told most of the time, you think, well, this is all I know of a place, because this is what is around me.
And in so many ways it's been both mindblowing and also really heartbreaking in a lot of ways to come back and do my own archival research into these histories and find out these things and to realize like, wow, the South has the largest group of LGBT people in the country? Like I spent my whole life thinking I'd have to leave if I was going to fit in somewhere and then finding out, you know, these different histories of environmentalism and activism and rural artistry and things that you’re like, I wish I had known this then, fifteen years ago.
But what I like to think is that, you know, the work that you're doing is the kind of thing that's going to make that different for future generations and people will have access to these histories. That is something that is really nice about tools like social media. You can now find these things out on your own. But it's hard, you know, with what's happening in Florida with the, don't say gay bill. I know North Carolina, if people have been following, has one close to passing here, though it is very likely to get vetoed by our governor. We do have a democratic governor here in North Carolina, but it's passed all the way up to that point.
Do you feel like— I mean, the work you're doing is pushing against these histories, but then it's like, there's this pushback coming from these places. I think one of the hardest things about doing any kind of activist work in the South is that the number one thing the South has to reconcile with is its own history. We have to acknowledge these things that happened. And we have to actively work to rewrite them. But I think there's a moment where you've got kind of two groups in the South. One hat's very wedded to the histories that they learned, and one that's trying to uncover these new histories and rewrite these stories. How do you feel about what's happening with that?
DG: Yeah. You were saying about this line of work and activist work specifically in the South, like you can immerse yourself in a community that believes all the same things that you do on both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. And so it feels at times, especially when I was doing this work, that I was just like, yes, like I found this group in Florida that thinks the same things that I do and believes in and has lived these experiences. And there's all of these other people that have as well. And especially on social media, just being able to connect with people who you may never have the chance to connect with otherwise. But then actively seeing your Florida government passed legislation that is the antithesis of your work.
It feels at times, especially in activist work, like sometimes you're fighting a losing battle. And I think that's honestly why a lot of times stories don't get told and things get sort of covered up is because burnout is very real. And with (F)empower in particular— you know, they do incredible work, but I also think that they're tired. And I think that a lot of them have been living and breathing this work since the moment that they were born. And then to be in an ecosystem, whose, you know, so-called leaders, government officials, are actively working against you, is beyond exhaustive.
It's really disheartening because I made this piece hoping that some younger version of myself would see it and be like, oh my God, I didn't realize that this version of Florida could exist or does exist. And at the same time they are watching legislation unfold that are actively dissuading them from living their truth and their history. I wish I had a clear cut answer for you.
SG: Well, there is no clear cut answer, right? It’s this whole thing of mixed emotions. We actually just published a post today about this, about having such a complicated relationship to where you're from. You love it and you hate it at the same time and also want to make it better.
I'm also glad you brought up the point of exhaustion. There's a level of exhaustion that comes from doing activist work in an area where what you're trying to push might not be the most popular or accepted opinion. And especially if you're doing that in kind of a rural or Southern area, because not only are you dealing with the judgment of people in that direct community, oftentimes, but culturally, we have a whole country that loves to like scapegoat the South for everything bad in this country.
In a way that I think oftentimes it enables people to not recognize there's problems everywhere, right? Like it's not like we can just say the South is the only racist place in this country. There is racism in New York City. There is racism in Los Angeles. There is racism in San Francisco. And unless we a stop scapegoating the South and start to recognize that, we're not going to make any progress culturally.
But there is a level of exhaustion when you're one organization or a handful of individuals working in a community that actively feels like it's working against you in a country that actually is working against all of us, with the cultural opinion of people who are going to make you feel like your work is not important or valuable because they believe the South is never going to change.
Anybody who's paying attention can recognize that things are changing. I think that's where so much of this cultural pushback is emerging out of, actually. Like a lot of people understand that change is happening and are unwilling to recognize it. It's hard to let go of stories you've been telling yourself and unlearn them. It’s a lifelong process, but nobody has to do that alone. The problem is if you are unwilling to unlearn them and then you just try to hold onto these stories. And I don't know where we go from here. Especially with climate change. It's really hard as an adult to like uncover these histories, start to feel some love for this place. Start to feel like maybe I could go back and make a home in that and also know like it's going to be gone. I'm really averse to moving back to my hometown because I know that by the time I put down roots, I'm going to be uprooting them. I think that's a really particular relationship. Anyone who's spent time in the coastal South or any of these places experiencing really drastic climate change at the moment— people outside of that just aren't going to understand it. It's already hard enough to learn to love your home and then to love it while it's literally sinking… how do you reconcile with that? I don't know if there is an answer to that question.
DG: There's most definitely not. Otherwise I would have answered it in my film. That was like my like year long quest, just devoting myself to this question. And you read from my bio, like, I was literally tormented by this question of, what does it mean to exist and love a place and hate a place that will cease to exist in my own lifetime.
Like this isn't, oh, you know, my, my great grandkids may never see where I went to school. It's like, if I move back home or where my family is now, it is projected by 2040 that that place will no longer exist. That is devastating. And that is exhausting, especially like you were saying.
I grew up with a very complicated relationship to Florida. I mean, I moved from originally Colorado to Florida when I was quite young. And I think initially I loved it. I mean, it's Florida, it's warm, there's beaches. I lived a mile from the beach. And then as I got older, this place wasn't always very kind to me. I faced a lot of just blatant racism and homophobia and sexism and transphobia and all of the things.
And then I was able to form communities that I loved and that loved me back. Once I got more in touch with the land, the histories of the land, and the beauty and resilience of Florida, now, like all the time, I'll be joking with my friends, we'll be driving and I'm like, can you imagine this place just like untouched by colonialism, untouched by settlerism.
And then you also think, how did they just colonize this place? Like I'm constantly just like, how? Florida as an ecosystem is incredibly resilient. I mean, you have entire ecosystems that are already under water. And so I think that when I think about home, I think about my family, I think about the places that I live, but I also think about the Florida wildlife itself.
It's this weird thing because I know that Florida as an ecosystem will be fine. For hundreds of thousands of years, it has created an ecosystem. Unlike a lot of other places in the world, here we have mangroves that are just trees that just grow under water. And you have the Everglades, a marshy wetland that is similar to a lot of other coastal Southern coastal places.
So I think that Florida as an entity will be fine, but the places and the things that I know and love will no longer exist. Every time I go back, there are torrential downpours, the streets are literally flooded and you see entire areas that, you know, were once just supposed to be grass that are now lakes or ponds or marshy areas.
And I think when we talk about environment, climate devastation, it's this thing that feels almost futuristic. It's like, oh, it's the apocalyptic future. It's this time that won't exist for a while. And then when you leave, for example, like, you know, I live in New York, but I go back and I visit, I can literally see the changes happening from my eyes like, oh yeah. That used to be a soccer field and now it's just underwater. It's complicated because I think a version of Dacia in the past would have said like, oh, I don't care about this Florida. This Florida has been so mean to me, and I don't care if it's underwater. But I think the version of myself loves the land and the people with all of their complexities and all of their shortcomings, which there are a few, and it's difficult to have to watch it disappear in real time.