A River Runs through Us:

Brett Williams

The Anacostia River severs Washington, D.C. Military waste, urban runoff, and former farmland dirty the water, but people who live along its shores cherish the river and fight to make it clean. Political ecology, stressing the power relations, inequalities, connections, and contradictions that join natural and social processes over time, enlarges historical and anthropological theory in Washington. In this article I explore the experiences and perspectives of people who have lived along the Anacostia River over the last 10,000 years. Linked transformations in environmental and social processes repeatedly created unsettled, contradictory, and unjust relations between people and the natural and built environment. The pollution of the Anacostia River reflects colonialism and conquest: nationalism, militarism, empire; racism, inequality, and urban renewal. I begin with the British conquest, then turn to four successive moments in state formation: the founding of the capital, the invention of a strong central government, urban renewal in the capital core, and the contemporary development of the waterfront. The use values of people who live along the river conflict with the exchange values that have dominated the city's history. The city's environmental justice movement has emerged from these use values and today confronts a massive redevelopment plan that exploits and undermines the movement, [political ecology, environmental justice, urban history, race, and poverty]