Environmental Justice

Then 
1991For people of color, environmental issues are not just a matter of preserving ancient forests or defending whales. While the importance of saving endangered species is recognized, it is also clear that adults and children living in communities of color are endangered species, too. Environmental issues are immediate survival issues... [I]f there is to be a partnership made with the environmental movement, it must be based on equity, mutual respect, and justice. The environmental justice movement of people of color rejects a partnership based on paternalism. —Dana Alston  (“The Summit: Transforming a Movement”)

Now 
2010The environmental justice frame and the intellectual work that that movement did revealed how racism can work as a system even if the individuals within it are not consciously racist. Even if Union Carbide doesn’t have consciously racist executives deciding—“We're going to make sure every community we target is a community of color because we just hate them”—the activities of Union Carbide have that impact, have the result of not just disproportionately creating health problems and poverty for people of color but actively exploiting those communities so that money can be made by someone else. —Rinku Sen (“Organizing for Racial Justice”)


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

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Carl Anthony: Earth Day and Environmental Justice - Then and Now

Carl Anthony co-founded Race, Poverty and the Environment in 1990. In this interview with RP&E editor B. Jesse Clarke, Anthony shares his reflections on some of the key milestones that led to the creation of the Journal and its role in the ever-evolving environmental justice movement. Recorded at the studios of the National Radio Project, this interview introduces Radio RP&E—Podcasts and Broadcasts from the national journal of social and environmental justice. Read an edited excerpt below or listen to the full interview.  http://new.reimaginerpe.org/carl-anthony-on-earth-day-founding-of-rpe

Carl Anthony 17-1 Jesse Clarke:  Can you talk a little bit about where the environmental movement was on Earth Day 1970?

Carl Anthony: Earth Day 1970 was started, in part, as a result of the work of Rachel Carson who wrote Silent Spring in 1962. That book and similar research on the effects of DDT sparked a growing interest in the environment that went beyond protecting wildlife and open spaces. In some ways, it was paradoxical, because it became a powerful protest movement that was also distancing itself from issues of race and social justice.

Some proponents of environmentalism sought to use it to put a closure on the struggles of the 1960s and launch a new kind of consciousness about the earth and the environment, without really addressing issues of social and racial justice. But in fact, all these movements were interrelated. Many people, for innumerable reasons, were really upset with the dominant society and the way in which it was destroying both culture and places. Indeed, the new environmental movement owed something to the civil rights movement.

Earth Day was organized as a “teach in” about the earth as proposed by then Senator Gaylord Nelson. The teach-in can be traced back to the anti-war movement and before that, to the freedom schools of the civil rights movement. And so, the first Earth Day actually came out of that tradition.

The anti-war movement [gathered] steam just as the civil rights movement was winding down, and the environmental movement came in and got a lot of energy from the anti-war movement. The environmentalists learned from the civil rights movement how to mobilize a large number of people. But it was mostly a white movement... European Americans.

Clarke: Jumping ahead two decades, in 1990 environmentalism was still basically a white, middle-class movement.

Anthony: Yes, it was. So much so that 150 civil rights groups wrote a letter to the "Big Ten" mainstream environmental groups in January 1990, complaining that the memberships, the staffs, and the boards of directors of these organizations were almost all white. But most devastating of all, their priorities really reflected the issues of [concern to] predominantly suburban constituencies, and not [those] of people of color. Many actually went against the interests of the communities of color.

Then in 1987, the United Church of Christ put out a report [entitled] “Toxic Waste and Race,” which touched off a shift. That report revealed that the most reliable predictor of where toxic waste dumps are located was among communities of color. Three out of five communities of color were at risk from these toxic waste dumps. [1]

Clarke: How did the launch of RP&E come about?

Anthony: At about this time, Luke Cole and I went to a public interest legal conference in Oregon. A thousand lawyers were there, all of whom were white. In reaction to this experience, when we got home we had a little caucus with a few people to talk about [issues that concern] people of color and the environment. We wanted to reach out to others who had similar concerns and to publish them. We were hit by a barrage of stories from all over the country. Apparently, people all over were [becoming] aware that the time had come for this movement. We published their work in a journal that became the forerunner of RP&E.

Then in October 1991, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice convened a conference in Washington [to which] about 600 people came from across the United States. About 400 of these people were actually from communities of color grassroots organizations. The conference managed to synthesize all the different issues and concerns [of the attendees] into 17 principles of environmental justice, which were then published in many journals and books.

Clarke: How did you begin to develop this concept of moving environmentalism into an urban context?

Anthony: Because of the white bias of the environmental movement, there was almost no talk about cities, even though 85 percent of the population of the United States lived in cities and metropolitan areas. The white environmental movement was focused mostly on wilderness protection... on protecting the water, the land, the air; and also increasingly on looking at biological resources. But the fact of the matter is that all this pollution actually comes from the cities.

Even though there was a lot of focus on the issue of toxic pollution, which was becoming a huge problem for everybody in the country in 1990, there was a full range of issues that was not being discussed. Many of the problems in our communities came from the fact that there had been this rapid expansion of the suburbs, which was contributing to sprawl and to the abandonment of the inner city.

I had the honor and the privilege of introducing the issue of transportation justice at the first people-of-color environmental leadership summit along with Eric Mann, who started the Bus Riders’ Union in Los Angeles, and Barry Commoner, who had run for President of the United States under the Peace and Justice Party.

Although we introduced this idea of transportation justice at that summit, the issues go back a long way. It was really a new framing of an old issue. People who know about civil rights realize that transportation justice is deeply embedded in the civil rights movement.

Clarke: All the way back to Plessy...

Anthony: Yes, to Plessy vs Ferguson (1896) and more recently to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which came to the fore because of the inequitable investment in school busses. And of course, we have Rosa Parks. So, in many ways, it was just us putting a new label on something that people already understood deeply.

One of the really remarkable things that we have grown used to, yet have a very shallow historical perception of, is our over-reliance on automobiles. In 1900 there were, practically speaking, no automobiles, no paved roads. In an incredibly short period of time—just over 100 years—the automobile has changed all the countries and all the people in the world. Freeways have literally paved the way for the abandonment of our cities.

I mean in terms of transportation policy in this country the government has been underwriting people running from each other. Not just from the black people--they’re running from each other.

And this is simply not sustainable because of the direct relationship between this pattern of over-reliance on automobiles as an escape and the CO2 emissions that come from the automobiles. This has to come to an end.

Clarke: As you look at the trajectory of the environmental justice movement, what do you consider some of its key victories over the course of this time?

Anthony: It’s now a worldwide movement. Putting the concept of environmental justice on the global radar screen is one big accomplishment. Also, the whole issue of the intersection of public health and the environment and the growing awareness of the public health challenges of the way we build our cities.

Clarke: In what respect has the movement fallen short? What remains basically unchanged?

Anthony: Well, I’m actually a bit of an optimist about all this. I remember seeing a television program with [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger about two weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall where he said: “This is absolutely stable. This will never fall.” Within two years we saw the demise of the Soviet Union.

I believe that there are changes that take a long time to come [to fruition] but when they happen, they are big. Right now, the biggest challenge that we’re facing is global warming and climate change. And although the climate issue is unique, in some ways, it is still the same old thing. It’s about who’s in power, who makes the decisions, who [reaps] the benefits, and who bears the burden.

Clarke: What are some of the intellectual issues you’d like to see RP&E bring to the fore? And what kinds of discussions do you believe should be engendered amongst the current generation that’s talking about these issues but has not framed them in these terms.

Anthony: I have a funny story about the San Francisco school district. They came out with a report about 15 years ago that said. “Eighty-six percent of the population in the school district of San Francisco are minorities, and sixteen percent are the majority.”

Clarke: New math.

Anthony: Yes, but seriously, this big demographic shift is going to cause us to re-think a lot of things. In California now, the majority population is people of color.[2] By 2023, the children of the people of color will be the majority of children in the United States and by 2043, people of color will be the majority population in the United States of America. This is a radical transformation that we have not quite caught up with. It’s going to make everybody redefine who we are as a people and as a country.

Clarke: In fact, the people who have been running the country have been the minority all along. It’s about three or four percent of the population controlling the key levers of power.

Anthony: Exactly.

Clarke: So, back to the question of what coalition of people could really gain political power to change the direction of this country and the world?

Anthony: All of the social movements that we have thought about over the last couple of decades—the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the labor movement, the indigenous people’s movements—have evolved in the last couple of hundred years and have a common root. This is a global movement. We’re a little behind. The transnational corporations have been two or three steps ahead of us. But we have the numbers—if only we can really begin to understand our relationship to each other. And I feel pretty optimistic about that.

Clarke: But if you look at the fundamental power relationships and the methodologies available to movements to challenge power—the legal track, the legislative track, the popular movement track, the direct action track—which tracks can lead us to that critical moment of the sudden dissolution of the empire?

Anthony: One of the things that came out of my own journey in the environmental movement is that my own sense of time has really expanded. This sense of deep time is something that I really didn’t have before. As an African American, my sense was that everything terrible began in 1619 when the black people were brought over here, enslaved, and forced to work in the plantations.

In order for us to make sense of this, we have to have a story that goes back to the beginning of creation. The crisis that we’re facing globally is actually disturbing the basic patterns of life on the planet and is the worst period of extinction for creatures on this planet in 65 million years.

This is bigger than capitalism. It’s bigger than imperialism. It’s bigger than all the isms, all the movements, and all the struggles we’ve had. And there’s gonna be hell to pay!

As a result, we have a global consciousness that’s beginning to emerge at the grassroots level. People all over the world are engaged in a collaboration even if they don’t know who the other people are. And even though corporate interests—and the one percent of the population that controls over half of the global wealth—are making all the decisions that are putting us at huge risk, there is something much bigger going on.

You know that poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade about the British soldiers who were charging into this battle unaware that there were thousands and thousands of people on the other side of the mountain? They were up against something much bigger than they expected. The British thought the sun would never set on their empire, but it did.

So, you know, as bad as the corporations are at a transnational level, there’s something bigger happening here. And being a part of that is really inspiring for me.

Carl Anthony is the co-founder of Urban Habitat, Race Poverty & the Environment Journal and is also co-founder with Doctor Paloma Pavell of Breakthrough Communities.  B. Jesse Clarke has been the Editor of RP&E since 2005.
Special thanks to Making Contact and the National Radio Project for helping with this recording.

Endnotes

[1] http://urbanhabitat.org/node/5346

[2] According to the US Census Bureau White persons of non-hispanic origin are 42.3%, however as a racial category most Latinos are counted as white. White persons, percent, 2008 (a) 76.6%; White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2008 42.3% "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau:". US Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
 


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

Related Stories: 

Toxic Waste and Race at 20

Toxic Wastes at 20Twenty years ago, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (CRJ) published a decisive report exposing the gross disregard for people of color as toxic waste landills were sited in their communities throughout the nation. Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States proved to be a critical foundation for environmental justice movement that continues today. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty marks the anniversary of widespread public reaction to this appaling demonstration of racism. So the best way to observe the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking report, Toxic Wastes and Race, is by continuing the struggle for environmental justice today. To celebrate its birthday and to honor Earth Day weekend, on Saturday, April 21, we urge you not only to plant trees or clean up our parks but also join the people of devastated communictes across the county in their fight to stamp out environmental racism and economic justice.  

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Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States

Toxic Waste and Race Original Cover

The original breakthrough report that brought environmental justice to national attention this, 1987 report is made available here for research purposes. See also the companion report issued 20 years later.

From the original report:

"Recently, there has been unprecedented national concern over the problem of hazardous wastes. This concern has been focused upon the adverse environmental and health effects of toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances emanating from operating hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facilities as well as thousands of abandoned waste sites. Efforts to address this issue, however, have largely ignored the specific concerns of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. Unfortunately, racial and ethnic Americans are far more likely to be unknowing victims of exposure to such substances. This report presents findings from two cross-sectional studies on demographic patterns associated with (1) commercial hazardous waste facilities and (2) uncontrolled toxic waste sites."

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A Statement of Purpose

The idea for the RP&E Newsletter grew out of a caucus of interested people at the University of Oregon's Public Interest Law Conference, held March 14, 1990. Caucus participants recognized the importance of increased attention to the nexus of race, class, and environmental issues, and the need for a forum in which to continue their dialogue. The caucus decided on a newsletter as the vehicle to continue our dialogue, and the two of us were delegated the task of putting it out.

Since the meeting in Oregon, we have circulated questionnaires to the original group, and have talked to a number of people about the RP&E Newsletter. Many people around the country are exploring the intersection of race, poverty, and the environment. We come at it from different places. Some of us are environmental designers, some poverty lawyers, others grassroots activists. Some are students; others are part of "mainstream" environmental groups. Some are urban planners, religious workers, health care professionals, government officials. Some of us are low-income, others privileged. Some are people of color, some white, some highly educated, some self-educated. All of us are concerned about the disproportionate impact environmental hazards have on low-income and minority communities. And all of us need information to keep us abreast of activities, articles, events, and people working in the area. We hope that this newsletter will be a source of that information.


The EJ Movement

It is important for us to talk about the challenges we still face after three decades of the environmental justice movement. When put in context, the environmental justice movement is a very young movement compared to many of the other environmental and conservation movements. The fact that it has evolved over such a short period of time makes it difficult in some ways to compare what it has been able to accomplish over three decades versus the environmental movement, which in some cases is over 150 years old.

But I do think the new challenges that we face today include climate change, especially as it impacts the health and well being of vulnerable populations. As new climate policy is implemented, we have to make sure that equity and justice are brought to bear, because the communities that are hit worst, first, longest, and hardest in terms of climate change are the same communities that are also hit hardest, worst, and longest by other environmental problems, such as air quality, hazardous waste, pollution and lead poisoning.

Let me give you an example. When we develop our transportation policy, the people  impacted by cutbacks in transit are the same people who do not own cars, oftentimes work at minimum wage jobs or are trying to ?nd work, and who also live in cities where nonattainment is a big problem. So, we have to ensure that our climate policy is based on a good transportation policy and a good energy policy, and also ensure that clean and renewable energy is available to all without regard to socioeconomic status. Just because some people have a lot of money and can afford to install solar panels and retro?t their houses to save energy, they should not be the only ones able to access energy-saving technologies. Those kinds of technologies need to be available across the board, regardless of income, class, or ethnicity.

Robert Bullard is a professor at Georgia's Clark Atlanta University and the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center. This comment is excerpted from Environmental Justice Journal. ©2010 Mary Ann Liebert.

This first issue is by necessity a bare-bones model—we are still in the process of working out what the newsletter should be, how grand a scale we want to attempt, how ambitious we can all be. Like the caucus at which the newsletter was born, we would like the newsletter to be a democratic, relatively free-form dialogue, an honest sharing of stories and strategies, resources and relevant events. The success and health of the newsletter will depend on you, the readers—for contributions in the form of articles, book reviews, stories from your community, resources, upcoming events of interest, profiles of activists; for constructive criticism of our communal efforts; for mailing lists of people who should receive the RP&E Newsletter; and for creative funding ideas so that we can get this thing off the ground. It is up to you. We are willing to be the conduit through which your information passes, but we are not willing to do all the work of tracking down articles and contributors. Let us know what is going on out there.

We operate under several premises: First, that poor people and people of color have long been "environmentalists"—people concerned with the health of their communities—but have been defined out of the "environmental movement" by forces beyond their control. This is not to point fingers, but instead to recognize the historical contributions of poor people and people of color to protecting our environment. DDT was first banned from use not by the U.S. government, but by United Farm Workers' contracts with grape growers in the late 1960s—farmworkers who understood the dangers of pesticides and who today continue the fight for their elimination. As one Latina community leader told a group of white, middle class environmentalists recently, “Welcome to the environmental movement!”

To understand the nexus of race, poverty, and the environment, we must be aware of the way people engaged in struggle view themselves, their culture, needs, and priorities. For many environmentalists, success or failure of a project is measured in specialized ways: legislation passed, a project halted. For people living in communities, the connections must be viewed more holistically. How does the project strengthen local leadership? How does it create new opportunities for cooperation? The RP&E Newsletter will cover proactive neighborhood revitalization strategies, such as tree planting and creek restoration, as well as protest; what people are thinking as well as what they are doing.

Further, we must continue to build the bridges that have been tentatively constructed in the past few years between mainstream environmentalists and grassroots environmentalists, in a way which preserves the autonomy of community groups. One of our primary purposes is to strengthen the networks between environmental groups and working people, people of color, and poor people. Consequently, we seek articles, book reviews, and stories, which highlight a range of interests, attitudes, and practices within such groups: from established national organizations, such as the NAACP and the Sierra Club to grassroots organizers, cultural workers, and communities.

Finally, this movement is broad enough for each of us to make our own niche, so long as we are aware of what others are doing and we are all working in the same direction. Differences in tactics or style should not divide us, nor should differences in culture, color, language, or class background—if this happens, the polluters win. Industry has been successful at pitting us against each other in the past. We must work together in the future.

The Need for New Coalitions

Our reckless use of energy is creating acid rain, global warming, endangering the ozone barrier, and we're not doing enough about it. What can we do to be more effective? We can try to build better coalitions among people, among nations, among organizations. We must recognize that environmental hazards affect people as well as wilderness. Toxics, pollution, and pesticides especially affect poor people and people of color. We as environmentalists must build bridges to people affected by those hazards if our movement is to succeed. We have begun to build such bridges in our Fate and Hope of the Earth conferences. We've had these conferences in New York, Washington, and Ottawa. Last June, we had 1,200 people from 60 countries at a great conference in Managua, Nicaragua. The next conference will be in Zimbabwe in the fall of 1991. We're trying to get something going in the Soviet Union, Japan, and in other parts of the world. We're trying to get as many different kinds of organizations into this whole act of keeping the earth a livable one. An enormous amount of good can be done if we have multicultural and multi-racial teams—cross-generational, male and female—going around to various spots in the developed nations, as well as the nations of the South, to help them recover from the damage done by the industrial revolution. Their work could focus on the out-of-doors, the soils, and the forest. But it could also help to put the cities back together again, to get the hearts of cities that are deteriorated fixed up. It's a great challenge, one of the most important there is, and also one of the most important opportunities. Building organizational bridges is exactly what the International Green Corps is about and Earth Island is doing everything it can to make this project succeed.

David Brower was executive director of the Sierra Club, founder of Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, and Earth Island Institute. He died in 2000.

 

Several procedural points:
Time. We are proposing that the RP&E Newsletter be quarterly, with the next issue out in July.
Money. This first issue was underwritten by the Earth Island Institute and the California Communities at Risk Project of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. Production and distribution of the newsletter is expensive however, and this arrangement is not sustainable. We are currently exploring other sources of funding and your ideas are welcome.

Place.
A quick glance at this newsletter will betray its West-Coastedness—many of the events listed and players described are from the Western U.S., specifically California. This is not purposeful exclusion of other regions—it's simply that the two of us are "in the loop" for West Coast events, and don't always hear about what is going on around the country. This is also an appeal for you to send us information.

People. This newsletter began out of a group of about 30 interested people and fell onto our shoulders quite by accident. We pulled together some articles of interest with the help of the original caucus; we now rely on you to send us new stuff. Our initial mailing will be to several hundred people around the country. We need your help in building our mailing list. If we want to expand the scope and distribution of the newsletter, an editorial or advisory board may be an important next step.

In 1990, Carl Anthony was a board member of Earth Island Institute and a co-founder of Earth Island's Urban Habitat Program. An architect and development consultant, at that time he served on the board of the Center for Economic Conversion and Urban Ecology.

Luke Cole was the staff attorney and coordinator of the California Communities at Risk Project of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, where he was preparing a report on the impact of environmental hazards on poor people. Anthony continues to serve as a board member of Urban Habitat. Luke Cole died in 2009.


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

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Carl Anthony on Earth Day: Then and Now

“Because of the white bias of the environmental movement, there was almost no talk about cities, even though 85 percent of the population of the United States lived in cities and metropolitan area.”

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Carl Anthony co-founded Race, Poverty and the Environment in 1990. In this interview with RP&E editor B. Jesse Clarke, Anthony shares his reflections on some of the key milestones that led to the creation of the Journal and its role in the ever-evolving environmental justice movement. Recorded at the studios of the National Radio Project, this interview introduces Radio RP&E—Podcasts and Broadcasts from the national journal of social and environmental justice. Read an edited excerpt below or listen to the full interview.

Carl Anthony 17-1 Jesse Clarke:  Can you talk a little bit about where the environmental movement was on Earth Day 1970?

Carl Anthony: Earth Day 1970 was started, in part, as a result of the work of Rachel Carson who wrote Silent Spring in 1962. That book and similar research on the effects of DDT sparked a growing interest in the environment that went beyond protecting wildlife and open spaces. In some ways, it was paradoxical, because it became a powerful protest movement that was also distancing itself from issues of race and social justice.

Some proponents of environmentalism sought to use it to put a closure on the struggles of the 1960s and launch a new kind of consciousness about the earth and the environment, without really addressing issues of social and racial justice. But in fact, all these movements were interrelated. Many people, for innumerable reasons, were really upset with the dominant society and the way in which it was destroying both culture and places. Indeed, the new environmental movement owed something to the civil rights movement.

Earth Day was organized as a “teach in” about the earth as proposed by then Senator Gaylord Nelson. The teach-in can be traced back to the anti-war movement and before that, to the freedom schools of the civil rights movement. And so, the first Earth Day actually came out of that tradition.

The anti-war movement [gathered] steam just as the civil rights movement was winding down, and the environmental movement came in and got a lot of energy from the anti-war movement. The environmentalists learned from the civil rights movement how to mobilize a large number of people. But it was mostly a white movement... European Americans.

Clarke: Jumping ahead two decades, in 1990 environmentalism was still basically a white, middle-class movement.

Anthony: Yes, it was. So much so that 150 civil rights groups wrote a letter to the "Big Ten" mainstream environmental groups in January 1990, complaining that the memberships, the staffs, and the boards of directors of these organizations were almost all white. But most devastating of all, their priorities really reflected the issues of [concern to] predominantly suburban constituencies, and not [those] of people of color. Many actually went against the interests of the communities of color.

Then in 1987, the United Church of Christ put out a report [entitled] “Toxic Waste and Race,” which touched off a shift. That report revealed that the most reliable predictor of where toxic waste dumps are located was among communities of color. Three out of five communities of color were at risk from these toxic waste dumps. [1]

Clarke: How did the launch of RP&E come about?

Anthony: At about this time, Luke Cole and I went to a public interest legal conference in Oregon. A thousand lawyers were there, all of whom were white. In reaction to this experience, when we got home we had a little caucus with a few people to talk about [issues that concern] people of color and the environment. We wanted to reach out to others who had similar concerns and to publish them. We were hit by a barrage of stories from all over the country. Apparently, people all over were [becoming] aware that the time had come for this movement. We published their work in a journal that became the forerunner of RP&E.

Then in October 1991, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice convened a conference in Washington [to which] about 600 people came from across the United States. About 400 of these people were actually from communities of color grassroots organizations. The conference managed to synthesize all the different issues and concerns [of the attendees] into 17 principles of environmental justice, which were then published in many journals and books.

Clarke: How did you begin to develop this concept of moving environmentalism into an urban context?

Anthony: Because of the white bias of the environmental movement, there was almost no talk about cities, even though 85 percent of the population of the United States lived in cities and metropolitan areas. The white environmental movement was focused mostly on wilderness protection... on protecting the water, the land, the air; and also increasingly on looking at biological resources. But the fact of the matter is that all this pollution actually comes from the cities.

Even though there was a lot of focus on the issue of toxic pollution, which was becoming a huge problem for everybody in the country in 1990, there was a full range of issues that was not being discussed. Many of the problems in our communities came from the fact that there had been this rapid expansion of the suburbs, which was contributing to sprawl and to the abandonment of the inner city.

I had the honor and the privilege of introducing the issue of transportation justice at the first people-of-color environmental leadership summit along with Eric Mann, who started the Bus Riders’ Union in Los Angeles, and Barry Commoner, who had run for President of the United States under the Peace and Justice Party.

Although we introduced this idea of transportation justice at that summit, the issues go back a long way. It was really a new framing of an old issue. People who know about civil rights realize that transportation justice is deeply embedded in the civil rights movement.

Clarke: All the way back to Plessy...

Anthony: Yes, to Plessy vs Ferguson (1896) and more recently to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which came to the fore because of the inequitable investment in school busses. And of course, we have Rosa Parks. So, in many ways, it was just us putting a new label on something that people already understood deeply.

One of the really remarkable things that we have grown used to, yet have a very shallow historical perception of, is our over-reliance on automobiles. In 1900 there were, practically speaking, no automobiles, no paved roads. In an incredibly short period of time—just over 100 years—the automobile has changed all the countries and all the people in the world. Freeways have literally paved the way for the abandonment of our cities.

I mean in terms of transportation policy in this country the government has been underwriting people running from each other. Not just from the black people--they’re running from each other.

And this is simply not sustainable because of the direct relationship between this pattern of over-reliance on automobiles as an escape and the CO2 emissions that come from the automobiles. This has to come to an end.

Clarke: As you look at the trajectory of the environmental justice movement, what do you consider some of its key victories over the course of this time?

Anthony: It’s now a worldwide movement. Putting the concept of environmental justice on the global radar screen is one big accomplishment. Also, the whole issue of the intersection of public health and the environment and the growing awareness of the public health challenges of the way we build our cities.

Clarke: In what respect has the movement fallen short? What remains basically unchanged?

Anthony: Well, I’m actually a bit of an optimist about all this. I remember seeing a television program with [former Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger about two weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall where he said: “This is absolutely stable. This will never fall.” Within two years we saw the demise of the Soviet Union.

I believe that there are changes that take a long time to come [to fruition] but when they happen, they are big. Right now, the biggest challenge that we’re facing is global warming and climate change. And although the climate issue is unique, in some ways, it is still the same old thing. It’s about who’s in power, who makes the decisions, who [reaps] the benefits, and who bears the burden.

Clarke: What are some of the intellectual issues you’d like to see RP&E bring to the fore? And what kinds of discussions do you believe should be engendered amongst the current generation that’s talking about these issues but has not framed them in these terms.

Anthony: I have a funny story about the San Francisco school district. They came out with a report about 15 years ago that said. “Eighty-six percent of the population in the school district of San Francisco are minorities, and sixteen percent are the majority.”

Clarke: New math.

Anthony: Yes, but seriously, this big demographic shift is going to cause us to re-think a lot of things. In California now, the majority population is people of color.[2] By 2023, the children of the people of color will be the majority of children in the United States and by 2043, people of color will be the majority population in the United States of America. This is a radical transformation that we have not quite caught up with. It’s going to make everybody redefine who we are as a people and as a country.

Clarke: In fact, the people who have been running the country have been the minority all along. It’s about three or four percent of the population controlling the key levers of power.

Anthony: Exactly.

Clarke: So, back to the question of what coalition of people could really gain political power to change the direction of this country and the world?

Anthony: All of the social movements that we have thought about over the last couple of decades—the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the labor movement, the indigenous people’s movements—have evolved in the last couple of hundred years and have a common root. This is a global movement. We’re a little behind. The transnational corporations have been two or three steps ahead of us. But we have the numbers—if only we can really begin to understand our relationship to each other. And I feel pretty optimistic about that.

Clarke: But if you look at the fundamental power relationships and the methodologies available to movements to challenge power—the legal track, the legislative track, the popular movement track, the direct action track—which tracks can lead us to that critical moment of the sudden dissolution of the empire?

Anthony: One of the things that came out of my own journey in the environmental movement is that my own sense of time has really expanded. This sense of deep time is something that I really didn’t have before. As an African American, my sense was that everything terrible began in 1619 when the black people were brought over here, enslaved, and forced to work in the plantations.

In order for us to make sense of this, we have to have a story that goes back to the beginning of creation. The crisis that we’re facing globally is actually disturbing the basic patterns of life on the planet and is the worst period of extinction for creatures on this planet in 65 million years.

This is bigger than capitalism. It’s bigger than imperialism. It’s bigger than all the isms, all the movements, and all the struggles we’ve had. And there’s gonna be hell to pay!

As a result, we have a global consciousness that’s beginning to emerge at the grassroots level. People all over the world are engaged in a collaboration even if they don’t know who the other people are. And even though corporate interests—and the one percent of the population that controls over half of the global wealth—are making all the decisions that are putting us at huge risk, there is something much bigger going on.

You know that poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade about the British soldiers who were charging into this battle unaware that there were thousands and thousands of people on the other side of the mountain? They were up against something much bigger than they expected. The British thought the sun would never set on their empire, but it did.

So, you know, as bad as the corporations are at a transnational level, there’s something bigger happening here. And being a part of that is really inspiring for me.

Carl Anthony is the co-founder of Urban Habitat, Race Poverty & the Environment Journal and is also co-founder with Doctor Paloma Pavell of Breakthrough Communities.  B. Jesse Clarke has been the Editor of RP&E since 2005.
Special thanks to Making Contact and the National Radio Project for helping with this recording.

Endnotes

[1] http://urbanhabitat.org/node/5346

[2] According to the US Census Bureau White persons of non-hispanic origin are 42.3%, however as a racial category most Latinos are counted as white. White persons, percent, 2008 (a) 76.6%; White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2008 42.3% "California QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau:". US Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
 


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

To order the print edition of "The 20th Anniversary Issue" use the back issues page. To download or view a pdf of this article use the link in the lower left below.

8- Strategies for Change: 

The Summit: Transforming a Movement

Then 1991Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 2, No. 3/4: The Summit

Barely do people get the opportunity to participate in historic events. But each of the 300 African, Latino, Native, and Asian Americans from all 50 states who gathered for the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in late October must have left with a sense that the atmosphere in which environmental issues are debated and resolved is changed for good. And for the better.

Joined by delegates from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 24-27 meeting in Washington, D.C., set in motion a process of redefining environmental issues in their own terms. People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times. For people of color, the environment is woven into an overall framework and understanding of social, racial, and economic justice. The definitions that emerge from the environmental justice movement led by people of color are deeply rooted in culture and spirituality, and encompass all aspects of daily life—where we live, work, and play. This broad understanding of the environment is a context within which to address a variety of questions about militarism and defense, religious freedom and cultural survival, energy and sustainable development, transportation and housing, land and sovereignty rights, self-determination, and employment.

For instance, it has been known that communities of color are systematically targeted for the disposal of toxic wastes and the placement of this country's most hazardous industries—a practice known as "environmental racism." Three out of five black and Hispanic Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites, while about half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in such areas. Government, church, and academic research has confirmed that race is the strongest determining factor (among all variables tested) in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities.

Even armed with this knowledge, delegates were shaken by the reports of widespread poisoning, oppression, and devastation that communities of color are experiencing—including water, air, and land contamination, which cause cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and miscarriages.

All present were moved by the testimonies of communities, such as Reveilletown, Louisiana, a 100-year-old African American community that was forced to relocate in 1989 due to poisoning from neighboring industries. Even more disturbing were the accounts of the Carver Terrace subdivision in Texarkana, Texas, and the farmworker housing project in McFarland, California, that were built on top of abandoned chemical dump sites.
Economic constraints make it difficult for residents of these communities to "vote with their feet" by moving away from the contamination. Demands for relocation assistance from the government have gone unheeded.

Delegates despaired at learning how Native Americans die at each stage of the development of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, but were energized by hearing how reservations are fighting back. Among the stories told were those of the Havasupai Nation of Arizona and its organizing against uranium mining in the Grand Canyon; of Native Americans for a Clean Environment's efforts to close Sequoyah Fuels' nuclear conversion and weapons plant in Oklahoma; and of the Western Shoshone's civil disobedience aimed at stopping the U.S. government's underground nuclear testing on their ancestral lands in Nevada.

These struggles, some of them more than 15 years old, dispel the myth that people of color are not interested in or active on issues of the environment. On the second day of the Leadership Summit, delegates were joined by another 250 participants and observers from environmental, civil rights, population, health, community development, and church organizations. In addition, academic institutions, labor unions, legal defense funds, and policy makers were represented. Some came to learn, others came seeking partnerships and strategies for coalition building.

 

17 Principles of Environmental Justice

WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to ensure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives, which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:

  1. Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.
  2. Environmental Justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
  3. Environmental Justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
  4. Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threatens the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.
  5. Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
  6. Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.
  7.  Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
  8. Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
  9.  Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
  10. Environmental Justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
  11. Environmental Justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.
  12. Environmental Justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and provide fair access for all to the full range of resources.
  13. Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.
  14. Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multinational corporations.
  15. Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.
  16.  Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations with emphasis on social and environmental issues based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
  17. Environmental Justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth's resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to ensure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.


Adopted at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, October 24-27, 1991, Washington D.C.

The issue of partnerships between people of color and the environmental movement was a major topic of discussion during the summit. So-called mainstream environmental organizations are now in a flurry to diversify by actively recruiting African, Latino, Native, and Asian Americans to sit on their boards and to staff their offices. Many delegates feel that the push towards inclusion is a result of the challenges brought by people of color, in particular a series of ground-breaking letters sent in early 1990 to the national environmental and conservation organizations by the Gulf Coast Tenants Organization and the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice.

These letters and the publicity that followed outlined what is perceived as the racist practices of the green movement—which is generally viewed as white, middle- and upper-class, and insensitive to the needs and agendas of people of color. The letters point out that diversification of boards and staffs alone does not guarantee accountability.

Delegates detailed numerous examples where the unilateral policies, activities, and decision-making practices of environmental organizations have had a negative impact on the social, economic, and cultural survival of communities of color in the United States and around the world. A particularly telling example is the controversy between Ganados del Valle, a Chicano rural development organization in Los Ojos, New Mexico, and the Nature Conservancy, the self-styled multimillion-dollar "real estate arm of the conservation movement." The Conservancy purchased 22,000 acres of land in 1975 to preserve biological diversity, ignoring the good land stewardship practiced by traditional communities. Ganados members had used that land for decades to graze sheep for cooperative ventures and preserve an age-old link between culture and land for Chicanos and Native Americans.

Delegates also raised questions about the leadership of the National Wildlife Federation, whose board members include Dean Buntrock of Waste Management, Inc., the nation's largest toxic waste disposal company. Waste Management's subsidiary, Chemical Waste Management has been continually charged with perpetrating environmental racism by locating hazardous waste facilities near communities of color. Chicago's South Side (72 percent black, 11 percent Latino), Sauget, Illinois (73 percent black), and Port Arthur, Texas (70 percent black and Latino), are home to Waste Management's major toxic waste incinerators.

Presently the company is trying to locate another huge incinerator in Kettleman City, California (95 percent Latino). And Emelle, Alabama (90 percent black), is the site of a Chemical Waste hazardous waste landfill—the nation's largest. Summit delegates who are engaged in life and death struggles with Waste Management were hard-pressed to understand why such a corporation is represented on the board of directors of one of the largest and most influential environmental organizations.

For people of color, environmental issues are not just a matter of preserving ancient forests or defending whales. While the importance of saving endangered species is recognized, it is also clear that adults and children living in communities of color are endangered species too. Environmental issues are immediate survival issues.

The clear message from delegates is that if there is to be a partnership made with the environmental movement, it must be based on equity, mutual respect, and justice. The environmental justice movement of people of color rejects a partnership based on paternalism.

Discussions at the leadership summit were not limited solely to reciting a litany of problems. Solutions and processes for developing solutions were an important outcome. For instance, strategy and policy groups convened to create action plans and formulate policy recommendations that would guide future organizing. An international policy group was formed in recognition of the global nature of the environmental crisis and the need for international cooperation to achieve solutions.

It was also decided that the policy recommendations growing out of this session would be presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), scheduled for June 1992 in Brazil. Policy recommendations include statements on the ecological impact of war, underground nuclear testing, the international waste trade, and U.S. foreign aid and trade policies. Statements related to paternalistic and oppressive behavior toward developing countries by some northern environmental organizations were also included.

In addition to the strategy and policy work groups, summit delegates went through the painstaking process of formulating the Principles of Environmental Justice. Final agreement on the preamble and accompanying 17 principles was arrived at by consensus-building. Collectively, delegates surmounted the barriers that have historically divided us—regionalism, culture, gender, language, and class. Most important, this victory was achieved in a society that has used racism to pit one group against the other in an attempt to control the whole. By the end of the summit, those gathered spoke with one voice as part of a movement "to eradicate environmental racism and bring into being true social justice and self-determination."

Dana Alston (1951-1999) had a long and far-reaching career as an advocate for environmental and social justice. A highlight of her career was her role as a co-convener of the highly successful first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. At the time, she directed the Environment, Community Development, and Race Program at the Panos Institute in Washington D.C.


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

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Through Our Eyes: Activists Today

Now 2010

In the summer of 2003 RP&E published Where Do We Go From Here? A Look at the Long Road to Environmental Justice. The young activists of 2003 voiced their aspirations for the EJ movment in “The Next Generation, Youth Voices in Environmental Justice.” Today, the young and the fearless continue to build the movement. In the following article, Christine Joy Ferrer, 24, talks with her fellow activists (via email and in person). She also caught up with two of the 2003 interviewees to see where their lives have led them seven years later. Their original comments and a glimpse of their personal journeys since can be found on the following pages. The wide range of interests and the powerful involvement of youth is a vital indicator that movements for justice are on the rise. We’ll check back in 2020 to see just where this resurgence leads. You can listen to a recorded version of the live interviews at www.urbanhabitat.org/audio.

Youth Roundtable Participants

  • Ellen Choy, 25, Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative; co-director, Youth Advisory Board.
  • Kari Fulton, 24, Co-founder of Checktheweather.net; National Youth Campaign Coordinator, Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative.
  • Gier Hernandez, 17, Youth Advisory Board, Environmental Service Learning Initiative.
  • Beatriz Herrera, 27, Community Organizer, Women Workers Project at POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in San Francisco, California. 
  • De’Anthony Jones,18, Youth Advisory Board, Environmental Service Learning Initiative; San Francisco Youth Commission, representing the Fillmore and Western Addition neighborhoods.
  • Leah LaCroix, 18, District 11 Commissioner and Mayoral Appointee of the San Francisco Youth Commission, Psychology student at San Francisco State University.
  • Annie Loya, 24, Executive Director, Youth United for Community Action, East Palo Alto, California. (See Anna Loya: My Story sidebar)
  • Julia Rhee, 25, Former National Youth Organizer, Green for All, first generation movement builder.

 

Christine Joy Ferrer: How have you, your friends and family struggled with issues of transportation, housing, environmental health, jobs, and climate change?

Environmental Health
Choy: My family was living in a really low income community in Hawthorne, California. When I was eight, we moved into a majority white middle class neighborhood near the beach in Torrance. The difference in environment had a really huge impact—I could immediately tell the air was noticeably easier to breathe, our street was a lot quieter, neighbors were quieter. We had more than just one grocery store. Our grocery store in Hawthorne was raided during the LA riots. Not seeing any of that violence or injustice, immediately after moving not even 20 minutes away from Hawthorne, was really powerful. It changed how I perceived my environment and how I saw the people around me and related to them. On top of that, I still had family members we had left behind in Hawthorne and Chinatown. As a young child, feeling luckier than the rest of your family is a really strange thing—the access you have to education and things like that. That’s when I first felt those struggles.

Transportation and Housing
Jones: I have a single mom who waited 18 years on the Section 8 housing list [it has over 3,000 people] to move out of public housing. I’ve lived in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, in the Western Addition and in the Westside Courts public housing complex. I saw the struggles in these communities and how they relate to the environment—socially and physically—from the disconnect within neighborhoods to the old and deteriorating housing. Places like the Hunter’s Point neighborhood with its asbestos and lead. In the Westside, we had mold and mildew on the walls. Even in our new house—we have a Section 8 subsidized duplex that we share—in a Sunnyvale neighborhood, we had to deal with dirty housing. It seems like if you’re low income, there’s no place for you in society, and that shouldn’t be. It should be about getting you to a point where you can make money.

 

   

2003 Invest in Youth

Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 10, No. 1
Where Do We Go From Here?
“The Next Generation: Youth Voices in Environmental Justice.”

There needs to be more investment in the youth, especially Native youth. Youth in Indian Country have to deal with the past racist Federal Indian policies and cultural eradication, which has manifested in social ills that plague our Indigenous communities. Currently, Indigenous youth have to deal with many issues that range from identity crisis, drug and alcohol abuse, cultural loss, suicide, depression, and hopelessness. This calls for more support and encouragement of Native youth who are involved with environmental justice work. Native youth are also some of the most marginalized people within the mainstream and Native society. This needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

We need to empower our youth and offer them a new way of thinking, knowing and understanding based on the cultural values of our peoples. This does not necessarily mean going back to pre-contact times but learning about the past. By understanding history, we may find the solution to save our people from the current situation that they are in. This calls for innovative ideas and solutions—not solutions from the government or outsiders but from the people themselves. Creativity needs to be encouraged.

The local youth leaders also need to be identified. Give them proper training with tools and funds necessary to carry out the work. There also needs to be a network, or coalition-building in place so native youth from all over the globe can keep each other empowered because power lies in unity.

In 2003, Roberto Nutlouis was 23 years old, and a member of the Indigenous Youth Coalition of Pinon and Black Mesa Water Coalition.

My mom didn’t have a car, so I grew up—most of my life—using MUNI. It was tough seeing her take me places on the bus and get home late. I’ve lived through those fare increases—it was 34¢, then it went up to 50¢, and then to 75¢. My mom just recently got a new car. Now I’m thankful to have had both experiences—driving and taking public transportation. I think, if I would have grown up with a car, I would have looked down on the public transportation system, like, “That’s for poor people.”

 


Ferrer: Why are these issues—transportation, housing, environmental health, jobs, and climate change—important to you as young leaders?
Choy: Young people not only are going to live with the consequences of the actions of past generations, we’re going to be leading the fight. It’s also important to note that we don’t have to wait to become professionals to start being leaders, we can start right now. We’re able to influence policy, to organize community networks, run our own events, and be peer educators.

 

So, it’s super critical to encourage and support that leadership, especially from youth of color and from low income communities, and to help provide them with resources. There’s other young people’s organizations in the Bay Area—Grind for the Green, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice—that are doing the same work that we are: developing young leaders to be empowered to go and talk to their friends and family and spread the message that way.

 

Environmental Justice

Rhee: Environmental justice is important because it’s the critical nexus where issues affecting communities of color and marginalized folks intersect with the needs of the planet. What’s good for communities of color is often good for the environment and the economy. Green jobs especially present a solution to the dual crises. When people are able to live with self determination, have access to locally grown food, travel less to get to work, reduce their carbon footprint by saving energy through retrofits—then justice will follow.
I believe everyone on this planet is intrinsically connected. As Americans, we can see our energy bills go up as we continue to rely on outsourced dirty fossil fuels. There has to be a point where we accept that all our waste ends up in someone else’s home and backyard. We don’t have to look much further than at what mountaintop removal is doing to the water and air supply of working class communities in the U.S., or how coal extraction is polluting sacred indigenous lands all around.

Hernandez: I see the climate issue as a struggle for survival and not just about hugging trees. If we look at our health issues, climate is really affecting how we are living. We are ruining our environment and it’s ruining us.

Herrera: At POWER, we fight for the rights of domestic workers. Many experience the hazards of working with harsh chemicals every day. They develop asthma, skin rashes, allergies, and other ailments from using cleaners, such as bleach and ammonia. Within the Statewide Domestic Worker Coalition, we are currently working on a resolution that we hope will be a first step towards improving the living and working conditions of domestic workers.

 

 

2010 Sustain Our Land

I got involved with the environmental justice movement when I learned that our precious water was being depleted and damaged by a coal mining company, Peabody Coal Company. Peabody had tapped into our communities’ sole source of drinking water to transport coal. We developed our own youth-led organization “Black Mesa Water Coalition,” and began organizing to raise the awareness on this issue and get our tribal government to demand that Peabody stop the industrial use of our water.

The response from the tribal political leaders was that the operation is needed to generate revenues for the tribal government and provide jobs. They challenged us on how we would replace the revenues and jobs from this economic trap. We began to seriously look into ways to rebuild our communities, guided by the prayers of our ancestors and based on the cultural values taught to us by our elders. We developed projects around Food Security and Natural Earth Building.

These projects were designed to create a space where local youth can learn about local skills. This is vital in developing and strengthening sustainable communities. I connected with Indigenous Community Enterprises, which works to provide energy-efficient, culturally appropriate and affordable housing to Navajo families. I am still involved and volunteer with Black Mesa Water Coalition in the Environmental Justice, Green Job Initiative, and Climate Justice work.

I am also part of Native Movement and volunteer as a project director during the summer to implement “Sustainable Living: Reclaiming our Traditional Knowledge” back in Pinon. We are advocating for energy-efficient homes for our people in hopes that our tribe can fully support building with r values of 30 and above. As for farming, we are working with local youth to design and experiment with various rain water catchment systems to capture what precipitation we are blessed with and maximize its use through developing the fields utilizing ‘permaculture’ principles. We hope to share this knowledge with other communities later on.
Roberto D. Nutlouis, now 30, is project manager at Indigenous Community Enterprises, Flagstaff, Arizona.

 

 

We organize African Americans in Bay View Hunters Point against displacement. Many people in that community are living with asthma, nosebleeds, and cancer from being near a toxic shipyard. The Lennar Corporation is looking to build luxury condos over this toxic land, which would further endanger the health of the community. We are also fighting a campaign by the San Francisco MTA and the police department to use racial profiling to stop people, tow their vehicles, and check for tickets on buses—with the potential threat of being arrested or even deported.

Rhee: I’m on the Black Eyed Peas concert tour as the Green For All tour ambassador helping to mobilize volunteers at each of the 23 tour stops to build

awareness of the possibilities within a green economy. It’s our chance to invite moreyoung people across the country to join the movement for change and a sustainable future.
Other projects I’ve been involved with are Green For All’s national Day of Action campaign that garnered over 50,000 petitions to push for two equity provisions that would increase green job training access and targeted hire-for-job opportunities in the house version of the ACES climate bill.

Jones: At Mission High School, we had Eco Week where we brought in teachers and their students to teach them about environmental justice. There’s also Dance with the Youth at Mission, which is aimed at making us aware of how we’ve lost our respect for mother nature and women in general. It’s an event to remind people that we have an obligation to respect women and mother nature as well.
As far as housing is concerned, the Youth Commission has been working with SF Hope to get youth input on their project to rebuild some of the housing authority’s oldest properties—Westside, Potrero Hill, and Hunter’s Point. The project is going to hold a Leadership Academy in the summer at University of California Berkeley and will engage youth to work at their sites.

LaCroix: The SF Youth Commission is urging the MTA to not increase the discount fast pass and to create a Life Line fast pass for youth who qualify for free and reduced cost lunch. We want them to keep the fast passes at $20 per month [a $10 increase is scheduled for May 2010] for the fiscal year 2010-11.

Ferrer: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that young people are faced with today?
Herrera: Financial and environmental security. We’re living in the midst of an economic crisis, which has resulted in budget cuts to schools, community organizations, and service organizations that support working class communities of color. We’ve also experienced—in the last few years—a growing list of natural disasters that, I imagine, are only going to increase in size and frequency in the decades to come. Youth are inheriting this climate and will have to work hard to fight the effects of global warming.

Jones: The government cannot keep laying its budget problems on its youth. We are the future. Look at youth as a social corporation. The more stocks you buy in this corporation, the better the corporation, but that’s not happening. They keep treating youth as a 99-cent product and as a result, they have 99-cent features. We can’t just accept a job at McDonalds.

 

   

2003 Mutual Listening, Mutual Respect

Reprinted from RP&E Vol. 10, No. 1
Where Do We Go From Here?
“The Next Generation: Youth Voices in Environmental Justice.”

If youth and adults are going to work together, there should be mutual respect. Adults believe they know what’s best. But us youth also know what’s good for us. So we should have a say in how things work. There should be mutual listening. That’s the starting point: listening to each other. I’ve done trainings on adultism, training youth and adults to listen to each other. I’ve helped youth to understand that they do have a voice. I’ve also tried to open their minds by saying, “You have ideas; express them.” It’s important to get youth to become more confident talking to adults and working with adults. I also teach adults about youth ideas and that they should listen to them.

Once listening happens, we need to talk about how to work on improving our society and our community. We can go deeper into the issues involving the community, our society—what’s happening in the world, the war—and how to improve them. At that point, we would have more of a dialogue going. We need workshops to educate youth, just to get them to understand the issues. Once they know the issues, we can train them and build confidence and leadership skills. Then we can teach them how to take action.

In 2003, Chi Mei Tam was 18 years old and a former co-leader at Asian Immigrant Women’s Advocates (AIWA).

Loya: More and more young people are being criminalized and tracked into the prison industrial system. More and more are left feeling hopeless because they can’t find funding to continue post-secondary education. Some can’t even find support to get through secondary institutions. We cannot expect this problem to fix itself or expect young people to lead the country when it is their time. We must believe in youth. Our disbelief is the problem.

Ferrer: How do you see race/class/gender/age affecting the way you do this work?
Fulton: I came into this work because I saw a desperate need to address these issues in my community. I grow in this work because I notice the amount of women who are leading these efforts for a just and real transition to clean, healthy green technology. I know that I am privileged to be in this space talking about these issues but I also know that I come from these issues and live them. It is a constant quest of mine never to forget why I am doing this work. I know that the people I work with, and I, represent fresh voices and ideas on these issues. Sometimes people are not ready to listen to what we have to say when we keep it 100 percent real, but that is the only way we are going to get to real solutions. As an African American young woman I cannot forget that I represent those who will be most impacted by climate change. I cannot ignore that fact any more than I can ignore my hue.

LaCroix: Working as I do with the Youth Commission, I often hear people say: “It’s great to see such young kids working together!” But their tone suggests that we’re toddlers playing with rocks and sticks, pretending to be on some mission that’s world changing. You can really tell when people aren’t listening to you. I haven’t personally experienced gender inequality but I’m sure it will come up. As far as race and class, they do have a big impact on how people are perceived and sometimes judged, especially a young person of color that’s of low-income or working class, doing outreach or community organizing work. However, although it affects how people perceive my work, it doesn’t affect how I actually do my work.

Choy: We have to start from a place of realizing that our country was built on racist principles and policies. Though we’ve had a lot of victories along the way and made some progress, we’re still fighting a lot of those injustices at the political level. Yes, we have a black president, but we’re living in a system of capitalism and consumption that is destroying communities of color first. If we address the problems facing the most impacted communities, we will address the root causes of what has actually brought about the climate crisis and all of the other environmental injustices that we’ve had to deal with. That’s the importance of using communities of color to lead the fight. We haven’t seen that in the traditional environmental movement, which was white-led and very privileged. What we’re seeing now is a really hard effort from a lot of communities to change that framework.

 

2010 Looking Back

My family was considered to be low-income, but they always had the means to survive. We always had a home, transportation, and enough money to live comfortably. I was involved with an organization called Asian Immigrant Women’s Advocates (AIWA) when I was in high school. They did a campaign on improving ergonomic conditions for garment workers. My mother was one of those workers involved with AIWA for quite some time. I joined up with them when they started their youth group back in 2000. I was mostly just a passive participant. My involvement was minimal. Although I’m no longer involved in activism work, I hope that our government, our communities, and the business world understand the importance of a healthy and sustainable environment. We cannot take it for granted, but looking from our current political, cultural, societal, and economic situation, I can't help but see that environmental issues are being put on the back burner for the sake of profit, greed, and even self-preservation.

Chi Mei Tam, now 25, is finance and operations manager for McCullum Youth Court in Oakland, California.
 

Jones: Race, class, gender, and age have all been socially motivated. It’s all man-made. We have to understand that we’re more alike than we are separate. Struggles that low-income African Americans are going through are the struggles of low-income Asian Americans, or low-income Latino Americans, or even low-income white Americans. Our struggle should be the very thing that bands us together, not our income, not our nationality, not our race.

As Ellen had mentioned before, this is what our nation was built upon. Abraham Lincoln fought for the Emancipation Proclamation but it only freed some slaves. It’s funny how we’ve been played against each other. The Fillmore, for example, was primarily an African American district until gentrification came through. But during World War II, the houses of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps were given to blacks at a subsidized price. Now, they turn around and take them away from the African Americans with the urban renewal program.

Even now, we have youth who are willing to kill each other over a street name in the Fillmore. But they’re fighting over a street named after a person who signed the Fugitive Slave Act. If you were a slave and wanted to be free, you escaped to a free state, but people in that free state had to report you or they would be committing a crime. We have to understand what we’re fighting for.

Ferrer: This year is the 20th anniversary of the founding of RP&E and it’s also the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. In 20 years, what kind of state do you think the environment will be in? Or what do you hope it will be?
Choy: Climate intersects all sorts of issues that our community is faced with—racism, lack of health care, our faulty education system. All the injustices grow with climate change, especially for young people, so it’s really important to pay attention.
Hopefully, change starts from communities reclaiming power over their own resources, leading the way to becoming self-sufficient, growing local food, buying and consuming everything locally, even having more of a voice in local politics and therefore, international politics. In general, living much more harmoniously with our natural world and in essence, going back to what our cultural histories have shown us from the beginning. If we can do that, hopefully, our world will look a lot better and our environment will be a lot more sustainable.

Christine Joy Ferrer is the publishing asssitant for Race, Poverty & the Environment.  Thanks to the National Radio Project for assistance in recording this interview.


The 20th Anniversary Issue | Vol. 17, No. 1 | Spring 2010 | Credits

To order the print edition of "The 20th Anniversary Issue" use the back issues page. To download or view a pdf of this article use the link in the lower left below the link to the audio mp3.

Annie Loya: My Story

My family is from a small rural town, Pearl Lagoon, in Nicaragua. At the time of our departure from Nicaragua, the country was in deep conflict—fighting the Reagan-backed Contra and Sandinista war. At the root of this war was a country trying to win social equity and maintain its natural wealth vs. the predator who wanted to gain control for its own economic ambitions. All the while, American media spun it as the United States trying to save yet another democratically challenged region.

We moved to East Palo Alto, California. A town that came into being by the driving force of its residents. There was no other city at the time that truly accepted people of color, so they created their own. It was a small start but a grand effort and message of self-determination. East Palo Alto inherited many burdens: a chemical waste plant, a county dump, land that sits on top of a water bed, and power lines over the city that emit electromagnetic waves. East Palo Alto looks very different from the neighboring city of Palo Alto. Palo Alto bears large green trees, smoothly paved streets, many parks and open spaces, grocery stores, and recreational spaces.

I was 12 when I got my first job. Myself, a couple of my cousins, and other neighborhood kids sold candy—50 cents for every $5 candy bar sold and $1 for every $6 candy bar sold. The remaining money went to this white guy. We knocked on doors for hours at a time. No break, no water, no nothing.
My older cousins knew it was wrong and would plot ways to get away with this candy and the money we made, to send a big ‘screw you’ message to this man. But we never had the nerve to carry it out. Needless to say, I didn’t stay on long.

A few months later, my cousin Lourdes became involved with Youth United  for Community Action (YUCA). She was more aware of inequities and felt the purpose to address them. She would use our previous employer as an example and make statements like, “I bet he
wouldn’t go into the white neighborhoods and recruit them white kids to go on those long-ass trips and barely make $15 a day.”
She soon recruited my older cousin Travis. At the time, a classmate of his had recently died by climbing a power line located in the nearby Baylands. He touched a wire, was electrocuted, and fell to his death. There was no barrier around this structure that resembled a jungle gym to prevent children—or anyone unauthorized—from becoming familiar with it. No signs, no spikes,?no accountability. PG&E placed the blame on the property owners and the property owners placed the blame on PG&E. Our community refused to let this young boy’s death be in vain. YUCA called a press conference and Travis asked me to write a speech. It was my first speech at 13 years old. You know wrong when you hear it. I have continued with the organization ever since.

Annie Loya, 24, is executive director of Youth United for Community Action (YUCA) in East Palo Alto, California.

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