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Resist, Restore, Rejuvenate (Vol 22-1 & 22) 2019

With a planet and a political system ever more out of balance, communities in resistance are called ever more urgently to the critical work of restoration. In this volume, organizers for sanctuary, restorative justice and social housing share their stories, strategies, and visions, and we continue to explore the rejuvenating power of the beauty, complexity and abundance prevalent within ‘Black Life’ in San Francisco.

Conversations on Race and Resistance (Vol 21-2) 2018

Today’s emerging resistance movements can draw on a long and varied history to challenge the reactionary US government. Racial justice organizing has been the leading edge of progressive change for generations, and lessons learned and leadership from Black liberation struggles are key to moving beyond resistance and toward revolutionary abundance.

Power in Place (Vol 21-1) 2017

In this issue of RP&E, we explore how the places we call home are being transformed by development and globalization. Community organizing and the environmental justice movement have always been about place, starting in our own neighborhood and taking on the big issues where they impact our daily lives.

Alive! Strategies for Transformation (Vol 20-2) 2016

The resurgence of direct action as a viable strategy for change has energized a new generation of activists and provides a springboard for launching a movement of movements that can challenge the domination of capital in social, economic and political spheres. Street protests are just one part of this expanding constellation of strategies. Cultural consciousness and personal healing are also being brought to bear in the effort to foster long-haul sustainability. From inside of prison, from inside the heart—people are moving out into community and into connection with the earth. 

Arise! (Vol 20-1) 2015

Dozens of U.S. cities erupted in direct action protests following the decision to grant impunity to police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. A new generation of organizers is arising, willing to take risks and break the rules to make social change. They are mounting effective action at street level and building broad coalitions, challenging existing institutions and creating new ones. (Garza, p. 66)*

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Reimagine! (Vol 19-2) (Transition UH to Reimgine!) 2013

To have any hope of solving the twin crises of accelerating environmental degradation and growing economic inequality, we have to reimagine some fundamental assumptions in both the domestic and economic spheres: What is work? What is leisure? What is labor performed in our homes? How, as a society, do we organize our domestic and work lives so that we can meet our fundamental material and cultural needs?


New Majority Rising (Volume 19, No 1- 2012)

The confluence of the Occupy movement and demographic change is shifting the public discourse about class and race and breaking ground for new political spaces. In the tumultuous months since the February 2011 takeover of Wisconsin’s Capitol, Occupy Wall Street as well as actions at stockholder meetings of banks and protests by university students and faculty have shed light on who owns our wealth and how they use it. (Baham)* The failure of the recall effort in Wisconsin emphasizes the urgency of constructing new spaces in which our majority coalitions can come together outside the constraints of corporate-dominated political parties to develop creative and effective strategies.

Autumn Awakening  (Vol. 18 No. 2 - 2011)
From Civil Rights to Economic Justice

The Autumn Awakening underway across the United States is an inspiring moment of hope after decades of overt social, political, and economic reaction. The arrival of the Occupy movement was heralded by the student-worker-citizen occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol last winter. But just a few months ago, a sign bearing the words, “If Egypt can do it so can we” signaled a plaintive cry more than a compelling mandate. The formulation, “We are the 99%” articulates a new, broad-based democratic politics focused on economic justice. While the slogan is by its nature inclusive, the emerging movement is still coming to terms with the fact that the majority of the 99% are women and people of color.  [More]

18-1 Cover Navigation Globalization Comes Home (Vol. 18 No. 1 - 2011)

As the United States draws closer to becoming a nation with people of color in the majority, it is also moving into an economic and social program of privatization, cuts in social programs and real wages, restrictions on unionization, a focus on investment in export industries, an emphasis on balanced budgets, and a re-valuation of its currency. In most of the developing world, this program is called “structural adjustment.” It is a bitter remedy often prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after economic speculation and the looting of national wealth by a narrow elite has driven a country into near or actual bankruptcy.  

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Weaving the Threads (Fall 2010)

As RP&E enters its 21st year of publication, we bid a fond farewell to Juliet Ellis, our publisher, who has been Executive Director of Urban Habitat for the last nine years and with whom we have worked since 2005. Each of those years has brought new developments to the journal and this year is no exception. We are changing our format from a single thematic focus for each issue of the journal to broader continuing coverage of racial and gender justice, economic justice, environmental and climate justice, and regionalism. With this expanded capacity we will be able to track the advances, setbacks, solutions, and conundrums facing our movements on the ground without the long hiatus between special issues that has sometimes left our readers asking, “When will you be doing another special issue on…?”

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The 20th Anniversary Issue (Spring 2010)

In this issue we celebrate our 20th anniversary with reflections on the social and environmental justice landscape from 1990 to the present. When the journal was founded, the EJ movement was just beginning to be heard on the national stage. A succession of intense local struggles around the siting of toxic facilities in communities of color had brought the impacts of racism back into public view.

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Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? (Fall 2009)

I started this issue as a skeptic of climate change. I didn’t doubt its reality the human contribution to it, or the threat it represents to the ecological health of the planet but I doubted that this crisis created an organizing moment that could benefit low-income people and communities of color. When Race, Poverty and the Environment covered this topic in 2006, efforts within the United States to organize in response to climate change were scattered and largely led by white environmentalists. We had to turn to a Canadian author to find a succinct description of a framework for green economics.

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"Everyone has the Right to..." (Spring 2009)

When President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January 1941, he called for “a world founded upon four essential freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Popular conceptions of rights at the time moved beyond the constitution’s narrow framing of civil and political rights to include basic social and economic rights. In this issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment we take a look at the kind of organizing needed to win social and economic rights for all.

Race and Regionalism (Fall 2008)

The election of Barack Obama represents a turning point in the role of race in United States politics....

Unfortunately, the election in itself does very little to challenge the economic and social system that inflicts racism on vast segments of the people in this country. To make change, our movements will need to maintain consistent grassroots pressure on the new leadership. But we also need to deepen our understanding of how racial inequality is maintained. Furthermore, we need a solid theory of how and where we can redistribute opportunity so that communities of color and low-income people can gain their fair share of benefits and remedy past wrongs.

Who Owns Our Cities? (Spring 2008)

Who owns and who controls our public resources and how has the dividing line between public and private shifted over the last century?

Roads, ports, parks, schools, libraries, community centers, public housing, government buildings, military bases, and digital rights of way are all nominally controlled by democratically elected bodies that are mandated to act in the public interest. But across the nation, a pattern of economic exploitation of public resources for private gain has undermined public control of these resources and increased the divide between rich and poor.


Educating for Equity (Fall 2007)

This summer's United States Social Forum was singularly successful in its use of popular education, holding over a thousand workshops in three days. This issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment opens with a quick look at the forum and then delves into the many complex ways people are using education to strengthen the movements for social justice...


JUST Jobs? Organizing for Economic Justice
(Spring 2007)

One doesn’t have to possess an advanced degree in economics to see that there is something definitively out of alignment when it comes to job creation in the United States. Multinational corporations with no national, much less local, allegiances are given billions of dollars in tax subsidies in a shell game, which moves an ever-shrinking number of manufacturing jobs from city to suburbs, and state to state....



Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice (Summer 2006)

Climate change threatens all forms of life on planet Earth, but when it comes to human life, it is the poor communities that will be hit first, and hardest. Human-caused climate change is now accepted as a reality, even by the mainstream media. But the effects of climate change on our communities are still covered only intermittently; and ideas about how we can organize for positive change are almost never covered at all...

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Moving the Movement (Winter 2005/2006)

This issue of Urban Habitat’s journal, Race, Poverty, and the Environment, presents an analysis of transportation equity that can help build the movement for civil rights and environmental justice. Featuring contributions from leading practitioners in the field and a cross-section of voices from the grassroots, it reveals a transportation and land use system that harms urban quality of life; damages the planetary environment; promotes wars for resource domination; and supports racism and class-based segregation. Published on the 50th Anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this issue ...

Burden of Proof, cover photo

Burden of Proof; Using Research for Environmental Justice (Winter 2004/2005)

What are the legacy and limitations of science, research, technology and public health methodologies that underpin environmental policies? How has dependence on existing paradigms of science perpetuated environmental racism? To protect our communities, the EJ Movement must engage in the debate.


Reclaiming Our Resources: Imperialism and Environmental Justice (Summer 2004)

"The word “imperialism” is back on the radar of political discourse, after lying dormant for many years, thanks to the Bush administration’s willingness to throw the weight of the United States around with abandon. Imperialism is a useful word. Just as the concept of “internal colonialism” was helpful to people thinking about power and injustice in the 1960s, imperialism can be brought home to good effect for today’s activists and movement leaders. But as an analytical term...

  Issues below this point are available as PDFs
Governing from the Grassroots (Fall 2003)

As Californians recover from the tumultuous gubernatorial election in our state while also looking ahead to the 2004 presidential election, the issue of electoral politics looms large. The question is: how do activists and organizations struggling to promote equity in low-income communities and communities of color incorporate electoral politics into our work?

%alt Where Do We Go from Here? (Summer 2003)

This issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment both celebrates the EJ Movement and offers a critique of it. At this critical point in EJ history, RPE takes a big-picture look at the Movement's past, present and future. In the "Looking Back" section, three articles explore the relationship between EJ and the Civil Rights Movement, examining lessons learned from liberation struggles of the 60s and 70s, as well as failures and missteps to avoid ..

Fixin' to Stay cover image .Fixin' to Stay (Summer 2002)

Gentrification, the wrenching process of neighborhood change, was first named in the 1960s. The name, however did not acknowledge the permanent erasure that takes place when a community loses its memory. Gentrification, orurban blight were policy terms that carried social and racial values, as well as a political and economic agenda. The layered meanings of the language of redevelopment has been understood by many communities that have fought to remain intact...

Reclaiming Land and Community (Winter 2001)

By current estimates, there are nearly half a million brownfields, or derelict and possibly contaminated sites in our cities. These abandoned places, in many cases still leaking toxic chemicals into land, air or water, are most often concentrated in low income communities where the majority of residents are people of color. Compounding the health threats posed by the brownfields sites, these communities are also...

A Place at the Table (Winter 2000)

Food is something many of us take for granted. Supermarkets are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, stocked with foods shipped in from all over the world, providing us with the illusion of health and abundance. We do not often stop to consider where that food came from, whose hands harvested it, how it was grown, and whether it is safe, equally available to all, and produced in a manner that does not degrade and destroy resources and communities..

The Border (Summer/Fall 1996)

Steel walls. Military-style attack raids. People hunted down to be beaten, and sometimes killed, by government agents. Politicians speaking the language of ethnic cleansing. This description is not of Northern Ireland, Palestine, or Bosnia. Instead it is a picture of the United States/Mexico border...

Multicultural Environmental Education (Winter/Spring 1996)

Multicultural environmental education is not merely environmental education with multicultural populations or "audiences" nor is it "urban environmental education with multicultural populations." It is rather a very new kind of environmental education, where content is influenced by and taught from multiple cultural perspectives..

Transportation and Social Justice (Fall 1995)

Our transportation system can tell us a lot about U.S. society. It can tell us about racism, economic injustice environmental stresses are exacerbated, leaving those most and environmental degradation. The patterns of our complex historical development as a nation - economic, social, cultural, political, environmental – are embedded in a transportation system many people take for granted...

Burning Fires (Spring/Summer 1995)

U.S. Army General Leslie Groves and nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer designed the Manhattan Project according to the military model: secrecy was created and sustained by compartmentalizing every phase of the work. The Project that produced the first atomic bomb was spread over thirty-seven installations scattered across the United States and Canada, each an isolated unit providing only a fragment of the bomb-making process....


Previous Issues 1990-1995

Fixin to Stay (Summer 2002)


Anti-Displacement Policy Options & Community Response (Vol.9, No.1)

Fixin' to Stay cover imageGentrification, the wrenching process of neighborhood change, was first named in the 1960s.  The name, however did not acknowledge the permanent erasure that takes place when a community loses its memory.  Gentrification, or urban blight were policy terms that carried social and racial values, as well as a political and economic agenda.  The layered meanings of the language of redevelopment has been understood by many communities that have fought to remain intact.  In San Francisco, those communities and their fights for survival are whispered anthems to community struggle; International Hotel, Yerba Buena, Fillmore.

There are effective strategies to both increase affordable housing and gain community control over development.  In this issue you will find the story of a Los Angeles coalition that won a Regional Housing Trust Fund.  PolicyLink has a tool kit for equitable development, a web based resource with strategies to preserve affordability.  We bring you ACORN's organizing work in Sacramento and a Displacement Free Zone in Brooklyn, where the community enforces a ban on blatant rent increases.  We take a look at the successes of faith-based organizing in cities where lack of investment, not displacement is the problem,  In another section we look at the center of gravity for San Francisco's South of Market Filipino community, and the risk to cultural continuity that displacement can bring.

We look for future trends in community development, and find a wider frame for global capitalism, displacement, and the forces that shape our communities.  Global economic decisions impact people's choices for immigration, decent jobs, housing, and the environment.  Global economic decisions impact people's choices for immigration, decent jobs, housing, and the environment.  Global economic forces undermine the ability of our communities to come together and resist displacement.  And displacement is not a new story.  People of color in this country and around the world have long struggled for self determination and for their land.

In this issue we attempt to provide historical context, policy ideas, and community experiences from around the country that will leave you both inspired and better equipped to tackle these issues at the local and regional level.

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2  News From Urban Habitat
3  News From the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment
4  About This Issue

Policy and Programs

Combating Gentrification Through Equitable Development
     by Kalima Rose

9  Increase Affordable Housing with lnclusionary Zoning
     by Doug Shoemaker

11 The Future of Affordability
     by Eric Belsky

Organizing Strategies

14 Live Out Your Faith: The Gamaliel Foundation & Faith-based Community Organizing
     by the Editor

16 Brooklyn 5th Ave Coalition
     by Benjamin Dulchin

19 We Want to Stay in Our Community: RIVER Youth in the Bronx
     by Kachen Brown, Anthony Thomas and Yomara Velez

20 Labor Goes to Bat for Housing
     by Amy Dean

22 Activists Take a Lesson from Unemployed Councils of the 1930s
     by James Tracey

Affordable Housing, Affordable Housing, Affordable Housing ...

24 LA Grassroots Campaign Wins $100 Million Housing Trust Fund
     by Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele

27 Out of Reach 2001: America's Growing Wage-Rent Disparity

27 The National Housing Trust Fund

28 Getting Home: Notes on Homeless Issues
     by the Editor

Renter Protection

30 Rent Control in the New Millennium
     by Dennis Keating and Mitch Kahn

34 How a Group of Renters Organized to Beat a Billionaire Landlord
     by Jessica Lehman

37 Spotlight on San Francisco Bay Area Renter Protection
     by the Editor

The Role of Federal Housing Programs

39 Revisiting the Sitcom Suburbs
     by Dolores Hayden

42 And 'Then 'There's HOPE
     by the Editor

Cultural Continuity

44 Tabi Po, Respect for Those Who Came Before
     by MC Canlas

47 The Wildflowers Institute: A Cross-Cultural Training
     by Pam Burdman

49 Learning from Cambodian Donut Shops: The Oakland Family Independence Initiative
     by Maurice Lim Miller

And the Future

52 Back to the Streets: Why Community Developers Should Join the Fight Against Corporate Globalization
     by Miriam Axel-Lute


55 Resources

Related Stories: 

Combating Gentrification Through Equitable Development

The Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) has worked for fifteen years to revitalize the lower Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, building affordable housing, rehabbing dilapidated buildings and training residents to own cooperative businesses in the neighborhood. The success of these efforts has forced them into unanticipated arenas, including a Displacement Free Zone campaign—their fierce effort to defend tenants within the 36-block neighborhood from evictions; and a local and state policy campaign with other New York City organizations to give landlords incentives to keep their tenants in place and to require developers to include affordable housing in market-rate developments.

"Our work has made the neighborhood nicer, which was the point," reflects FAC's director of organizing Benjamin Dulchin, "but it's meant that evictions are on the rise."

Even though the expanding economy of the last decade accelerated the pace of displacement in revitalizing communities, the current recession has not reversed that trend. Thus, low-income and people of color communities such as lower Park Slope, working hard for equitable development, remain vulnerable to the larger trends and economic realities that come with revitalization. What are these trends, and how can communities respond to make the improvements benefit existing residents?

Development trend #1: Regional development patterns play a significant role in gentrification and displacement in particular neighborhoods.

As regions grow and sprawl into a network of economically interdependent jurisdictions, the abandoned or disinvested communities become attractive to both residents and developers. Workers who tire of commuting long distances and want to be closer to effective mass transit systems look to move back towards the core. In an effort to shore up hemorrhaging municipal budgets, public officials promote regional developments that will draw people back to the core for shopping or entertainment. Because the initial abandonment and disinvestment was spurred by segregationist practices such as "white-flight," mortgage preferences and redlining by banks and insurance companies, the new influx of people and capital has a distinct racial impact when displacement begins to occur.

Gentrification in San Francisco's Mission District displaced residents and businesses from the Latino cultural nexus of the Bay Area; the expansions of Los Angeles' Staples Center entertainment complex and the University of Southern California threaten both a historic African American community and a newer Latino community as land values escalate; Chinatowns of New York, Oakland and Portland have felt the loss when seniors and low-income members of historic Asian communities can no longer afford the rents or taxes on their housing.

Development trend #2: Housing affordability problems in the United States have become more pervasive.

A shrinking investment in affordable housing by the federal government limits the affordable supply and concentrates low-income housing in disinvested communities. The federal investment in HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and low-income housing programs has declined as much as 60% over the last quarter century. These cutbacks have placed upward pressure on the affordability of existing private units. In 1999, over 14 million owner and renter households spent more than half their incomes on housing. Contributing to these pressures is the ongoing loss of affordable rentals. More than 300,000 units affordable to households with low incomes were lost and not replaced between 1997 and 1999 alone.

Development trend #3: Not all jurisdictions are committed to producing affordable housing and enforcement mechanisms are the exception rather than the rule.

When jurisdictions undergoing growth do not tie development to affordability commitments, they are increasing pressures on existing affordable units in more affordable neighborhoods. Restrictions on land development and exclusionary zoning practices make it difficult for the market to produce housing that low-income people can afford. As household growth adds to demand, the mismatch between the supply of low-cost rentals and the number of households who need them will likely grow.

Development trend #4: Jurisdictions chase sales tax and property tax to increase local revenues

Jurisdictions make development decisions based on revenue instead of community need. Urban core jurisdictions increasingly opt for large scale developments like big box retail stores, hotels, and stadiums that draw visitors from across the region. These developments often directly displace community-serving and culturally-oriented businesses, opening wounds for communities that were negatively impacted by earlier urban renewal. The urban renewal programs of the '60s and '70s (aka urban removal) caused widespread condemnation of African American commercial districts. To residents of New York's Harlem, Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine, and Portland's Interstate neighborhood, revitalization efforts all portend the loss of community serving enterprises. With this tangible history, however, the biggest champions for community continuity—the residents—are mobilizing to direct positive neighborhood and regional change to ensure that their visions of equitable development, rather than gentrification and displacement come to life.

Indicators of Gentrification

Specific community attributes that create the greatest vulnerabilities to displacement include:

  • a high proportion of renters
  • ease of access to jobs centers (freeways, public transit, reverse commutes, new subway stations or ferry routes)
  • location in a region with increasing levels of metropolitan congestion and
  • comparatively low housing values, particularly for housing stock with architectural merit.

While the story of gentrification within each community is unique, the process tends to unfold in a series of recognizable stages. The first stage involves some significant public or nonprofit redevelopment investment and/or private newcomers buying and rehabbing vacant units.

In the next stage, the neighborhood's low housing costs and other amenities become known and housing costs rise. Displacement begins as landlords take advantage of rising market values and evict long-time residents in order to rent or sell to the more affluent. Increasingly, newcomers are more likely to be homeowners, and the rising property values cause down payment requirements to increase. With new residents come commercial amenities that serve higher income levels.

As rehabilitation becomes more apparent, prices escalate and displacement occurs in force. New residents have lower tolerance for existing social service facilities that serve homeless populations or other low-income needs; as well as industrial and other uses they view as undesirable. Original residents are displaced along with their industries, commercial enterprises, faith institutions and cultural traditions. In San Francisco's Mission District, rents escalated so rapidly in the past few years that nonprofit health clinics, Latino cultural arts organizations and the ubiquitous auto repair shops have been forced to close. In their place, dot.coms and other office uses neither serve nor employ the historic residents of the community.

Strategies to Respond to Gentrification

Gentrification/displacement is felt most severely in historic communities of color. While community advocates have worked tirelessly to attract new investment to their capital-starved communities, they concede that only recently have they begun to wield the tools or power to substantively intervene and redirect development projects that may bring harm to the community.

The Fifth Avenue Committee's Displacement Free Zone, although effective as a community education and mobilization strategy, is enormously time consuming and localized in impact. But organizers from San Francisco's Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition; from Los Angeles' Figueroa Corridor Coalition for

Economic Justice; from Portland's Interstate Alliance to End Displacement; and from Washington DC's Colombia Heights and Shaw neighborhoods are adopting similar campaigns to heighten community awareness of the problem. They are also mobilizing tremendous policy gains that include new Housing

Trust Funds, Inclusionary Housing or Zoning campaigns, Real Estate Transfer Taxes that dedicate sources of new affordable housing revenue, and campaigns for historic tax credits, all of which provide for the revitalization of commercial districts with the explicit charge of meeting current residents' needs for jobs, services, contracts, etc.

PolicyLink has been working with many coalitions across the country to draw new capital resources to these communities while allowing enough community control of development to enable current residents and appropriate commercial, industrial and community service amenities to remain. PolicyLink’s web-based Equitable Development Toolkit: Beyond Gentrification provides a roadmap to the most effective policies and practices that are emerging from innovative campaigns across the country.

First, Assess

A strategic assessment of the situation is a crucial first step, because it not only helps a community figure out what is taking place, but will provide a baseline of information that communities can then compare to their community goals.

The very best time to start dealing with displacement is at the beginning of community revitalization efforts. Most communities, however, begin to focus on displacement when the elders, the disabled and those with the most limited incomes start facing eviction or when the indigenous businesses and service organizations can no longer afford rent in the neighborhood. An assessment will usually involve community mapping efforts that identify renter-to-homeowner rates, vacancy and abandonment rates, affordability indexes (rent or mortgage as percentage of household income) and spatial analyses of race and poverty. The assessment should, of course, be tailored to the specific situation.

Action on Four Fronts to Preserve and Expand the Supply of Affordable Housing. After an assessment, communities will have a better sense of their priorities and be ready to take action.

There are four major categories of action that can help to stabilize a gentrifying neighborhood. Together, they form the basis for an anti-displacement strategy. Whether communities are working to rehab and fill vacant buildings in depopulated urban cores or to improve community infrastructure in fully populated low-income neighborhoods, an explicit housing affordability plan should always be in place first. There are many parts to a comprehensive housing affordability plan.

Stabilize existing renters. This can include assessing displacement rates, creating emergency funds for rental assistance, removing discriminatory barriers that renters face or creating rent stabilization policies such as eviction controls and rent increase schedules.

On the proactive side, developing limited-equity housing cooperatives and other forms of resident-controlled housing allows a neighborhood to stabilize by turning some of the high proportion of  renters into homeowners. The democratic organization of co-ops also creates a structure that enables co-op members to play significant roles in neighborhood development. Harlem has the largest proportion of cooperative housing of any community of color in the U.S. With over 300 buildings under cooperative ownership in Harlem, residents can both stay in their community as land values rise, and use their savings on housing to accrue other assets. The Harlem Community Congregations, Inc. is working to acquire vacant land held by the City and develop the equivalent of Real Estate Investment Trusts with residents of the neighborhood as shareholders.

Along with resident-controlled housing, building and preserving affordable housing can involve all three sectors: nonprofit-owned, public sector developed, and private housing with long-term affordability restrictions. In particular, legal mechanisms to ensure long-term affordability can preserve public investment in housing and take properties off the commercial market for a while. San Francisco has one of the highest rates of nonprofit owned housing in the country. In the Tenderloin neighborhood, over a dozen nonprofit organizations focus on specific racial minority communities or special-needs populations and keep culturally-relevant, service-appropriate housing available for the long-term.

Control Land for Community Development. Land use, tax and zoning policies all shape equitable developments; a housing affordability plan can't succeed without taking them into account. Communities need to evaluate zoning and public land giveaways and steer them in the direction of their aspirations. This will include promoting inclusionary zoning ordinances, mixed-use and transit-oriented development and density provisions, all of which can encourage affordability and mixed-income areas. One of the Fifth Avenue Committee's policy campaigns is for a New York city-wide Inclusionary Zoning policy that would require developers to include the low-income housing within the market-rate development, rather than simply contributing to a fund dedicated to affordable housing. The latter can have the effect of concentrating low-income housing rather than spreading it across jurisdictions wherever development is occurring. The Balanced Development Coalition in Chicago, which has a similar goal, is negotiating with developers building by building until they have the power and public will to win through legislation.

When communities take the initiative to map out the commercial, industrial, service and arts amenities they want to hold onto and negotiate with public and private actors, they find creative ways to do this. "We approached them [Staples Center developers and City officials] with neighborhood residents and a large coalition of community organizations, churches, and unions." recounted Jafari Eayne, organizer for the Figueroa Corridor Coalition, "It took a two- to three-year campaign, but after a lot of media pressure, a lot of organizing, and a lot of good coalition work, we managed to get a community benefits package that includes things like local hiring, affordable housing, money for parks, and the first ever low-income parking district."

ACORN California and PolicyLink are working to advance a regional tax-sharing campaign in the Sacramento region that pools future tax increments and redistributes them by a formula of population and incentives for affordable housing and open space.

Build Income and Assets Creation. While stabilizing housing affordability and ensuring appropriate amenities are crucial components of neighborhood planning, income and asset creation are critical to ensuring resident well-being as the neighborhood economy improves. Providing needed resident services—childcare, transportation, a basic retail sector and access to health care—is a precondition for success. Tying public investment to local-hire and living-wage provisions or otherwise connecting land use decisions to local asset creation can significantly mitigate negative displacement pressures by bringing some of the benefits of the new investment to existing residents.

The Interstate Alliance to End Displacement in Portland has a three-pronged policy campaign in progress to advance their equitable development aspirations. A short-term and local campaign is focused on the City budget to win rental assistance to residents facing rent escalations as high as 200%. A statewide campaign for real estate transfer taxes is underway to provide revenue for affordable housing production on a scale commensurate with demand for the entire Portland Metro region. The asset-building campaign may prove the most innovative in its delivery of direct community benefits. Led by coalition member Hacienda CDC, it proposes a mixed- use development at one of the new light rail transit stations in the city's redevelopment plan. This prospective development would provide ownership opportunities for the current residents of Interstate; a credit union for the burgeoning Latino community; homeownership opportunities in 20 percent of the 107 affordable housing units; a worker-owned cooperative for parking for the transit stop; and resident ownership of other commercial and cultural center aspects of the plan. The plan brings together innovative policy, community organizing and physical development to realize the fullest benefits of equitable development.

Develop Financing Strategies. Proactive financing strategies can provide neighborhood-specific ways to fund the other three categories of action. They are generally most effective in communities that anticipate gentrification pressures prior to redevelopment, since communities already suffering displacement face escalated real estate prices and available capital will not go as far. Options for funding are numerous, and can be directed at nonprofits, private developers, or even landlords. They include investments from labor union pension funds and regional business associations, exactions and fees on commercial developments, tax increment financing and eminent domain, bank investments under the Community Reinvestment Act, Community Credit Unions and tax abatements, credits and deferments. In Washington DC activists just succeeded in capitalizing a new Housing Trust Fund with $15 million annually from a Real Estate Transfer Tax that is indexed for speculation.

Core Tools in Action

Within each of these four categories just described, there are dozens of tools. Here is a list of some of the most important tools, and ideas about how they can connect to each other and to other strategies in order to redirect the development trends that bring out gentrification and displacement and undermine equitable development goals:

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) take real estate off the speculative market and ensure long-term affordability for renters, low-income homeowners, community arts and nonprofit institutions and community-centered businesses. The Sawmill community of Albuquerque, for example, is building its vision of mixed income, Latino-rooted, mixed-use development on a brownfield-turned-CLT. Oakland, California community based organizations are crafting a citywide trust with neighborhood equity and representation. They have won a commitment from the City of $5 million to initially capitalize the Trust.

Limited-Equity Housing Cooperatives are another affordability mechanism; providing a method for renters to acquire their buildings and share in permanently affordable and democratically-controlled home ownership opportunities. A group of renters in a class action lawsuit over the uninhabitable conditions of their Colombia Heights apartments in Washington, DC reached a settlement to acquire ownership of their building for one dollar. With a limited-equity cooperative they will formalize resident ownership and make long-needed improvements to the building. If Columbia Heights can achieve the scale of co-operatives found in Harlem (which has more than 300), and combine that with rent stabilization and zoning protections, the neighborhood will have strong anti-displacement protection.

Housing Trust Funds, created by legislation that dedicates ongoing revenue streams to affordable housing, are one of the most promising financing strategies for combating gentrification, particularly if they are used to provide housing that includes long-term affordability restrictions. San Francisco, for example, channels fees from commercial development into a housing trust fund, along with federal HOME and Community Development Block Grant money and state and city revenues allocated to housing. These funds target households that earn 30 to 50 percent of the area median income.

Inclusionary zoning and Below Market Rate (BMR) Ordinances provide an ongoing framework for ensuring mixed-income communities. East Palo Alto, a historically African-American and growing Latino community on the edge of Silicon Valley, recently enacted a BMR ordinance which requires one of every four units to be made available to people making no more than 30 percent of area median income. With significant new development underway, this provision will provide homeownership opportunities for many residents who would otherwise be forced to leave their community. These ordinances combine particularly well with the three core tools listed above.


Achieving any of these things takes political will, however, and that means organizing. Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Committee called together 200 actors in community development, neighborhood associations and urban planning to develop a proposal for a broad policy response to displacement in their community. The FAC has garnered leadership commitments to propose joint action on inclusionary zoning, tax abatements for rental support and mortgage conditions that hold new owners of apartment buildings accountable under agreements that prohibit eviction for specified periods.

There is no reason why people who have worked so hard to build lives and improve their neighborhoods should not be able to stay there. The types of dynamic policy responses to the forces of investment and development described in the Beyond Gentrification Toolkit bode well for holding communities together, especially as they revitalize and thrive.


Related Stories: 

Reclaiming Land and Community (Winter 2001)

Brownfields & Environmental Justice (Volume 8, No. 1: Winter 2001)

By current estimates, there are nearly half a million brownfields, or derelict and possibly contaminated sites in our cities. These abandoned places, in many cases still leaking toxic chemicals into land, air or water, are most often concentrated in low income communities where the majority of residents are people of color. Compounding the health threats posed by the brownfields sites, these communities are also more likely to harbor other undesirable and unhealthful land uses, such as power generation, sewage treatment plants, waste disposal sites, highways and truck routes.

In this issue, we bring you a number of people that are working in their communities on the problems of brownfields reuse and revitalization. Building on our work with the San Francisco Bay Area Brownfields Working Group, where community-based organizations, public officials, and city staff continue to meet to share strategy and information, we have collected articles and interviews from Boston to San Diego. Also in this issue are significant excerpts from the 1995 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, Public Dialogues on Urban Revitalization and Brownfields: Envisioning Health & Sustainable Communities - The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope, which emphasizes the importance of environmental justice principles for brownfields.

Download PDF Version (2.1MB) 

Editor's Notes

2  About This Issue
     by Torri Estrada & Martha Olson

Community Stories

3  LuLus and their Problems
     Interview: Michelle Alvarez

3  We've Been Given the "Teta"
     Interview: Dolores Herrera

From the Ground Up - Community Participation

5  Assessing Community Needs
     by Pamela Rice & Kaori Sakaguchi

6  Community Participation Is Key to Environmental Justice
     by Center for Energy and Environmental Policy

A New Model: Participatory Planning for Sustainable Community Development
     by Virginia Seitz

A Matter of the Law

12 Liability & Local Influence
     by Kacy C. Keys & Craig S. Keys

14 What Non Profits Need To Make It Work
     Interview: Peggy Sheppard

13 Liability & Lending Legislation

15 Out of Site, Out of Mind, The Problem of Institutional Controls
     by Robert Hersh & Kris Wernstedt

Getting a Handle on Development

17 In Detroit: Community Development Corporations Working for Environmental Justice
     by Troy Hartley

18 Why Can't Communities Get a Piece of the Pie?
     Interview: Allen Edson

19 Bethel New Life & Argonne National Laboratory
     by Torri Estrada

20 Winning Community Control, Subsidies Attract Developers
     Interview: Peggy Sheppard

20 Brownfields as a Way to Retake the Cities
     Interview: Allen Edson

State Brownfields Laws

22 From the Web: The Massachusetts Brownfields Act

23 Florida Adopts Environmental Justice Legislation

23 Pocantico Round Table
     Interview: Peggy Sheppard

Youth, Jobs and Environmental Education

24 How to Look at a Brownfield and See a Flower Garden
     by Belvie Rooks

28 Nine Mile Run Greenway
     by John Stephen

Final Words from the Front: New Risks

30 There Goes the Neighborhood

31 Gentrification
     Interview: Allen Edson

32 Brownfields Revitalization Without Displacement - A Progress Report From Portland
     by Geri Washington

33 Gentrification and Transportation are Environmental Justice Issues
     Interview: Kevia Jeffrey

33 On Working Regionally
     Interview: Allan Hippolito

34 Recommendations for Responsible Brownfield Revitalization

36 News from the Urban Habitat Program

37 What's New at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

PDF icon Brownfield_to_flowers.BelvieRooks.pdf471.93 KB

A New Model: Participatory Planning for Sustainable Community Development

At the Community Partnership Center, we are working to develop an approach that aims to democratize research, planning, and decision-making. We call this method Participatory Planning for Sustainable Community Development (PPSCD). It is grounded in community organizing and community participation in goal setting, information-gathering, analysis and decision-making, program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It attempts to answer the challenge of the sustainability movement of the 1990s to find ways to effectively manage growth and plan for the future that will not compromise the quality of life of future generations. It assumes that decisions about growth management and future development are highly complex and embedded in the dynamics of the social, economic, political, and environmental systems. It also assumes that within communities there are complexities of values, perceptions, and the relative power of the various stakeholder groups affected by these decisions, as well as uncertainties and urgency surrounding growth issues.

The fourteen-phase PPSCD approach is currently being implemented by the CPC as case studies for an international community development agency, beginning with three rural program sites in the United States. We are also developing contacts in order to implement the PPSCD approach in varied urban and rural settings in the United States, and are including a variation of the approach in an international development project in Southern Africa.

The Community Partnership Center (CPC) at the University of Tennessee is a research center that creates equitable research and action partnerships with community organizations to address the needs of low-to-moderate-resource communities. During the mid-1990s, the CPC piloted a model for participatory monitoring and evaluation of federally funded rural Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Communities in which ten Community Learning Teams across the nation developed plans, selected methods, collected information, analyzed results, and made recommendations for change. This experience has been enhanced by the international development experience of Center staff in grass-roots participatory research and planning.

One of the most striking lessons from both the Learning Team Model and the international development experience is that people long for effective and accessible ways to participate in shaping their future. Ironically, in this country of wealth and opportunity, citizens are impoverished as decision-makers; people want to participate but feel disaffected, disconnected, and discouraged. Current approaches for development and growth management tend to be one dimensional. They address only one step of the decision process, such as visioning or provide tools for information gathering but not for decision-making, such as indicators. These approaches also tend to minimize the differences among community stakeholders in access to and control of resources for effective decision-making, as well as the place-based and social variables that affect decision-making.

In order to make choices about how to use their limited resources, communities need decision making processes based on understandings of the important linkages and trade-offs that exist between their community's quality of life, social, economic and environmental assets, and the potential for various stakeholders to benefit differently from the choices made. Our approach includes processes, data gathering and decision tools that can be used by communities to sustainably plan for their future. The PPSCD process takes stakeholder and other contextual differences into consideration, and works towards a collaborative development of information, and both decision making tools and processes. In essence, the focus is on process rather than specific decision products.

The cross-cutting principle is that as the level of participation increases, the capacity for learning also rises for all stakeholders and participants, including researchers, experts, and policy makers. This shift in emphasis from gathering data to increasing learning has been the trend in international participatory development theory and practice over the last twenty years.

The PPSCD Learning/Planning Team

A key component of PPSCD is the formation of a Community Learning/Planning Team which provides leadership and accountability for the planning process and monitors the outcomes. The Learning/Planning Team identifies members' priorities (and those of un-represented stakeholders) as well as members' understandings of current and historical context, core community values and knowledge of social, economic and environmental systems, and preferences for policy and monitoring approaches.

A facilitator/researcher serves as a resource person to the team to integrate social, economic, and environmental data, models, and methods from the scientific community. This resource person needs to have participatory facilitation skills as well technical skills to compliment those of the Learning/Planning Team members. Authentic participatory development recognizes that there are many forms of knowledge, both expert and local, and that both can be appropriately integrated into a planning process when the discussions and decisions are enhanced but not dominated by expert knowledge and voices.

An ideal Learning/Planning Team will have at least eight members but not more than sixteen, representing a broad cross-section of the community and stakeholder groups. The team will be self-governed (not responsible to facilitator or any outside entity) and will agree to work toward consensus in decision-making. Members must be willing to commit to the full range of tasks, make necessary time commitments, and participate in team-building activities. In addition to the members, the Learning /Planning Team will have a Coordinator and Working Groups. The Coordinator is a community member, with leadership qualities, small group management skills, and communication ability. The Coordinator recruits core team members and assists in recruiting members of working groups, facilitates and leads team activities, assists in information gathering, and communicates findings. The team will also bring in additional participants as members of working groups.

The full PPSCD process can take between 18 to 24 months. An important concern of communities in crisis is that the PPSCD Approach will take too long. It is possible to abbreviate the process and to adopt some elements and phases and not others, but these decisions should be made carefully and monitored.

Phase 1: Participatory Appraisal - Creating a Community Snapshot

PPSCD begins with a site visit by the researchers/facilitators and community partners to identify key informants and potential cooperators in a selected community. The purpose of the PA is to get a snapshot of the environmental and socio-economic context of the community in dialogue with interested stakeholders.

Phase 2: Building the Planning Team

The resource persons begin the process of developing the Learning/ Planning Team. Team members should be chosen from a broad range of community stakeholders, be willing to commit personally to the full range of responsibilities of being a member of the team, and be willing to work towards consensus in decision making.

During the team building process the team conducts an analysis of relevant stakeholders (They may change as the phases evolve.), the relationship of stakeholders to the resulting decision, how the stakeholder interests are defined, and how the team accesses and controls resources.

Phase 3: Who are we? - Telling our story

During the third phase the Learning/Planning Team develops a profile of community perspectives on social, economic, political, cultural and environmental history across space and time. Communities will be spatially defined with either political or natural boundaries, e.g. towns, counties, or watersheds, or ecosystems, as well as defined by other social, economic, and environmental dimensions as identified by communities.

This community history phase is designed give Learning Team members an opportunity to construct a story, based on their personal understanding of the community's collective reality, that will continue into the future. This community story is the foundation for the next two phases and can reveal stakeholder differences, information gaps, and questions that need to be addressed in the next phases. The story is not intended to represent objective reality but to provide an understanding of how stakeholders perceive their community's past in order to imagine its future.

Working groups may be convened in this phase to expand buy-in, develop partnerships with additional stakeholders, and develop information for this phase, such as an oral history project conducted by high school youth. During this phase it may be relevant for the team to enlist assistance from resource persons (preferably the researcher / facilitator) with field experience in participatory methods for research and planning for community development.

The role of the facilitator/researcher

The role of the researcher/facilitator is to facilitate the community's process of self definition as well as to aid in the design, collection, and analysis of information. In later stages of the process, the resource person's knowledge of secondary data availability and their ability to access the data can be an important resource for communities. These resource persons should have the ability to train communities in the use of GIS methods for describing their community. A projected outcome of PPSCD is the building of community members' capacity to become facilitators for the PPSCD process in their community.

Using Participatory tools and methods

There is a wide range of participatory tools and methods that can be used for information-gathering, analysis, and decisionmaking. Some of these tools, such as mapping, have multiple applications. Using participatory tools and methods is integral to the PPSCD Approach.

General Guidelines:

  • Concepts and Tools should always be appropriate for the context.
  • Facilitator should "hand over the stick"; the facilitator should not edit or interpret.
  • Strive for methods and tools that allow opportunities for "reversals in learning" and power.
  • Traditional research methods can be participatory, but try to avoid the survey!

A Focus on Visual and Interactive Methods

Everyone has an inherent ability for visual literacy. When information gathering shifts from formal interviewing and writing which uses the verbal skills, to participatory mapping, diagrams, photography, which use visual skills, complex issues and relationships can be represented more simply, individuals with less literate skills may participate equally, collective knowledge, creative associations, and memory are all stimulated. Examples of visual and interactive methods are neighborhood use maps, transect walk maps, timelines, resource flow charts, daily routine graphs, well-being or wealth card sorting, and role playing. Interactive methods are best learned by doing; the greatest benefit comes from their practice and analysis within the group. The sharing of knowledge and discussion that takes place is of greater value than the finished product.

Phase Four: What's important to us?

Phase Four of PPSCD involves the team in developing a set of core community values and contextual quality of life indicators. This is preparation for both visioning the future and determining the information and data needed for the subsequent research phases. This is the first stage where indicators are being developed and it is important that they are values-based indicators, providing a dimension to the choice process that is often absent in more conventional models. We expect that working groups may be developed at this stage, if not already formed, to use participatory methods and tools to develop core values and indicators of positive (and possibly negative) change by gathering input from the wider community. These quality of life indicators may be revised or change after the visioning and research phases.

Phase Five: Where do we want to go?

Phase Five is the visioning phase of the process. At this point, PPSCD Learning/Planning Team members and possible working groups will be brainstorming about the future in relationship to the values and indicators that they have developed in Phase Four and their understanding of their past from Phase Three. A variety of decision tools can be used, including matrices with ranking and scoring. This phase will reveal areas (sectors and types) of information or data that will need to be collected.

Phase Six: What do we need to learn and why?

Phases Six through Eight are the research or information gathering phases to collect the information the community needs to plan and reach its vision. Based on the PPSCD process so far, the Learning/Planning team will ask:

  • What information will be needed to fully understand the context for decision-making?
  • What information and data are already available?
  • To what extent will it be important to collect contextual information using participatory methods?
  • In what cases can we use the researcher/facilitator's or other resource person's assistance in gathering data without losing control of the information? Is the information we want relevant to the planning context we are in?

Research will likely include:

  • Community assets inventory and evaluation
  • Human/social resources
  • Infrastructure resources
  • Environmental resources
  • Cultural/historic resources
  • Systems analysis of community assets

Phase Seven: How will we find out about what we need to learn?

In this phase the team selects methods for collecting the relevant information. Both professional and local knowledge will be collected from primary and secondary sources, with both conventional and participatory methods.

Phase Eight: Who will do what and when?

This phase designs a research strategy and defines team members, working groups and resource persons' responsibilities.

Phase Nine: What are we learning and what does it mean?

Phase Nine is extremely important for assuring community control of the process. To ensure broad-based analysis and interpretation of findings the Learning/Planning Team needs to structure the process, utilizing participatory methods when possible.

Using Geographic Information Systems in PPSCD

How land is used has direct consequences on the quality of life of a community, both socially and physically from the potential for community conflict to human health issues from pollution. Choices about the spatial distribution of activities thus can affect the success or failure of a community to achieve their quality of life and vision for the future. Therefore, to consider the sustainability of choices, communities must consider the spatial distribution of activities. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or computer mapping, allows such consideration providing a placed -based approach through which communities can visualize the current state of their community spatially and analyze the impact of choices from a spatial dimension. They can answer questions regarding where things are happening in their community that may provide valuable information about potential causes and solutions to a problem, or changes occurring.

Phase Ten: Revisiting what is important: How will we know change when it happens?

The Team develops a revised set of quality of life indicators based on the core values they have identified, their visioning process. As a result of the research conducted, indicators will reflect community values, hopes, knowledge, and possibilities. Participatory tools such as mind-mapping will also be used to facilitate this process.

Phase Eleven: Making choices with what we have learned

In this critical phase, the Team focuses on decision tools such as scoring and matrices, to analyze the GIS mapping, and other data collected, in relation to the values and quality of life indicators alreadydeveloped by the team, and the results of the visioning process. In a process called Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCE), information from the research process, such as the spatial data and maps, history, values, and visioning are all analyzed. The outcome of this evaluation is intended to identify alternative policy actions and criteria for their evaluation, and select techniques for the evaluation of those policy actions. The Team brings the MCE process outward to working groups and to larger and larger circles in the community.

Phase Twelve: Moving from decision to action

During this phase the team creates policy alternatives and action plans. The team evaluates the potential for implementing choices in the near and long term, and develops a strategy to share the results of the Learning/Planning Team process. The team may decide on a variety of ways to report to the sponsoring agencies, non-profits, other community organizations and the public at-large, always keeping in mind that sustainable choices require wide buy-in for success.

Phase Thirteen: What differences have we made?

The Learning Team evaluates the process and outcomes and makes plans to proceed with the PPSCD Approach.

Phase Fourteen: What's next?

Sustainable choices provide opportunities for various stakeholders to participate in the implementation of these choices: the broader the participation, the broader the buy-in, the larger the potential for successful completion. The PPSCD Learning/Planning Team may remain functioning to monitor and evaluate implementation, thereby repeating the cycle beginning with Phase Five. The development of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) process activities in this phase should look at whether or not the community is progressing toward their vision, strategies or actions that need changing, how well management policies are working and alternatives, any unintended consequences that may need mitigation, and other roles for team members or other community organizations.

Cross- cutting concern: How Do We Celebrate Our Accomplishments?

Participation on a Learning/Planning Team requires a long-term commitment and significant work. Experience has shown that this work is amply rewarded by the personal and collective learning that takes place. It is important to have a celebratory event and plan for recognition of the Team and work groups' contributions throughout the PPSCD process.

Related Stories: 

How To Look At a Brownfield and See a Flower Garden

The Search for Authentic Signs of Hope

Any discussion of Brownfields revitalization, to be successful, must involve the participation of the youth in urban areas where Brownfields dominate. These youths will eventually be the decision makers for their communities in the future. Therefore, to avoid making today 's solutions tomorrow's dilemma for the youth, it is essential to get their input. Additionally, meaningful employment and career prospects rank among the central question facing young persons - in many ways defining young people's sense of identity& and connectedness to society.

The Challenge
How can we create quality learning environments for youth in neighborhoods with 50% to 70% school drop-out rates? What are the kinds of educational activities that get young people from inner-city communities excited about learning? How can state-of-the-art multimedia technology be used to teach students about the critical social and environmental issues affecting their community? How can these same students be motivated to become agents of activism and change in the struggle against environmental racism? How can they be inspired to create educational and organizing tools that address the myriad environmental issues confronting their community? How can youth from marginalized, inner-city communities come to understand that, within the unfolding evolutionary context of the planet, and the universe, their lives matter?

The Response
Hey, Listen Up! a multimedia- based, urban, eco-literacy project, was designed to address some of these questions, issues and concerns. Piloted in South Central Los Angeles in 1997 and 1998, with partial support from the Urban Habitat Program, Hey, Listen Up! involved a group of high school and junior high school students, ages 13 to 18. The project was designed so that the student participants could learn state-of the- art multimedia technology and, at the same time, explore some of the critical social and environmental issues affecting their communities. A major objective of the project was to demonstrate how both technology and environmental content could be taught in a culturally relevant and socially conscious context.

Why Technology?
As we approach the 21st century, it is clear that computers and digital technology will play an increasingly important role in shaping our lives, our realities, and our futures. The rapid changes taking place in information and communication technology mean that, at one level, we are becoming one vast global village. What this new technology- inspired village will look like will depend, in large part, on who has access; it will also depend on the quality of that access. In fact, for many African-American and Hispanic communities, a growing concern is whether the increased focus on technological expertise and computer literacy will further exacerbate existing social and economic inequities. Therefore the aim was to teach technology, and use it as a tool for empowerment.

The Learning Process
The overall curriculum for Hey, Listen Up! was designed so that students participating in the project could explore who they were in the unfolding evolutionary context of family, community, bioregion, planet, solar system, and ultimately universe. In fact, the entire learning process was grounded in the personal stories of the individual students. One of the most challenging and innovative aspects of the curriculum involved the development of a CD-ROM with an interactive time-line that traced the evolutionary unfolding of the universe, from the "Big Bang" to the current era. Each of the students learned to create an interactive time-line of their individual life stories.

They were then able to locate, and better understand themselves, their families and their communities within the larger, and constantly evolving, universe time-line. By viewing themselves in the context of the whole, the dialogue and discussion shifted from a micro to a macro context; from the block to the planet. When we viewed NASA photos of the Earth, taken from outer space or from the moon, we were able to see that there were no artificially imposed boundaries separating nations and communities. In the context of the "big picture" there were no visible "ghettos" or "barrios."

In fact, identity based solely on narrowly proscribed definitions and geographic boundaries, were discussed in an expanded context. Where is Earth located in relation to our other neighbors in the solar system?" In other words, who are we, not just in the context of neighborhood, but who are we in the larger context of “solarhood?"

In the process of creating their personal, family and community stories, the students learned scanning and digitizing. They were also introduced to some of the basic principles of interactivity, as they learned state-of the- art multimedia applications such as Director, SoundEdit, Premiere and Photoshop. In addition, they had a chance to do autobiographical and script writing and storyboarding and received a preliminary introduction to audio and video digitizing and editing.

In terms of environmental content, during the course of the project students were exposed to a range of speakers, activists, and organizers who addressed a number of critical environmental issues including the prevalence of toxic waste sites in low-income, communities of color, such as theirs. There were speakers who talked about brownfields, and others who talked about environmental health issues such as asthma, and the frequency of such ailments in communities like South Central.  There were environmental discussions about the region's air quality, water pollution, regional water issues, and the dangers facing fish and marine life in the Santa Monica Bay.

Global environmental issues were also discussed, such as the relationship between global air quality and rainforest destruction. Through a process of engaged dialogue, rooted in their own personal stories and experiences, students were able to arrive at an understanding and definition of environmental racism.

They were also able to explore what it meant, in the micro were environmental discus- context, to live in a "marginalized" community.

Results Maybe the way that change has to come is lot by lot and block by block.
-Alice Walker

In a workshop segment entitled, "Re-Envisioning Place," students used Photoshop, a computer software program, to "re-envision" some of the brownfields, and abandoned lots in their neighborhoods. In their computer-generated mock-ups, they replaced the garbage, abandoned cars and weeds with flowers, trees, birds, ponds, and park benches.

Using their re-envisioned computer images, they inspired Community Build, the local sponsoring organization, to help them become involved in turning their computer- generated vision into reality. What was once an abandoned lot with weeds and garbage is now a green space with grass, flowers, shrubbery, and a patio area. All of the students were involved in every stage of the planning and implementation process. In the course of bringing their computer generated vision to life, they learned invaluable planning, budgeting, and team-work skills. They also learned how to inspire, organize, and involve the community in helping them manifest their vision. In the process they learned that their vision mattered. They also learned that their voices mattered. Perhaps the most important lesson that they learned, however, was that they mattered.

As a way of further sharing their learning experience with the larger community, and further demonstrating how technology could be used as a tool for empowerment, they developed two interactive computer games dealing with the environment and environmental health issues. The games have been used as educational and organizing tools at school and community meetings.

In addition, each student participant wrote and produced a one-minute video taped public service announcement (PSA) aimed at their peers, dealing with a critical environmental issue that had impressed themduring the course of the project. The PSAs covered a variety of topics including recycling, the need to halt marine-life destruction, toxic waste facilities in low-income communities, and the related health risks.

We have to keep track at any social moment of who is bearing most of the social cost.
This is what it means to look at the world from the vantage point of those below.
-Cornel West

One student's public service announcement was an expression of outrage that a corporation would use nuclear waste as fertilizer in order to maximize their profit. During the course of the project, African-American students who participated in the first phase of the pilot successfully mentored a second group consisting of Hispanic and African-American students. One of the exciting results of the project has been the fact that the students have become active participants in an emerging global dialogue about a re-envisioned planetary future. It is a future in which they are now better equipped to see themselves as co-creators since their learning process enabled them to "look" at an abandoned lot and "see" a flower garden. Most importantly, they have entered the dialogue by choosing to look at their block, and the abandoned lot next to their house. The most significant lesson that they learned, however, was that their vision matters; their voice matters. They matter!

Berry, Thomas. (1988). The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco Sierra Club Books.
Doll, William E. Jr. (1993). A Post- Modern Perspective on Curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. (1994). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Giroux,
Henry A. (1998). Channel Surfing: Racism, The Media, and the Deconstruction of Today's Youth. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
Fox, Matthew, and Sheldrake, Rupert. (1 996). Natural Grace. New York: Doubleday.
Liebes, S., Sahtouris, E., 6 Swimme, B. (1998). A Walk Through Time: From Stardust, to Us. New York: John Wiley 6 Sons.
Swimme, Brian & Berry, Thomas. (1992). The Universe Story. New York: HarperCollins.

Pull Quote TEXT ONLY for featured stories in image slider: 
What was once an abandoned lot with weeds and garbage is now a green space with grass, flowers, shrubbery, and a patio area.

A Place at the Table (Winter 2000)

Food & Environmental Justice (Vol. 7, No. 2: Winter 2000)

Food is something many of us take for granted.  Supermarkets are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, stocked with foods shipped in from all over the world, providing us with the illusion of health and abundance.  We do not often stop to consider where that food came from, whose hands harvested it, how it was grown, and whether it is safe, equally available to all, and produced in a manner that does not degrade and destroy resources and communities.

In this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment we learn how black farmers in the South are being squeezed from their land, how farm workers are poisoned and underpaid for their work, and how low income people are distanced from safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food.  We find out the results of corporate control of our food system, about the threat to the future of the world’s food supply though the loss of genetic diversity, and about the “green revolution” with its high tech, Frankenstein approach to food production. 

There is a pervasive paralysis associated with social and environmental reportage—the result of too much focus on the problem and too little attention to the solutions—so we have offered you a section called “Grassroots Models for Change,” examples that can give us all some sense that, even under the most challenging odds, low income communities can gather together and create positive change.

It is our hope that through these diverse perspectives we will discover that a healthy society cannot be separated from a healthy food system, and that a healthy food system must not only sustain human, natural, and biological systems, but must also be equally available to all.

Download or view PDF version of this issue (2.35 MB)

Editors' Notes

2  About this Issue
     by Michael Ableman

Land and Water

3  Reconnecting People to the Land:The Need for Agrarian Reform
     by E.G.Vallianatos

5  Black-Owned Land: A Disappearing Community and National Resource
     by Jerry Pennick

7  Struggles for Justice in Water Policy: A Perspective on California Water Sales
     by Santos Gomez

Biological Diversity

10 Biological Meltdown: The Loss of Agricultural Biodiversity
     by Hope Shand

13 Biopiracy, Biodiversity, and People: The Right to Say "No" to Monopoly Patents Exploiting the South's Resources and Knowledge
     by Hope Shand


15 Representing Farm Workers
     by Arturo Rodriguez

17 For the Sake of Our Food: A Farm Worker's Story

Food Security

18 Community Food Security and Environmental Justice: Converging Paths Towards Social Justice and Sustainable Communities
     by Robert Gottlieb and Andy Fisher

21 Achieving the Human Right to Food Security
     by Peter Rosset

Consumer Issues: Food Access

22 No Place to Shop: Food Access Lacking in the Inner City
      by Zy Weinberg

Consumer Issues: Food Safety

25 Nuclear Lunch: The Dangers and Unknowns of Food Irradiation
     by Jennifer Ferrara and Susan Meeker-Lowry

28 Organizing at the Piers: Creating a Vision for Change
     by Wendall Chin

Corporate Agriculture

30 Warning: Corporate Meat and Poultry May Be Hazardous to Workers, Farmers, the Environment and Your Health
     by Marc Cooper, Peter Rosset, and Julia Bryson

34 Monsanto's Myths: Examining the Assumptionsof Industrial Agriculture
     by Andrew Kimbrell

39 The Industrialization of Agriculture and Environmental Racism: A Deadly Combination Affecting Neighborhoods and the Dinner Table
     by David H. Harris, Jr.

42 Hamburger and French Fries: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things
     by John C. Ryan and Alan Thien Durning

Grassroots Models for Change

45 Working Towards a Healthy Community: The Laotian Organizing Project in Richmond, CA
     by Audrey Chiang and Pamela Chiang

47 Expanded Opportunities in Austin:The Sustainable Food Center
     by Kate Fitzgerald

50 Taking the Lead in Building Community: San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners
     by Mohammed Nuru and Kate Konschink

52 San Francisco County Jail's Garden Project

53 Gardening as Therapy

53 Words from Tomlyn Shannon, a Formerly Homeless Mother

54 Singing Like We Mean It: NativeFood Systems, Health and Culture
     by Tristan Reader

56 Urban Habitat Program News

56 CRPE News


57 Food Resources

Related Stories: 

Biological Meltdown: The Loss of Agricultural Biodiversity

Soon after peasant farmers first led plant explorers to wild stands of Zea diploperennis (perennial maize) in Mexico's Sierra de Manantlan in the late 1970s, plant breeders hailed the discovery as one of the botanical finds of the century. The rare perennial maize proved to be resistant to seven viral diseases that plague domesticated maize, and scientists predicted that Zea diploperennis could be worth as much as $4.4 billion to the commercial maize (corn) industry. Conservationists called for the establishment of a nature preserve to protect the rare maize in its natural habitat because they feared that poor farmers living nearby, in constant need of grazing land for their cattle, would soon wipe out the few remaining patches of wild maize by grazing cattle in the area. A nature preserve was eventually established, and peasant farmers no longer threatened the rare diploperennis. But within a few years, the forest began to invade the fields of wild maize. The plants were crowded out and began to disappear. Scientists soon realized that the local farmers had been intentionally conserving the wild maize by using a traditional practice of grazing their animals on dry fodder during the dormant season. Local farmers controlled the growth of the surrounding forest without harming the rare perennial maize plants. Retired vice-president for research at Pioneer Hi-Bred (the world's largest seed company), Donald Duvick, respectfully observes, "It seems that the farmers knew exactly what they were doing, and had more wisdom than the well-meaning environmental scientists."

This story illustrates not only the tremendous value of rapidly disappearing crop genetic diversity, but also the fact that it is impossible to talk about the conservation of species and ecosystems separate from farm communities and indigenous peoples. The world's main food and livestock species have their centers of genetic diversity in the South. Generations of farmers in the tropics and sub-tropics have consciously selected and improved plants and animals that are uniquely adapted to thousands of micro-environments. Today, farming communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America are the primary custodians of most of the earth's remaining agricultural biodiversity. They are also carriers of unique knowledge about genetic resources and entire ecosystems.

Agricultural biodiversity refers to that part of biodiversity that feeds and nurtures people--whether it is derived from the genetic resources of plants, animals, fish or forests. We are losing genetic resources for food and agriculture at an unprecedented rate. It can best be described as a biological meltdown. The statistics are numbing:

Crop genetic resources are being wiped out at the rate of 1-2% every year. Since the beginning of this century, about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost.

Livestock breeds are disappearing at an annual rate of 5%, or 6 breeds per month. In Europe, half of all breeds of domestic animals that existed at the turn of the century have become extinct, and 43% of the remaining breeds are endangered.

Tropical forests are falling at a rate of just under 1% per annum, or 29 hectares per minute. From 1980-1990, this is equivalent to an area the size of Ecuador and Peru combined.

Marine fisheries are collapsing. About 70% of the world's conventional marine species are fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or in the process of recovering from overfishing. One-fifth of all freshwater fish are already extinct or endangered.

Whether in farmers' fields, forests, or fisheries, the genetic variation needed to meet human food needs is slipping into oblivion. Equally alarming, genetic resources are being privatized and their natural habitats plundered. We are losing the biological options we need to strengthen food security and to survive global climate change. The consequences, warns the United Nations, are "serious, irreversible and global."

Erosion of crop and animal diversity threatens the existence and stability of our global food supply because genetic diversity (found primarily in the South) is vital for the maintenance and improvement of agriculture. To maintain pest and disease resistance in our major food crops, for instance, or to develop other needed traits like drought tolerance or improved flavor, plant breeders constantly require fresh infusions of genes from the farms, fields and forests of the South. But agricultural biodiversity is not just a raw material for industrial agriculture; it is also the key to food security and sustainable agriculture because it enables poor farmers to adapt crops and animals to their own ecological needs and cultural traditions. Without this diversity, options for long-term sustainability and agricultural self reliance are lost.

Why Are We Losing Agricultural Biodiversity?

The greatest factor contributing to the loss of crop and livestock genetic diversity is the spread of industrial agriculture and the displacement of more diverse, traditional agricultural systems. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, the Green Revolution introduced high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat to the developing world, replacing thousands of farmers' traditional crop varieties and their wild relatives on a massive scale. The same process continues today. New, uniform plant varieties are replacing farmer's traditional varieties - and the traditional ones are becoming extinct.

In the United States, more than 7000 apple varieties were grown in the last century. Today, over 85 percent of those varieties - more than 6000 - are extinct. Just two apple varieties account for more than 50% of the entire US crop. In the Philippines, where small farmers once cultivated thousands of traditional rice varieties, just two Green Revolution varieties occupied 98% of the entire rice growing area in the mid-1980s.

Industrial agriculture requires genetic uniformity. Vast areas are typically planted to a single, high-yielding variety or a handful of genetically similar cultivars using capital intensive inputs like irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides to maximize production. A uniform crop is a breeding ground for disaster because it is more vulnerable to epidemics of pests and diseases.

The same is true with livestock genetic resources. The introduction of "modern" breeds that are selected solely for maximizing industrial production has displaced or diluted indigenous livestock breeds worldwide.

The commercial white turkey that is mass-produced on factory farms in Europe and North America has been bred for such a meaty breast that it is no longer able to breed on its own! This broad-breasted breed - which accounts for 99% of all turkeys in the United States today - would become extinct in one generation without human assistance in the form of artificial insemination.

The spread of industrial agriculture in the South places thousands of native breeds at risk. In India, just 3 decades after the introduction of so-called "modern" livestock breeds, an estimated 50% of indigenous goat breeds, 20% of indigenous cattle breeds, and 30% of indigenous sheep breeds are in danger of disappearing.

Though frequently characterized as "resource poor," many of the South's farming communities are extraordinarily rich in plant and animal genetic diversity and in traditional knowledge. But these are endangered resources. With the drive for export monoculture and the spread of Green Revolution technology in the South, the dominant model for agricultural production has been based on external inputs--imported genetic stock, technology and the ideas of outside "experts." Ironically, the Green Revolution approach (high-input, high-tech, and high-yielding crop and livestock breeds) has proved so "successful" that it has very nearly extinguished the farming communities' most vital "internal" resources - farmers' traditional knowledge and the rich reservoirs of plant and animal genetic diversity that they have selected and improved for generations. The erosion of traditional knowledge and agricultural diversity not only marginalizes the South's food producers and farming communities, it jeopardizes world food security for all.

The "Gene" Revolution

At the United Nations' World Food Summit in November 1996, governments of the world underscored the importance of trade liberalization to food security and implicitly endorsed a growing reliance on capital-intensive, high-technology agricultural production. Export agriculture was held up as the answer to food security, while food self-reliance was ignored. Side-stepping the more important issues of structural reforms (such as access to food and redistribution of land and resources), the familiar response of international agricultural research institutions is to recycle the Green Revolution and boost it with a heavy dose of biotechnology. Not surprisingly, commercial biotechnology does not address the needs of peasant farmers in marginal farming areas of the South, and has little to do with feeding hungry people. Globally, agricultural biotechnology is controlled by a handful of seed, agrochemical and pharmaceutical corporations whose proprietary products are designed primarily to meet the needs of Northern industry. It's a high-stakes game, and few enterprises can afford to compete. Consider, for example, that Monsanto spent no less than $100 million developing its herbicide tolerant soybean (a soybean that can withstand spraying of Monsanto's bestselling weed killer). DNA Plant Technology spent over $6.3 million defending its biotech patents on longer shelf-life tomatoes. Pioneer Hi-Bred claims that one of its new, genetically-engineered maize varieties requires access to 38 different patent claims involving 16 separate patent holders.

Proprietary technologies are seldom accessible or affordable to customers in the South. In India, for example, where 70% of pesticides are used on cotton and rice, researchers were anxious to develop genetically engineered crop varieties containing genetic resistance to the insects that harm them. US-based Monsanto corporation reportedly offered to sell its patented, insect-resistant gene to the Indian government for $7.74 million. The cost was too high, and the Indian government was forced to reject the deal.

Have we learned from the mistakes of the Green Revolution? It appears not. There is little doubt that the 21st century's "gene revolution" can and will be used to promote industrial monocultures and genetic uniformity on a massive scale. A new tree cloning venture in Indonesia (owned by a US and Australian firm) illustrates how biodiversity could be diminished and job opportunities restricted by a high-tech forestry initiative. The company claims that it has the capacity to produce 10 million genetically uniform teak and eucalyptus seedlings per year using a robotic assembly line that operates around the clock with a single human attendant. Historically, when industrial tree plantations are based on uniform, introduced species, the native biodiversity is inevitably lost. Similarly, new breakthroughs in the cloning of mammals will someday allow researchers to manipulate a test tube full of embryonic cells to produce scores of genetically identical livestock.

Farmer-Led Food Security

Ultimately, farming communities hold the key to conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity, and to food security for millions of the world's poor. They are the innovators best suited to develop new technologies and management to their diverse ecosystems. If international aid and development institutions dismiss peasant farmers, exclude structural reforms, and ignore the indigenous crops and livestock breeds that poor farmers depend upon for survival, then they fail to address actual hunger. At the Science ' Academies Summit held in India in July 1996, several African scientists expressed their frustration with foreign ideas for introducing high-tech agriculture in the South, noting that traditional African crops are ignored or undervalued in international agricultural research. "I don't want a Green Revolution," said Iba Kone of the African Academy of Sciences, "I want a Black Revolution. I want to return to our indigenous crops."

Similarly, the common approach of importing industrial animal breeds to boost productivity of livestock in the South is now being rethought, in recognition of the fact that native breeds are far more likely to be productive under low-input conditions. "In 80% of the world's rural areas the locally adapted genetic resources are superior to common modern breeds," concludes Keith Hammond, the U.N. Food and Agriculture's expert on animal genetics. For poor farmers, an animal's most essential quality is not its rate of growth or yield of milk, but its basic ability to survive and reproduce, which in turn ensures the family's self-reliance and survival.

In the long run, the conservation of plant and animal genetic diversity depends not so much on the small number of institutional breeders in the formal sector (governments, university and industry), but on the vast number of traditional farmers who select, improve and use plant and livestock diversity, especially in marginal farming environments. The challenge for the world community is to link conservation and development by enabling farm communities to assume a major role in managing and benefiting from the genetic resources on which their livelihoods depend.

Ultimately, we cannot save the world's biological diversity unless we also nurture the human diversity that protects and develops it. If we undervalue or ignore the traditional knowledge of farmers and rural people who use and manage biodiversity as the basis for their livelihoods, we lose our last, best hope for salvaging and developing the living resources upon which we all depend.

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Achieving the Human Right to Food Security

Food is the most basic necessity of life. If we are to fulfill our potential as thinking, feeling beings, then we must feel secure about where our next meal and that of our family will come from. Yet sometimes when we hear the phrase "food security" used as policyspeak, we lose sight of the fact that food is a human right that is increasingly being violated in this world of free trade and in our America of budget cutbacks.

Today there are some 800 million people in the world who are hungry, who are unsure about their next meal. Thirty million of them live in the United States, 12 million of them children under six. Is that the kind of world, and is this the kind of society that we want to live in? At Food First - The Institute for Food and Development Policy, we believe that the time has come to return values to the center of our political debates, and to address the root causes of our problems, throwing off the blinders of pernicious myths that we often hold dearly and that serve to block real change.

According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to food or food producing resources is a basic human right. Unfortunately, the United States has failed to ratify the Covenant, perhaps because of the cold reality that the human rights of 30 million hungry Americans are being routinely violated. Yet we need to take the lens of human rights, which we so often focus on Bosnia, Central America or Indonesia, and bring it to bear on America as well. We need to denounce widespread human rights violations at home; we must make hunger a simply unacceptable condition in our wealthy society.

We can change America, and we can change the world, but only if we place what is right first, and take on the myths of hunger head on. The most pernicious myth is that economic globalization with its attendant polarization between rich and poor is somehow inevitable, as are declining public budgets and, increasingly, individualism at the expense of concern for community. But none of this is truly inevitable.

The current swing of the pendulum toward free trade and capitalism red in tooth and claw is the product of many decisions, large and small, made by policymakers in national and international bodies. Yes, they have made those decisions because of pressure from the corporate sector. But that is always how policy is made. Decisionmakers weigh pressure from one side with pressure from the other, and ask, who am I more afraid of? Thus our task is to build national and international social movements that scare policymakers more than does corporate power.

That's how the war in Vietnam was ended, and that's how major social change always takes place. We also need to keep in mind that the pendulum has swung toward economic globalization in earlier periods of world history, only to swing back toward national economic sovereignty some time later. Each time continued movement in one direction may have seemed inevitable, but in the light of history it certainly wasn't. Nor is it this time.

A second myth that we need to address is that we always need "more" of something in order to alleviate poverty or feed the hungry. This takes the form of an "economic growth at any cost" or a "we need a new Green Revolution" mentality, thus justifying further unfettering of transnational corporations and agribusiness. But the facts do not bear this out.

The U.S. experienced substantial economic growth in the 1980s and early '90s, when average incomes rose by 11 percent. Yet during the same period the number of hungry Americans doubled. In fact 70 percent of the increase in income went to the wealthiest one percent, and 40 percent actually saw their incomes drop. Economic growth does not provide food security. In the world as a whole, we now have 15 percent more food available per person than we did in the mid-1970s, yet there are 100 to 200 million more hungry people. Simply producing more food does not end hunger - people go hungry in a world of plenty.

Clearly it is the distribution of food and wealth that is important for achieving food security and eliminating poverty. Exceptions that prove this rule are many. Kerala is one of the poorest states in India as measured by per capita income, yet because of its distributive policies it has the lowest infant mortality, longest life expectancy and highest literacy rate. Between 1994 and 1996, Cuba overcame the worst food crisis in its history, not by boosting fertilizer use, but by giving farmers better prices, by redistributing farm land, and through organic farming techniques. Closer to home, we see grassroots alternatives flowering across America. Struggling small farmers are finding new ways to reach urban consumers with healthy, locally grown produce, via farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) agreements. Inner-city residents are responding to supermarket closure in poor neighborhoods by turning vacant lots into viable urban farms, creating jobs for unemployed teenagers, the homeless, and others, and providing poor residents and seniors with organic food.

We can make a difference. The key elements in achieving food security - guaranteeing the right to food - are putting values first, strong local participation, and building from the bottom up into powerful social movements.  

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The Border (Summer/Fall 1996)

Vol. 6, No. 4 and Vol. 7, No. 1: Summer/Fall 1996

Steel walls.  Military-style attack raids.  People hunted down to be beaten, and sometimes killed, by government agents.  Politicians speaking the language of ethnic cleansing.  This description is not of Northern Ireland, Palestine, or Bosnia.  Instead it is a picture of the United States/Mexico border.  This issue reveals: The Border as a Rightwing Political Issue, Repression on the Border, Military-style Operations, Steel "Berlin Wall," Raids, and The North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Editors' Notes

1  Las Fronteras/The Borders: U.S./Mexico
     by Ruben Solis & Cipriana Jurado

The Border Environment

3  Profile: Tijuana, Mexico

5  Canon del Padre: A Portrait of Irresponsibility
     by Maurilio Sanchez Pachuca

6  The Border, Paradise for the Industrialists
by Martha Rocha

6  New News at the New River
     by Jose Bravo

8  Profile: Nogales

11 Profile: Sunland Park, New Mexico

13 Profile: Colonia Rio Bravo, Juarez, Mexico

14 Battling to Hold the Line
     by Felix Perez

16 Presto Locks
     by Cipriana Jurado Herrera

17 Region in Crisis: The Lower Rio Grande Valley
     by Sergo Garza

20 Organizing for Justice on the Border
     by Enrique Valdivia

Movement History

23 The Origins of the Border Justice Campaign

Immigration & Human Rights

25 Monitoring the Migra

30 Border Fatalities: The Human Costs of A Militarized Border

34 "Los Desaparecidos" of the Border

37 Immigration & the Environment: Myths & Facts

39 The Political Prison in Mexico
     by Judith Galarza

Indigenous People

40 Cross-border Indigenous Nations: A History
     by Rachel Hays

42 Native Nations Pursue Sovereignty, Fair Trade and a Clean Environment in the Borderlands
     by Rachel Hays

45 Are NAFTA's Mechanisms Serving Their Purpose?
     by Cesar Luna


47 New Ways of Organizing for Women Workers in the Maquilas
     by Carmen Valadez & Jaime Cota

51 The Circle of Poison at the Border
     by Rufino Dominguez Santos

Public Health

52 Border Health Under Seige
     by Sylvia Herrera 

Nuclear Waste

53 Welcome to Nukeyland!
     by Richard Boren

Organizing for Justice on the Border

The goals of the environmental justice movement include both protecting poor neighborhoods from environmental hazards and fostering community development. Success in environmental justice campaigns often comes to those who engage in collective efforts to solve a community's problems. This is the essence of the "empowerment" philosophy espoused by many environmental justice activists.

Like Little League and health clubs, concern for the environment has typically been a middle class pastime. Successful NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard”) campaigns in middle-class neighborhoods prompted polluters to locate their businesses where opposition was weak and disorganized. As a result, a disproportionately large number of such facilities were placed in poor neighborhoods and in communities of color. Environmental injustice came to be seen as a byproduct of environmental regulation, occurring "not in spite of our systems of law, but because of our system of laws."1 Besides suffering the unwelcome attention of polluting industries, poor communities also have a hard time attracting desirable development. Some areas lack even basic amenities, such as paved roads, drinking water and wastewater treatment systems. There is often no legal remedy for these deficiencies. As with siting decisions for toxic waste dumps and the like, the failure to improve conditions in poor neighborhoods is a normal consequence of powerlessness.

What follows are two stories of successful environmental justice struggles along the Texas-Mexico border, in which the true heroes are the grassroots activists themselves.

Kickapoo Uprising

For more than a century, a small group of Kickapoo Indians, members of an Algonquian tribe native to the Midwestern United States, have lived in the brush country straddling the border between the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas. Members of the tribe pass freely between the United States and Mexico. A settlement directly underneath the international bridge at Eagle Pass, Texas symbolizes the tribe's transcendence of territorial borders. Perhaps the ultimate grassroots organization, the Kickapoo tribe is a culturally conservative group which has preserved its identity and traditions despite extreme geographic, political and economic challenges.

The Kickapoo have a legacy as regional protectors. In the early 1800s the Spanish Crown encouraged them to settle in Spanish territory to strengthen defenses against Anglo-American encroachment.2 Mexican authorities continued this policy, welcoming the Kickapoo as defenders against raids from other Native American tribes.3

In 1991, the Traditional Council for the Texas Band of Kickapoo resolved to fight environmental degradation by passing a strong Tribal resolution opposing a radioactive waste dump near their land. Texcor Industries, Inc. proposed to build a waste disposal site for uranium mine tailings near Spofford, Texas, along the headwaters of Elm Creek, which flows for some thirty miles before merging into the Rio Grande. The Kickapoo feared their settlements near Elm Creek could be at risk for contaminated ground and surface water supplies. Their opposition to Texcor's dump also had a spiritual dimension. The Tribal Council's resolution to oppose Texcor cited the Tribe's deep interest "in the conservation of nature as God created it" and deemed the Texcor facility "as one more way of contaminating our Earth."4

Represented by Alpha Hernandez and George Korbel of Texas Rural Legal Aid's Del Rio and San Antonio offices, the Tribe became a party to the administrative hearing before the Texas Water Commission on the Texacor permit application. Asserting that conducting the entire hearing process in English violated their equal protection and due process rights, the Kickapoo asked that all legal notices be given in Spanish and English, that the most significant documents, such as the license application, be translated into Spanish and that a certified interpreter be present at the hearing to translate the proceedings into Spanish and the traditional Kickapoo language.

The Kickapoo also argued that the proposed location of the Texcor site violated their religious beliefs in contravention of the guarantees of the First Amendment and the Treaty of Fort Dearborn. The Fort Dearborn Treaty, executed September 28, 1832, reads:

This is to certify that the families of the Kickapoo Indians, thirty seven in number are to be protected by all persons from any injury whatever, as they are under the protection of the U.S. and any person so violating shall be punished accordingly.

Maj. Whittles, 2nd Reg. Inf. Company5

In testimony translated from Kickapoo to Spanish and then into English, Adolfo Anico, the Tribe's religious leader, told of Kickapoo beliefs regarding protection of the earth. "The air, the earth, the wind, the water and the sun are sacred elements of nature which correspond to the various aspects of the human form. The depositing of nuclear waste at a site other than that of its origin is a desecration of the earth and disturbs the balance of nature. This, then, affects the human. In the words of Chief Seattle 'we are a part of the earth and it is a part of us, for all things are connected.'"6

The proceedings, which lasted 65 days, became a tri-national undertaking with parties from the U.S., Mexico and the Kickapoo nations. The broad coalition of interests opposing Texcor clearly helped assure a favorable outcome for the Kickapoo and their allies. The State denied Texcor's permit request. However, since the decision was based on the narrow grounds of Texcor's failure to identify its waste streams, the company continues to look for ways to surmount the opposition and build its dump. The struggle is not yet over, but the Kickapoo are ready.

La Union de las Colonias Olvidadas

The people living in the colonias along Highway 359 had good reason to feel forgotten. After years of pleading with elected officials, these colonias east of Laredo still lacked public water and sewage services. Residents had to haul their water in 65 gallon barrels, sometimes making several trips a day in the hot summer months. With no sewer system, residents resorted to pit privies and septic tanks. Webb County officials frequently promised public services to the Laredo colonias but never delivered on those promises.

Lack of money wasn't the problem. Literally millions of dollars of state and federal funds have been available for years. A 1990 GAO study showed that Texas had 842 colonias with 198,000 residents.7 Of the Texas colonias visited by GAO, less than one percent had sewage systems, and 40 percent did not have water supplies. In 1991 Congress required Texas to set aside 10% of its Community Development Block Grant funds for assistance to colonias. Grant money for the colonias could also come from the state's Economically Distressed Areas Program.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has included a $100 million Colonias Assistance Program initiative in its 1995 budget. This program would assist state and local efforts to address the severe housing and infrastructure needs of the colonias. The $100 million would be used to match funds provided by the states of Texas, New Mexico, California, and Arizona and local governments and non-government organizations in those states. In spite of all the resources available to them Webb County officials simply hadn't asked for the funds to improve the colonias.

By July 1994, residents of the Laredo colonias had had enough of Webb County's torpor and formed La Union de las Colonias Olvidadas (LUCO). About 700 people from 10 of the Highway 359 Colonias elected two representatives from each colonia. Their goal was to pressure the County Commissioners and the County Judge into finally bringing drinking water and sanitary sewer services to their homes. A spokesperson for the group told the media "We are prepared to cooperate with all the authorities and parties who Summerffall 1996 seek to find a solution. But if we have to file a lawsuit to get them to act, we will. If we have to file a lawsuit to get answers, we will. If we have to become a political thorn in their side, we will. If we have to march in the streets, we will."

True to its word, LUCO promptly organized a public protest. 100 families paraded down the streets of Laredo in trucks carrying 65 gallon water drums. LUCO organizers carried posters that read, "We need water, nuestros hijos necesitan la agua."

County officials were quick to absolve themselves and pin the blame on others. Responding to criticism from colonia residents that she has done little to help them, County Commissioner Judith Gutierrez contended "the Union members are threatening to sue the wrong people. They should be suing the developers. We at the county feel a tremendous moral obligation to help them, but we have no legal obligation."

"The county is saying that they do not have a legal obligation, we are saying that they do," said Texas Rural Legal Aid attorney Israel Reyna. According to Reyna the county received a $52,000 grant for a county engineering plan three years ago but still hadn't completed it. The plan was to lay out how services could be delivered to the colonias. He argued that since the colonia residents were the intended beneficiaries of the grant, the county was under a legal obligation to follow through and complete the project. Reyna said, "it is not unreasonable to expect public officials or county officials who are using state funds earmarked for that purpose, to write down on a piece of paper when this project will be completed."

LUCO's demand for results bore fruit. By April 1995 Webb County and the City of Laredo had entered into an agreement for water and sewer services to the colonias. Both the city and county agreed to provide water distribution, waste water collection and water and waste water treatment. Plumbing lines to colonia homes will be installed before the end of the year. State EDAP grants will cover the cost of the project, estimated at $15 million dollars.


The remedy for environmental injustice lies with the people most affected; Communities that once were invisible or forgotten can gain control over their destinies. But first they must overcome the root causes of their impoverishment. Chief among these is the lack of political clout endemic to poor communities. Only by organizing and coming together can communities realize their power.


1. Luke Cole, "Empowerment as the Key to Environmental Protection: The Need for Environmental Poverty Law," 19 Ecology L.Q. 619,667 (1992).

2. Callender, Charles, Pope, Richard K. and Susan, "Kickapoo," pp.656-667, in W. SMevant, ed. Northeast, vol. 15 Handbook of North American Indians. Smithsonian (1978).

3. See Latorre, Felipe A. and Dolores L., The Mexican Kickapoo Indians (1976).

4. Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas Resolution 91-0017. Confirming the Citizenship Status of the Texas Band of Kickapoo Indians: Hearings on H.R. 4496 Before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 97th Cong. 1st and 2nd Sessions 67 (1983) (Statement of Adolfo Anico, Religious Leader, Kickapoo Tribe).

5. Closing Brief on Behalf of the Kickapoo Tribe at 2, In the Consolidated Proceedings on the Application of Texcor Industries, Inc., (Texas Department of Health, Proposed Radioactive Materials License No. 4336 and Texas Water Commission, Proposed Discharge Permit No. 03328) (1992).

6. United States General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives: Rural Development- Problems and Progress of Colonia Subdivisions near Mexico Border (January 31, 1991).     

Related Stories: 

Multicultural Environmental Education (Winter/Spring 1996)

Vol.6, No.2 & 3: Winter/Spring 1996

Multicultural environmental education is not merely environmental education with multicultural populations or "audiences" nor is it "urban environmental education with multicultural populations."  It is rather a very new kind of environmental education, where content is influenced by and taught from multiple cultural perspectives.  It is conscious of its own cultural  perspectives and of the function that it has in the world and in the lives of diverse students and communities.  As the nation's schoolrooms and communities become more diverse and value their diversity, environmental education must evolve as it encounters new cultural realities in specific community contexts.

There are many themes and subthemes running through this issue: the emerging dialogue between environmental education and environmental justice; the experimental attempts of environmental educators to authentically work at the community level; and others.  But one of the most significant themes is the integrative dynamic of culture, ecology and community that is evident in each article.  This dynamic is the foundation for a new paradigm for environmental education.  Educators and activists at the grassroots level in communities around the country are creating it.  Here are some of their fears, hopes, struggles, successes and stories.

This Journal can be used in a number of ways.  Environmental studies programs can use it for course readers.  Environmental education programs can use it for training purposes by having staff read and discuss articles.  Classroom teachers can use it for practical ideas for their students.  Activists can use it for networking purposes.  Make it a part of your work and let us know of its usefulness and meaning to you.

Download PDF version (pages 1-24 only: 683KB)


1  Editor's Notes
     by Running-Grass

3  Making Multicultural Environmental Education a Reality
     by Dorceta E. Taylor

6  Environment: Where We Live, Work, Play and Learn
     by Charles Lee

8  Instrumental Values of Destruction
     by Bunyan Bryant


11 Youth Spirit Rising: Urban Environmental Activists
     by Deborah Leta Habib

14 First Person: Antonia Darder
     Interview by Cristina Valdez

17 Understanding Culture, Humanities & Environmental Justice
     by Carl Anthony


19 Environmental Justice Activism Triumphs
     by Running-Grass and Max Weintraub

22 Place and Diverse Communities
     by Tahnit Sakakeeny

25 Puget Sound Youth Stewardship Program
     by Lela Hilton

27 Environmental Justice Education Initiatives
     by Cynthia Williams Mendy

29 The Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project
     by Jo-Ann S. Henry

31 Richmond's Laotians: Putting a Community on the Map
     by Aiko Pandorf

32 On the Laotian Community
     by Bouapha Toommaly


33 Reflections on Identity, Place and Community
     by Elizabeth Ann Hass

35 The Terrain of Exclusion
     by Jacquelyn Denise Ruffin

38 Watercycles: Learning by Color
     by Maya Khosla

40 Past and Present on a Louisiana Landscape
     by Shirley E. Thompson

Youth Voices

43 Youth for Habitat II Program
     by Manaukaskar Kublall

44 The XCEL Program: San Rafael High School, California
     by Oakland Seligson

45 The Scoop on Groups
     by Deepali Potdar

Curricula and Resources

46 An Environmental Justice Strategy Game
     by Steve Chase

48 Upward Bound: Environmental Justice Video Course
     by Mark Spencer

49 Resources for Multicultural Environmental Education

Instrumental Values of Destruction: The Need for Environmental Education

As we continue to wreak destruction upon the Earth and upon each other, we are reaching a point where our actions are having dire consequences. We have embarked upon a market system that not only ravishes the Earth, but it diminishes the value of the lives of Earth's people. It is an out of control market system - a market system that extends into and shapes our personal lives, our consciousness, and the way in which we relate to one another. In our most intimate relations we often perceive one another as having instrumental value. That is, we view our friends in terms of what they can do for us-not what we can do for them or what both parties gain from the friendship.

Often we view the world from the shaky perch of the all-important “me”: “What can I get for myself, regardless of the pain it might inflict upon others.” Society is dominated by such “me-ism,” a viewpoint worse even than anthropocentrism. While the latter views humans as the very center of the universe, the former has a tendency to view me - not the community or the village - as being primary in the universe. This translates as a formula for unprecedented greed, avarice, and disconnectedness.

Out-of-control market forces determine our world view; they frame our relations with one another and with nature. Environmentalists do not seem to understand that before we can protect the environment and give authentic reverence to it and to the wonders of nature, a set of core values must be deeply seated to guide our relations with one another. Our instrumental approach to one another and to nature disrupts the connectedness and usurps the responsibility for human and nonhuman life. This disconnection is the basis of the crisis of spirituality we experience today.

Some environmentalists overlook people of color to build a relationship with nature; some have ignored the habitat of homeless people to protect the habitat of the spotted owl. As they diligently work to guarantee the rights of trees and endangered animals, they blindly neglect assigning similar rights to people of color. Although environmentalists claim to champion biodiversity, in practice that concept often seems to stop at the border line of our urban centers.


Environmental education must play a major role in rectifying this shortsighted and separatist view of humanity and nature. By making students more aware of the adverse effects of an out-of-control market system, environmental education can help students understand market forces and their impact on our personal lives. Environmental education can help us to understand the need to be spiritually connected with each other, as well as with nonhuman life forms. Along with this connectedness comes a reverence for all life forms. The teaching of environmental education helps us move away from me-ism, which represents the extreme form of anthropocentrism, toward biocentrism and an understanding that humans are subject to the same laws of nature as other living things.

Environmental education must help us understand that humans are a part of a complex web of life and that our survival as a species depends upon other life forms, even those much smaller than ourselves. To understand our predicament of inhumaness we must not only understand the destructive power of market forces, but we must be willing and able to control such forces. To control such forces will require a new system of relating to one another, a new value system that will extend across multicultural lines, embracing a new or renewed reverence for nature.

Environmental education must help students to search for truth and meaning in their own lives and practices. They must learn the importance of cherishing and extending life-affirming connectedness. To save the global community from wanton destruction, it is important that truth, meaning, and advocacy interface to rekindle our spiritual and life-affirming "connectedness" to the land, to other life forms, and to the world in which we live.

Environmental education can help students to recognize a larger self, one that recognizes the importance of biocentricity and one that believes that the destruction of life at any one place on life’s continuum has the potential to significantly alter or destroy all life forms. Truth and meaning represent more than just a cognitive exercise. When used as integral elements of the participatory research process, students and teachers learn together about the connectedness of all life forms. It also forms the basis for personal empowerment and the ultimate realization that each of us can make a difference in the world in which we live.


Before all else, we as teachers must free ourselves to be more than technicians constrained by the limited themes and materials covered in textbooks - textbooks that are often published by distant companies. We must be participatory researchers – not detached from students, but integrally involved with them in the teaching and learning process. To be effective environmental educators may require us to write curriculum materials based upon the students' environment. Producing a curriculum that validates the student's own life situation invites the student to engage in problem-solving activities. Such activities include defining the problem, collecting information, weighing alternative solutions, and recommending the most appropriate solution. Below are key issues or themes that should be included in any environmental education curriculum in order to help put the market system in its proper perspective:

1) Cultural and Racial Awareness and Nature. In order to connect with one another across cultural and racial boundaries, we must deconstruct race as a social construct; we must demonstrate the instrumental value of race and how racial differences are used for social, economic, and political gain. Questions to be entertained by students might include:  In what ways do instrumental values affect your person life? What can you do about controlling these values in your life? If you had to be born again of a different color, what color would that be? How would your life be different now than what it was before?

Also, white cultural hegemony must be challenged and critiqued by making it possible for multicultures to be cherished and celebrated. What are the barriers that keep people of different cultural backgrounds from interacting with and accepting one another? What are the barriers that keep people from interacting with and understanding nature? If you had to be born again but as a different animal, what animal would that be? What is unique about that animal? What are its contributions to the ecosystem?

2) Environmental Justice. Environmental education must make students aware that environmental justice is broader in scope than environmental equity. EJ refers to those cultural norms and values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies, and decisions to support sustainable communities, where people can interact with confidence that their environment is safe, nurturing, and productive. Environmental justice is served when people can realize their highest potential, without experiencing the “isms.” Environmental justice is supported by decent-paying and safe jobs; quality schools and recreation; decent housing and adequate health care; democratic decision-making and personal empowerment; and communities free of violence, drugs, and poverty. These are communities where both cultural and biological diversity are respected and highly revered and where distributive justice prevails. Students of environmental education must know not only the definition of EJ but they must also understand the symbiotic connection between sustainability and justice. It's this symbiotic connection that is the driving force of environmental education.

3) Participatory Research. Participatory research allows both students and teachers to engage in a process of discovery and reflection. Students are integrally and actively involved in the planning, action, observation, and reflection until understanding or a solution is reached. The research process should help students liberate themselves from the shackles of oppression by actively engaging them. To be an effective research team, both teachers and students must develop problem-solving and group process skills.

Here is one example of participatory research. A high school environmental educator works with students to prepare them for water testing. The teacher then takes the class to the local river to collect water samples and through laboratory testing the students find a high level of coliform bacteria and a large number of water-soluble salts and toxic metals. Some of the questions to be asked are: Who was responsible for the pollution? What is the role of the market system in creating these conditions? What impact is the pollution having upon human and nonhuman life? Are people of color and low-income people differentially impacted? What regulatory agencies are responsible for its cleanup? To solve the problems, student may need to draw upon chemistry, civics, math, computer science, and biology. They may decide to brainstorm strategies for getting the appropriate agency or corporation to engage in cleanup efforts. Ideally, participatory research empowers students by allowing them a chance, often rare in the educational experience, to become actively engaged in education in the roles of both learner and teacher.

4) Pollution Prevention vs. Pollution Control. Environmental education curricula should tackle the goals of pollution prevention and pollution control. If we can reduce fugitive emissions by 90 percent, then why can't we reduce them by 100 percent? The reason is that it may not be cost effective. Controlling emissions completely would increase the cost exponentially, thus cutting into profits. But while a 90 percent reduction might be good enough for some chemicals, it is not an acceptable limit for others, particularly for those chemicals that are fat-soluble and persistent in the food chain. Because some chemicals bioaccumulate, amplifying themselves hundreds or even millions of times as they move up the food chain from lower animal to higher animal to humans, they can become a problem of major proportions. Any environmental education curriculum should include the importance of recycling, reducing, and reusing as prevention strategies. At the same time, however, the most important pollution prevention strategy is to refrain from using toxic chemicals in the production cycle.

5) Deep Ecology. Deep ecology maintains that to be detached from nature robs people of their unique and spiritual and biological personhood; no one can be saved on planet Earth unless we save everyone, including the grizzly bears, the rain forests, ecosystems, mountains and rivers, and the tiniest microbes in the soil. Some basic tenets of deep ecology consist of bioregionalism, biodiversity, and biocentrism as opposed to anthropocentrism. It contends that if people harm nature, they harm themselves. Everything is intricately related; no one has the right to destroy other living things without good reason. Although the supporters of deep ecology do not advocate going back to the Stone Age, they do advocate reverence for the land, for primal people, and for communal societies, based on mutual aid and a bonding with nature.

The question students must wrestle with is: how deep or how shallow can we become and still be able to survive on planet Earth? While some environmentalists take deep ecology to the extreme, most of them do not. Yet the more shallow we become, the more we perceive nature as having instrumental value; the more shallow we become, the less value we place upon human and nonhuman life. The question again is how deep should we go? How shallow can we be without becoming disconnected?


Bryant, Bunyan, Environmental Advocacy: Concepts, Issues, and Dilemmas. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Caddo Gap Press, 1990.

Bryant, Bunyan, "Issues and Potential Policies and Solutions for Environmental Justice: An Overview." In Bryant, B. (Ed.). Environmental Justice: Issues, Policies, and Solutions. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1995.

Kendall, Peter, and Manier, Jeremy. "Maybe Animals Do Care,"The Detroit News and Free Press, August 24, 1996.

Lerner, Michael, The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1996.

Lappe, Frances Moore, Diet for a Small Planet. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.

A considerable portion of this article on instrumental values and environmental education was based upon Michael Lerner's book, The Politics of Meaning.

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Place and Diverse Communities: The Search for a Perfect Fit

A Sense of Place

0ver the last four years, I've been designing and implementing urban environmental education programs for a New England-based, non-profit, recreation and conservation organization called the Mountain Club (AMC). In the past, we've struggled not only to find the most appropriate participant group for our programs, but more importantly, to find the right setting, or "base," from which to conduct our work. For example, should our programs focus on one particular Boston-area park, or should they incorporate parks across the city? Should we work with one neighborhood in particular, or should we work with community centers city-wide? We've been struggling to define and establish a sense of place for our programs within the culturally diverse urban arena.

As perceptions of the “urban environment” have evolved and expanded, so have urban environmental educational programs. Once we believed that the urban environment simply meant green-spaces within the city. Our education offerings mirrored that view. Today we see our program's base and future as resting in what is called “community conservation work.” In fact, environmental education and conservation organizations nationwide are also terming their programs “community conservation work.” Currently, many of these “community conservation” initiatives are struggling through their own attempts to establish a sense of place. Just as definitions and perceptions of the urban environment have evolved, so have the definitions and perceptions of what makes community and what makes for community conservation work.

AMC has a strong history of running outdoor education workshops in the White Mountains of Northern New Hamp-shire and Maine. The organization has been promoting the protection and responsible use of this region for more than one hundred years. We have overnight facilities and trails in the mountains which give us an actual, physical stake in the region. We have a constituency of members that supports our conservation and research efforts. We also have a strong vision for the future of our programs in the area. Our organization's history, physical connection to the land, supportive members, and a vision for the future have created the solid sense of place from which our North Country education programs can develop and flourish. This sense of place can give any develop-ing program the direction it needs to push past obstacles and succeed.

For over 25 years, AMC had been successfully running the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP), designed to train youth workers in outdoor leadership so they, in turn, would be qualified to lead their kids on hiking and camping trips through the mountains. YOP remains a fantastic program. However, its coordinators see in it one significant short-coming: kids have a great time in the woods, but the reality is that most of them live in the city. How can we involve and engage them where they live? The answer: The Urban Trails Program, the program which I coordinate.

Inner-City Youth and Empowerment

It seems as though with each new funding cycle there is a certain key word or phrase that comes into vogue. During the year Urban Trails was conceived, there were two phrases, “inner-city youth” and “empowerment.” Thus, Urban Trails was drafted as a program that would help to empower city youth by paying them an hourly stipend to build and maintain parks in and around Boston. On its best days, youth participating in Urban Trails would set stone steps, create water bars and clear trials. These projects worked – when they could be found.

In designing Urban Trails, we were not able to establish a sense of urban place comparable to the sense of North Country place that helped YOP grow. In the mountains, there was always trail work to be done. It was accomplished by a combination of professional trail crews, supervised volunteer trail crews and many committed volunteers who worked on their own. We rather naively assumed that in city parks there would also always be plenty of trail projects at hand, and that the land maintenance agencies would generally be competent and helpful in using the aid of inner-city youth. These assumptions didn't hold. The program depended upon the existence of substantial work projects that challenged youth and taught them new skills. However, in city parks there are not many trails to blaze and bridges to build. In search of new work projects, I was constantly moving from one land maintenance agency to another, continuously reestablishing myself and the program. The program was headed towards failure. This was mainly because we did not begin with a good sense of place. We had neither history nor understanding of the physical and bureaucratic nature of city parks. We did not have any physical stake in one particular urban area; and with no history or clear fit for this program within our organization, it was a struggle to push beyond obstacles.

The Contradictions of Ownership

At the end of my first summer with Urban Trails, we knew that for the next funding season we would have to focus on the idea of “ownership” for our organization to proceed. What we needed was one particular urban green space. This way, we as an organization could take ownership of the space, along with the young people who worked on the land. Questions arose: Which green space should we choose? What neighborhood would it be in? Can you just decide to take ownership of an area? Or is ownership something that takes to you?

AMC is a New England conservation organization but because we're headquartered in Boston, we felt an obligation and a commitment to better our city environment. If, for instance, we had been a YMCA located in one particular pocket of the city, then it would have made sense for us to have adopted the nearest park. But we're not located in a small, urban neighborhood; we're located in the center of the city, in its wealthiest, best manicured and most “coalitioned” neighborhood. So I began to look to the surrounding neighbor-hoods for “ownership opportunities. We developed a handful of successful projects, such as clearing side lots and planting seeds near our youth centers. Although neighborhood-lot work engaged the youth, it really didn't make sense for AMC as an organization. There were already other city organizations that specialized in turning lots into playgrounds or gardens. They had successful histories and clearly stated mission statements that established them in the urban environment. They had place. In addition, vacant lots really didn't fit with profile. Our mission states that we are committed to the "protection, enjoyment and wise use of the mountains, rivers and trails of the Northeast." Of course we supported efforts to revitalize urban lots; but direct involvement in the process seemed to be outside of our mission.

We needed to take ownership of a place that made sense for our organization. I located an urban riverway, envisioning neighborhood kids building and caring for trails along their river. This is when I received my first real lesson in urban environmental politics. A representative from the local land maintenance agency had been taking me on site visits to the river and helping me sketch plans for trail construction. There was definitely a need for a greenway that could connect neighbor-hoods and alleviate some of the traffic from other over-used riverways. I had assumed that if no work was being done on the area, we could just jump in and take ownership. I was completely naive as to the amount of time required to secure construction permits (even for trails), and build neighborhood constituencies. Apparently, a major Boston urban environmental organization had already been working on the above. It had just appeared as though nothing was being done along the river. At the same time the representative from the maintenance agency was taking me on tour, he was also negotiating with the other group. When I finally learned of their advanced stage of involvement, we backed off from the riverway. Although I felt discouraged after this experience, I held an underlying belief that when we finally found the right programming place, it would truly be ours.


That season ended by our doing a series of large clean-up and trail building events on Boston's harbor islands. We built these events around the popular concept of “diversity.” The trail work days became celebrations with barbecues, games and free T-shirts. Rather than have youth groups work alone as the “janitors” of the city, these events involved people of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of physical and mental ability in discovering and caring for the islands together. This model successfully carried the program through several years. By concentrating our work on the islands, we were no longer moving among various locations and land maintenance agencies. The islands were common ground, belonging to not just one Boston area neighborhood, but all the local neighborhoods.

Despite the growing number of participants at each of these island work events, I still felt as though something was missing. I was sure that if volunteers were working on project sites that were close to them, places they could revisit on their own, we could accomplish so much more. I was still struck by that word "ownership." I wanted a work project with a connection to one particular community.


This time I did a little more homework and found another urban in the city of Chelsea, where no other Boston-area environmental organization seemed to be doing any work. However, after struggling for several years to find a programming place, I was cautious about myself. Communities such as Chelsea have been burnt by the unfulfilled promises of zealous outsiders. They have also grown frustrated by the half-hearted attempts these zealots have made to understand the nature and needs of the community before developing their own agendas. After all, every community has its own sense of place. For Chelsea, it was one of distinct ethnic neighborhoods and a turbulent history.

Chelsea had recently come out of receivership. For the past decade, everyone from state officials to presidents of universities had been trying to tell the community how to right itself. The city had some major economic, social and environmental challenges ahead. However, it also had a new government, some committed citizens, and a determination to make changes on its own.

I began by meeting with people in the various Chelsea government offices including the Department of Planning and Development and Health and Human Services. I met with school teachers and a prominent citizen action group. I just wanted to listen to the community's needs. Had I come in peddling my wares and offering our service and advice, I believe my actions would have been aptly interpreted as arrogant. Instead, I demonstrated my sense of respect for Chelsea. I felt privileged that they allowed me to sit in on their meetings. I kept quiet and learned from them; after all, they were inviting me into their home.

I am a woman of color who grew up in a very urban, blue-collar Boston neighborhood. For this reason, from the start of my work in Chelsea, I never felt superior to my surroundings. Instead, I viewed the city as a place of potential for partnerships and learning. I do not yet believe that all community workers must “match” their surroundings. However, it may be more initially challenging for various racial, ethnic or class groups to set aside certain ingrained missionary sentiments and proceed at a true level of “simpatico.” Likewise, it may be initially more difficult for the community to trust the motives of an outsider who does not have any apparent connections to the community.

Community Conservation Work and Community Representation

Shortly after I had begun familiarizing myself with Chelsea, the next key phrase was canonized: “community conservation work.” I was invited to join community conservation commit-tees, talk at community conservation workshops and take part in community conservation charettes. I had no idea what “charette” meant, and I was beginning to question my definition of community. The earlier Chelsea meetings had been with people I believed comprised the community -residents, as well as school and city officials. But at these charettes, the residents and local officials were seldom present. Instead, there were non-profit environmentalists (like myself), and public officials, usually from state government. One charette focused on exploring the community conservation needs and opportunities within a largely Latino and southeast Asian city. However, no representatives from these ethnic groups were present. In another community conservation committee meeting, participants had already begun drafting long-term plans for the community's river and before any member of that community had even been notified of the committee's existence.

At the community conservation charette, I asked why there were no Latino or Asian representatives present. Some of the representatives from the community's minority white population said that it was too difficult to get people from those groups to participate. I will admit that it is often difficult to involve recent immigrants in community activities; however, there were Latinos and Asians in this city who were not recent immigrants. The charette organizers could have at least printed outreach flyers in Spanish, Vietnamese or Cambodian. In general, unless a representative from each of the community's population groups is present, plans for community conservation work should not even begin to be drafted. To be successful, the community at hand must “buy-in.”

The issue of “buy-in” raises another important question: agendas. Whose projects are really getting done? Whose agendas are really being met? If a community conservation initiative has to work so hard to get a community to “buy-in” to the projects, are those projects really community-based? I admit that at times, communities can lack the needed momentum and clear direction to solve problems. But at what point is the stereotype of “unorganized, uninformed,” urban communities challenged? I have participated in community conservation initiatives where outsiders, including myself, have itemized the community's primary environmental concerns. We have then developed, and sometimes begun, rudimentary action plans designed to address these concerns. We should have spent at least as much time thoroughly investigating the community's list of concerns as we did developing our gilded action plans.

Sometimes such initiatives are invited into the community by public officials who provide their own panel of community representatives. As the “specialists,” we should have the wherewithal to make sure this panel is comprehensive and truly reflective of the community. The belief that outside community conservation workers (public agencies and environmental non-profits) can the needs and objectives of a community without first consulting with its members is patronizing at best, and fundamentally racist or classist at worst. I have never heard of outside organizations developing environmental agendas for a wealthy and primarily white suburb.

What if there are environmental concerns within a community that are not being addressed? If the community does not recognize them, are they still concerns? As an outsider, there is a fine line between calling a community's attention to what you believe should be an environmental concern, and being presumptuous or overstepping your place. Community conservation workers are currently struggling to define this obscure line. If a public official has been commissioned to address an environmental concern within a community, but the community has other environmental objectives, to what extent is this official willing to risk her career by challenging the bureaucratic order and altering her agenda? To what extent is a non-profit willing to bend the parameters of their funding? Or is community conservation work just a facade under which an appointed official or a crusading environmentalist can enter a community and fulfill her objectives? One person on my community conservation committee asked revealingly, “How do we get them (the community) to do what we want?”

Because the island trailwork events and several other projects were ongoing, I had the luxury of being able to listen to the Chelsea community without any specific programming agenda or task I needed to accomplish. They told me that they wanted opportunities for their children, an environmental career training program. Their request had created a programming need and base. Finally, I could adjust my program to fit the place, rather than continue to look for a place that fit my program.

To be wanted by a community is the ideal scenario. Eventually, it should be the goal of every community conservation programmer to longer be needed by the community. The process of moving from the status of an outsider to a useful service provider is gradual. In the meantime, Chelsea and similar communities face certain, immediate, and undeniable environmental problems. In part, these concerns can only be surmounted by the gradual process of community action. Some aspects of these problems could be more easily overcome with the additional expertise and publicity provided by larger, governmental and non-profit “community conservation” initiatives.

The question remains. Will communities prioritize these concerns over their other challenges? If they don’t, should outsiders take action anyway? If they do look for outside help, then certain agendas must be set aside and new agendas must be mutually developed. The day when a minority can plan for the majority within a community is no longer. If you hold a meeting and representatives of the community do not attend, then your meeting is null. An outsider’s place in community conservation work is to seek out every facet of that community, to listen, and to make yourself available. When they want you, they will find you, and together you will create the right place for your program.

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Transportation and Social Justice (Fall 1995)

Special Issue (Vol. 6, No. 1: Fall 1995)

Our transportation system can tell us a lot about U.S. society. It can tell us about racism, economic injustice environmental stresses are exacerbated, leaving those most and environmental degradation. The patterns of our complex historical development as a nation - economic, social, cultural, political, environmental – are embedded in a transportation system many people take for granted. It is a system destabilizes urban core communities and does not serve the needs of many people of color, women, working, poor, young, elderly and disabled people in urban, rural and Native American tribal communities alike.

Rural America is where 43 percent of disabled, 39 percent of elderly, 32 percent of unemployed and 39 percent of people below poverty live. However, less than 10 percent of spending for public transportation goes to rural communities, which have high numbers of people who are transit-dependent.

A socially just and ecologically sustainable transportation system has the potential to increase job and income opportunities, promote efficient and healthy land use patterns, create environmentally safe communities, decrease fossil fuel consumption and improve the overall social, economic and environmental quality of life. But to improve public transit and other transportation alternatives, including bicycling and walking, and to protect public health and environmental resources means we must broaden and democratize the debate and policy-making process.

This issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment examines these and other transportation issues from a variety of perspectives and experiences. Important voices from communities of color, women, disabled people, labor, social justice advocates, environmentalists, transportation reform advocates and others frame the issues, illustrate examples, relate real-life experiences and offer strategies for reforming our transportation system to serve the needs of all people. We learn that community struggles are regional struggles are national struggles are global struggles. For example, privatization attacks on organized Mexican public transit workers are similar to the attacks on San Francisco bus drivers and political efforts to privatize public transit in the United States.

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1  Transportation Reveals the Heart of U.S. Culture

     by Henry Holmes

3  Opening Up a new Dialogue on Civil Rights and Transportation
     by Hank Dittmar

5  Still Getting on the Back of the Bus?
     by Lu Blaine

7  Health Care, Transportation and Quality of Life: The Salem, Oregon Connection
     by Christina Kirk and Melanie Smith

8  Labor/Community Strategy Center Organizes Bus Riders Union in L.A.
     by Lisa Duran

10 Accessibility Has Never Been Applicable to Poor People with Disabilities
     by Reverend Calvin Peterson

11 Public Facilities Siting and Transportation Access
     by Jacky Grimshaw

15 Transportation Facilities in Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color
     by Susana R. Almanza and Raul Alvarez

18 Discrimination in Transportation: Who Decides?
     by Mutsumi R. Mizuno

19 The Equity Implications of Market-Based Transportation Control
     by Mtangulizi Sanyika

23 Cash for Clunkers Can Hurt the Poor
     by Roger D. Colton and Michael F. Sheehan

24 Congestion Pricing and the Role of "Equity" Analysis
     by Cameron Yee

26 Americans in Transit: A Profile of Public Transit Passengers
     by The American Public Transit Association

31 The Need for Rural Public Transportation
     by Steven Alexander

33 Make Common Cause
     by Bruce Colburn

35 Transit Workers and Environmentalists Join Forces in the San Francisco Bay Area
     by Luz DeVerano Cervantes

37 SF Bay Area Regional Social and Ecological Justice Transportation Vision Statement

38 Statement on Urban Public Transit
     by the Coordinating Council of Bay Area Transit Unions

39 Sindicato Unico De Trabajadores De Autotransportes Urbanos De Pasajeros RUTA-100, Comite Central
     by Jorge Cuellar Valdez

40 The Struggle for Streetspace
     by Martha Olson

42 Bicycle Planning: Growing Up or Growing Old?
     by Bruce Epperson

45 Women, Transport and Poverty: The Role of Non-Motorized Transport
     by Julia Philpott assisted by Jeff Mullin

48 Improving Access for the Poor in Urban Areas
     by Michael Replogle and Walter Hook

50 Resources on Transportation and Social Justice

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Discrimination in Transportation: Who Decides?

By Mutsumi R. Mizuno 

This time, the question is not whether Rosa Parks can sit at the front of the bus – it's whether she gets to ride the bus at all. While discrimination in transportation is no longer a matter of overt racism, many poor working people find public transportation services inadequate. And because the costs of owning and driving a car are high, private automobile transportation is not an easy option.

Out-migration to the suburbs and a lack of transit service in rural areas have created a societal dependence on automobiles that concerns both social justice advocates and environmentalists. Regrettably, their approaches to solving transportation access problems are divergent and often conflicting. While environmentalists develop ways to discourage suburban and urban automobile use, advocates for poor working people focus on obtaining any transportation means possible.

This split was brought into focus in a 1991 study conducted by the Human Environment Center. The author, Charles Fox, pointed out that national environmental groups were moving towards “aggressive, market-oriented [transportation] policies that would entail enormous disproportionate effects on low-income and minority households [without making any] recommendations to minimize or eliminate these effects.” Equally at fault from the other side was the National Urban League proposal for a Marshall Plan for America, focusing on job creation and the economy, but “show[ing] little sensitivity to transportation-related environmental and public health threats… [it]stressed the need for new investments in highways (‘good highways mean good business and a strong economy’) and emphasized that the urban poor’s difficulty in accessing suburban jobs stem from the unavailability of the automobile.”

To correct the trends that have exacerbated reliance on the automobile and widened social inequities, the environmental concerns for clean air and global warming and the social concerns for affordability and equal access to mobility must not remain on separate tracks. Improved communication among the concerned groups and better understanding of the issues are fundamental to the wise design of transportation solutions – ones that will take into account long-term social, economic, and environmental consequences. Indeed, sustainable transportation - a component of sustainable development – requires a nexus between the environment, economy and equity.

Car Dependence

The transportation decisions of the past several decades have created an infrastructure that favors automobile use and a resulting social inequity. Between 1956 and 1989, the Highway Trust Fund provided $205 billion for state road projects, while mass transit received only $50 billion in federal funds over the last 25 years.  Unfortunately, highway investments do not benefit all people equally. In 1983,40% of households earning less than $10,000 had no access to a car, whereas 99% of households with incomes over $40,000 owned one vehicle and nearly 90% owned two or more. Furthermore, the racial component to this inequity is clear. In 1980, 32.9% of black households and 22.7% of Latino households were without vehicles, compared to only 10.1% of white households.

It is not surprising, then, that Mtangulizi Sanyika and James Head of the National Economic Development and Law Center found in a 1990 study that many low-income people were "transportation disadvantaged, ... unable to access basic institutions, jobs, or services due to transportation barriers." Others included in the "transportation disadvantaged person (TDP)" category were seniors, youth, women with children, homeless, unemployed, developmentally disadvantaged, low income and people of color, and non-auto owners.

Existing buses and rail systems, as alternatives to cars, do not provide sufficient service to these groups. Even though a report by the American Public Transit Association in 1992 showed that public transit disproportionately serves low income workers and minorities, some social justice advocates argue that transit systems need to be made "more efficient, affordable, safe and competitive" to assure social equality. However, in many parts of the country, transit fares are increasing and services decreasing.

Rural areas need attention as well. According to Jean Smith of the Central Arkansas Development Council, while 36% of America's population lives in rural areas, only 7% of federal transportation funds are spent there. Moreover, 43% of the disabled, 39% of the elderly, and 39% of the impoverished live in rural areas. "In rural states where transit users have found bus service to be more reliable than most of the cars they own, the regrettable fact is that only 50% of counties may have public transportation available." This leads rural activists to argue that transportation policies not only affect lifestyles, they cause poverty.

Left Hand, Right Hand

Highlighting the difference in approaches to meeting environmental goals and the goals of communities are market mechanisms and mobility strategies. The former is often put forth as a mechanism to reduce vehicle emissions while the latter seeks to maximize transportation for workers to get jobs. Neither desirable social goal provides a full solution to the transportation and equity problem.

On the pricing/emission reduction side, a 1992 report by Jon Kessler and Will Schroeer of the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that pricing mechanisms are a necessary complement to more traditional traffic control measures (i.e. traffic control improvements, highway reconstruction and traditional mass transit). Seeking significant improvements in air quality, these authors recommend pricing, since “governing interventions which redirect capital resources often produce inefficiencies.”

Also, they calculated that any technological-related emissions reduction will be overtaken by more vehicle-miles-travelled (VMT) by the year 2005 because road space will be utilized as long as driving is inexpensive.

Among the alternative pricing measures recommended were: pay-as-you-drive registration or inspection fees: congestion pricing; cash-out plans for employer-paid parking and private transit. Revenues from these measures would be used to invest in alternative transportation schemes and to offset economic disadvantages.

However, there is no consensus among public interest groups on the use of such “offsets” to compensate the poor.

While some advocates find it acceptable to redistribute funds into the community, others point out that price signals inadvertently target people of moderate or low-incomes, leaving wealthy segments relatively immune. Moreover, “offsets” often disappear during economic downturns. And some community members dislike the idea of “another poverty hand-out.” In any case, more research is necessary to determine which market mechanisms have what effects.

This article was first published for the State Report on the Environment when Mutsumi was working at the Center for Policy Alternatives. This past summer Mutsumi moved to Burma after being a policy analyst at the Environmental Action Foundation.

Transportation & Social Justice       |       Vol. 6 No. 1        |         Fall 1995


Related Stories: 

Burning Fires (Spring/Summer 1995)

Nuclear Technology & Communities of Color (Vol.5, No.3&4: Spring/Summer 1995)

U.S. Army General Leslie Groves and nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer designed the Manhattan Project according to the military model: secrecy was created and sustained by compartmentalizing every phase of the work. The Project that produced the first atomic bomb was spread over thirty-seven installations scattered across the United States and Canada, each an isolated unit providing only a fragment of the bomb-making process. At Los Alamos, where scientists labored over the mathematical, chemical, and physical challenges of the task, the Project was characterized by a strict division of labor to deter communication among workers and a chain of command assuring that only a few people at the top understood the whole project.


In the crafting of the Nuclear Age, the same forces of compartmentalization and secrecy used in the Manhattan Project merged with the psychological, sociological, economic, and political forces that have shaped environmental racism. The result: a suspiciously high percentage of research laboratories, test sites, reactors, and waste dumps are housed in communities deemed “the middle of nowhere” and “the other side of the tracks” and inhabited by people deemed “poor, uneducated, and politically ineffective.”

How could it have been otherwise?

Ever since western world views emphasizing the domination of nature and “progress” replaced the older ecological philosophies of people-in-relation-to-the-cosmos, the theme of human experience has centered on arms build-up, expansionism, and colonization.

The unraveling of this union has begun. At the World Uranium Hearing in Austria in 1992, people of color from all over the world—from Namibia, Tahiti, Mongolia, Tibet, the American West, Canada, Peru, the Arctic Circle—testified to a board of scientists, journalists, and scholars about the effects of nuclear development on native peoples. Remarkable facts were revealed: over 70 percent of the world’s uranium deposits lie on lands inhabited and considered sacred by indigenous peoples. For every ton of uranium oxide used by the nuclear industry, up to 40,000 tons (still emanating 85 percent of the ore’s original radioactivity) remain behind—often left in mounds, seeping into the water table, scattering in the wind across indigenous lands. Nuclear testing disproportionately rains down upon people of color. And today industrialized nations are luring impoverished tribal governments with promises of money in exchange for storing nuclear waste on their ancestral lands.

Beginning with physicist Enrico Fermi’s revealing declaration at the moment the scientists realized they could catalyze a controlled chain reaction, this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment marks the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Age by tracing the intertwining of the nuclear fuel cycle with the contamination—and activism—of communities of color.

People of color have borne more than the lion’s share of the toxic effects of development. And yet, despite the injustice of the situation, if we do not do our job of caring for and communing with our beautiful world, all is lost. In this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment, we hope to reveal to you the tragic connections between nuclear development and the suffering communities of color—and to inspire you to join the struggle to stop this source of pain and dislocation before another fifty years pass.

--Chellis Glendinning


Download Full PDF Version (1.15MB)

In this issue...

2 "6 August 1945"

4 The American Hibakusha

5 Depleted Uranium: Legacy of the Gulf War
by Dolly Lymburner

6 Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis
by Carl Anthony

9 Los Alamos DC: Growing Up Under a Cloud of Secrecy
by Hilario Romero

11 Radiation and AIDS
by Jay Gould and Benjamin Goldman

12 IQ Is Affected by Fallout
by Jay Gould and Benjamin Goldman

13 Fight Back: Uranium Mining in the Grants Mineral Belt
by Simon Ortiz

16 The Jackpile Mine: Testimony of a Miner
by Dorothy Ann Purley

18 Secrecy and Disregard at Savannah River
by Mildred McClain

20 You CANT Do It in Claiborne Parish LA
by Citizens Against Nuclear Trash

22 Death on the Road: Transportation of Spent Fuel Rods
by Nancy J. Nadel

26 Another Broken Promise
by Manuel Pino

28 High Hopes: Testimony on Human Radiation Experimentation
by Caroline Cannon

29 Other Than Honorable: An Atomic Bomb Veteran
by William Hodsden

32 Indian Nations Go Nuclear Free
by Chuck Johnson

34 A Premonition Fuels Mescalero Apache Struggle
by Rufina Marie Laws

37 Who Here Will Begin This Story?
by Herman Agoyo

39 The Declaration of Salzburg

41 Only Justice Can Stop a Curse
by Alice Walker

43 Resources

Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis: Freedom from Annihilation Is a Human Right

As far as we know, the Cuban Missile Crisis marks the closest the world has ever come to nuclear destruction. In the thirteen days between October 14, 1962, when CIA officials obtained photographic intelligence that Soviet missiles were being assembled in Cuba, until October 27, 1962, when Nikita Krushchev agreed to pull back, the people of the United States lived on the brink of nuclear disaster.

I was almost twenty-four years old, living with two roommates in a basement flat on the lower East Side of Manhattan, a student at Columbia University. As a result of my social activism in the civil rights movement, the segregated worlds which had formed my social practice and consciousness as a youth were unraveling. The summer and fall of 1962 had been a season of hope and bitterness. The hope came from mobilizations within and between communities. People I knew were talking for the first time about their dreams and passions for the future, love affairs, and a glimpse, previously unimaginable, of the end of racism. Martin Luther King had been arrested protesting segregation of public facilities in Albany, Georgia. The newly formed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee had galvanized the nation with courage. But a bitterness grew from the intransigence of Southern racists, the fickleness of the Kennedy Administration in protecting the lives of civil rights workers, and the powerlessness of African Americans to secure even the rudiments of dignity.

Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The crisis can be understood as a conflict between three figures - Kennedy, Krushchev, and Fidel Castro. Kennedy represented the “great white hope,” the debonair Bostonian, the apex of American mastery and intelligence, the model of what every American of my generation had been conditioned to worship. Khruschev was his nemesis. He was fat, old, and bald. He couldn't speak English, and he had a habit of taking his shoe off and banging it on the table to make his point. But beneath the crudity of his image, the points he sought to make were closer than Kennedy's Camelot to my own hopes and dreams.

Castro was different from the other two. At thirty-five he was the only one who had actually made a revolution. The people of Harlem loved Fidel, and this made a big impact on me. Harlem residents remembered 1960 when Fidel came to speak at the United Nations. Planning to stay at a hotel near the UN in downtown Manhattan, he and his entourage were harassed by the management and unceremoniously evicted. In a move which greatly embarrassed the U.S. State Department, Malcolm X invited Fidel to stay in a modest hotel in Harlem.

Like many young African Americans of my generation in New York, I had met Malcolm X and talked with him. We had lunch several times at Mosque Number 7 on 116th Street. Yet Malcolm X frightened me. I would go up to Harlem to listen to him speak. There were usually 500 to 1000 Black people. Malcolm taught that African Americans should think of themselves as global citizens. He said the African American struggle was not for civil rights, but for human rights. Civil rights derive from the authority of the state. Human rights are natural rights that precede and transcend the restrictions of a particular sovereign nation. As a people unrepresented by the national government, we must demand our human rights. Malcolm counseled Black people to be peaceful unless they were provoked, in which case he instructed us to use “any means necessary.” I would gaze out over the crowd, beyond the barricades that had been placed to contain the Black people, and look into the eyes of the white policemen. I could see fear in their eyes.

Fidel accepted Malcolm's invitation to stay at the Hotel Theresa on 125th Street and 7th Avenue. On his arrival, Fidel was lavishly welcomed by thousands of Harlem residents who lined the streets to greet him. They saw the abusive treatment he received by those in power as similar to the discrimination they experienced daily.

On October 16, 1962, President Kennedy's advisors told him that the Soviet Union was building nuclear weapons launching sites in Cuba. After a week of deliberation, Kennedy announced the crisis to the nation, charging that the Soviet Union had lied to him. Armaments and military equipment were being sent to Cuba, and now there was "unmistakable evidence that offensive missile sites were in preparation." Kennedy ordered a strict quarantine of "ships of any kind bound for Cuba," promising they would be turned back if they contained offensive weapons. He ended his speech with patronizing remarks to what he called "the captive people of Cuba."

"I speak to you as a friend, as one who knows your deep attachment to your fatherland . . . Now your leaders are no longer Cuban leaders inspired by Cuban ideals . . . We know that your lands and lives are being used as pawns by those who would deny your freedom."

From a white perspective, the Cubans were only a marginal factor in the struggle between superpowers. The perspectives of Black people in the United States were irrelevant. But today, in a world fraught with ethnic tension, it may be important to understand the crisis from these undervalued points of view.

Cuba is a Spanish-speaking, multiracial Caribbean Island. One third of the population is visibly African, and a much larger percentage of the population views the struggle against slavery as a defining crucible of national identity. Much of the culture reflects a New World amalgam, blending ancient Yoruba, Carib, and Iberian traditions. It is a culture inaccessible to a U.S. nation which, despite its large multicultural population, regards itself as "white." The majority of the Cuban population had been dispossessed by exploitative global military, economic, and political forces. In 1961, the U.S. had launched an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Castro feared that the United States would try again. It was this fear of U.S. aggression that led the Cuban government to ask for Soviet missiles. But Kennedy read the crisis as an act of Soviet aggression rather than Cuban self-defense.

By October 24, the quarantine was in full effect, and Russian ships, including a submarine, were nearing the 500 mile barrier. Kennedy now faced a major choice. The US had to intercept or announce withdrawal.

That afternoon, I learned that the confrontation was about to take place as I came up out of the bowels of the subway and fixed on a newspaper headline: NUCLEAR WAR IMMINENT.

It infuriated me that somebody's program of blowing up the planet would interrupt the business of my growing up and healing the searing, corrosive scars of segregation that were tearing me in half. How could they do this to me when everything was finally coming together? I remembered when I was a kid; air raid sirens would go off every few days in our neighborhood. My father instructed us to get under a table when we heard the wailing sound. He told us not to look out of the windows when the whistles blew as bombs might be dropping from the sky. I stared across the intersection at a sullen sky, expecting at any minute to be confronted with evidence that a war had begun. Would there be a warning siren? Would there be a flash of light? Would the ground tremble beneath my feet?

Later that day the news came. Inexplicably, Russian ships had not challenged the quarantine. "We have a preliminary report which seems to indicate that some of the Russian ships have stopped dead in the water." The report was confirmed. Still the crisis was not over. Russian technicians were in Cuba, uncrating and assembling bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons to the U.S. mainland.

The President had said that the missiles could hit targets 1000 miles away. How far was it from Cuba to New York? More than 1000 miles I thought. The missiles might hit Atlanta, Charleston, Albany, Georgia, cities tom apart by racial strife. I was struck by the absurdity of Black people risking their lives so they could sit at picnic tables in public parks or go into public bathrooms marked “white only.” Southern racists feared black bodies in public swimming pools. They didn't want Black people to vote or go to white colleges. They sent police officers to beat up pregnant women, and backwoods vigilantes shot up homes of civil rights workers. Meanwhile hour by hour, minute by minute, missiles to be aimed at these same cities were being erected in Cuba.

During those days in October, I experienced a crisis of consciousness. I couldn't find a point of balance, a center. As I read the news, a space opened up within me to two types of terror: one concrete, routine, familiar; the other abstract, technological. Which was worse? I couldn't say. It was eerie waiting for the bomb to drop, trying to sort out my emotions of rage and impotence. My anger came from the reluctant admission that maybe the peace activists were right all along. Maybe preventing a nuclear holocaust was more important than gaining civil rights for Black people.

Webster's Dictionary defines the verb to annihilate as "to destroy all traces of, to obliterate, to nullify or render void, to abolish." It is possible to argue that segregation is a lesser evil than annihilation because in the former, a human being may be degraded but is at least allowed a physical existence. In a nuclear blast, all people would be eliminated. This instant stands in contrast to the social death routinely enforced, which allows one set of people, through conscious and unconscious acts of commission and omission, to abuse another people. I couldn't accept the possible truth that total annihilation was worse.

On the evening of October 25 Kennedy received a "very long and emotional" letter from Krushchev. Some people who reviewed the message ominously suggested it showed that Krushchev was unstable and incoherent. In his book, Thirteen Days, Robert Kennedy thought otherwise. "It was not incoherent, and the emotion was directed at the death, destruction and anarchy that nuclear war would bring to his people and all mankind. That, he said, again and again and in many different ways, must be avoided. We must not succumb to 'petty passions' or to 'transient things' he wrote, but should realize that if war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war." Krushchev ended the letter proposing to withdraw weapons from Cuba. In exchange, he asked Kennedy to cancel the blockade and agree not to invade Cuba. The next day, Krushchev sent a more threatening proposal demanding that the U.S. dismantle missiles aimed at Russia, sited in Turkey. Kennedy ignored the second letter and agreed to the terms of the first. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over.

Great sighs of relief were felt throughout the land. But some saw in Kennedy's actions another example of white arrogance, the willingness on the part of Kennedy to risk the threat of global nuclear disaster rather than lose face. Kennedy chose to force Krushchev to back down unilaterally, with a potential loss of face. But the question remained: what would have happened if Krushchev had refused to back down?

Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists. While many are gloating over the success of the "free" market, we might pause to remember that it was Krushchev, not Kennedy, who saved the world from a nuclear holocaust. We are still faced with the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Many Westerners fear a future in which Third World nations have access to these weapons. The leaders of these countries are more like Fidel Castro than they are like Kennedy or Kruschchev. The ethnocentric bias and the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis remain with us.

Nuclear weapons are tools of a conquering, violent culture. Racism at domestic and international levels heightens the potential vulnerability and miscalculation surrounding nuclear proliferation. Few people of color have had any role in debate, development, or decision-making about the goals of this brutal technology. In a nuclear holocaust whole populations will be vaporized in the flash of an eye. People deciding the appropriateness of such a choice inevitably would bring their prejudices and fears to the devastating decision to annihilate whole peoples. The concentration of nuclear power in the hands of a Eurocentric technological elite, paranoid about the aims and aspirations of the majority of the world's population—people of color—magnifies the potential for global disaster. The great and growing gulf of human communication between the rich and poor, European and non-European, multiplies the potential antagonism that could result in planetary holocaust. In this context organizing against nuclear proliferation is, by definition, a multicultural effort, bringing the intelligence and wisdom of every community to the global task of defeating the excesses of racism, human aggression, and technology-gone-berserk.

Nuclear weapons are a violation of the sovereignty of the world's people. Freedom from annihilation is a human right.

Only Justice Can Stop a Curse

Anti-Nuke Rally

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco CA

 March 16, 1982

To the Man God: 0 Great One, I have been sorely tried by my enemies and have been blasphemed and lied against. My good thoughts and my honest actions have been turned to bad actions and dishonest ideas. My home has been ill-treated. My dear ones have been backbitten and their virtue questioned. 0 Man God, I beg that this that I ask for my enemies shall come to pass:

That the South wind shall scorch their bodies and make them wither and shall not be tempered to them. That the North wind shall freeze their blood and numb their muscles and that it shall not be tempered to them. That the West wind shall blow away their life's breath and will not leave their hair grow, and that their fingernails shall fall off and their bones shall crumble. That the East wind shall make their minds grow dark, their sight shall fall and their seed dry up so that they shall not multiply.

 I ask that their fathers and mothers from their furthest generation will not intercede for them before the great throne, and that the wombs of their women shall not bear fruit except for strangers, and that they shall become extinct. I pray that the children who may come shall be weak of mind and paralyzed of limb and that they themselves shall curse them in their turn for ever turning the breath of life into their bodies. I pray that disease and death shall be forever with them and that their worldly goods shall not prosper, and that their crops shall not multiply and that their cows, their sheep, and their hogs and all the living beasts shall die of starvation and thirst. I pray that their house shall be unroofed and that the rain, the thunder and lightening shall find the innermost recesses of their home and that the foundation shall crumble and the floods tear it asunder. I pray that the sun shall not shed its rays on them in benevolence, but instead it shall beat down on them and bum them and destroy them. I pray that the moon shall not give them peace, but instead shall deride them and decry them and cause their minds to shrivel. I pray that their friends shall betray them and cause them loss of power, of gold and of silver, and that their enemies shall smite them until they beg for mercy which shall not be given them. I pray that their tongues shall forget how to speak in sweet words, and that it shall be paralyzed and that all about them shall be desolation, pestilence and death. 0 Man God, I ask you for all these things because they have dragged me in the dust and destroyed my good name; broken my heart and caused me to curse the day that I was born. So be it.

This is a curse-prayer that Zora Neale Hurston, novelist and anthropologist, collected in the 1920s. And by then it was already old. I have often marveled at it. At the precision of its anger, the absoluteness of its bitterness. Its utter hatred of the enemies it condemns. It is a curse-prayer by a person who would readily, almost happily, commit suicide, if it meant her enemies would also die. Horribly.

I am sure it was a woman who first prayed this curse. And I see her - Black, Yellow, Brown or Red, "aboriginal" as the Ancients are called in South Africa and Australia and other lands invaded, expropriated and occupied by whites. And I think, with astonishment, that the curse-prayer of this colored woman—starved, enslaved, humiliated and carelessly trampled to death—over centuries, is coming to pass. Indeed, like ancient peoples of color the world over, who have tried to tell the white man of the destruction that would inevitably follow from the uranium mining plunder of their sacred lands, this woman—along with millions and billions of obliterated sisters, brothers and children—seems to have put such enormous energy into her hope for revenge, that her curse seems close to bringing it about. And it is this hope for revenge, finally, I think, that is at the heart of People of Color's resistance to any anti-nuclear movement.

In any case, this has been my own problem.

When I have considered the enormity of the white man's crimes against humanity. Against women. Against every living person of color. Against the poor. Against my mother and my father. Against me . . . . When I consider that at this very moment he wishes to take away what little freedom I have died to achieve., through denial of my right to vote . . . . Has already taken away education, medicine, housing and food. . . . That William Shockley is saying at this moment that he will run for the Senate of my country to push his theory that Blacks are genetically inferior and should be sterilized. . . . When I consider that he is, they are, a real and present threat to my life and the life of my daughter, my people, I think - in perfect harmony with my sisters of long ago: Let the earth marinate in poisons. Let the bombs cover the ground like rain. For nothing short of total destruction will ever teach them anything.

And it would be good, perhaps, to put an end to the species in any case, rather than let the white man continue to subjugate it, and continue to let their lust dominate, exploit and despoil not just our planet, but the rest of the universe, which is their clear and oft-stated intention; leaving their arrogance and litter not just on the moon, but on everything they can reach.

If we have any true love for the stars, planets, the rest of Creation, we must do everything we can to keep white man away from them. They who have appointed themselves our representatives to the rest of the universe. They who have never met any new creature without exploiting, abusing and destroying it. They who say we poor and colored and female and elderly blight neighborhoods, while they blight worlds.

What they have done to the Old, they will do to the New.

Under the white man every star would become a South Africa, every planet a Vietnam.

Fatally irradiating ourselves may in fact be the only way to save others from what Earth has already become. And this is a consideration that I believe requires some serious thought from every one of us.

However, just as the sun shines on the godly and the ungodly alike, so does nuclear radiation. And with this knowledge it becomes increasingly difficult to embrace the thought of extinction purely for the assumed satisfaction of—from the grave—achieving revenge. Or even of accepting our demise as a planet as a simple and just preventative medicine administered to the universe. Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it. In any case, Earth is my home—though for centuries white people have tried to convince me I have no right to exist, except in the dirtiest, darkest corners of the globe.

So let me tell you: I intend to protect my home. Praying—not a curse—only the hope that my courage will not fail my love. But if by some miracle, and all our struggle, the earth is spared, only justice to every living thing (and everything alive) will save humankind.

And we are not saved yet.

Only justice can stop a curse.



Burning Fires       ?õ¬?       Vol. 5 No. 3 & 4      ?õ¬?       Spring/Summer 1995


Environmental Justice and the Law (Fall 1994/Winter 1995)

A Special Issue Examining Legal Work in the Environmental Justice Movement (Vol.5, No.2/3: Fall 1994/Winter 1995)







Download this issue as a PDF (1.38 MB)

1   Why the Law?

     by Francis Calpotura

2   The Movement and the Legal Community
     by Pat Bryant

3   Lawyers, the Law & Environmental Justice
     by Bernie Whitebear

8   New Developments in the Environmental Justice
     by Ann Bastian and Dana Alston

13  Washington Office on Environmental Justice
      by Deeohn Ferris

17  A Conversation with Linda Bullard

21  Voices from the Movement
      interviews by Heather Abel

25 Industrial Inner Cities Confront Contamination
     by Keith Harley

28 Lawyering for Environmental Justice
     by Luke Cole

31 Farm Land, Hog Operations, and Environmental Justice
     by David H. Harris, Jr.

34 Texans Challenge High Voltage Lines
     by Enrique Valdivia & Ashley Bracken

35 New Environmental Poverty Law Project Battles a Garbage Incinerator
     by Jim Freeman

37 The Legal Education of a Community Worker
     interview by Heather Abel

39 Environmental Justice and Civil Rights
     by Alice Brown

42 "What's Intent Got To Do With It?"
     by Matthew Chachere

46 The Human Side of Environmental Racism: A Visit to Columbia, MS
     by Wendy Brown-Scott

48 Fighting Toxics on the Bayou
     by Sharon Carr Harrington

50 For the People
     by B. Suzi Ruhl

52 From White Knight Lawyers to Community Organizers
     by Richard Toshiyuki Drury and Flora Chu

55 An Open Letter to Environmental Law Clinics

58 Louisiana's Legal Eagles
     by Bob Keuhn

60 Practicing Law for the People
     by Anne Simon

61 Jurist Quits SCLDF Board in Dispute
     by Dennis Pfaff

62 Impact Litigation: A Critique
     by Flora Chu and Richard Toshiyuki Drury

back cover SWOP SLAPPPED, Help Fight Back

back cover New Environmental Justice Resource Center Launched
     by Judith Lurie

Why the Law?

A recent victory by activists in the Georgia Sea Islands to preserve their community is one example of the many and, I’ll submit, strategic challenges that confront the fastest-growing movement that involves people of color in the country today the environmental justice movement.

Race, Poverty & the Environment readers are accustomed to reading about the latest EJ victories: in Kettleman City, in Albuquerque, in Tucson, in Oakland. Communities of color have been successful in fighting incinerators, groundwater contamination, lead poisoning and other environmental hazards and their connection to real people's lives. The courageous efforts of the Sea Islanders to stem the tide of unwanted and devastating development that endangers their land and culture is a recent addition to this impressive list of victories.

The Sea Island struggle is indicative of recent fights that have been waged by oppressed communities:  A tactical alliance of an indigenous community organization (read: colored) with a larger environmental or preservationist institution (predominantly white with a very few speckles of color) to pool resources to fight a proposed plan or in response to some documented environmental problem in the community. In more instances than not, the strategy employed by these initiatives has been a legal one, utilizing state or federal environmental laws and regulations to win the community's demands. Every time a corporation is brought to its knees is an occasion to celebrate. However, we must ask ourselves, "What implications does this strategy have for building the movement?"

I was once told by an organizer friend of mine that lawsuits are a tactic to be used during a fight when you want to (a) end the campaign and move on to another issue, (b) inspire your members by showing that you are not afraid to take on these bastards, or (c) force the hand of your opposition to react to your initiative during a stalemate.

In none of these instances, I remember, is a lawsuit a strategy for winning a fight. It is always a tactical move. So where does this penchant for legal struggles come from? Indigenous community organizations normally don’t have lawyers (some don’t even have paid staff) on their payroll; environmental organizations do. I would argue that the alliance of community organizations with the proliferating Environmental Law Centers around the country has resulted in legal strategies for winning environmental justice fights, to the detriment of direct-action, community-oriented strategies.

The political implications are serious. A legal strategy affects how the issues that confront a community are stood. For example, the fight by the Sea Islanders was framed as a “preservation” issue in order to employ a variety of zoning and endangered species laws to delay development.  This cut on the issue fails to show the racial and class character of the developer's strategy, something organizing for community control and equitable development would do to a much greater extent.

In addition, a legal strategy takes the fight away from arenas in which people can have some direct influence—their politicians, local development company offices, residences of the CEO, bank offices, etc.—to a place where they don't, in some chamber controlled by a judge where only the lawyers are allowed to speak (and only in English). This strategy does not facilitate the building of a cohesive, imaginative and militant base of people willing to employ various tactics on the opposition. This has great implications on how deep our organizational base is, and how leaders get developed.

Strategic Questions

The more important strategic questions for the movement go beyond mere choice of strategic options to employ. The questions that continue to nag me are these: Is the Environmental Justice movement constrained, both ideologically and pragmatically, by its “environmental” frame? Do the crucial strategic fights always have to have an environmental cut? Do the race-and class-based analysis of the EJ framework transfer to other organizational fights? Finally, are the alliances being developed a benefit or a hindrance to the further political development of grassroots indigenous organizations? There are probably a few other key questions to raise to come up with lessons to refine the EJ framework in its efforts in building a strong movement for justice.

One initiative which may point to such is contained in Ron Nixon’s description of the Penn Center's Preservation School. Creating a collective process wherein Sea Island indigenous leaders can explore the many dimensions of the key issues confronting their community, and hash out a long-term vision based on these discussions, will necessarily create, I think, a strategy for change firmly rooted in the Island’s political, social, and economic conditions. Such a framework will allow indigenous communities to engage the developers in different ways.

During the past decade the EJ movement has been able to mobilize thousands of ordinary citizens to confront local and power structures, mostly on questions of equitable standards of environmental protection—going after regulatory agencies and policies. It has inspired a new generation of activists of color to the ranks of organizations in both rural and urban settings. It has also been able to link previously-isolated organizations into a more potent force for radical change, and in doing so affected the landscape on which environmentalism is framed. But let's keep our eyes on the key question: How wide is our base of organized, conscious, and militant organizations with deep roots in the community, and how ready are they to battle on many fronts? And finally, are the current strategies helping that base or not?

Environmental Justice and the Law  |    Vol. 5 No. 2 & 3  |  Fall 1994/Winter 1995


Related Stories: 

"What's Intent Got To Do With It?"

During the past few years discussion of "environmental justice" or "environmental racism" has expanded from the realm of a few grassroots organizations to become one of the trendiest issues of the day. Nearly everyone seems to be jumping into the fray—including the "big ten" environmental organizations, the EPA, Congress, corporate America, and on up to President Clinton. Likewise, within the legal community, the issue has moved from the discussions and litigation of a handful of activist attorneys to become the subject of numerous conferences, seminars, law school symposia, and so on.

Despite all of the current fascination with this subject, however, the legal community has probably accomplished little in providing assistance to poor communities and communities of color who bear the brunt of this society's environmental degradation. As a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, I wish to explore here, albeit briefly, our grappling with the question of how progressive litigation organizations can best support communities engaged in these struggles, especially given the gulf between the limited resources of organizations such as ours and the enormity of the need.

By way of background, CCR is a non-profit legal organization that provides legal support to movements for social change. Starting with its origins in the civil rights struggles of the South in mid-1960s, CCR has been involved in many progressive legal struggles of our time, including reproductive rights, anti-Klan work, voting rights, international human rights, and U.S. government misconduct. CCR was among the first legal organizations to identify and begin litigating around issues of the environment as they affect communities of color. Such efforts grew directly from our involvement with grassroots struggles, where the constituencies we have traditionally worked with began to identify environmental hazards foisted on their communities in the context of the struggles around racial, economic, and political equality. Our early work in this area included a federal Clean Water Act challenge in 1982 to the government's failure to clean up a toxic waste dump in a predominantly African American neighborhood of Memphis (Greene v. Ruckelshaus).1 Since 1986, we have been working with the people of the Pacific nation of Palau in their struggle to keep out U.S. nuclear weapons.

Our work (like many others) was further spurred by the release in 1987 of the Commission for Racial Justice's Toxic Wastes and Race report, documenting the grossly disproportionate number of hazardous waste sites in communities of color, and after one of the researchers of that study joined our staff, CCR began making environmental racism a specific area of our litigation docket.

In the course of expanding our work in this area, we have sought to develop some sort of coherent approach in responding to the many requests for legal assistance. What role could CCR, as a civil rights-oriented legal organization (as opposed to, say, a community-based legal services office), play in this movement?

In the summer of 1990, I asked some of CCR’s law student interns to research the use of equal protection arguments around the siting of environmentally undesirable facilities, or what I termed "'reverse exclusionary zoning." They found that there were only a handful of reported cases, starting with Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp., which utilized equal protection challenges in this context, and that all of the cases had foundered on the "intent"—for example, the inability to prove that the placing of a hazardous waste dump in a black neighborhood occurred because of an overtly racial motivation. Such proof is necessary, of course, in the aftermath of several Supreme Court decisions, such as Washington v. Davis and Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., which held that disparate “impact” alone is insufficient to demonstrate a failure of equal protection.

One of CCR's interns, Rachel Godsil, went on that year to transform her research into one of the first published law review articles2 analyzing the use of equal protection arguments in the context of environmental racism. Subsequently, a plethora of academic writing on this subject has been published.

Yet for all the intellectual discourse, are the issues really that complex? Fundamentally, isn't environmental racism simply another manifestation of the disparities found in so many other aspects of society -such as health care, housing, employment, and education? After all, we live in a nation whose founding fathers (and I use that arcane term deliberately here) institutionalized a system of affirmative action for white males with property. Not only were women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and non-property-owning whites excluded from the economic dinner table, they were denied political power—particularly the right to vote. That only two centuries after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution the enormous disparities along the lines of race, and gender continue is hardly surprising, given the massive political and economic Head Start program provided to a single sector of society at the nation's founding.

Unfortunately, long-term historical perspectives are too often left out of the picture. Instead, we in the environmental justice movement find ourselves engaged in endless debates with each other and with our adversaries about the extent to which discriminatory patterns can be demonstrated to be "intentional" or whether they are merely the unintentional, benign byproducts of a supposedly value-neutral, laissez-faire market-place—as if the latter somehow makes it more acceptable. The counterattack on the "environmental racism" movement too easily seizes on this "intent" question as a means to dismiss the issue entirely. For example, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal,3 New York Law School professor David Schoenbrod claims that:

Although minority communities have a disproportionate share of environmental problems, research suggest that the cause is not necessarily racial discrimination. Environmental hazards are likely to be placed in any community that either lacks political power or is willing to accept risks because they create jobs. . . Moreover, in many instances, the environmental hazards did not come to minority neighborhoods, but rather the minority populations came to the hazards.

This kind of reasoning, of course, completely ignores the question of why certain communities lack political power or are forced to accept poisoning in exchange for jobs. Is it somehow a mere accident that particular sectors of the population are poorer and powerless?

Whether or not a particular hazardous waste company decided for "invidious" racial motivations to site its facility on the wrong side of the tracks, it is certainly true that at some time it was "intended" that some persons, among them blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, would be politically and economically marginalized in the first place. While Professor Schoenbrod goes on in the above article to decry the "race-conscious making mandated" by the President's recent executive order on environmental justice, he conveniently ignores the history of race-conscious decision-making that has underlain this society ever since the arrival of Caucasians and Africans in the New World.

The challenge for progressive legal organizations such as ours is in the paradox of a legal and political culture that on one hand trumpets core values such as "equality," "fairness" and "due process," while at the same time vehemently adheres to so-called "free market" ideals which have tended to perpetuate existing inequalities along the lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, and national origin, among others. As Richard Kluger noted in his classic recounting of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case, Simple Justice (at p 53.): "The legal rights of economically crippled people have probably always been frail in every land that called itself free, but the vulnerability of the weak has been especially acute in the United States, where good economics has so often determined what is good law."

If equality and equal protection are to have any meaning in a society in which certain members have been given a very substantial head start, it requires that we make every effort to redress the effects of longstanding past inequities. This surely means moving beyond arguments around the "intent" issue, and the "siting" issue, and addressing environmental racism both within the context of the institutionalized racism that suffuses all aspects of our society (jobs, housing, voting, etc.) and in finding remedies that can begin tipping the scales at least a bit closer towards equilibrium. Within the legal community, this means not only coming up with creative, new, "impact" litigation strategies or legislation, but also, for example, in a commitment to some rudimentary basics, such as providing or finding means to provide legal representation to those communities who usually lack such tools.4

In attempting to meet these goals, case selection has tended to follow some loose criteria:

a) We are strongly committed to taking cases that support movement building, because we do not believe that political change takes place solely through the courts (if at all), but rather, by the self-empowerment of oppressed people organized to demand political and civil rights, and the fulfillment of those rights (to which lawyers can sometimes assist in handling the mechanics of civil society's rules).

b) We also take cases that provide legal support where there is no other means of obtaining representation, such as legal services or pro bono services of lawyers.

c) We take cases where CCR can make a contribution within areas of particular expertise, such as constitutional law or international human rights.

d) We take cases which we think can dramatize and educate about the issues joining race, poverty, and the environment.

Since 1990, CCR’s environmental racism docket has grown to be local, national, and international in scope. Some of the new cases we have taken on include:

Williamsburg Around the Bridge Association v. Giuliani: New York City's sandblasting on bridges that run through poor neighborhoods caused lead dust to rain down on communities of color, raised soil lead levels to as high as 30,000 parts per million (the “safe level” is 500 parts per million), and doubled the already elevated blood lead levels in children.

The widespread lead contamination bas brought an unprecedented unity of diverse communities in seeking testing adequate testing and treatment of their children and measures to prevent a repeat of this disaster. For example, in Williamsburg, the Community Alliance for the Environment was formed, bringing together the Hispanic and Hasidic segments of this neighborhood, groups that are often in conflict over scarce housing resources and other resources.5

Lead has a severe impact on urban poor and communities of color: of the identified cases of poisoning in New York City were African American children, and 27% were Latino children. In 1991, among children with family incomes below $6,000 living in larger cities (over 1 million), 80.4% of white and 96.5% of African American children were projected to be affected with elevated blood levels.7

In re Matter of the Application of Missouri Waste Management Inc.: CCR assisted grassroots and Native American organizations in opposing a plan by four in South Dakota to jointly build and operate a dump on privately-owned land within the boundaries of the Sioux Reservation. Although the organizations had written and petitioned the local and state authorities and packed public hearings on the plan, South Dakota seemed intent on an expedited approval of the dump. CCR filed for an administrative hearing on behalf of the Ihanktunwan Game, Fish and Wildlife Services Committee of the Yankton Sioux Tribe, as well as Voices Organized to Save the Environment, the latter an organization of both Native Americans and non-native persons working together for the first time. At a four-day hearing in December 1993, CCR helped present expert geological and engineering testimony, and the Native organizations brought in a busload of their members from 200 miles away to speak in opposition. Nonetheless the State board voted 6 to 2 vote in favor of the dump, and an appeal has been filed to the State court.

Hinchey et al v. Trustees of Power Authority of N. Y.: This case seeks to stop the planned construction of massive hydroelectric dams to be built on the lands of the Cree Indians in the James Bay region of Quebec. The Cree have been actively opposing these projects, and their efforts have included litigation, lobbying, and various demonstrations, including a canoe trip by tribal members from northern Canada down to New York City to draw attention to the impact that exports of "cheap" Canadian hydropower to service the electric needs of New York will have on their way of life.

The flooding of vast areas (over 1,000 square miles) would destroy the traditional hunting and fishing grounds and rivers of the Cree, who are dependent upon the lands for their income and nourishment and for the survival of their culture and religion. Much of the power generated from these dams will be sold to New York. There are also effects in the U.S. on the environment and the economy: the power imports produced by capital-intensive hydroelectric projects deprive New Yorkers of jobs in the growing energy conservation field and will result in the export of billions of dollars.

Plaintiffs, including the Grand Council of the Cree Indians, individual members of Congress, and various environmental and energy groups, challenged the contract for electric sales from Hydro-Quebec to the New York State Power authority, based upon the compact clause of the US constitution, which requires that compacts between a state and a foreign state be approved by Congress.

In a related state court action, Sierra Club et al v. Power Authority of N. Y., a coalition of organizations, including the Cree nation, challenged the Power Authority's refusal to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the contract between New York and Quebec for power from dams.

After years of organizing, lobbying, and litigation, the newly appointed head of the Power Authority recently cancelled the contract with Quebec, due to, among other things, its devastating impact on the environment and the Crees, and settlement negotiations are in progress.

In Iron Cloud v. Sullivan, CCR sued the Indian Health Service (“IHS”) and others to stop the safety testing of unlicensed hepatitis A vaccine on Native American children and infants without the informed consent of their parents. The case was dismissed as moot, noting, however, that ...have grave doubts that the information provided by the government afforded those solicited an adequate basis for informed consent [but that] we have every confidence that the government has learned from this experience and will be less cavalier in the future in its approach to seeking voluntary informed consent from prospective subjects for experimental pharmaceutical tests to be conducted on Indian reservations or anywhere else."

In response to a concurrent administrative review petition, however, the FDA revealed that it modified its procedures in obvious response to the lawsuit, for which plaintiffs are now seeking attorney fees.

In Save The Audubon Coalition vs. City of New York, CCR assisted community organizations who sought to prevent the demolition of the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, the site of Malcolm X's assassination, for the construction of New York City's first major commercial genetic engineering manufacturing facility. The community was concerned about both the cultural importance of preserving the site of Malcolm X's assassination and the potentially adverse health effects from commercial genetic engineering, including emissions that would occur in a closely inhabited urban setting among a large impoverished population whose resistance to biological injury is already compromised. Moreover, they believed that they were shut out of any meaningful participation in the decision-making process, and that their community had been targeted for a potentially hazardous facility.

CCR’s lawsuit challenged the failure to comply with the requirements regarding public comment on the Environmental Impact Statement, the utter failure to address the potential public health impact of the and hazardous chemicals used in manufacturing processes.

In addition, CCR has been involved on a national level in developing a network of other progressive lawyers and movements concerned with environmental racism. CCR staff members served on the advisory board of the first National People of Color Environmental Leader-ship Summit in 1991, and have helped to organize (and teach at) environmental law seminars for civil rights attorneys seeking to begin litigating in this field, as well as environmental law classes for non-lawyer community activists.

CCR sees the issues of race and poverty to be fundamentally related to environmental issues in society as a whole. While inner cities generally have the highest levels of exposure to environmental hazards such as lead, air pollution, and heavy industries, the impact of race and class in this society is such that persons of color often lack the mobility to avoid exposure to such hazards. Moreover, environmental issues frequently involve the "NIMBY" phenomenon ("Not in my Back Yard"), which usually means that environmental hazards will be sited in the back yards of those sectors of society with the least access to political power or legal resources. As long as society continues to inflict the environmental cost of modern human activities on the powerless, achieving a goal of an environmentally sound and sustainable world is impossible.

Matthew J. Chachere is a staff attorney working on environmental justice issues at Bronx Legal Services. He was formerly with the Center for Constitutional Rights.


1. Our early briefs sought to place the case in the larger context of the higher rate of exposure of African Americans to toxics, by citing, among others, the June 1983 Government Accounting Office report that found that 75% of the hazardous sites studied were situated in predominately African American communities.

2. Rachel Godsil, Remedying Environmental Racism, 90 Michigan L. Rev. 394 (1991)

3. Schoenbrod, Environmental 'Injustice' Is about Politics, not Racism, Wall Street Journal, 2/23/94, page A21.

4. This is really no different from the need in so many other social inequalities. In eviction proceedings in New York City, for example, only 10% of tenants are represented by counsel, while 90% of landlords have lawyers. So even assuming some "equal right" to minimally decent housing, the disparity of legal resources prevents any such right from becoming a reality.

5. Williamsburg/Greenpoint in Brooklyn is one of the most heavily polluted inner city neighborhoods in the country. Several studies have documented both the high number of hazardous industries in the community and the poor air quality. The 142,000 residents of Greenpoint are breathing some of the dirtiest air in America, with a level of toxic and suspected cancer-causing chemicals roughly 60 times the national average. Industry reports to the federal and state governments for 1987 and 1988 indicated that at least 1,450 tons of toxic chemicals were released into the air over the densely populated Brooklyn neighborhood in 1987. In addition, City studies have indicated that residents of Williamsburg run a greater risk of leukemia and stomach cancer than other city residents, and that neighborhood children had a particularly high rate of cancer.

6. Centers for Disease Control, Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children (Oct. 1991) at 1.

7. Based upon the report of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ("ATSDR”) of the Public Health Service, The Nature and Extent of Lead Poisoning in Children in the United States: A Report to Congress (July 1988) and a review and update of that Report by the Report's co-author, Paul Mushak, Ph.D., Proceedings of the First National Conference on Laboratory Issues in Children Lead Poisoning Prevention (1991) at 79-104.

Environmental Justice and the Law | Vol. 5 No. 2 & 3 | Fall 1994/Winter 1995

Related Stories: 

Peace Now (Spring/Summer 1994)

Special Military Conversion Issue (Vol.4, No.4/Vol.5, No.1: Spring/Summer 1994)









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1   Bringing it All Back Home

     by Congressman Ronald V. Dellums

1   Opportunity for Environmental Justice?
     by Carl Anthony

3   Taking Back Fort Lawton
     by Bernie Whitebear

7   The Indigenous Perspective on Feminism, Wlilitarism and the Environment
     by Winona LaDuke

8   Challenging U.S. Militarism in Hawaii and Okinawa
     by Roy Takumi

10 Trials of Okinawa: A Feminist Perspective
     by Suzuyo Takazato

11 Los Alamos Lab: Toxic Johannesburg of New Mexico
     by Juan Montes

12 Labs Kill
     by Marylia Kelley

13 A Vision for Livermore Lab
     by Marylia Kelley and Greg Mello

14 Reintegrating Our Communities
     by Martha Matsuoka

18 Fighting for Community Needs Through Restoration Advisory Boards
     by Jo Ann Wilkerson

21 Labor: Call to Action

22 Conversion Up Close: Labor's Agenda for Change
     by Marc Baldwin

24 Dismantling the Cold War Economy
     by Ann Markusen and Joel Yudken

31 Expanding the Rights of the Poor
     by Lauren Hallinan

37 The Wall Comes Down: Konversion in Germany
     by Birgit Neuer

45 Military Conversion Resources

Bringing It All Back Home

By U.S. Representative Ronald V. Dellums

In the summer of 1993, the President and Congress accepted the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommendation to close Alameda Naval Air Station and the Alameda Naval Aviation Depot, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Naval Station Treasure Island and the Oakland Naval Hospital among other major and minor military facilities in the Bay Area. Prior decisions had already closed Hamilton Air Field and Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard.

The challenges that these closures presented to the Bay Area community were immediate and complex. The questions to be answered were many: To what use would the land now be put? What decision-making process would be established to determine the answer to that question? What could be done to provide employment for civilian personnel and assistance to the communities adversely affected by the closure decisions? What environmental problems existed at the facilities and how would they be cleaned up?

The stakes were rightly perceived in the community to be quite high, a fact made more urgent by examples of inability or delay in dealing effectively with the effects of the earlier closure decisions. These included the possibility of significant unemployment, possible catastrophic economic losses in the Bay Area, and the potential waste of valuable land and real estate resources.

A Model for the Nation

For years, I have argued that East Bay civic leaders had an obligation to plan for the possibility that some or all of our military installations might be determined to be excess and then slated for closure. In 1992, a year before the BRAC 1993 process that recommended the most recent closures. I secured a provision in the FY 1993 Defense Authorization bill that established a four- community pilot conversion program. This program supports the conversion planning processes in four communities potentially affected by base closures, defense industrial downsizing or national laboratory closure or realignment. The information developed from these four experiences will be available to these communities, as well as collected into a usable resource for other communities which might also face these challenges.

While BRAC '93 was undertaking its assessments, the Defense Department determined that the East Bay would become one of the four pilot programs. I had hoped that we would have our community designated as one of the pilots when I conceived of the legislation, not because of any certainty that we would face an actual closure decision but because of my long standing view that prudent leadership required such planning. The circumstance that resulted in our community receiving planning money in advance of actually having to deal with an actual closure was extremely fortunate, as it allowed us to get underway prior to the closure announcement.

Who, What, When, Where, and Why

Having established the basis and resources for such a process, we needed then to answer: who should participate, what is the process and goal, when do we need to reach decision, where will the process take us and why are we proceeding?

The first question—who should participate?—provides the real key to understanding what is at stake and how we can succeed. Solving it provides confidence that the four other questions will be adequately resolved because all of the questions will be addressed and answered.

In our view it is critically important that all elements of the community fully participate in planning for what purposes these facilities will be used in the future. It is especially important to ensure that many who are traditionally outside of such processes—minority groups and the poor—be brought into the center and that the whole range of community interests be reflected—including organized labor, the base workers, business groups, environmentalists, civic leaders, etc.

A common-sense view of the impact of closure alone shows why this is so important. Communities of color, especially, face significant adverse impacts from these decisions. The bases affected have long provided significant opportunities for meaningful and well-paid jobs-both blue collar and white collar—for these communities, in part because of aggressive programs that we pursued to ensure equal employment opportunities at federal facilities. The loss of these jobs threatens to further tear the already fragile economic fabric of these communities.

The resources that these employment opportunities generate in the community are additionally significant, helping to support local businesses.
As a result, we have established a planning process that includes these communities in the vital effort of conversion. Not only does this apply with respect to the types of end-uses to which the land might be used—a vitally important question to the employment, economic and quality-of-life concerns of traditionally disenfranchised communities. But it also applies to contracts for planning, analysis, land clearance, environmental remediation or any of the other myriad problems associated with a successful conversion effort, ensuring the full and effective participation of communities traditionally absent or under-represented in such projects.

Whatever the final outcome of the decision-making process that culminates from the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, the land reuse authorities and other active agents, it is clear that it will be better made by having vigorous participation from communities of color.

Such participation will help to ensure that the employment needs of the community are fully considered. It will help to ensure that in these communities—long-afflicted as dumping grounds for environmental hazards—planning will proceed in a manner that fully takes into account the health and safety of these communities.

Although the closure decisions represent the possibility of crisis in our community, they also represent great opportunity. We must not flinch from the opportunity offered by the end of the Cold War to cut military spending and pursue social investment. My longstanding commitment to an aggressive program of economic conversion now has an opportunity to be tested at home—in a manner that can benefit both the East Bay in its immediate needs and the nation as a whole, by way of learning, guidance and experience. When coupled with a commitment to ensure social equity, full participation and the acquisition of a meaningful stake in the outcome, this process represents an opportunity to remake our communities into a better place for our children and their children.

For information write: East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, 530 Water Street, 5th Floor, Oakland, CA 94607. Tel. (510) 834- 6928; Fax (510) 834 8913.

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An Indigenous Perspective on Feminism, Militarism, and the Environment

By Winona LaDuke 

Indigenous women understand that our struggle for autonomy is related to the total need for structural change in this society. We realize that indigenous people in industrial society have always been and will always be in a relationship of war, because industrial society has declared war on indigenous peoples, on land based peoples.

To look within a bigger context, when I say indigenous peoples, I'm not only talking about Indians. All people come from land-based cultures. Some have been colonized longer than I have, which means they have got more work to do.

According to an article by Jason Clay in Cultural Survival, there are 5,000 indigenous nations in the world today, and there are one hundred and seventy-one states. Indigenous nations have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. They share common territory, common language, common history, common culture, and a common government or political organization. That is the definition of nation under international law. Nations exist in theAmericas, in Malaysia, and elsewhere in the world. The Kayapo people in Brazil are a nation; the Penan of Malaysia are a nation; the Palestinians and Kurdish people are nations.  Throughout the world, there are indigenous nations. We have come to accept more commonly that there are only 171 nations and these are states. That is because we are told to accept them by these same powers. These 171 states have, for the most part, been around since World War 11. We need to understand this context.

Most indigenous women understand that our struggle as women is integrally related to the struggle of our nations for control of our land, resources, and destinies. It is difficult for indigenous women to embrace or even relate to the progressive parts of the women's movement. It is not about civil rights for us. It is not about equal access to something. It is about "Get off my neck." From our perspective, that is what it is all about.

Yet industrial society and the military machine continue to devastate our communities. Throughout the Americas, indigenous women are speaking out against militarism. Our people, specifically our men, are being militarized by the American, Guatemalan, and other states. There were 82,000 Indians serving inVietnam from August 1964 to May 1975.

Indians had the highest rate of service for all ethnic groups. It was the same in the Persian Gulf War. I read an article in theLakota Times: five hundred Lakota men were in service in the Persian Gulf . That is a horrendous statistic considering that we are only two percent of the population. Militarism changes how men relate to women, the earth, and their communities. The process of militarizing our men causes a disruption of our order.

I understand very well that militarization has strongly influenced how men relate to women in our society. It is the cause of many problems. As a result, we are talking about hard challenges. We are talking about the fact that the system must totally change if indigenous peoples are to survive. We are talking about the fact that this is a system of conquest. That is the essence of capitalism. That is the essence of colonialism.

And conquest means destruction of peoples, which is integrally related to sexism, to racism, to all the other "isms." It is also intimately related to death, because there is no way that a society based on conquest can survive on this earth.

We've basically run out of room for conquest. There are no more frontiers. The West is an American state of mind. Nobody's going anywhere. There's no place else to go. We have to look at how we can make a systemic change in this society so there's a meaningful change—not only change in the social and political relations between people, between men and women, but also between this society and the consumption of resources.

It is within this context that I believe that indigenous women embrace other social movements, embrace them to the extent that they are interested in systemic change. The women's movement is in a good position to take on structural change. Because there are so many women in this country, the women's movement has the numbers and the potential to engage in real change. I believe that women are able to have more courage in our work and in our struggle than men exhibit. I really think that's true. It's a very difficult struggle. But I myself really don't have anything else to do with the rest of my life. The fact that we are women and we are intimately related to the forces of renewal and life means that we are much closer to an optimism in our understanding of things than are many men in this society.

The war has brought home the concept of Armageddon. Indigenous and land-based societies don't look at this time as a death. They look at it as a time of Earth Renewal, which is a much different understanding and perception of things. I think that women, because we are women, are more in touch with that way of looking at things, which is what gives us the ability to be courageous and be in there for the long struggle.

Winona LaDuke is a journalist, community organizer and president of the Indigenous Women's Network, a continental and Pacific network of native women. Reprinted fromWar After War, City Lights Review 5, Nancy J. Peters, ed. (1992).

Peace Now     |      Vol. 4 No. 4 / Vol. 5 No. 1      |      Spring/Summer 1994

Related Stories: 

Latinos & the Environment (Fall 1993)

Vol. 4, No. 3: Fall 1993

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Cover Stories

A Tribute to Cesar and His Lessons
     by Jose R. Padilla

Beyond Black and White
     by Elizabeth Martinez

Strategies and Analysis

3   Colonialism, Resistance, & the Search for Alternatives: The Environmental Movement in Puerto Rico
     by Deborah Berman Santana

6   Adding the Issue of Class: Latinos and Air Pollution in L.A.
     by Lisa Duran

8   La Sierra Foundation de San Luis: Reviving the Chicano Land Grant Struggle
     by Devon Pena

11 It's Time Latino Workers Stopped Dying for A Job
     by Amanda Hawes

14 Deconstructing Environmental Racism: A Look at the Early Pesticide Campaign of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee
     by Laura Pulido

17 The Connection Between Latinos and the Environment
     by Jose Morales

18 History and Recent Developments in Puerto Rican Environmental Activism

Race Relations

20 Enough of the Great Melodrama Race Relations in Los Angeles
     by Victor Valle and Rudy D. Torres


23 Texas Task Force Takes on Environmental Racism
     by Antonio Diaz

25 Expansion of the Port of Miami
     by Daniel Suman

26 Building Power Without Borders
     by Catalina Muniz

27 CATA: 15 Years of Farm Worker Action

28 People Organizing to Demand Environmental Rights in San Francisco
     by Leticia Alcantar

29 The South Bronx Coalition for Clean Air
     by Nina Laboy

30 Taking Back New Mexico

31 Defining Power in Tejas: Latino Environmental Group PODER Widens East Austin Agenda
     by Elaine Ayala

32 Communique from Chiapas

Ellie Goodwin on Policy

34 From the Capitol: Views on Policy Development


35 Dr.Loco and his Rockin' Jalapeno Band:Confronting Environmental RacismThrough Music
     by Raquel Pinderhughes

37 Aerosol & the Environment
     by Bonnie Maria Burlin


Editor's Notes


The Connection Between Latinos and the Environment

The Macro Perspective

The global degradation of the environment threatens the survival of all life on this planet as well as human life. While this degradation affects all people, it does so unequally. This is a central point regarding the connection between Puerto Ricans and Latinos and the environment in the USA. How is this possible? To start, the degradation of the environment is generally the result of human activity; in particular, how society creates and recreates its life. In other words... the unequal degradation of the environment results from the unity of production and the social order. Production can be understood as industrial activity, and the social order is the way in which the society is organized around recreating its life, enabling production to happen.

The problem has been that there has always been a tight linkage between how we recreate our way of life and the degradation of the environment. The elimination of waste and dangerous materials affecting human health was impossible, because then industrial activity would then be impossible. Pollution has been linked to what we need to live. The traditionally predominant view on the issue has been how we should regulate/control/manage pollution.

To illustrate the point of linkage of pollution and industrial activity, an example of a body can be used. The body is society, and getting food and eating is creating its life. The brain (the powerful) decides what needs to be done to eat, but it knows that every time it prepares food and eats (to live) it must also poison itself. So it must do several things to keep alive and functioning. It must control its eating by taking in smaller pieces and do so every so often. This is the idea of regulation/control/management of pollution. The body decides that it will only dirty its hands and concentrate the poison in its feet. The hands and feet are correspondingly the disenfranchised workers, the poor, and communities of color.

To put the last statement another way, since the elimination of industrial activity is impossible, the social order regulates the degradation linked to it for all people by pollution control, management and regulation. Nevertheless, the social order also channels the degradation selectively, localizing the undesirable work, products, and waste on what the social order designates as the undesirable people. Not only is degradation unequal, but in disenfranchised communities, the impact is unequal. The beleaguered and debilitated array of supportive structures—education, health indicators, access to health services, stability of community institutions, and political power that normally buffer the affects of degradation in the Puerto Rican and Latino community—make the impact of degradation even more severe.

Latinos, the environment and the cities

Census trends predict that Latinos will be the largest national minority group in the United States in the coming years. One of the characteristics of the established Latino population is that most live in the America's urban centers; most Latino newcomers will probably also settle in urban areas. An example is that 75% of all Boricuas are concentrated in America's inner cities. In addition, many of us have seen the massive arrivals of Dominicans, Mexicans, and Central

Americans to the Latino communities spread throughout New York City. This urbanization of our population is paralleled by the general population, where 75% of the U.S. population lives in cities.

The decay of the cities, as Ritchie Perez has stressed, is of paramount importance because most Puerto Ricans and Latinos live and will live in the cities. Many things characterize the decay.  Ammong them are a deteriorating infrastructure, lost manufacturing and associated industries with their jobs, and high concentrations of people in destitute poverty. The decay's social consequences are visible to any New Yorker and were visible to the nation and world with the LA riots.

A malicious neglect by the federal government under three Republican Administrations has been a major cause of this deterioration. For example, federal dollars to the cities dropped from 9 percent in 1978 to 4.2 percent in 1986. The federal government's process of defunding city governments greatly increased the financial burden of city and state governments. The shifting resources that proved necessary for city governments to provide essential city services resulted in fewer funds for city environmental agencies. This caused a decline of environmental protection and a degradation of the urban environment overall, especially in terms of air quality and hazardous waste. This negative effect probably impacted more severely communities of color in these cities.

The low level of environmental protection of cities can be shown by two examples. The Williamsburg/Greenpoint area was shown to have 1.5 pounds of toxic air emissions for every woman, man, and child per square mile of this area. This is far above the government's clean air standards. The Latino population in this area is one of the most concentrated in the country. On the national scene, the Argonne National Laboratory has compiled data that shows that 91% of Hispanics disproportionately live in cities that exceed the federal Clean Air Act's emissions standards for certain airborne pollutants.

The combined effect of Republican administration hostility to cities and beleaguered local governments has resulted in a decline in the protection of the urban environment, particularly in communities of color. Whether the new Democratic administration, in the light of competition pressures for deregulation and budgetary cutbacks, will move to curtail urban environmental degradation is still a big question.

Another factor that influences the impact of the environmental degradation on the cities is the lack of an adequate response mounted by traditional environmental movement. There has been a lack of emphasis on urban environmentalism by the mostly white, middle-class movement since white flight has left the urban areas for people of color. The environment of the cities has been understudied and it seems that cities lack of a theoretical framework such as the ecosystem idea for wilderness areas. This is beginning to change due to the influence of the grassroots organizations of people of color. This influx of activists will push the urban environment to become a priority, so that we have ideas that will allow our work to forge ahead.

To transform the environment of Latinos, the social order must also be fundamentally changed. We must move from an order shaped by economic exploitation and racial injustice to one where the democratic spirit of self determination invades our economic and cultural lives as well. Perhaps only when the disenfranchised and their allies rise up against the scourges of racism, poverty and pollution will there be a "new world order." Only then will we have clean, earth-friendly, egalitarian ways of living on our planet.

The micro-perspective

This perspective presents the ways in which the environment of Latinos gets degraded by the intersection of the social order and production. How we work to recreate our life concerns the issue of occupational health or the exposure of workers to toxic chemicals (i.e. pesticides) in the workplace. How we live addresses, among others, the issue of lead poisoning from lead-based paint and proximity to transportation routes. How things are made and/or disposed of deals with the issue of exposure to toxic and hazardous materials in communities. The disposal of sewage, toxic and radioactive waste from production and services, as well as the incineration of solid waste from temporary goods, are the major ways in which our communities confront these issues.

 Latinos & the Environment      ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 3      ?õ¬?       Fall 1993

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Enough of the Great Melodrama of Race Relations in Los Angeles

Reliance on color codes to explain the inner city rests on a system of neat racial categories, but something about Latinos undermines it.

The recent flurry of newspaper articles and TV news retrospectives on Los Angeles six months after the riots shared a common story line. Whether victim, bystander or hero, they were all actors in the great melodrama of "race relations." For audience convenience, it seemed, the cast was color-coded.

But racial strife did not create the L.A. communities that went up in flames. Over and over again, citizens interviewed in the aftermath stories said as much: The riots were principally the result of economic inequalities. Still, the journalists pushed racial conflict as a principal force behind the April unrest.

This emphasis on "race relations” is perplexing. Taken at face value, it suggests that if only the city's various racial and ethnic groups could just "get along, recovery would be just around the comer. No wonder much of the post-riot coverage reads like a morality tale.

But the media's proclivity toward symptom-cause confusion masks a deeper problem: The race taxonomy reporters largely rely on to describe inner-city life rests on a system of dubious racial categories. Fortunately, there is something about Latinos that undermines this system. That something is mestizaje - Latin America's unfinished business of racial and cultural crossbreeding. Despite racist injunctions to forestall the consequences of five centuries of genetic and cultural dialogue between the descendants of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the hemisphere's indigenous peoples, mestizaje insinuates itself in every aspect of Latin American life.

In the United States, mestizaje expresses itself in the Latino's refusal to choose one language over another, or one culture or national heritage over another. Latinos prefer to juggle them all, even if the resulting synthesis may seem messy or dangerous. But to those conditioned to tidy racial compartments, Latino ambiguity is indeed threatening. A people who violate boundaries of race, language and culture upset myths of a nation-state based on borders and exclusion.

It's thus not surprising that the media also stumble over the mestizo's celebration of ambiguity. The clash of race language and lived reality was evident in the post-riot coverage in the nation's elite print media. The "two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal" dichotomy made famous by the Kemer Commission report was simply not big enough to contain a "multicultural" upheaval in which villains and victims defied racial typing.

Ted Koppel's foray into South-Central was one example. By largely turning "Nightline" over to interviews with African-American gang members, he fell into the black-vs.-white trap. Another variation on the black-white dichotomy, blacks vs. browns, suggests that Latinos are snatching jobs the nation owes to blacks. In its most divisive form, this thesis blames Latinos for the poverty in African-American communities.

There is no sinister conspiracy here. The media merely reflects beliefs widely held by their audiences and codified by the nation's political institutions. The Census Bureau, for example, has had an especially difficult time trying to figure out how to classify Latinos by color.

In 1940, Latinos were categorized as "black" or a "racial" non-white group. In the '50 and '60 Census, the category of "white persons of Spanish surname" was used. In '70, the classification was changed to "white person of Spanish surname and Spanish mother tongue." Then, in '80, the expansive "non-white Hispanic." Latinos were back to square one. Because the census uses a "white" and "black" paradigm to classify residents, it has shuttled Latinos back and forth between the two extremes. In each case, the principle behind the label is the perceived presence or absence of color.

Latinos pay the price each time they conform to such color-coded insanity, especially when they try to extract a few morsels of recognition from the media. They know reporters will take notes if they frame their demands in the language of racial or ethnic strife, and only perfunctorily record their economic and social complaints.

Accordingly, the Los Angeles depicted in the riots reaffirmed the image of an industrial city of the 1950s, one that upheld the corporate status quo bolstered by improved "race relations" as the only reasonable alternatives to arson and looting. The reporters barely noticed that the flames had charred a different city, one transformed by global restructuring, post-industrial manufacturing and collapse of all the mythic categories that once defined the city's social, cultural, and linguistic identity.

Still, all this provides an unusual opportunity for journalists to describe the city anew, as if seen for the first time. Latinos are key to this renaming and retelling. The authority comes from the very mestizo ambiguities they share in a more concentrated form with the citizens of the world's post-industrial cities.

But it will take courage and subtlety to tell this story. Both local and national Latino leadership, which includes Latino journalists, must find the words to continue the dialogue of inclusion that writers such as Jose Marti started more than a century ago when he redefined Latin America as "Nuestra America.”

Latin and Caribbean America has struggled to live and understand its difficult heterodoxy. English-speaking North America may be ready to join this conversation when it overcomes its disdain of mestizo impurity. Latinos can hasten this dialogue by recognizing their many ambiguities and border-crossings as strengths, and by remembering that America is moving toward a future in which its citizens will be accomplices in multiracial kinship and culture. This is the mirror Latinos hold up to America.





Latinos & the Environment      ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 3      ?õ¬?       Fall 1993

Population & Immigration (Summer 1993)

Vol. 4, No. 2: Summer 1993

No argument is more likely to seriously injure the fragile alliance between environmentalists and communities of color – and the growing environmental justice movement which so many have worked so hard to build – than the debate over U.S. immigration policy. Already on the defensive about the white, upper-class male character of their leadership and their behind-the-scenes role in negotiating policies with which low-income communities must live, environmentalists are now accused of legitimizing a racist anti-immigrant movement. Their response is that people of color and social justice advocates for immigrants' and women's rights do not take seriously the global population explosion and its inevitable damage to the earth and all its inhabitants.

This topic is especially hard for our budding movement because it leads us back to the existential values that motivate our work and thus becomes personal. For example, while researching this special issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment, we've noticed a stark, and we think class-based, difference in the language that people use to discuss population and immigration.

We've done a lot of talking to friends and allies in both movements to try to understand the arguments and find the boundaries of the debate. Social justice activists claim that some environmentalists find it easier to close the borders to this nation which uses many more times the energy and raw materials than any of the developing countries from which immigrants come, rather than work to change consumption patterns and industrial practices in the developed world. They claim also that such environmentalists undermine their own ends by refusing to confront the global causes of increased fertility and immigration - the loss of agricultural land by indigenous people, unemployment caused by some ripple in the world market, poverty, debt and the disempowerment of women; Confronting these causes would mean that environmental activists had joined social justice activists in working to change U.S. foreign policy and trade relations that enforce global inequality.

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1   This Modern World
     by Tom Tomorrow

2   Editors' Notes

EDGE Proceedings

3   Why Communities of Color Fear the Population Debate
     by Linda Wong

6   Environmentalists and the Anti-Immigrant Agenda
     by Cathi Tactaquin

9   Optimum Human Population Size
     by Gretchen Daily, Anne Ehrlich & Paul Ehrlich

12 Population Paradigms and Perception
     by Mith Eddy

Why Migration?

15 Why Migration?
     by Saskia Sassen

Women, Race & Class

21 Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights
     by Angela Davis

Sierra Club Migration Wars

24 Not Thinking Globally: The Sierra Club Immigration Policy Wars
     by Hannah Creighton

26 The Right Calls the Shots
     by Ruth Conniff


30 Lessons from Seven Successful Societies
     by Frances Moore Lappe & Rachel Schurman

36 A Proposal for Global Environmental Democracy
     by Anil Agarwal& Sunita Narain

37 Demand for a Chapter on Indigenous Peoples

38 Women's Declaration on Population Policies

Freeways, Communities, and Environmental Justice

41 Oakland's Clean Air Alternative Coalition Fights Environmental Racism: An Interviewwith Eco-Justice Hero Chappell Hayes
     by Penn Loh

Seattle Coalition

44 Environmental Justice Coalition-building in Seattle
     by Hazel Wolf

45 Urban Habitat Program Update

46 Resources

48 Kettleman City Wins the Big One

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Notes from the Editors

No argument is more likely to seriously injure the fragile alliance between environmentalists and communities of color – and the growing environmental justice movement which so many have worked so hard to build – than the debate over U.S. immigration policy. Already on the defensive about the white, upper-class male character of their leadership and their behind-the-scenes role in negotiating policies with which low-income communities must live, environmentalists are now accused of legitimizing a racist anti-immigrant movement. Their response is that people of color and social justice advocates for immigrants' and women's rights do not take seriously the global population explosion and its inevitable damage to the earth and all its inhabitants.

This topic is especially hard for our budding movement because it leads us back to the existential values that motivate our work and thus becomes personal. For example, while researching this special issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment, we've noticed a stark, and we think class-based, difference in the language that people use to discuss population and immigration. Those who want to restrict immigration and those who are intensely focused on increases in fertility talk about immigrants in terms of insect infestation. They think about the land they have fought to preserve, and like fanners they fear the "swarms" and "hordes" and the "influx" of immigrants they believe will destroy it. Or, they use water metaphors, describing the "flood" of immigrants "washing" over the border. The term "carrying capacity" which likens Earth to a boat has this same flood imagery.

People who are fighting for economic or cultural survival and those who spend their lives fighting against systemic poverty and discrimination don't imagine immigrants that way. In fact, they imagine themselves as the immigrants they or their parents recently were. They see themselves huddled in a sewer pipe waiting to sneak across the border or as refugees, running from death squads out to murder every voice of opposition. They think of twenty years of toil in an urban sweat shop or a frightened widow waiting for years to join her only child in the U.S. The women's eyes well up as they identify with the young Puerto Rican woman tricked into signing a sterilization permit she didn't understand. Overcoming this tremendous difference in perception and language will be difficult.

These stark differences were aired earlier this year at the first conference of EDGE - The Alliance of Ethnic and Environmental Groups. Over 200 people, a majority of them people of color, listened to four thoughtful presentations on population and immigration, tried hard to grapple with these issues, and discovered the enormity of the rift. The text of those speeches forms the core of this special issue.

We've done a lot of talking to friends and allies in both movements to try to understand the arguments and find the boundaries of the debate. Social justice activists claim that some environmentalists find it easier to close the borders to this nation which uses many more times the energy and raw materials than any of the developing countries from which immigrants come, rather than work to change consumption patterns and industrial practices in the developed world. They claim also that such environmentalists undermine their own ends by refusing to confront the global causes of increased fertility and immigration - the loss of agricultural land by indigenous people, unemployment caused by some ripple in the world market, poverty, debt and the disempowerment of women; Confronting these causes would mean that environmental activists had joined social justice activists in working to change U.S. foreign policy and trade relations that enforce global inequality.

Environmentalists who advocate for strict U.S. immigration policies acknowledge that the social justice community is right about the discrepancy in resource use and right about the racism and disregard for human rights that characterizes the history of U.S. immigration and population control policy. They insist, however, that social justice activists will hurt those they wish to defend, that the focus on unequal resources and coercive population policies helps to legitimize the right ' wing agenda of economists like Julhn Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource, who advocate for unrestricted immigration in order to create a larger pool of workers and thus lower U.S. wages. Further, some environmentalists claim that there isn't t i e to correct the global economic structures that lead to rising fertility rates in the underdeveloped world before the United States will be completely degraded by further development and industrial growth. Last, they claim that to accuse them of racism is to cut off all debate.

Clearly, the editors of this journal come down on the side of the social justice advocates. Most of the pieces we've reprinted here try to fill out the argument that environmentalists would do much more to stop the global rise in fertility if they brought their considerable clout to the international struggle to democratize economic decision-making and control the behavior of corporations. We do agree, however, with environmentalists who say that those fighting against a strict U.S. immigration policy and immigrant bashing often fail to acknowledge that there is a serious global increase in fertility that accompanies the increased economic inequalities and that this global increase must be confronted.

We've tried here to be solution-oriented and that is why we chose to publish an excerpt of Francis Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman's Taking Population Seriously. It is five years old, but it’s the best thing we've found that talks in specifics about what kinds of economic and health measures can lower fertility. The piece "Why Migration" by Saskia Sassen fills out part of the economic information we need to understand the global pressures that now make migration the only choice for so many people. We searched in vain for a piece that would inform us about how much our own economic behavior and consumption is dependent on immigrant labor. How much would a head of lettuce, a new dress or a redwood deck cost if it weren't for the criminally cheap labor of immigrants?

The excerpt we reprint here from Angela Davis' Women Race and Class is several years old also, but for us it's the most powerful account of the racist and coercive population policies that have brought us to the place where even the phrase "family planning" is so tainted as to be almost unusable. Which brings us back to language. Our movement can and must talk this through and in doing so create a new language to use together to fight our common battle to save the Earth and its people. Some who are clearly doing that are those in the Sierra Club who are working to change the Club into one that is part of the movement for ecological justice and takes on the globalization of the economy and poverty. We are grateful for their help in investigating the policy battles in the Sierra Club. We hope they and all of our readers will find this special issue to be part of that effort.   


 Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993

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Optimum Human Population Size

Although the tremendous size and rate of growth of the human population now influences virtually every aspect of society, rarely does the public debate, or even consider, the question of what would be an optimum number of human beings to live on Earth at any given time. While there are many possible optima depending on criteria and conditions, there is a solid scientific basis for determining the bounds of possibilities. All optima must lie between the minimum viable population size, MVP (Gilpin and Soule, 1986; Soule, 1987) and the biophysical carrying capacity of the planet (Daily and Ehrlich, 1992). At the lower end, 50 to 100 people in each of several groups, for a total of about 500, would constitute an MVP.

At the upper end, the present population of 5.5 billion, with its resource consumption patterns and technologies, has clearly exceeded the capacity of Earth to sustain it. This is evident in the continuous depletion and dispersion of a one-time inheritance of essential, non-substitutable resources that now maintains the human enterprise (e.g. Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991; Daily and Ehrlich, 1992). Numerous claims have been made that Earth's carrying capacity is much higher than today's population size. A few years ago, for example, a group of Catholic bishops, misinterpreting a thought exercise by Roger Revelle (1976), asserted that Earth could feed 40 billion people (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1990); various social scientists have made estimates running as high as 150 billion (Livi-Bacci, 1989). These assertions are based on preposterous assumptions, and we do not deal further with them here.

Nonetheless, we are left with the problem of determining an optimum within wide bounds. Above the minimum viable level and within biophysical constraints, the problem becomes a matter of social preference. Community level, national, and international discussions of such social preferences are critical because achieving any target size requires establishing social policies to influence fertility rates. Human population sizes have never, and will never, automatically equilibrate at some level. There is no feedback mechanism that will lead to perfectly maintained, identical crude birth and death rates. Since prehistoric times, societies have controlled fertility and mortality rates to a substantial degree, through various cultural practices (Harris and Ross, 1987). In the future, societies will need to continue manipulating vital rates to reach desired demographic targets. Most important, societies must reach a rough consensus on what those targets should be as soon as possible because the momentum behind the growth of the present population ensures at least a doubling before any decline is possible (UNFPA 1992).

This paper is a contribution to that necessary dialogue. What follows is a brief statement of our joint personal views of the criteria by which an optimum should be determined (in no particular order).

1. An optimum population size is not the same as the maximum number of people that could be packed onto Earth at one time, nurtured, as they would have to be, by methods analogous to those used to raise battery chickens. Rather, almost everyone who puts value on human life appreciates the importance of quality of life. Obviously, many more human beings could exist if a sustainable population were maintained for thousands to millions of years than if the present population overshoot were to destroy much of Earth's capacity to support future generations.

2. An optimum population size should be small enough to make it possible to provide the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life to everyone (e.g., Ehrlich et al., 1993), given both the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources and uncertainty regarding rates of long-term, sustainable resource extraction and environmental impacts. We agree with Nathan Keyfitz (1991): "If we have one point of empirically backed knowledge, it is that bad policies are widespread and persistent. Social science has to take account of them." The grossly inequitable distribution of wealth and basic resources prevailing today is highly destabilizing and disruptive. While it is in nearly everyone's selfish best interest to narrow the rich-poor gap, we are skeptical that the incentives driving social and economic inequalities can ever be fully overcome. We therefore think a global optimum should be determined with humanity's characteristic myopia and selfishness in mind. A further downward adjustment in the optimum should be made to insure against both natural and human-induced declines in the sustainable flow of resources from the environment into the economy and increases in anthropogenic flows of wastes, broadly defined, in the opposite direction.

3. Basic human rights in the social sphere (such as freedom from racism, sexism, religious persecution, and gross economic inequity) should be secure from problems generated by the existence of too many people. Everyone should have access to education, health care, sanitary living conditions, and economic opportunities; but these fundamental rights are difficult to assure in large populations, especially rapidly growing ones. Political rights are also related to population size, although this is seldom recognized (Parsons, 1977). Democracy seems to work best when populations are small relative to resource bases; personal freedom tends to be restricted in situations of high population density and/or scarce resources.

4. We think an optimum population size should be large enough to sustain viable populations in geographically dispersed parts of the world to preserve and foster cultural diversity. It is by no means obvious that the dominant and spreading "Western" culture has all the secrets of long-term survival (Ehrlich, 1980) – to say nothing of cornering the market on other values. We believe that cultural diversity is an important feature of our species in and of itself. Unfortunately, many cultures borne by small groups of people are in danger of being swamped by the dominant culture with its advanced technologies and seductive media, or worse, of being destroyed deliberately because of social intolerance or conflicts over resources.

5. An optimum population size would be sufficiently large to support a "critical mass" in each of a variety of densely populated areas where intellectual, artistic, and technological creativity would be stimulated. While creativity can also be sparked in sparsely populated areas, many cultural endeavors require a level of specialization, communication, and financial support that is facilitated by the social infrastructure characteristic of cities.

6. An optimum population size would also be small enough to ensure the viability of biodiversity. This criterion is motivated by both selfish and ethical considerations. Humanity derives many important direct benefits from other species, including aesthetic and recreational pleasure, many pharmaceuticals, and the basis and health of agriculture. Furthermore, the human enterprise is supported in myriad ways by the free services provided by healthy natural ecosystems, each of which has elements of biodiversity as key working parts (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1992). Morally, as the dominant species on the planet, we feel Homo sapiens should foster the continued existence of its only known living companions in the universe.

In general, we would choose a population size that maximizes very broad environmental and social options for individuals. For example, the population of the United States should be small enough to permit the availability of large tracts of wilderness for hikers and hermits, yet large enough to create vibrant cities that can support complex artistic, educational, and other cultural endeavors that lift the human spirit.

Innumerable complexities are buried in this short list of personal preferences, of course. But with the world's population size now above any conceivable optimum and (barring catastrophe) destined to get much larger still (UNFPA 1992), it appears that many decades are available in which to debate alternative optima before even stopping growth of the population, much less approaching an optimum. During that time, human technologies and goals will both change, and those changes could shift the optimum considerably.

It is nonetheless instructive to make a tentative, back-of-the-envelope calculation of an optimum on the basis of present and foreseeable consumption patterns and technologies. Since the human population is in no imminent danger of extinction due to underpopulation, we focus here on the upper bound of an optimum. We begin by using humanity's energy consumption as a rough, indirect measure of the total impact civilization inflicts on Earth's life-support systems (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991). Energy, especially that provided by fossil fuel and biomass combustion, directly causes or underpins most of the global environmentally damaging activities that are recognized today: air and water pollution, acid precipitation, land degradation, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and production of hazardous materials and wastes.

At present, world energy use amounts to about 13 terawatts (TW; 1012 watts), about 70 percent of which is being used to support somewhat over a billion people in rich countries and 30 percent to support more than four billion people in developing countries. This pattern is clearly unsustainable, not only because of the gross disparity between rich and poor societies, but because of the environmental damage that results. The consumption of 13 TW of energy with current technologies is leading not only to the serious environmental impacts indicated above but also to several forms of destabilizing global change, including a continuous deterioration of ecosystems and the essential services they render to civilization (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991; Ehrlich et al., 1993).

An examination of probable future trends leads to dismal conclusions. The world population is projected to increase from 5.5 billion in 1993 to somewhere between 10 and 14 billion within the next century. Suppose population growth halted at 14 billion and everyone were satisfied with a per-capita energy use of 7.5 kilowatts (kW), the average in rich nations and about two thirds of that in the United States in the early 1990s. A human enterprise that large would create a total impact of 105 TW, eight times that of today and a clear recipe for ecological collapse.

A scheme for avoiding such an ecocatastrophe over the next century was proposed by John Holdren of the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. The Holdren scenario (Holdren, 1991) postulates expansion of the human population to only 10 billion and a reduction of average per-capita energy use by people in industrialized nations from 7.5 to 3 kilowatts (kW), while increasing that of the developing nations from 1 to 3 kW. The scenario would require, among other things, that citizens of the United States cut their average use of energy from almost 12 kW to 3 kW. That reduction could be achieved with energy efficiency technologies now in hand and with an improvement (by most people's standards) in the standard of living.

While convergence on an average consumption of 3 kW of energy by 10 billion people would close the rich-poor gap, it would still result in a total energy consumption of 30 TW, more than twice that of today. Whether the human enterprise can be sustained even temporarily on such a scale without devastating ecological consequences is unclear, as Holdren recognizes.

But the Holdren scenario says very little about the technologies involved, which will inevitably change in the future as reserves of fossil fuels, especially petroleum, are depleted. Perhaps through careful application of more benign technologies (such as various forms of solar power and biomass-derived energy), the rate of environmental deterioration could be held to that of today. We must hope so, for the Holdren scenario is perhaps the most optimistic one yet put forth by a careful, competent analyst.

Against that background, what might be said about the upper limits on an optimum population size, considering present attitudes and technologies? In view of the environmental impacts of a civilization using 13 TW today, to say nothing of the threats to the future prospects of humanity, it is difficult to visualize a sustainable population that used more than 9 TW.

One might postulate that, with careful choices of energy sources and technologies, and with a stationary population, 9 TW might be used without degrading environmental systems and dispersing non-renewable resources any more rapidly than they could be substituted for. Under similar assumptions, a 6-TW world would provide a 50 percent margin for error, something we deem essential considering the unexpected consequences that often attend even very benign-appearing technological developments (the invention and use of chlorofluorocarbons being the most instructive case to date). A more conservative optimum would be based on a 4.5-TW world, giving a 100 percent margin for error. Which upper limit one wished to choose would depend in part on some sort of average social risk aversion combined with a scientific assessment of the soundness of the 9 TW maximum impact.

In the real world, the maximum sustainable population might well be determined in the course of impact reduction – by discovering the scale of the human enterprise at which ecosystems and resources seemed to be holding their own. For our thought experiment, let us consider a 6-TW world. If we assume a convergence of all societies on 3 kW per capita consumption, that would imply an optimum population size of 2 billion people, roughly the number of human beings alive in 1930. Such a number seems at first glance to be reasonable and well above the minimum number required to take advantage of both social and technical economies of scale. In the first half of the twentieth century, there were many great cities, giant industrial operations, and thriving arts and letters. A great diversity of cultures existed, and members of many of them were not in contact with industrializing cultures. Large tracts of wilderness remained in many parts of the world. A world with 1.5 billion people using 4.5 TW of energy seems equally plausible and would carry a larger margin of safety. This is about the same number of people as existed at the turn of the century.

To summarize this brief essay, determination of an "optimum" world population size involves social decisions about the lifestyles to be lived and the distribution of those lifestyles among individuals in the population. To us it seems reasonable to assume that, until cultures and technologies change radically, the optimum size of the human population lies in the vicinity of 1.5 to 2 billion people. That number also is our approximate best guess of the continuous standing crop of people, if achieved reasonably soon, that would permit the maximum number of Homo sapiens to live in the long run. But suppose we have underestimated the optimum and it actually is 4 billion? Since the present population is over 5.5 billion and growing rapidly, the initial policy implications of our conclusions are still clear.


This work was supported by grants from the W. Alton Jones, Winslow, and Heinz Foundations, and the generosity of Peter and Helen Bing.


Daily, G.C.. and P.R. Ehrlich. 1992. Population, sustainability, and Earth's carrying capacity. BioScience 42:761 -771.

Ehrlich, P.R., 1980. Variety is the key to life. Technology Review. Vol. 82. no. 5, March-April. pp. 58-68. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Ehrlich, P.R., G.C. Daily, and L.H. Goulder, 1992. Population growth, economic growth, and market economies. Contention 2:17-35.

Ehrlich. P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1990. The Population Explosion. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1991. Healing the Planet. Addison Wesley, New York.

Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1992. The value of biodiversity. Ambio 21:219-226.

Ehrlich. P.R., A.H. Ehrlich, and G.C. Daily. 1993. Food security, Population, and Environment. Population and Development Review 19:1 (March). pp. 1-3 1.

Gilpin, M.E., and M.E. Soule. 1986. Minimum viable populations: the processes of species extinctions. Pp. 13-34 in M. Soule (ed.). Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and Diversity. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Mass.

Hams. M., and E.B. Ross, 1987. Death, Sex, and Fertility: Population Reaulation in Preindustrial and Developing Societies, Columbia University Press, New York.

Holdren, J.P., 1991. Population and the energy problem. Population and Environment, 12:231-255.

Keyfitz, N, 1991. Population and development within the ecosphere: one view of the literature. Population Index 57:522

Livi-Bacci, M., 1987. A Concise History of World Population, Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

Parsons, J., 1977. Population Fallacies, Elek/Pemberton, London.

Revell, R., 1976. The resources available for agriculture, Scientific American 235, no. 3:164-178.

Soule, M. (ed.),1987. Viable Populations for Conservation, Cambridge Univ. Press. Cambridge.

UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population), 1992. State of the World Population 1992, United Nations, New York.

Gretchen C. Daily is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley and a Research Associate at the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. She has a PhD. from Stanford. She is investigating the carrying capacity of the earth from both biophysical and economic perspectives.

Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993


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Why Migration?

Years of work and arduous debate went into the writing of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a vast revamping of the law aimed above all at stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants. Yet the flood of unauthorized entries continued to grow unabated. A new law signed in November, 1990 allowed increasing numbers of immigrants with a flexible cap of about 700,000. Yet 1991 entries reached over one million. What is it about immigration policy that makes it so ineffective?

U.S. policy-makers and the general public believe the causes of immigration are evident: poverty, unemployment, economic stagnation and overpopulation drive people to leave their countries. Whether to accept immigrants thus becomes a humanitarian question, unrelated to U.S. economic policy or political responsibility.

These basic assumptions – shared by conservatives and liberals, the latter typically more generous that the former – have led policy-makers to treat immigration as autonomous from other major international processes and as a domestic rather than an international issue.1 They focus on regulating who may cross the border legally, and on encouraging foreign investment to alleviate the conditions which supposedly spark migration in the first place.

The central role played by the United States in the emergence of a global economy over the past 30 years lies at the core of why people migrate here in ever-increasing numbers. U.S. efforts to open its own and other countries' economies to the flow of capital, goods, services and information created conditions that mobilized people for migration, and formed linkages between the United States and other countries which subsequently served as bridges for migration. Furthermore, the relatively open nature of the U.S. labor market, epitomized by the notion that government should stay out of the marketplace, provides a necessary condition for immigration to occur.

Measures commonly thought to deter emigration – foreign investment, or the promotion of export-oriented agriculture and manufacturing in poor countries – have had precisely the opposite effect. Such investment contributes to massive displacement of small-scale agricultural and manufacturing enterprises, while simultaneously deepening the economic, cultural, and ideological ties between the recipient countries and the United States. These factors encourage migration. Proponents of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, for example, may claim it will discourage people from leaving Mexico by providing employment opportunities there. Yet it is more likely to exacerbate the flow of people across the border.2

The prevailing assumptions about why immigration occurs do not explain the new immigration from certain Asian and Caribbean Basin countries. Many countries with high population growth, vast poverty and severe economic stagnation do not experience large-scale emigration. Poverty and stagnation had long characterized most Asian and Caribbean Basin countries when large-scale migration flows started in the 1960s. And not all migrant-sending countries are poor; take, for example, South Korea and Taiwan.

In fact, emigration took off at a time when most countries of origin were experiencing accelerated economic growth according to conventional measures, considerably greater than countries that did not experience large-scale emigration. Annual gross national product (GNP) growth rates during the 1970s ranged from 5% to 9% for most of the leading migrant-sending countries. Even in Mexico, official GNP growth rates ranged between 4.2% and 7.5% in the early 1970s and then again late in the decade. South Korea is the most obvious example. With a growth rate of GNP among the highest in the world during the1970s, it was also one of the countries with the fastest growing levels of migration to the United States.

This is not to say that overpopulation, poverty and economic stagnation do not create pressures for migration; by their very logic, they do. But the common identification of emigration with these conditions is overly simplistic. If these factors were a constant long before emigration commenced, what accounted for the sudden upsurge in migration to the United States?

In the case of the Dominican Republic, the answer seems to lie in linkages with the United States that were formed during the occupation of Santo Domingo by U.S. Marines in 1965. The occupation, to suppress a popular uprising against a pro-U.S. coup, resulted not only in greater political and economic ties, but in personal and family linkages due to the settlement of middle-class political refugees in the occupying country. U.S.-Dominican ties were further consolidated through new U.S. investment in the Dominican sugar industry to replace that lost as a result of the Cuban revolution.

Dominican migration to the United States began to increase soon thereafter, rising from 4,500 between 1955 and 2959 to 58,000 between 1965 and 1969. The real take-off occurred in the early 1980s, as sugar prices fell and the United States invested heavily in tourism, offshore manufacturing, and non-traditional export agriculture on the island.

Haiti has not been subjected to direct U.S. military intervention since the 1920s. But the mass emigration which began in the early 1970s occurred parallel to a surge in new U.S. direct foreign investment in export manufacturing and the large-scale development of commercial agriculture. This created a strong U.S. presence and forced, often through violent means, independent farmers into a rural proletariat.

Despite El Salvador's longstanding poverty, only in 1981, when U.S. military involvement escalated sharply, did emigration begin on a massive scale. People left out of fear for their lives and because it became impossible to eke out a living with the war raging around them. But it was the linkages created by U.S. investment during the 1970s, and its military presence after 1980, that made emigration to the United States seem like a real possibility, even though for many the United States represented the enemy. Sarah Mahler found that many Salvadorans who emigrated to the United States had first worked as migrant laborers on export-oriented coffee plantations.3

Even in Mexico, where territorial continuity is routinely interpreted as a principal cause of immigration, the pattern of linkages is similar and in many ways unrelated to the existence of a shared border.4 This is also true for East Asians. After the Korean War, the United States actively sought to promote economic development in the region in order to stabilize it politically. U.S. troops were stationed in Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Massive increases in foreign investment occurred during the same period, particularly in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. Together, U.S. business and military interests created a vast array of linkages with those Asian countries that subsequently developed large migration flows to the United States.

That migrations are patterned is further reflected in the figures on the U.S. share of global immigration. Though inadequate, the available evidence compiled by the United Nations in the mid-1980s shows that the United States receives about 19% of global emigration.5 The United States receives 27% of total Asian emigration, but 81.5% of all Korean emigration and almost 100% of emigration from the Philippines. It receives 70% of Caribbean emigration, but almost 100% of emigration from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and 62% from Haiti. And it receives 19.5% of all emigration from Central America, but 52% of emigration from El Salvador, the country with the greatest U.S. involvement in the region.

Follow the Money

One common factor in this pattern over the last two decades is direct foreign investment in production for export, especially manufacturing and assembly of components and consumer goods such as toys, apparel, textiles, and footwear. While total U.S. investment abroad increased between 1965 and 1980 with large amounts continuing to go to Europe and Canada, investment in the Third World quintupled, much of it going to a few key countries in the Caribbean Basin and Southeast Asia. A large proportion of investment in non-industrialized countries went to industries producing for export, which tend to be labor-intensive, precisely one of the rationales for locating factories in low-wage countries. The result was rapid employment growth, especially in manufacturing, during the post-1965 decade. At a lower level, this was also the case in Mexico.

According to conventional explanations of why migrations occur, this combination of economic trends should have helped to deter emigration, or at least to keep it at relatively low levels. The deterrent effect should have been particularly strong in countries with high levels of export-oriented investment, since such investment is labor-intensive and thus creates more jobs than other forms of investment. Yet it is precisely such countries, most notably the newly industrializing countries of East Asia, which have been major senders of new immigrants.

To understand why this occurs, we have to examine the impact of such investment on people's lives. Perhaps the single most important effect is the uprooting of people from traditional modes of existence. It has long been recognized that the development of commercial agriculture tends to displace subsistence farmers, creating a supply of rural wage laborers and mass migrations to cities. The recent large-scale development of export-oriented manufacturing in East Asia, the Caribbean Basin, and Mexico's Border Industrialization Program has had a similar effect. In each case, the introduction of modem relations of production transforms people into migrant workers and potential emigrants.

In export manufacturing, the catalyst for the breakdown of traditional work structures is the massive recruitment of young women into jobs in the new industrial zones.6 The mobilization of large numbers of women into wage labor disrupts village economies and rural households which traditionally depend on women's often unwaged work in food preparation, cloth-weaving, basket-making and various other types of craftwork. Today most people in these regions have been thoroughly proletarianized.

One of the most serious and ironic consequences of the feminization of the new proletariat has been the rise in male unemployment. Not only must men compete with the new supply of female workers, but the massive departure of young women from rural areas, where women are key partners in the struggle for survival, reduces the opportunities for men to make a living there.

More generally, in some poorer, less developed regions or countries, export-led production has come to replace other more diversified forms of economic activity oriented to the internal market The impressive employment growth figures for most of the main emigration countries do not convey the severe limitations of the type of growth involved and the frequent destruction of a more diverse economy.7

For men and women alike, the disruption of traditional ways makes entry into wage labor increasingly a one-way proposition. With traditional economic opportunities in rural areas shrinking, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for workers to return home if they are laid off or unsuccessful in the job search. This is particularly serious for female workers in new industrial zones, who are often fired after a short period of employment in order to keep wages low and replace workers whose health begins to fail due to poor working conditions. Moreover, beginning in the late 1970s when tax concessions from local governments in the older zones were exhausted, many companies packed up and moved on to "new" countries where labor was even cheaper.

Due to all of these trends, people first uprooted from traditional ways of life, then left unemployed and unemployable as export firms hire younger workers or move production to other countries, may see few options but emigration—especially if export-led growth strategies have weakened the country's domestic economy.

But the role of foreign investment in encouraging large-scale emigration does not end there. In addition to eroding traditional work structures and creating a pool of wage laborers, foreign investment contributes to the development of economic, cultural, and ideological linkages with the industrialized countries.8 Workers employed in the export sector – whether as managers, secretaries, or assemblers – are, after all, producing goods and services for people and firms in industrialized countries. For these workers, already oriented toward Western practices and modes of thought, the distance between a job in the offshore plant or office and a comparable one in the industrialized country itself is subjectively reduced. It is not hard to see how emigration comes to be regarded as a serious option.

Beyond the direct impact on workers in the export sector, the linkages created by foreign investment also have a generalized ideological effect on a receiving country or region, making the culture of industrialized countries seem less foreign and the prospect of living there more attractive. This ideological impact turns a much larger number of people into candidates for emigration.

Immigration and U.S. Economic Policy

No analysis of immigration would be complete without examining changes in labor demand. While the internationalization of the economy contributed to the initiation of labor migrations to the United States, their continuation at high and ever-increasing levels is directly related to the economic restructuring of this country.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the supply of low-wage jobs in the United States expanded rapidly, while the labor market became less regulated. Such tendencies facilitated the incorporation of undocumented migrants by opening up the hiring process, lifting restrictions on employers and typically lowering the cost of labor.10 The increase in low-wage jobs was in part a result of the same international economic processes that channeled investment and manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. As industrial production moved overseas or to low-wage areas in the South, much of traditional U.S. manufacturing was replaced by a downgraded sector characterized by poorly paid, semi-skilled or unskilled jobs.

Three trends converged: first, the growing practice of sub-contracting, and the expansion of sweatshops and industrial homework (all of which have the effect of isolating workers and preventing them from joining together to defend their interests); second, the downgrading of skill levels required for jobs through the incorporation of machines and computers; and third, the rapid growth of high-technology industries that employ large numbers of low-wage production workers. These conditions make the United States an attractive location for foreign manufacturers and other types of firms and, at the limit, make certain areas of the country competitive with Third World countries as production sites.11

The rapid growth of the service sector also created vast numbers of low-wage jobs, in addition to the more publicized increase in highly paid investment banking, management and professional jobs.12 The growth industries of the 1980s – finance, insurance, real estate, retail trade, and business services – feature large numbers of low-wage jobs, weak unions if any, and a high proportion of part and female workers. Sales clerks, waitresses, secretaries, and janitors are among the growth occupations.

The expanded service sector also creates low jobs by raising the demand for workers to serve lifestyles and consumption requirements of the income professional and managerial class. The concentration of these high-income workers in major cities has created a need for legions of low -wage service workers – residential building attendants, restaurant workers, preparers of specialty and gourmet foods, dog walkers, errand runners, apartment cleaners, childcare providers and so on. The fact that many of these jobs are "off the books" has meant the rapid expansion of an informal economy.13

Immigrants are more likely than U.S. citizens to gravitate toward these jobs: they are poorly paid, offer little employment security, generally require few skills and little knowledge of English, and frequently involve undesirable evening or weekend shifts. In addition, the expansion of the informal economy facilitates the entry of undocumented immigrants into these jobs. Significantly, even immigrants who are highly educated and skilled when they arrive in the United States tend to gravitate toward the low-wage sectors of the economy.

While the transfer of manufacturing to less industrialized countries has helped promote emigration from them, the concentration of servicing and management functions in major U.S. cities has created conditions for the absorption of the immigrant influx. The same set of processes that promoted emigration from several rapidly industrializing countries has simultaneously promoted immigration into the United States. The fact that the primary generators of low-wage jobs are the major growth sectors of the U.S. economy, such as high technology and services, rather than the declining sectors, suggests that the supply of such jobs will probably continue to expand for the foreseeable future. As long as it does, the influx of immigrant workers to fill these jobs is also likely to continue.

Profit Knows No Borders

While individuals may experience their migration as the outcome of their personal decisions, the option to migrate is itself the product of larger social, economic and political processes. One could ask, for example, if there are systemic linkages underlying the current East Europe, and Soviet  migrations to Germany and Austria. Rather than simply posit the push factor of poverty, unemployment and the general failure of socialism, we might look at the fact that before War II both Berlin and Vienna were major receivers of large migrations from a vast eastern region. And the aggressive campaign during the Cold War years, touting the West as a place where economic well-being is the norm and well-paying jobs are easy to get, must also have had some effect in inducing people to migrate westward.14

Similarly, as Japan became the leading global economic power and the major foreign investor in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, a familiar combination of migration-facilitating processes appears to have been set in motion: the creation of linkages that eventually come to serve as bridges for potential emigrants, and the emergence of emigration to Japan as something that would-be emigrants see as a real option.

Japan is a country that never considered itself an immigrant country, has always been proud of its homogeneity, and has kept its doors closed to foreigners. Now it is experiencing a new illegal influx of workers from several Asian countries with which it maintains strong economic ties and investments in off-shore manufacturing but no shared border: Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand.

The impending free-trade agreement between the United States and Mexico is perhaps the best example. At the Bush Administration's insistence, immigration was kept off the negotiating table. The administration claims, however, that an agreement would stem illegal immigration from Mexico. Yet the considerable growth of export-assembly industry in northern Mexico over the last two decades has not deterred Mexican emigration. On the contrary, it encouraged new migrations from the interior of the country to the northern border zone, which in turn served as a platform for crossing into the United States. On a broader scale, the maquila program has consolidated a transnational border economy within which trade, investment and people move rather freely.

A free-trade agreement could substantially strengthen existing economic linkages and create new ones, from cross-border personnel transfers to the packaging and trucking of goods made in Mexico for the U.S. market. Such linkages would engender new patterns of communication, work and travel between the two countries – and would further integrate Mexican workers into the U.S. economy, intensifying Mexican contact with U.S. popular and work cultures. These conditions could spawn a generalized notion that people are entitled to free movement across the border.

Perhaps we need new ways to think about the process we call immigration. The category itself, with its strong emphasis on the concept of national borders, seems inadequate. The forging of strong economic and geopolitical relations between countries of unequal development and unequal job opportunities tends to promote labor migration from poorer to wealthier countries. Until policy-makers understand this basic fact, and abandon the notion that immigration control is a police matter, attempts to "stem the flood" will continue to fail.

1. This article uses materials from the author's recent books. 'The Mobility of Labor and Capital; A Study in International Investment and Labor Flow," (New York: Cambridge University Press 1988), and "The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo." (Princeton University Press, 1991).

2. See Saskia Sassen, “Free Trade and Immigration," Hemisphere (Winter/Spring 1991).

3. El Salvador's tradition of internal migration for the coffee, sugar and cotton harvests meant that peasant farmers had already been mobilized into wage labor. See also, Sarah J. Mahler, "Tres Veces Mojado: Undocumented Central and South American Migration to Suburban Long Island." (Ph.D.diss.. Dept. of Anthropology. Columbia University. 1992).

4. The large mass migrations of the 1800s followed the same pattern. They emerged as part of the formation of a trans-Atlantic economic system binding several nation-states through economic transactions and wars that brought massive flows of capital, goods and workers. Before this period, labor movements across the Atlantic had been largely forced, notably slavery, and mostly from colonized African and Asian territories. Similarly, the migrations to England in the 1950s originated in what had once been British colonies. Finally, the migrations into Westem Europe on the 1960s and 1970s occurred in a context of direct recruitment and of European regional dominance over the Mediterranean and part of Eastern Europe. There are, I would say, few if any innocent bystanders among countries receiving large labor migrations.

5. This figure is derived from data on permanent settlement, which excludes illegal immigrations and unoffical refugee flows between countries, a growing category. This and other figures in this paragraph are from "Demographic Yearbook," (United Nations, 1985) and "World Population Prospects,"(United Nations, 1987).

6. Most of the manufacturing in these zones is of the sort that also employs women in developed countries. Electronics assembly, toys, textiles, and garments account for the largest share, but it is diversifying fast. For the initial phase of this process see, for example, Norma Diamend, "Women and Industry in Taiwan," Modem China, Vol.5, No.3 (July 1979); Helen I. Safa, "Runaway Shops and Female Employment: The Search for the Cheap Labor," Signs. Vo1.7, No.2 (Winter 1981); E. Boserup. "Women's Role in Economic Development," (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1970); also E. Bodding. "Women: the Fifth World". Foreign Policy Association Headline Series No.248, (Washington. DC: February 1980) and June Nash and Maria Patricia Femandez Kelly, 'Women and Men in the International Division of Labor" (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983).  See also the film. "The Global Assembly Line," by Lorraine Gray.

7. In a detailed examination of the employment impact of export-led industrialization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) found that in general, this type of development eliminated more jobs than it created because of its disruptive effect on the rational manufacturing sector, especially in the less industrialized countries of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, 'World Industry since 1960," Progress and Prospects (Vienna: UNIDO, 1979).

8. Each country is unique and each migration flow is produced by specific conditions in time and place. Yet the general dynamic in the U.S. occurs in other countries characterized by economic dominance and the formation of transnationa1 spaces for economic activity. This type of analysis seeks to capture the impact of the internationalization of the economy on a) formation of migration flows, and b) the labor marks in the receiving country, particularly changes that may contribute to the absorption of immigrants.

9. Comparing 1973 and 1989 income data shows that relative incomes fell for 80% of all families and rose for 20%. The truly rich, the top 1%, gained the most. Much of the 20% at the top represents an upper middle class, rather than "the wealthy." See U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989, Series P-60, No 168.

10. Saskia Sassen, 'The Mobility of Labor and Capital.”

11. The inflation-adjusted hourly earnings of factory production workers rose by 70% from 1947 to 1973. From 1973 to 1987 they fell by 5.4%. The real value of the minimum wage fell by about 23% from 1981 to 1989. See Gary Burtless, ed., "A Future of Lousy Jobs," (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1990), p.15.

12. These trends have sharpened over the last few years, bringing about growing inequality in the U S occupational and income structure. Inflation-adjusted average weekly wages peaked in 1973, stagnated over the next few years and fell in the decade of the 1980s. Up to 1973 there was an increase in the degree of equality in the distribution of earnings. Since 1975, the opposite has occurred. In the decade from 1963 to 1973, 9 out of 10 new jobs were in the middle earnings group, whereas after 1973 only one in two new jobs was in the middle-earning category. If one were to add the increase in the number of workers who are not employed full-time and year-round, then the inequality becomes even more pronounced. Part-time workers increased from 5% in 1955 to 22% in 1977, and by 1986 were a third of the labor force. Approximately 80% of these 50 million workers earn less than $1,000 a year. Paul Blumberg. "Inequality in an Age of Decline," (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 67-79; Robert Z. Lawrence, "Sectoral Shifts and the Size of the Middle Class,” Brookings Review (Fall 1984); Bennet Harrison and Barry Bluestone. "The Great U-Turn," (New York: Basic Books, 1988). A report by the House Ways and Means Committee found that from 1979 to 1987, the bottom fifth of the population experienced a decline of 8% in its personal income while the top fifth experienced an income increase of 16%. And data from the 1990 Census shows that the top 20% of the income structure accounted for most of the increase in personal income in the decade of the 1980s while the bottom 40% lost ground.

13. A comparison of trends in New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities can be found in Saskia Sassen, "The Global City’, part three.

14. Saskia Sassen. "Six Concepts for Analyzing Immigration: Do They Work for Germany?" Work in progress for the Wissmschaftszentmm (Berlin, Winter 1992).

Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993

Related Stories: 

IMF Riot and Urban Problems (Winter/Spring 1993)

Special Issue Produced in Cooperation with the United Church of Christ
(Vol.3, No.4/Vol.4, No.1: Winter/Spring 1993)

Since its early inception at the beginning of the last century, the more established environmental movement has shown an overwhelming tendency to focus on the problems of the larger environment, more remote in space and time, while ignoring the ones where most people live. It has had relatively little to say about the dense concentrations of large numbers of people engaging in occupations other than mining, farming, ranching, and fishing. Yet seventy percent of Americans, and almost half of humanity, live in cities. Many global environmental problems result from the way we live in such urban communities.

Since 1990, after decades of neglect, the environmental movement has begun to pay more attention to these human habitats. A great deal of this attention has promoted new patterns of thought, development, and action which link urbanism to nature. These efforts are resulting in greater appreciation for wildness in the city, community gardens, and in designing cities to conserve land, air, water, and energy. Attempts to link environmental values to urban design, however, have paid very little attention to the nexus between racial issues, social class, and the quality of urban life.

The insurrection in Los Angeles in the wake of the Rodney King verdict in April of 1992 riveted national attention on these other dimensions of our urban experience, long absent from public discourse: the persistence of urban  poverty, racially separate societies in our metropolitan regions, public safety, crime violence, and homelessness.

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1  LA'S IMF Riots
     by Cynthia Hamilton

1   Restoring Cities From the Bottom Up
     by Mike Helm and George Tukel

3   Developing Working Definitions of Urban Environmental Justice
     by Charles Lee

6   The Need For A New Economics
     by Stephen Viederman

7   Residential Apartheid In Urban America
     by Robert  Bullard

9   Get The Lead Out
     by Janet Phoenix

10 Recycling As Economic Development: We Can Invent Our Future
     by Neil Seldman

12 After The Uprising: Metro Rail, Social Justice, and Urban Form
     by Raymond L. Rhodes

14 Environmental Justice Organizations in Urban Areas

18 The Cultural Climate of Cities
by Luz Cervantes

19 Billboards in San Francisco
     by Josh Konecky

28 EDGE Conference 1993
     by Karla Brundage

30 Curitiba Commitment to Sustainable Development

31 Leaking Underground Storage Tanks and Urban Neglect
     by Daniel O'Connor

Developing Working Definitions of Urban Environmental Justice

In October 1991, more than 600 persons from virtually every state in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Central America, and the Marshall Islands gathered in Washington D.C. at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. It was a defining moment for the environmental justice movement in the United States. One of the Summit's most important contributions was the adoption of the Principles of Environmental Justice.

Some of the key concepts among these seventeen principles are respect for the earth, freedom from environmental discrimination, the right to a balanced and ethical use of land, self determination, accountability for the production and handling of hazardous materials, the right to participation in decision-making about one's environment, the right to a safe and secure workplace, compensation for damage, restoration of cities in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of neighborhoods, and providing access to a full range of resources, informed consent, and education based on appreciation of diverse cultural perspectives. One outgrowth of the Summit was recognition by a number of delegates and participants that the connections between environmental justice and the urban environment need more systematic attention and treatment.

No more than six months later, the largest urban uprising in the history of this country took place in South Central Los Angeles. The L.A. rebellions were massive tremors on the racial and social seismographs of America. Over a year prior, we at the Commission for Racial Justice predicted that an upheaval like the one that occurred in LA would take place. All rational observers of U.S. affairs said Los Angeles was a crisis waiting to erupt. And it is by no means unique. Most of America's urban areas also are ominously waiting to erupt. We must send a resounding and unambiguous message to the new administration in Washington, D.C., that it ignores this reality at its own peril.

The main thesis of this article is that an environmental justice perspective is needed for understanding America's urban crisis and what should be done about it. Why should people of color be concerned about the urban environment? These are areas where the vast majority of people of color of live. Over fifty of the nation's largest cities have people of color majority populations. At the same time, cities are the most polluted places.

Empirical data on many forms of pollution risk indicate a decidedly strong urban impact. The United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice's landmark 1987 study Toxic Wastes and Race found Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Houston, and other metropolitan areas to have the greatest concentrations of hazardous waste sites. Air pollution has given rise to an epidemic of childhood asthma and other respiratory diseases. Nearly half (49%) of African American children living in the inner city suffer from lead poisoning; for families earning $6,000 or less the figure rises to 68%. As underscored by the proposed Environmental Justice Act of 1992, these hazards do not occur alone; they overlap to create a potent but undetermined set of synergistic health risks. Activist Hazel Johnson reported that there are at least 201 hazardous chemicals being emitted into her environment in Chicago's South Side.

Given these intuitively obvious connections between environmental justice and the urban environment, why have these connections yet to be systematically made? Prior to the Summit, the definitions and symbols of environmentalism clearly did not speak to people of color or the poor. They simply ignored the fact that "people of color also are an endangered species." For example, Eleanor Holmes Norton talks about how during the efforts to make the Potomac River pristine, the Anacostia River on the other side of the tracks in Washington, D.C., was long left forgotten. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness in people of color communities about the threat of environmental contamination, which has spawned a transformation in thinking and action. The Summit's invitational message thus continued "environmental issues afford us the opportunity to address many of the critical issues of the decade, including unemployment, community and urban development, energy and defense policy, resource exploitation, public health, and self-determination. We believe that our transformation in thinking will ultimately play a pivotal role in the redefinition of the environment."

Disposable Communities: The Urban Wasteland

Halfway across the continent lies a city which is virtually 100 percent African American. It has no obstetric services, no garbage collection, few jobs, raw sewage regularly backing up into homes and schools, and the nation's highest rate of childhood asthma deaths. East St. Louis, Illinois, lies directly adjacent to Monsanto Chemical, Pfizer Chemical, Aluminum Ore, Big River Zinc, and other industrial plants. Most of these plants have their own incorporated townships, where no one lives and which are no more than legal fiction to provide shelters and immunity from the jurisdiction of East St. Louis. Raw sewage often floods the streets, parking lots, and playgrounds. Garbage is burnt in backyard lots. Lead is found in playgrounds at an astonishing 10,000 parts per million. Children play directly downstream from the chemical and metal processing plants, leading to the highest rate of childhood asthma in the nation. Children also play in the aptly named Dead Creek, which received toxic discharges in the past and now smokes by day and glows on moonlit nights. It gained notoriety for instances of spontaneous combustion created by friction when children rode their bicycles through it. The St. Louis Post Dispatch described East St. Louis as "America's Soweto."

The metropolitan ecosystem, such as those in Los Angeles and East St. Louis, can be understood as having three overlapping subsystems: the natural or biophysical environment, the manufactured or built environment, and the social environment. In most of the nation's urban areas, like Los Angeles and East St. Louis, these can be described as wastelands. Elements of the biophysical wasteland include polluted rivers and water supplies, air in constant violation of federal health standards, toxic emissions from nearby factories and waste incinerators, etc. Elements of the built wasteland include a mounting trash problem, antiquated water, sewage, and mass transit systems, bridges, roads, and an infrastructure that is old and in disrepair. Elements of the social environment include crime, less than minimal education, drugs, violence, residential apartheid, racism in housing, and health care delivery, etc.

South Central Los Angeles and East St. Louis are examples of the central role of racism in determining the nature of the urban environment. They are prima facie evidence of the growing significance of race in American society. An environmental justice perspective requires that we see these various subsystems holistically. It demands that we understand the evolution of these interrelated subsystems from a multi-racial and multicultural perspective, keeping in mind the global and historical contexts from which all people of color must necessarily proceed if our integrity as distinct peoples is to be preserved. From both within the framework of each culture, be it Native American, African American, Latino American, or Asian Pacific American, as well as their interconnections to each other, we begin to draw some fundamental historical assumptions based upon a history of 500 years of colonial oppression, where the exploitation of land and natural resources was intrinsically intertwined with the exploitation of people of color. This became an underlying assumption of the Principles of Environmental Justice. Hence, the urban crisis in 1992, at the end of the twentieth century, is very much the byproduct of the environmental racism which began in 1492, at the end of the fifteenth century.

Today, Los Angeles is a city of contradictions. It is one of the world's most multiracial and multicultural cities, but at the same time one of its most segregated. It is a car and tinsel town, famous for its never ending freeways and show business glitter. L.A. has the worst air pollution in the nation, with the most grievous impact falling on communities of color. Its neighborhoods are breeding grounds for unemployment, poverty, drugs, hopelessness, and rage. Beginning in the 1930s a consortium of auto, rubber and oil companies destroyed public transportation and made the city dependent on the automobile. South Central L.A. did not always have the urban decay it now suffers. Unemployment in South Central Los Angeles is no mystery when one realizes that not too long ago a General Motors plant there employed 4,000 workers. How ironic that GM saw fit to close shop in a city it made dependent on the automobile and go overseas for cheaper labor and greater profits.

Other great urban centers like Chicago, New York, and Detroit were destinations for Post-World War II streams of African Americans migrating from the deep South seeking employment and economic opportunity. Racism and segregation have turned this odyssey into a bitter, dead-end search. The inner city communities into which they were forced have turned out like East St. Louis, the only difference being that many inner city communities could not be politically disowned. Once a thriving transportation center which invited African Americans for purposes of union breaking, East St. Louis is now described as a "repository for a nonwhite population now regarded as expendable."

Certainly one must wonder exactly what is the psychological damage being perpetuated in inner city youth when they compare their "environment" with the resplendent images normally associated with the American landscape. One author chose to call these comparisons "savage inequalities." These comparisons are being made daily and, whether we realize it or not, begin when our youth are barely out of infancy. All they have to do is turn on the TV set.

People of color live in communities not only targeted for the disposal of environmental toxins and hazardous waste but in fact live in fully disposable communities to be thrown away when the populations they hold have outlived their usefulness. This is the logical product of the environmental racism now practiced for 500 years, i.e., "When they throw out the garbage, they leave people in it, too."

I submit that this offers a way of looking at new urban centers now thriving, fed by massive waves of immigrants from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, who are drawn to fill the piecework economy of urban Chinatown garment sweatshops with working conditions no better than those which gave rise to the Triangle Square Fire or the colonias, Mexican border towns now best known for local clusters of chemically-caused anencephaly, babies born without brains. Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Texas border, "is dominated by U.S.-owned companies that came south for cheaper labor, favorable trade rules and lax enforcement of environmental laws. Today, Matamoros is an ugly sprawl of industrial plants and shacks housing Mexican workers. Its open sewers contain toxic wastes and human refuse. Its factories spew fumes and leak chemicals." No doubt the already low value of the newfound pool of cheap labor will soon deflate when they too have outlived their usefulness in economically highly precarious industries.

In many respects, entire communities like South Central Los Angeles and entire cities like East St. Louis are more environmentally degraded and pose greater health threats to their inhabitants than most sites presently on the Superfund National Priority List. Congress formulated the concept of a hazardous waste “Superfund” as a response to the tens of thousands of the nation’s abandoned and/or orphaned hazardous waste sites.

Superfund notwithstanding, none of the present environmental legislation comes anywhere close to addressing the environmental catastrophe called “Urban America.” Certainly, one of the challenges of progressive lawyers is to develop a body of law capable of addressing the challenges above. We look to the legal profession to play significant roles in helping society shape definitions of right and wrong, fairness, equal protection and equity, standards of conduct, appropriate causes for action, justice and injustice.

Organizing and Movement Building

Urban communities of color never had the luxury of organizing around single issues. We must turn this into a strong point for organizing because if our goals are to organize for ecologically and economically sustainable communities, we must be able to make the interconnections between different issues. This is the value of an environmental justice perspective.

The rebuilding of our cities must be done in a way which empowers the community. This presupposes "the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making including assessment needs, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation." (Principle #7) In addition, it presupposes "honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities" (Principle #12). Thus, rebuilding our cities must be accomplished with a conscious and systematic restructuring of the relationships within the metropolis as well as regionally, nationally and internationally. Urban reconstruction should be a vehicle for socially and economically disenfranchised residents to organize for public health, education and safety, meet basic human needs, and develop their potential as productive human beings.

Here are ten short prescriptions, by no means comprehensive, to get us started:

1. Understand the value of cities as unique reservoirs of racial and cultural diversity and, therefore, the gateway to a world where international economic interdependence, cultural exchange, and technological cooperation is more and more important. Cities are the key to the multiracial and multicultural renaissance needed in the 21st century America where European Americans will become the numerical minority.

2. Use the urban environmental crisis as an opportunity for job creation and sustainable economic development. There is much work to be done, including the remediation of lead poisoned buildings, cleaning up parks and developing new recreation spaces. The decaying infrastructure is an obvious way of putting people to work. Use the garbage crisis to promote labor intensive environmental cleanup programs such as recycling.

3. Make sustainability of the social and physical environment the central issue in all areas of development planning; rebuilding must strengthen the role of inner city institutions in metropolitan and regional decision-making. Economic growth must rely on local resources, talents, insights and efforts. Community development corporations and local enterprise should play a bigger role than outside real estate interests. New patterns of development should stress cooperation and investment leading to equitable sustained growth which adds to the value of the community rather than frenzied competition based on the production and distribution of empty consumer goods of marginal long term value. Dissent must be turned to a critique of monopolistic power relations and the creation of markets which can mutually benefit rather than exploit.

4. Promote greater reliance on sustainable sources of energy and energy-efficient modes of transportation.

5. Establish activist oriented urban environmental research centers based on the local community made up of consortiums of academic institutions, labor, small business, churches, and the public schools; every idea, every hopeful experiment ought to have a place where it can be warmly received, receive critical technical support and thorough examination, and where every success, big or little, can be documented, promoted and replicated.

6. Promote links among urban areas through joint strategies, so that the political weight of several or a network of cities can be brought to bear, so that municipalities can become the pacesetters in environmental policymaking.

7. Enlist, train and support a large army of women to do community education and mobilization to get environmental issues addressed and cleanups completed. We must recognize who have always been our leaders in the trenches.

8. Identify several urban based symbols of environmental justice action in every city. Our people must have the readily available examples of action, and success around which to coalesce.

9. Make environmental education a part of the core curricula of the public school system starting from kindergarten and pre-school, focusing on the environment right outside the school doorsteps. Establish special schools devoted to environmental studies, as has been done in New York City. Use environmental education as a vehicle to promote through real life experiences an understanding of science, technology and the issues inherent in environmental policy-making.

10. Enlist youth through active participation, especially in cultural activities to express for us a sense of reality and their visions for a humane and sustainable environment. We clearly must begin to take on the task of offering our own visions for the future. No longer can we allow others to define for us what our futures should be.

The Challenge for the Future

It is too often said that "without a vision, the people perish." Our task is to develop the visions and understandings which will effectively meet the challenges of Los Angeles and East St. Louis: to revive, rebuild, and renew our inner cities. Environmental justice activists, scholars, doctors and lawyers can make a special and unique contribution to that vision, and therefore you have a special obligation. This nation needs a comprehensive urban environmental agenda which includes jobs and justice, equity and opportunity, and most importantly bears the stamp of our visions. To achieve this, we must mobilize all our communities, not just those in the inner cities.


IMF Riot and Urban Problems       ?õ¬?       Vol. 3 No. 4/Vol. 4 No. 1      ?õ¬?       Winter/Spring 1993


Related Stories: 

Metro Rail, Social Justice, and Urban Form

The recent Los Angeles uprising is not the inchoate and criminal cry of a statistically minor underclass that could not climb the ladder of the American dream. It is rather a defining moment in American history, an event which, for those who choose to see, breaks through our denial of the increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. "Fixing" the underclass by "rebuilding Los Angeles" misses the point completely. The foundation of any true "rebuilding" of Los Angeles is the economic, social and psychological empowerment of all its people.

Practically and morally, we can't be safe, free, guiltless, secure, or fully human until this happens. As part of this rebuilding effort, the regional urban form and transportation infrastructure of our increasingly polarized society must be addressed. As a $183 billion social investment, Metro Rail will be one of the key elements of the rebuilding. We must ask of it, and of the development it spawns, how that form and its interaction can heal the polarization and help the social and economic vitality of the region.

Metro Rail is purported to be a technical answer to socio-economic issues technically defined. It is claimed to be a necessary response to congestion, pollution, excessive use of energy and inadequate levels of public transit service. However, the system has more fundamental imperatives – increasing capital accumulation and socioeconomic segregation; reinforcing downtown investment values for the business elite; providing a public subsidy to private business to transport low income workers; creating even more "niche" enclaves which protect the upper classes from others in a crime-ridden city; and shifting Metro Rail construction and operating costs to the general public. Such inequities are financed by Metro Rail's socially regressive financing scheme which bespeaks frightening values: the voter support for a massive transit investment but refusal to approve financing for jobs, education, health care and affordable housing.

A critique of Metro Rail is at its core a critique of the urban form it serves – low density, multi-centered, and auto-reliant. But the dark side of our urban form is that it is also a spatial expression of racial and economic apartheid, L.A. being one of the most segregated cities in the United States, created by the federally-financed, post-World War II exodus from the center city. Our regional form is now groaning under functional inefficiencies: sprawl (excessive travel distances and times, excessive infrastructure costs, limited job access for the poor, and increasing pollution); an increasingly unacceptable view of the quality of our living and natural environment (severe lack of visual coherence, and the "despatialization" of the region and its natural setting into the abstraction of plotted parcels administered by planning bureaucracies); and a resulting calcification of a landscape of inequity and segregation. The illusion that this arrangement was at least sustainable was broken by the recent uprising.

Metro Rail's radial design was planned to serve this urban form. While efficiency is the criteria in an era of limits, Metro Rail facilitates even greater urban inefficiencies by facilitating increased home-to-job distances. Metro Rail poses no challenge to the status quo. The system will reinforce, not reshape, urban growth. Any attempt to circumvent this dead end is severely hampered. The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) is assuming a land use planning role which it cannot adequately fill. LACTC is not a planning or policy-making agency -- it is a single-purpose organization mandated to plan and implement a transit system according to goals defined by others. As such, it is not an instrument of public policy to be used in shaping urban form. Two massive, unexamined presumptions have been made: that urban form can be guided by land development investments in the immediate vicinity of rail stations, and that corridor rail development is the best form of concentrating urban investment.

The lack of an active, system-wide planning effort is symptomized by the logical gaps and inconsistencies in the transit network, as well as some intense political obstruction by affected interests. Typical problems include: no direct connection from Downtown L.A. to the L.A. International Airport or Wilshire/Fairfax; the choice of a light rail technology on the Pasadena line which prohibits the transit from directly serving the urban centers; the stated need to build a "downtown light rail segment which duplicates the function of the Red Line subway"; and the high possibility that Metro Rail's focus on bringing workers and customers  downtown may instead funnel people and development away from the central city for the cheaper land and labor in other parts.

No people, and no city, can survive the widening gap in wealth and life opportunities which exist in this country. The $183 billion for Metro Rail and the Metro System is a seduction in which we can no longer afford to indulge, a social investment which does not build people or society in proportion to its cost. Schools, social welfare, health and similar social measures, the essential urban infrastructure, are severely underfunded. The entire budget of the system must be reexamined in terms of its value vis a vis other urgent social needs. Without such a major social investment, the L.A. region will have excellent transportation access to jobs which don't exist, and to housing which people can't afford. Continued construction of the Metro System in its present isolation from some of the most divisive issues and urgent needs of our society is a fundamental mistake.

We do have choice in the way our region grows. One of the first urban form alternatives to examine should be a "compacted city" with higher-density housing, manufacturing, and commercial uses clustered around the central city. A closely-spaced matrix or grid of rail and bus lines would serve this city, as distinguished from the current Metro Rail radial scheme with transit spokes radiating from downtown and thinly covering the region. The intent of a compact city is to create districts rather than corridors of intensified development, with a rich variety of jobs and housing in close proximity. The geographic extent of rail lines would be deliberately limited in order to focus development and create real and perceptible urban boundaries. In a compacted city, the far flung Metrolink commuter rail system would be completely inappropriate. Today, it only encourages the migration of labor in across far distances.

It is possible that some Metro Rail development should be curtailed, and legal mechanisms found for reallocating portions of the sales tax to other social purposes. The need for this work to begin is urgent if L.A. County and its citizens are to regain conscious and deliberate control of their environment and not let the Metro Rail program define our regional form by default. Planning will and should be done on a community-by-community, "bottom up" approach as well as the more prevalent "top down" approach. The LACK could partially finance and organize the planning effort, inverting the "suburban crust" of our postindustrial era back into the center of the city. In "rebuilding L.A.," we must not simply replace what was burned, but rather take a comprehensive look at the communities as locuses for new economic development in central L.A.

Future activities of the LACTC must be based on a number of key principles: Invest in people, not in things. Metro Rail should be an instrument of reducing class warfare and binding together the people of this remarkable region. It should maximize the potential of the lower-income people and the dispossessed; and it should realize the potential of transportation in reshaping the region's urban form to avoid the wasted social investment, obstructions to social justice and barriers to equal opportunity which result from sprawl. Transit and land use at all scales must result from an integrated planning process. The Metro System, as an instrument of a deliberate socioeconomic policy, has the potential to increase job opportunities, reverse segregation, restructure our land uses and improve the quality of life.

Governance of Metro Rail planning and implementation must be more representative within the LACTC. At least a portion of LACTC board members should be directly elected. The City of Los Angeles may need charter reform to provide greater district level, community-based planning. A democratic planning apparatus needs to be established. Architects and urban designers will have a crucial role in this replanning process in visualizing alternative futures and solving key design problems. These include: integrating manufacturing uses in densely developed areas; designing livable multi-use developments; developing livable housing at higher densities; graciously retrofitting a multimodal transit system into the cities; and creating a democratic planning process in which the political and economic warfare which passes for planning can become a win-win proposition. The professionals who plan our regional form/transportation system cannot be fruitful without having a vision based on a deep respect for all people, as shown through a commitment to social justice, full employment, adequate housing and other basics of human dignity.

IMF Riot and Urban Problems       ?õ¬?       Vol. 3 No. 4/Vol. 4 No. 1      ?õ¬?       Winter/Spring 1993

Related Stories: 

Native Nations (Fall 1992)

Vol.3, No.3: Fall 1992

He who holds the pen controls history.

How else can we explain the white-washed versions of what passes as truth in this country? From the historical lies taught to schoolchildren to the false images projected by mainstream media to the tomahawk-chopping stereotypes absorbed and perpetuated by the masses, the truth about Native peoples and our history has been colorblind and culture-blind for far too long.

After years of repressive struggles, we are finally seeing the voices of Native peoples emerge to shed much needed light on the dark past of America's history.

The journeys of Native people through the last 500 years have been painful and much has been lost since the invasions. Whole nations of our relations were wiped out in the holocaust with no survivors to carry on their distinct cultures. The list of nations lost that appears in this issue was researched by the Morning Star Foundation with the acknowledgement that it is only a partial list of those no longer with us, except in spirit.

We remember and mourn for them in 1992, and we learn from them as well.

Download PDF of this issue (739KB)

1   Lost in America

     by Paul Smith

1   Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past
     by Bill Bigelow

3   We Are Still Here: The 500 Years Celebration
     by Winona LaDuke

4   Our Visions -- The Next 500 Years

5   Native Lands 1492-1 992

6   Stuck Holding the Nation's Nuclear Waste
     by Valerie Taliman

7   Status of MRS Grants

8   Oklahoma Tribal Response to MRS
     by Grace Thorpe

9   No Nuclear Waste on Indian Lands, an IEN Resolution

10 The Western Shoshone: Following Earth Mother's Instructions
     by Joe Sanchez

12 Declaration of Quito

13 The Off-Again, On-Again Garbage Dump
     by Marina Orfega

14 Partial listing of those Native Nations that did not survive the invasion, 1492-1992

16 Struggles Unite Native Peoples: An Interview with Chief Tayac
     by Phil Tajitsu Nash

18 Healing Global Wounds
     by Valerie Taliman

Discovering Columbus: Re-Reading the Past

Most of my students have trouble with the idea that a book – especially a textbook – can lie. That's why I start my U.S. history class by stealing a student's purse.

As the year opens, my students may not know when the Civil War was fought or what James Madison or Frederick Douglass did; but they know that a brave fellow named Christopher Columbus discovered America. Indeed, this bit of historical lore may be the only knowledge class members share in common.

What students don't know is that their textbooks have, often by omission or otherwise, lied to them. They don't know, for example, that on the island Hispaniola, an entire race of people was wiped out in only 40 years of Spanish administration.

Finders, Keepers

So I begin class by stealing a student's purse. I announce that the purse is mine, obviously, because look who has it. Most students are fair-minded. They saw me take the purse off the desk so they Protest: "That's not yours, it's Nikki's. You took it. We saw you." I brush these objections aside and reiterate that it is too mine and to prove it, I'll show all the things I have inside.

I unzip the bag and remove a brush or a comb, maybe a pair of dark glasses. A tube of lipstick works best. "This is my lipstick," I say. "There, that proves it is my purse." They don't buy it and, in fact, are mildly outraged that I would pry into someone's possessions with such utter disregard for her privacy. (I've alerted the student to the demonstration before the class, but no one else knows that.)

It's time to move on: "OK, if it's Nikki's purse, how do you know? Why are you all so positive it's not my purse?" Different answers: We saw you take it; that's her lipstick, we know you don't wear lipstick; there is stuff in there with her name on it. To get the point across, I even offer to help in their effort to prove Nikki's possession: "If we had a test on the contents of the purse, who would do better, Nikki or I?" "Whose labor earned the money that bought the things in the purse, mine or Nikki's?" Obvious questions, obvious answers.

I make one last try to keep Nikki's purse: "What if I said I discovered this purse, then would it be mine?" A little laughter is my reward, but I don't get any takers; they still think the purse is rightfully Nikki's.

"So," I ask, "Why do we say that Columbus discovered America?"

Was it Discovery?

Now they begin to see what I've been leading up to. I ask a series of questions which implicitly link Nikki's purse and the Indians' land: Were there people on the land before Columbus arrived? Who had been on the land longer, Columbus or the Indians? Who knew the land better? Who put their labor into making the land produce? The students see where I'm going – it would be hard not to. "And yet," I continue, "What is the first thing that Columbus did when he arrived in the New World?' Right: he took possession of it. After all, he had discovered the place.

We talk about phrases other than "discovery" that textbooks could use to describe what Columbus did. Students start with phrases they used to describe what I did to Nikki's purse: He stole it; he took it; he ripped it off. And others: He invaded it; he conquered it.

I want students to see that the word "discovery" is loaded. The word itself carries a perspective; a bias. "Discovery" is the phrase of the supposed discoverers. It's the invaders masking their theft. And when the word gets repeated in textbooks, those textbooks become, in the phrase of one historian, "the propaganda of the winners."

To prepare students to examine textbooks critically, we begin with alternative, and rather unsentimental, explorations of Columbus's "enterprise," as he called it. The Admiral-to-be was not sailing for mere adventure and to prove the world was round, as I learned in fourth grade, but to secure the tremendous profits that were to be made by reaching the Indies.

Mostly I want the class to think about the human beings Columbus was to "discover" – and then destroy. I read from a letter Columbus wrote to Lord Raphael Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon, and one of his patrons, dated March 14, 1493, following his return from the first voyage. He reports being enormously impressed by the indigenous people:

As soon ... as they see that they are safe and have laid aside all fear, they are very simple and honest and exceedingly liberal with all they have; none of them refusing anything he [sic] may possess when he is asked for it, but, on the contrary, inviting us to ask them. They also give objects of great value for trifles, and content themselves with very little or nothing in return ... I did not find, as some of us had expected, any cannibals among them, but, on the contrary, men of great deference and kindness.1

But, on an ominous note, Columbus writes in his log, "...should your Majesties command it, all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile [Spain], or made slaves on the island. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."2

I ask students if they remember from elementary school days what Columbus brought back from the New World. Students recall that he returned with parrots, plants, some gold, and a few of the people Columbus had taken to calling "Indians." This was Columbus's first expedition and it is also where most school textbook accounts of Columbus end - conve niently. What about his second voyage? I read to them a passage from Hans Koning's fine book, Columbus: His Enterprise:

We are now in February 1495. Time was short for sending back a good 'dividend' on the supply ships getting ready for the return to Spain. Columbus therefore turned to a massive slave raid as a means for filling up these ships. The [Columbus] brothers rounded up 1,500 Arawaks - men, women, and children - and imprisoned them in pens in Isabela, guarded by men and dogs. The ships had room for no more than five hundred, and thus only the best specimens were loaded aboard. The Admiral then told the Spaniards they could help themselves from the remainder to as many slaves as they wanted. Those whom no one chose were simply kicked out of their pens. Such had been the terror of these prisoners that (in the description by Michele de Cuneo, one of the colonists) 'they rushed in all directions like lunatics, women dropping and abandoning infants in the rush, running for miles without stopping, fleeing across mountains and rivers.'

Of the 500 slaves, 300 arrived alive in Spain, where they were put up for sale in Seville by Don Juan de Fonseca, the archdeacon of the town. 'As naked as the day they were born,' the report of this excellent churchman says, 'but with no more embarrassment than animals ...’

This slave trade immediately turned out to be 'unprofitable, for the slaves mostly died.' Columbus decided to concentrate on gold, although he writes, 'Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.' 3 (Emphasis in Koning)

Certainly Columbus's fame should not be limited to the discovery of America: he also deserves credit for initiating the trans-Atlantic slave trade, albeit in the opposite direction than we're used to thinking of it.

Looking Through Different Eyes

Students and I role play a scene from Columbus's second voyage. Slavery is not producing the profits Columbus is seeking. He believes there is gold in them thar hills and the Indians are selfishly holding out on him.

Students play Columbus; I play the Indians: "Chris, we don't have any gold, honest. Can we go back to living our lives now and you can go back to wherever you came from?"

I call on several students to respond to the Indians' plea. Columbus thinks the Indians are lying. Student responses range from sympathetic to ruthless: OK, we'll go home; please bring us your gold; we'll lock you up in prison if you don't bring us your gold; we'll torture you if you don't fork it over, etc.

After I've pleaded for awhile and the students-as-Columbus have threatened, I read aloud another passage from Koning's book describing Columbus's system for extracting gold from the Indians:

Every man and woman, every boy or girl of fourteen or older, in the province of Cibao ... had to collect gold for the Spaniards. As their measure, the Spaniards used ... hawks' bells ... Every three months, every Indian had to bring to one of the forts a hawks' bell filled with gold dust. The chiefs had to bring in about ten times that amount. In the other provinces of Hispaniola, twenty five pounds of spun cotton took the place of gold.

Copper tokens were manufactured, and when an Indian had brought his or her tribute to an armed post, he or she received such a token, stamped with the month, to be hung around the neck. With that they were safe for another three months while collecting more gold. Whoever was caught without a token was killed by having his or her hands cut off....

There were no gold fields, and thus, once the Indians had handed in whatever they still had in gold ornaments, their only hope was to work all day in the streams, washing out gold dust from the pebbles. It was an impossible task, but those Indians who tried to flee into the mountains were systematically hunted down with dogs and killed, to set an example for the others to keep trying ...

During those two years of the administration of the brothers Columbus, an estimated one half of the entire population of Hispaniola was killed or killed themselves. The estimates run from one hundred and twenty-five thousand to one-half million.4

The goal is not to titillate or stun, but to force the question: Why wasn't I told this before?

Re-examining Basic Truths

I ask students to find a textbook, preferably one they used in elementary school, and critique the book's treatment of Columbus and the Indians. I distribute the following handout and review the questions aloud. I don't want them to merely answer the questions, but to consider them as guidelines.

  • How factually accurate was the account?
  • What was omitted – left out – that in your judgment would be important for a full understanding of Columbus? (for example, his treatment of the Indians; slave taking; his method of getting gold; the overall effect on the Indians.)
  • What motives does the book give to Columbus? Compare those with his real motives.
  • Who does the book get you to root for, and how do they accomplish that? (for example, are the books horrified at the treatment of Indians or thrilled that Columbus makes it to the New World?)
  • How do the publishers use illustrations? What do they communicate about Columbus and his "enterprise"?
  • In your opinion, why does the book portray the Columbus/Indian encounter the way it does?
  • Can you think of any groups in our society who might have an interest in people having an inaccurate view of history?

I tell students that this last question is tough but crucial. Is the continual distortion of Columbus simply an accident, or are there social groups who benefit from children developing a false or limited understanding of the past?

The assignment's subtext is to teach students that text material, indeed all written material, should be read skeptically. I want students to explore the politics of print – that perspectives on history and social reality underlie the written word, and that to read is both to comprehend what is written, but also to question why it is written. My intention is not to encourage an 'I-don't-believe-anything' cynicism,5 but rather to equip students to analyze a writer's assumptions and determine what is and isn't useful in any particular work.

For practice, we look at excerpts from a California textbook that belonged to my brother in the fourth grade, The Story of American Freedom, published by Macmillan in 1964. We read aloud and analyze several paragraphs. The arrival of Columbus and crew is especially revealing – and obnoxious. As is true in every book on the "discovery" that I've ever encountered, the reader watches events from the Spaniard's point of view. We are told how Columbus and his men "fell upon their knees and gave thanks to God," a passage included in virtually all elementary school accounts of Columbus. "He then took possession of it [the island] in the name of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.”6 No question is raised of Columbus's right to assume control over a land which was already occupied. The account is so respectful of the Admiral that students can't help but sense it approves of what is, quite simply, an act of naked imperialism.

The book keeps us close to God and the Church throughout its narrative. Upon returning from the New World, Columbus shows off his parrots and Indians. Immediately following the show, "the king and queen lead the way to a near-by church. There a song of praise and thanksgiving is sung."7 Intended or not, linking church and Columbus removes him still further from criticism.

Students' Conclusions

I give students a week before I ask them to bring in their written critiques. Students share their papers with one another in small groups. They take notes towards what my co-teacher, Linda Christensen, and I call the "collective text": What themes recur in the papers and what important differences emerge? What did they discover about textbook treatments of Columbus?

Here are some excerpts:

Matthew wrote:

As people read their evaluations the same situations in these textbooks came out. Things were conveniently left out so that you sided with Columbus's quest to 'boldly go where no man has gone before' ... None of the harsh violent reality is confronted in these so called true accounts.

Gina tried to explain why the books were so consistently rosy:

It seemed to me as if the publishers had just printed up some 'glory story' that was supposed to make us feel more patriotic about our country. In our group, we talked about the possibility of the government trying to protect young students from such violence. We soon decided that that was probably one of the farthest things from their minds. They want us to look at our country as great, and powerful, and forever right. They want us to believe Columbus was a real hero. We're being fed lies. We don't question the facts, we just absorb information that is handed to us because we trust the role models that are handing them out.

Rebecca's collective text reflected the general tone of disillusion with the textbooks:

Of course, the writers of the books probably think it's harmless enough - what does it matter who discovered America, really; and besides, it makes them feel good about America. But the thought that I have been lied to all my life about this, and who knows what else, really makes me angry.

Why Do We Do This?

The reflections on the collective text became the basis for a class discussion. Repeatedly, students blasted their textbooks for giving readers inadequate, and ultimately untruthful, understandings. While we didn't press to arrive at definitive explanations for the omissions and distortions, we tried to underscore the contemporary abuses of historical ignorance. If the books wax romantic about Columbus planting the flag on island beaches and taking possession of land occupied by naked red-skinned Indians, what do young readers learn from this about today's world? That might – or wealth – makes right? That it's justified to take people's land if you are more "civilized" or have a "better" religion?

Whatever the answers, the textbooks condition students to accept inequality; nowhere do they suggest that the Indians were sovereign peoples with a right to control their own lands. And, if Columbus's motives are mystified or ignored, then students are less apt to question U.S. involvements in say, Central America or the Middle East. As Bobby, approaching his registration day for the military draft, pointed out in class: "If people thought they were going off to war to fight for profits, maybe they wouldn't fight as well, or maybe they wouldn't go."

It's important to note that some students are troubled by these myth-popping discussions. One student wrote that she was "left not knowing who to believe." Josh was the most articulate in his skepticism. He had begun to "read" our class from the same critical distance from which we hoped students would approach textbooks:

I still wonder…If we can't believe what our first grade teachers told us, why should we believe you? If they lied to us, why wouldn't you? If one book is wrong, why isn't another? What is your purpose in telling us about how awful Chris was? What interest do you have in telling us the truth? What is it you want from us?

They were wonderful questions. Linda and I responded by reading them (anonymously) to the entire class. We asked students to take a few minutes to write additional questions and comments on the Columbus activities or to imagine our response as teachers - what was the point of our lessons?

We hoped students would see that the intent was to present a new way of reading, and ultimately, of experiencing the world. Textbooks fill students with information masquerading as final truth and then ask students to parrot back the information in end of chapter "checkups." The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire calls it the "banking method": students are treated as empty vessels waiting for deposits of wisdom from textbooks and teachers? We wanted to tell students that they shouldn't necessarily trust the "authorities," but instead need to participate in their learning, probing for unstated assumptions and unasked questions.

Josh asked what our "interest" was in this approach. It's a vital question. Linda and I see teaching as political action: we want to equip students to build a truly democratic society. As Freire writes, to be an actor for social change one must "read the word and the world." We hope that if a student maintains a critical distance from the written word, then it's possible to maintain that same distance from one's society: to stand back, look hard and ask, "Why is it like this? How can I make it better?"

Bill Bigelow teaches at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon. This piece is reprinted from Rethinking Columbus, a special edition of Rethinking Schools, available for $6 from 1001 E. Keefe Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53212.


1. The Annals of America, Volume 1: 1493-1754, Discovering a New World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968, pp. 2, 4.

2. Quoted in Hans Koning, Columbus: His Enterprise, Monthly Review Press, 1976, pp. 53-54. As Koning points out, none of the information included in his book is new. It is available in Columbus's own journals and letters and the writings of the Spanish priest, Bartolome de las Casas.

3. Koning, pp. 84-85.

4. Koning, pp. 85-87.

5. It's useful to keep in mind the distinction between cynicism and skepticism. As Norman Diamond writes, “In an important respect, the two are not even commensurable. Skepticism says, 'you'll have to show me, otherwise I'm dubious'; it is open to engagement and persuasion... Cynicism is a removed perspective, a renunciation of any responsibility." See Norman Diamond, "Against Cynicism in Politics and Culture," in Monthly Review, v. 28, June 1976, p. 40.

6. Edna McCuire, The Story of American Freedom, Macmillan Co, 1964, p. 24.

7. McCuire, p.26.

8. See Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuum, New York, 1970.

9. Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo. Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, Bergin and Gamey, 1987.

Native Nations      ?õ¬?       Vol. 3 No. 3      ?õ¬?       Fall 1992

Related Stories: 

Struggles Unite Native Peoples

The following is from an interview with chief Bill Redwing Tayac of the Piscataway people, conducted by Phil Tajitsu Nash. In it, Chief Tayac stresses the unity of native peoples throughout the Americas and outlines some of thei rmany struggles, in particular the fight to maintain their land.

My name is Billy Redwing Tayac. I am the hereditary chief of the Piscataway people, who are indigenous to Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. Our present ceremonial ground and spiritual and political center is located in what is called Port Tobacco, in Maryland. Over the years, I have worked for the reclamation of Indian people. We have so many people who have lost their way, who don't know anything about their traditions or religion. This work involves "de-Angloization," or bringing our people back to the earth, back to being Indian people. It is hard to be an Indian in any city because we are separated from the earth by concrete. We can'? feel the power of the earth, the wind, the trees.

All people, regardless of color, were at one time tied to the earth. Even the Europeans had tribes tied to the earth. The earth is everything to everybody.

My father, Chief Turkey Tayac, was a traditional chief, but I was much more interested in joining with other Indians in groups such as the American Indian Movement. Through AIM, I came to realize that to be an Indian today, one must transcend tribalism. We are a race of people. In the terminology of the movement, we are "Many Nations, One People." Whether we speak English, Spanish or Portuguese, Indians are all one people stretching from the tip of North America to the tip of South America.

The dominant society has divided us, cutting up our land into slices they call countries. But we are still a people. And not a small group of people. There are tens of millions of Indian people in the Western Hemisphere. With modem technology we can be in instant communication with our relatives in El Salvador, in the Brazilian rainforest.

Europeans Tried to Destroy Us

The Europeans invaded all our land, not just the United States, Panama, or Brazil. They invaded an entire hemisphere and tried their best to destroy a race of people and their cultures and religions. It is a holocaust that cannot be compared to anything else in the history of humanity. Even today, in the 20th Century, Indian people are not considered a part of mankind. An example of this is that in the United Nations, all other races of people - black, white and yellow - are represented. Red people have no voice. If atrocities occur against us, we as Indian people have to go to the oppressor government, whether Brazil, El Salvador or the United States, to voice our concerns. This parallel would be like a Jew going to Hitler to express his concerns about the horrible extermination policies directed towards his people in the 1940s.

One of the major areas where Indian people are fighting back is in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. The Lakota and other people consider this sacred ground. But it is also one of the richest 100 square miles on earth, with gold, uranium, and timber. Families like the Hearsts in California made a fortune by taking gold out of there, but the people still living there are among the poorest in the United States.

This is where the massacre of Indian people known as Wounded Knee took place 100 years ago, and where the American Indian Movement made a stand in 1973 that helped to spark the modern Indian movement for dignity and self-government.

This reminds me of an important lesson I have learned over the years about the use of terminology. When the Nazis occupied France during World War II, those who opposed them were called "freedom fighters." When Indian people have fought back against the taking of our land, we have been called "hostiles" or "communists." Likewise, when Sioux warriors defeated United States warriors at Little Big Horn in 1876, the popular press called it a "massacre." However, when the United States cavalry machine-gunned unarmed men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in 1890, it was called a "battle" by the popular press. It took over 70 years for the record to be set straight and for the events to be referred to by the names they deserve: the Battle of Little Big Horn and The Massacre at Wounded Knee.

There are Indian Wars continuing today - yes, today - in Guatemala and El Salvador. The slaughter of Indian people by a dominant European society continues. For example, Guatemala is a country with 85% Indian people, but the Indian people don't rule Guatemala. The standing army rules.

Mestizos are Really Indians

Governments don't like to classify these people as Indians. What some call mestizos, Hispanics, or Chicanos are really Indians. They are not classified that way because of paper genocide. They would prefer to kill them, as with the 38,000 killed in the 1930s in El Salvador. Everyone who looked a certain way or who wore certain clothing was shot and killed indiscriminately. Mexicans today with dark complexions and black hair will deny they are Indians. They will say, "I am a Mexican." They have been brainwashed, because the lowest people on the ladder are the Indians. Who wants to be part of that group?

The rise of the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s helped to restore a sense of pride. People were no longer ashamed to be Indian. They demanded that treaties be upheld. They demanded to be treated as human beings. AIM brought back the traditions, customs and religions to thousands, maybe millions, of Indian people.

When someone committed a murder of an Indian person anywhere around the country, AIM people went there to ask why that murder resulted in only a manslaughter charge if the defendant was European American and the dead man was an Indian. When Indian people were tried by all-white juries, they were more often than not found guilty. Despite being only half of one percent of the United States population, we have the highest rate of imprisonment of any group.

I would like it if every American would take a history book and look at the picture of Chief Big Foot frozen in his grave at Wounded Knee. These people were only seeking food to exist, and the United States exerted military might against them. Today, this military might still exists on the Indian reservations. They use their "legal bullets," the FBI and BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to come onto reservations and investigate and imprison the Indian people. We stood up and exposed the BIA's corruption in our occupation of BIA headquarters in 1972, and stood up and showed the world that Indian people were still alive in our stand at Wounded Knee in 1973.

I had the fortune in the early 1970s of meeting a survivor of the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre. It seemed so impossible that it could have occurred, until you think about the My Lai massacre and the other horrible incidents in Vietnam. Many Indians like AIM leader Bill Means served in Vietnam and recognized that as soldiers, they were oppressors. Then at Wounded Knee in 1973, he was being shot at by the same soldiers he had served with. The important lesson is that the Indians serving in Vietnam felt a kinship with the Vietnamese.

We Are a Sovereign Peoples

This feeling of being outside the American government has its roots in the fact that we are sovereign people who were here thousands of years before Columbus. However, despite referendums in 1920 and 1922 where we said we did not want to be made United States citizens, we were forced [to be citizens] by the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Then, compounding our problems was the Wheeler-Howard Act of 1934, which set up tribal corporations on Indian lands. Some sell-out Indian person would be made chairman of the local branch of this federal agency, and then he could sign away our rights to land or minerals. These tribal chairmen also tried to take power away from our traditional chiefs, using the lure of federal education or housing benefits. Fortunately, many of the Indian people did not fall for this trap.

There are other issues in Indian country. At Big Mountain in the Southwest, the Hopi and Navajo are being relocated because minerals were found under the land. Once people are relocated and given a small settlement, they have no skills for living in a town. Six months later, they are broke, homeless, and wanting to go home again.

In Western Minnesota, thousands of acres of land have been taken at the White Earth Reservation.  Indian people who had legitimate claims were not told, and the government sold the lands to whites.

Indian Wars Continue

In Canada last summer, the Indian Wars continued. The Canadian government brought tanks to Indian reservations and held a siege at Oka. Less than 150 Mohawks protesting the proposed use of an ancestral burial ground for a golf course were surrounded by 5,000 federal troops.

These Indian Wars will never be over until the Indian people get their land back. Would the Jews accept money for the Wailing Wall? The Pope accept money for the Vatican? Would a Moslem accept money for the sale of Mecca? No, we can never accept the loss, the theft of ancestral lands. And because Indian people are all one people, we can never forget Wounded Knee, just like the Japanese American people can never forget the internment their people suffered [during World War III].

Even today in the United States, there are Native American political prisoners such as Leonard Peltier, who has served 15 years of two consecutive lifetime sentences for murders he did not commit.

We all need to band together today to save Mother Earth. We should be making food so that no one is hungry. Every person should have shelter and health care. There should be no dominant class based on color of skin or gender. There should be no dominant country because of the amount of money they have or the power they wield. All human beings should come together for the good of the earth.

The elders once told me that the Indian people were spared so that we can be the driving force to save Mother Earth. The ashes of our ancestors have been intermingled with the earth on this continent for millennia. In this 500th anniversary of the coming together with Europeans, it is a good time to remember this.

Native Nations       —       Vol. 3 No. 3         Fall 1992

Related Stories: 

Governing from the Grassroots (Fall 2003)

Vol. 10, No. 2: Fall 2003

As Californians recover from the tumultuous gubernatorial election in our state while also looking ahead to the 2004 presidential election, the issue of electoral politics looms large. The question is: how do activists and organizations struggling to promote equity in low-income communities and communities of color incorporate electoral politics into our work?

In recent years, the Environmental Justice Movement and its allies in the environmental, civil rights, public health, labor and faith-based movements have been assaulted on a number of fronts. It is clear that while our tried-and-true tactics of grassroots mobilization, research and litigation have led to victories, those approaches are not enough. To realize our goals of equity and sustainability, we have to move beyond the strategies we know.

For these reasons, Urban Habitat has begun to explore what an electoral strategy would entail for our organization and communities of color in the Bay Area. For one, it would mean partnering with nontraditional allies, including progressive businesses. It would also mean expending the energy, resources and time to promote an electoral agenda that favors equity instead of always reacting to agendas that undermine it.

This issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment is dedicated to examining the intersection between environmental justice and electoral politics. With key elections on the horizon, we wanted to provide our readers and partners with tools and strategies to influence and implement electoral campaigns.

Download a PDF of this issue (6.1 MB)

10-2 Vol.10 No.2 Fall 2003, Governing from the Graassroots.pdf

4  News From Urban Habitat

6  News From the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment

Elections 2000/2002

9   The Color of Election 2000
     by Bob Wing

13 Beyond Florida: Voting in Tennessee, 2002
     by Catherine Danielson

State of Our Union 

17 Curbs on Clean Air
     by Richard Toshiyuki Drury and A.J. Napolis

20 Right-wing Rollbacks and Our Courts
     by Deeohn Ferris

25 Civil Rights in Reverse
     by Liza Siu Mendoza and Rico Oyola

Building Power: The Case for EJ Electoral Politics 

29 The Mother of Movements
     by Rob Arnow and Paul Platt

33 Getting Political
     an interview with Anthony Thigpenn

38 Organizing is Not Enough
     by Robert McKay

Electoral Strategies 

41 Learning to Lobby
     by Judith Bell

46 Campaign Finance and Civil Rights
     by Paul Turner and Hector Preciado

49 One Person, No Vote
     by Ludovic Blain III

52 Taking Over City Council
     by Amy Dean

55 The EJ Candidate
     by Michael Leon Guerrero

59 Precaution as Policy
     by Bhavna Shamasunder

63 Electoral Tools and Tactics
     by Kimberley Paulson

Rap the Vote
     by WireTap Staff

68 Five Things You Can Do to Protect Your Vote
     by Melissa Siebert, Stan Goff and Chris Kromm


69 Resources


The Color of Election 2000: A Look at the Resurgence of Electoral Racism


What if there was an election, and nobody won?

Thank you, Florida, for exposing as fraud the much-vaunted sanctity of the vote in this country and placing electoral reform back on the country’s agenda. Reports out of Florida show that people of color cast a disproportionate number of disqualified votes. On election day, black and Haitian voters were harassed by police, their names removed from the rolls, and their ballots left uncounted by outdated machines. Thirty-five years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, racist violations of election law are rampant and should be pursued to justice in Florida and elsewhere.

But beyond these immediate issues, this election reveals again just how central race is to U.S. politics and how racism is institutionally structured into the electoral system. The election reaffirms that people of color are the most consistent liberal/progressive voters in the country and their clout is increasing but that electoral racism effectively nullifies almost half of their votes. The Civil Rights Movement destroyed the monopoly of power by whites, but the tyranny of the white majority is still institutionalized in the winner-take-all, two-party, Electoral College system.

Unless we place fighting electoral racism at the top of the racial justice agenda, we cannot challenge the political stranglehold of conservative white voters or maximize the growing power of people of color.

By the Numbers

The idea that race and racism are central to American politics is not just a theory that harkens back to the days of slavery. It’s a current-day lived reality that is particularly evident in this country’s biggest and most sacred political event: the presidential pageant.

According to the Voter News Service exit polls for Election 2000, 90 percent of African Americans voted for Gore, as did 63 percent of Latinos, and 55 percent of Asian Americans. (No exit poll data on the Native American vote is available, but most have historically voted Democratic.) Combined, people of color accounted for almost 30 percent of Gore’s total vote, although they were only 19 percent of voters. On the other hand, whites constituted almost 95 percent of Bush’s total vote.

Latinos, the country’s fastest growing voting bloc, went heavily Democratic even in Texas despite extensive efforts by the Republicans to sway them. Most Asian Americans followed suit. People of color are becoming a larger portion both of the U.S. population and of the electorate, and voting largely in concert with each other in presidential elections.

Conventional electoral wisdom discounts race as a political factor, focusing instead on class, the gender gap, union membership, etc. But, the only demographic groups that had a fairly unified vote defined as 60 percent or more for one of the candidates were blacks, Latinos, Jews (81 percent for Gore), union members (62 percent for Gore), residents of large cities (71 percent for Gore), and white males (60 percent for Bush). All but union members and big-city residents are racial or ethnic groups.

And, the large numbers of people of color in unions (about 25 percent) and big cities largely account for the heavy Democratic vote of those demographic groups. White union members and city dwellers vote to the left of whites who live more racially isolated lives, but they barely tilt Democratic. Similarly, women voted 54-43 percent for Gore, but white women actually favored Bush by one point. Women of color create the gender gap.

The same can be said of the poor: although 57 percent of voters with incomes under $15,000 voted for Gore, poor whites who make up just under half of eligible voters in this category broke slightly for Bush. The income gap in presidential politics is thoroughly racialized. As the sociologist William Form pointed out long ago, if only a bare majority of white working-class people voted consistently Democratic, we could have some kind of social democracy that would provide much more social justice than the conservative regimes we are used to.

Despite the pronounced color of politics, Ralph Nader (and his multi-hued progressive pundits) blithely dismiss the fact that he received only 1 percent of the votes of people of color and that the demographics of his supporters mirrored those of the Republicans (except younger).

Electoral College: Pillar of Racism

The good news is that the influence of liberal and progressive voters of color is increasingly being felt in certain states. They have become decisive in the most populous states, all of which went to Gore except Ohio, Texas, and (maybe?) Florida. In California an optimist might even envision a rebirth of Democratic liberalism a couple of elections down the road, based largely on votes of people of color.

The bad news is that the two-party, winner-take-all, Electoral College system of this country ensures, even requires, that voters of color be marginalized or totally ignored.

The Electoral College negates the votes of almost half of all people of color. For example, 53 percent of all blacks live in the Southern states, where this year, as usual, they voted over 90 percent Democratic. However, white Republicans out-voted them in every Southern state (and every border state except Maryland). As a result, every single Southern Electoral College vote was awarded to Bush. While nationally, whites voted 54-42 percent for Bush, Southern whites, as usual, gave over 70 percent of their votes to him. They thus completely erased the massive Southern black (and Latino and Native American) vote for Gore in that region.

Since Electoral College votes go entirely to whichever candidate wins the plurality in each state whether that plurality be by one vote or one million votes the result was the same as if blacks and other people of color in the South had not voted at all. Similarly negated were the votes of the millions of Native Americans and Latino voters who live in overwhelmingly white Republican states like Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, the Dakotas, Montana and Texas. The tyranny of the white majority prevails.

Further, the impact of the mostly black voters of Washington, D.C., unfairly denied statehood, is undermined by its arbitrary allocation of only three electoral votes. And the peoples of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam which are colonies ruled by the U.S. and have greater populations than more than a quarter of the U.S. states get no Electoral College votes at all.

Slave Power

In his New York Times op-ed, Yale law professor Akhil Amar reveals that the hitherto obscure Electoral College system was consciously set up by the Founding Fathers to be the mechanism by which slaveholders would dominate American politics.

The Constitution provided that slaves be counted as three-fifths of a person (but given no citizenship rights) for purposes of determining how many members each state would be granted in the House of Representatives. This provision vastly increased the representation of the slave states in Congress.

At the demand of James Madison and other Virginia slaveholders, this pro-slavery allocation of Congresspersons also became the basis for allocation of votes in the Electoral College. It is a dirty little secret that the Electoral College was rigged up for the express purpose of translating the disproportionate Congressional power of the slaveholders into undue influence over the election of the presidency. Virginia slaveholders proceeded to hold the presidency for 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years.

Since slavery was abolished, the new justification for the Electoral College is that it allows smaller states to retain some impact on elections. And so it does to the benefit of conservative white Republican states. As Harvard law professor Lani Guinier reports, in Wyoming, one Electoral College vote corresponds to 71,000 voters, while in large-population states (where the votes of people of color are more numerous) the ratio is one electoral vote to over 200,000 voters. So much for one person, one vote.

Two-Party Racism

The two-party system also structurally marginalizes voters of color. First of all, to win, both parties must take their most loyal voters for granted and focus their message and money to win over the so-called undecided voters who will actually decide which party wins each election. The most loyal Democrats are strong liberals and progressives, the largest bloc of whom are people of color. The most loyal Republicans are conservative whites, especially those in rural areas and small towns. The undecideds are mostly white, affluent suburbanites; and both parties try to position their politics, rhetoric and policies to woo them. The interests of people of color are ignored or even attacked by both parties as they pander to the "center."

Another consequence is that a disproportionate number of people of color see no reason to vote at all. The U.S. has by far the lowest voter participation rate of any democracy in the world. The two-party system so demobilizes voters that only about 65 percent of the eligible electorate is registered, and only 49 to 50 percent usually vote (far less in non-presidential elections).

Not surprisingly, the color and income of those who actually vote is skewed to higher income, older and more conservative white people. In the 1996 presidential election, 57 percent of eligible whites voted compared to 50 percent of blacks and 44 percent of Latinos. Seventy-three percent of people with family incomes over $75,000 voted compared to 36 percent of those with incomes below $15,000.

In addition, current electoral law disenfranchises millions of mainly Latino and Asian immigrants because they are not citizens. And, according to Reuters, some 4.2 million Americans, including 1.8 million black men (13 percent of all black men in America), are denied the right to vote because of incarceration or past felony convictions.

Proportional Representation

To remedy these racist, undemocratic electoral structures, Lani Guinier and many others propose an electoral system based on proportional representation. New Zealand, Australia, all of the European countries except Great Britain, and many Third World countries have proportional electoral systems. In such systems, all parties that win a certain minimum of the popular vote (usually 5 percent) win representation in the Congress (or Parliament) equal to their vote. To win the presidency, a party must either win an outright majority or form a governing coalition with other parties.

Thus, for example, the German Green Party, which gets about seven percent of the vote, is part of the ruling coalition in that country. If we had such a system, a racial and economic justice party could be quite powerful. Instead, in our current system, voting for a third-party candidate like Nader may take votes from Gore and help Bush. And someone like Jesse Jackson, who won 30 percent of the Democratic popular vote in 1988, is not a viable candidate, and his supporters have little clout in national politics.

If we fail to place fighting electoral racism at the very top of a racial justice agenda, we will continue to be effectively disenfranchises, and white people, especially conservative white Republicans, will enjoy electoral privileges that enable them to shape the policies and institutions of this country at our expense. We must eliminate the role of big money in elections and make voting readily accessible to poor folk.

Until we win a proportional system—or unless there is some other major political shake-up—the vast majority of people of color will continue to participate in the Democratic Party. Therefore we must resist the racist, pro-corporate right wing of the Democratic Party and demand that the Democrats more strongly represent the interests of people of color. However, our ability to do this—or to build anti-racist third parties that include our peoples—depends upon our ability to form mass, independent racial justice organizations and to build alliances with other progressive forces both inside and outside the electoral realm.

Building electoral alliances—around issues, referenda, and candidates—is key to the maturation of a racial justice movement that functions on the scale necessary to impact national politics, social policy, or ideological struggle in this country.

Governing the Grassroots       ?õ¬?       Vol. 10 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Fall 2003


Related Stories: 

Where Do We Go from Here? (Summer 2003)

A Look at the Long Road to Environmental Justice   (Vol. 10, No. 1: Summer 2003)


This issue of Race, Poverty  and the Environment both celebrates the EJ Movement and offers a critique of it. At this critical point in EJ history, RPE takes a big-picture look at the Movement's past, present and future. In the "Looking Back" section, three articles explore the relationship between EJ and the Civil Rights Movement, examining lessons learned from liberation struggles of the 60s and 70s, as well as failures and missteps to avoid. With this hindsight and analysis, the EJ Movement has the potential to be even more powerful and effective than the social change struggles that preceded it. Another article delves into the tensions between EJ and the environmental movement. The section ends with a review of key milestones in the Movement's history.

The next section on "Current Issues" starts off with a couple of reflections on Summit 11. Additional articles address key topics such as the challenge of developing a national environmental justice agenda and the question of leadership-What is it? How is it developed? How are grassroots leadership and other forms of leadership nurtured and maintained? The next piece, "Who's Got the Power?" tackles the potentially contentious relationship between grassroots EJ groups and "intermediaries."

Solutions for ethnic and gender divisions within the movement are also suggested. This section ends with a discussion about the need for crossmovement alliances and a roundup of some exciting strategies being employed by E J organizations across the country. Finally, in "Looking Forward,"this issue offers commentary from some key EJ leaders about how to build our Movement from this moment forward. It also provides perspectives on EJ-related issues such as equitable development and immigration. "The Next Generation" brings together an array of youth voices to express the needs of young people in the Movement.

The section ends with three articles exploring the connections between local and global struggles and highlighting some exciting projects that are working toward realizing the vision of international environmental justice.

Download Entire Issue as pdf


2  News From Urban Habitat
3  News From the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment
4  About This Issue

Looking Back

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement: An interview with Damu Smith

9  What Can EJ Learn from the Civil Rights Movement? A Critical Look
     By Van Jones, Esq.

11 Learning from Our Past
     By Sofia Martinez

12 Green Politics and Civil Rights
     By Salim Muwakkil

14 Environmental Justice Milestones

 Current Issues: The Big Picture

16 Reflections on the Second National People of Color Summit
     By Michele Roberts

18 Reflections: A Filipina's Perspective
     By Aimee Suzara

19 The Vision Thing
     By Richard Moore

21 Looking for Leadership
     A roundtable discussion with Carl Anthony, Juliet Ellis and Angela Glover Blackwell

Current Issues: Conflicts & Resolutions

26 Who's Got the Power?
     By Rinku Sen

28 We Must All Be Accountable in a Grassroots Movement
     By Penn Loh

29 Overcoming Internalized Racial Oppression
     By Ron Chisom, with David Billings

31 Women's Work
     Contributors: Beverly Wright, Susana Alrnanza and Sayo':kla Kindness

Current Issues: EJ in Action

33 Movement to Movement
     By Elizabeth Tan

35 Case Study: Linking Local to Global
     By Michael Guerrero

36 Strategies that Work
     By Kimberly Paulson

Looking Forward

38 Movement Building
     Contributors: Joselito Laudencia, Peggy M. Shepard, Lukata IVljumbe, Cynthia Rojas

42 The Next Generation
     Multiple youth contributors

44 Immigration, Population and Environmental Justice
     By Arnoldo Garcia

46 Resident Ownership Mechanisms: From Stakeholder to Stockholder
     By Heather McCulloch and Lisa Robinson for PolicyLink

49 Confronting Environmental Racism in the 21st Century
     By Robert D. Bullard

53 Climate Change: What's Justice Got to Do with It?
     By Ansje Miller

54 Youth of Color and Global Justice
     By Colin Rajah


55 Resources

Related Stories: 

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement

Many environmental justice leaders and organizers consider the EJ Movement to be a direct descendant of civil rights struggles or the latest manifestation of the justice campaigns that peaked in the 60s and 70s. What have we learned from the successes and failures of the Civil Rights Movement? RPE asked longtime activist and EJ champion Damu Smith to offer his insights.

RPE: What are some key lessons the Environmental Justice Movement has gained from the Civil Rights Movement?

Damu Smith: The Civil Rights Movement has been defined at its core as a struggle for equal opportunity and equal treatment. The Environmental Justice Movement is fighting for equal protection, which is also a part of what defines the struggle for civil rights.


RPE: By equal protection, what do you mean?

Smith: I mean that all people are equally protected – not selectively protected – by the government, that under the U.S. Constitution and system of government, all people have a right to equal protection as well as equal opportunity. The struggle for environmental justice has been a struggle for equal protection. It's also been a fight against disproportionate exposure to sources of pollution and conditions of environmental degradation. The black community and other communities of color have been subjected to unequal protection and disproportionate exposure to toxic waste, polluting facilities and acutely deteriorated environmental conditions. Because our struggle is indeed about equal protection and equal opportunity the opportunity to be a part of decisionmaking processes that impact our environments-that links us to the other struggles that come under the framework of the Civil Rights Movement.


RPE: What struggles come under the civil rights framework?

Smith: The struggle for equal housing, equal justice, equal access to adequate transportation, and equal opportunity in the jobs sphere and in all aspects of our lives. Environmental justice is the same. Unfortunately, people often separate environmental justice from civil rights. They don't view it as a civil rights struggle. They view it more as something regarding only the environment. But indeed it is a struggle for civil rights, and in the international arena, it's a struggle for our human rights, which also applies for protections in the United States under international law.


RPE: When you say that people don't see it as a civil rights struggle, do you mean people within the EJ Movement or outside of it?

Smith: Some people outside of the Environmental Justice Movement don't look at this as a struggle for civil rights. For example, it has only been recently that groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – the country's premiere civil rights organization – have come to see environmental justice as an important part of the civil rights movement. But historically while the NAACP has passed resolutions in favor of environmental justice, up until recently they haven’t really been that active.  But now under Kweisi Mfume’s leadership, they have really stepped up to the place in recent months to take on the challenge of working for environmental justice.


RPE: What do you think ultimately convinced the NAACP and other organizations that are beginning to see the connections between environmental justice?

Smith: Pressure from the Environmental Justice Movement, particularly the black wing of the Environmental Justice Movement.  We've been in communication with the NAACP over the past several months. I cannot tell you what a profound change this has brought about. Because up until this point, we were not feeling that the NAACP was on our side. But now we do. There have been strategy meetings held at the national level around developing steps to strengthen and enforce Title VI.


RPE: Could you define Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Smith: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that recipients of federal financial assistance cannot discriminate based on race, color or national origin. In simple terms it means that federal dollars cannot be used in a discriminatory manner. And under the law that means specifically that state regulatory agencies that receive federal funds under the Clean Air Act cannot use the money in a discriminatory fashion. States have been delegated authority by the federal government to carry out what's called the permitting provision, Title V, of the Clean Air Act. Title V allows permits to be issued to companies to do business in states. So the federal government has delegated authority in many instances to the states to issue permits for companies to do business. When a state regulatory agency issues permits, they are doing that with the use of paid staff who do research and review permits. Their salaries are often paid with federal money. The Environmental Justice Movement argues that when state regulatory agencies issue permits to companies who do business in communities of color, and they continue to issue permits disproportionately in communities of color, that is a violation of Title VI because they are discriminating by putting dirty industries more often in our communities than in white communities.


RPE: You just touched on another question in terms of tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, focusing on specific laws and policies, and using that to gain equal protection. How, as an activist, organizer, and leader in EJ, have you applied that lesson from the way the Civil Rights Movement effected change?

Smith: Well, the successes of the Civil Rights Movement occurred when the passage of a piece of legislation or the enforcement of a law was linked to mass movement and protests in the streets. In other words, the way the Voting Rights bill was passed was not just through a law being proposed in Congress. It came about as a result of people going to jail, marching in the streets, protesting, picketing, boycotting and engaging in mass social protest. It was that pressure from the streets that brought about success in the suites.

In order for us to have equal protection in the area of environmental justice, we have to employ tactics similar to those of the Civil Rights Movement. We have to protest, we have to boycott, we have to go to jail. We have to engage in agitation so that political pressure comes to bear on our courts, on our state legislatures, on our city councils and members of Congress so that they will do the right thing, pass rules and regulations aimed at equal protection, and force companies that are polluting our communities to cease and desist from doing that.

But we are a long way from the kind of success that we need to have because in many ways the struggle for environmental justice is breaking new ground. The struggle for environmental justice is among the last manifestations of civil rights struggles that really is getting attention now.

At the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement we had to fight against Jim Crow segregation laws, for having equal access to public accommodations, and that defined our struggle. So naturally, we couldn't deal with environmental justice at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. We had to deal with those more essential things involving not only civil rights but human rights. But now that major aspects of that struggle have been achieved successfully, we've been able to turn our attention to other areas of civil rights over the last 20 years, and among those are the fight for equality and equal protection in the area of environmental justice.


RPE: You mention protesting, mass action. What else, in terms of lessons from the Civil Rights Movement, have been employed in EJ?

Smith: In terms of lessons we have to evaluate what the Civil Rights Movement was able to achieve and what it was not able to achieve. Now that's important because as we enter this new millennium, those of us leading the Environmental Justice Movement have to figure out what it really means to have long-term success in the area of civil rights. We have to look very carefully at what it means to have civil rights laws pertaining to environmental justice effectively enforced in the long-term. Because oftentimes civil rights laws are passed and they aren't adequately enforced. In my view, what we have to do in the Environmental Justice Movement is a careful review of traditional civil rights jurisprudence. In other words, we have to look at how civil rights laws have been applied and enforced, and look very carefully at what the implications of that history have been for other areas of civil rights law for equal environmental protection. And that means that we have to have legal, political and organizational strategy sessions that will help guide our movement over the next several years so that if laws are passed, we have the most effective mechanisms in place to ensure that the laws are comprehensive and enforced-minus any loopholes that people can find in the law to abuse it. People – racist – are always trying to find ways to break the law or not have the law effectively enforced. That has happened in the area of voting rights; that has happened in housing discrimination law.

So part of our job is to really study very carefully both the successes and failures of the Civil Rights Movement, in terms of the legal struggle and the mass protest aspect of the struggle. In regards to the latter, I believe that we must maintain constant pressure on corporations. At the national, state and local level, we must maintain pressure on the government so that they don't relax in terms of their enforcement of the law. One of the reasons why that's so important is because we are seeing right now this incredible backlash against civil rights protections in general, but especially civil rights protections as it pertains to environmental justice. There are sinister forces in the nation, in and out of government, both within the Democratic party and the Republican party, who are working diligently day and night to undermine Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and render it meaningless. And tactics have already been employed by people in Congress to deny the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding in the appropriations process so that the law cannot be enforced. The EPA has developed very weak guidelines for enforcement of the law. Some of these guidelines would subject communities to unrealistic and impossible tests to prove that they were discriminated against. For example, communities would have to prove that any exposure that they've had to chemicals coming from facilities has actually caused a particular illness. That is a burden of proof that would be very difficult to document.

We think the better test for whether or not our civil rights are being violated is to say that if a community has a disproportionate number of polluting facilities that are emitting toxins or creating conditions that we know are threats to human health, then that is a prima facie case for discrimination. And that should be the extent to which we have to prove or document discrimination. That is consistent with traditional civil rights jurisprudence.

But what companies and what politicians are doing is trying to develop impossible tests so that when people of color bring lawsuits or file administrative complaints to agencies like the EPA, it becomes difficult to prove discrimination. That's an example of what I mean about how government agencies do everything to undermine the law by coming up with tricks and mechanisms that make it difficult or impossible for communities to achieve justice.


RPE: You have largely talked about the legal aspect of the struggle. What other lessons in terms of organizing on the ground has the EJ Movement learned from how the Civil Rights Movement was organized?

Smith: We cannot separate developing good legal strategies from developing excellent organizing strategies and political strategies. The key to successful civil rights enforcement is a mass political movement in the streets and in the communities. That is the lesson of the Civil Rights Movement. So my point is that in order to bring about new civil rights laws and regulations to ensure environmental justice, we have to have a mass movement. Secondly, we have to monitor the enforcement of the law. But it's only through that political heat from the streets that that will occur. If we don't maintain the pressure, if we relax, the forces that oppose civil rights in the area of environmental protection who are working day and night to undermine the law will succeed.

We can't allow that to happen. That means we've got to organize. That means all the traditional tactics that we've used over the years: protest in the streets, lobbying in Congress, sending letters to members of Congress and other elected officials, boycotting corporations that don't do the right thing, and putting all kinds of public relations pressure on companies so that they will do the right thing. That's what we did most recently in Norco, Louisiana where we forced Shell Chemical Refinery to pay for the relocation of the entire black community. That is a recent victory. But it came about as a direct result of mass political pressure where we actually shamed Shell into doing the right thing.

We employed similar tactics in the Shintech case in Convent, Louisiana. Different story, same basic tactics. That's how we were able to win in northern Louisiana, in Forest Groves and Center Springs, two small semi-rural black communities facing the threat of yet another toxic facility being placed in the middle of their community. We combined all these tactics-getting members of Congress, celebrities, church leaders, civil rights leaders, and anybody we could to help shed light on the situation and expose the injustice that was going on. That is what helped to bring about these victories and other communities fighting for environmental justice can learn from those lessons.


RPE: What do you think the EJ Movement could still learn from the Civil Rights Movement that hasn't quite been realized or completely understood by people who are in the movement now? Are there steps that you wish the EJ Movement had taken to achieve victories?

Smith: On the one hand we are learning from the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. We've also learned from its failures.

It's very important to spend a lot of time raising people's level of political, spiritual and cultural consciousness in terms of the nature of the society in which we live and the communities from which we come. One of the big struggles that we have had in the Environmental Justice Movement is the fight to maintain unity in the community, the fight to maintain people's interest, determination and will to fight.

Now certainly the Civil Rights movement was involved in that part of the struggle as well. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked long and hard about the importance of black people developing the kind of consciousness to say that they had to stand up and be a man and a woman and be strong and fight the battle over the long haul. But that kind of work waned in the face of winning legal victories. So the lesson is that even when you win a legal victory, you have to maintain strong political, cultural and spiritual consciousness in the community, so that the community is aware of the need to maintain a fighting spirit and be involved in civic activity in society. Oftentimes communities have gotten complacent and people's minds diverted. That means that a community's capacity to fight is weakened. This is something that we have seen in many communities. If a large segment of the community is not willing to fight, it really makes the rest of the community weak and it makes the community suffer longer.

The level of consciousness and understanding has to be sustained for a long time. The Civil Rights Movement did not spend enough time focusing on that aspect of our struggle. That is something that we must do as we enter the new millennium in the face of new challenges.

RPE: So maintaining a high level of awareness and consciousness is critical?

Smith: Yes. And cultural identity. You know the whole issue of self-hate is a deep issue, a very painful issue in our community. When our community feels self-hate, which also brings about a sense of low self-worth, that often renders people so weak in the face of the attacks against our community. I spent more than half of my time in Louisiana and Mississippi and many of the other states that I've worked in trying to inspire people, trying to maintain their strength in the face of adversity.

That's not to say that people were not being strong. But we had to contend with a lot of people in those communities who were very weak in terms of their political consciousness – people who just didn't come to meetings, didn't feel it was worth their time to do anything, people who spent so much time downing themselves.

When we were able to pierce through that, it strengthened our movement. But what we tried to tell people was that you have to maintain this level of awareness to protect your community forever because there are always going to be threats to undermine the health and safety of your community. If there's any lesson we've learned, we have to maintain that kind of strong level of consciousness so that people have the will to fight and to protect their communities against environmental threats for many years to come.

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Immigration, Population, and Environmental Justice

Immigration is once again at the center of national debate, deemed a major threat to U.S. national security after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Capitalizing on the 911 1 backlash, the anti-immigrant movement rapidly added terrorism to its list of social and economic ills to blame on immigrants, reviving longstanding arguments against immigration. Fueled by the economic slump, the 9/11 anti-immigrant hysteria now threatens to devour the civil and human rights of immigrants and non-immigrants alike, giving new life to unbridled calls for racially restrictive measures. This volatile situation presents the immigrant rights movement with tough challenges and opportunities that put the defense of the rights of immigrants at the center of the demands for social, environmental, economic and racial justice.

Immigrants have always been subject to repression and abuse in times of economic decline and political crisis. But anti-immigrant violence, hate crimes and a new type of racial, ethnic and religious profiling have spiraled out of control since 91 11. Thousands of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, Middle Eastern, African and Asian immigrants are being harassed, arrested, jailed, and many deported, as part of the domestic "war on terrorism." The three major anti-terrorist laws—the USA PATRIOT Act, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act—severely restrict immigrant rights. Growing numbers of immigrants and citizens working in industries or sectors of the economy considered vulnerable to terrorist attacks—including airports, energy, transportation and even kiosks—are being subjected to heavy scrutiny and immigration raids, job loss, deportation and imprisonment.

Certain right-wing groups, especially the Federation for American Immigration Reform, have never stopped blaming immigration and immigrants, in particular, for sprawl, traffic congestion, deterioration of services and education, environmental degradation and pollution, unemployment, crime, over-population and even the cultural decline of the U.S. Besides drastically curbing immigration and further criminalizing immigrants, the anti-immigrant agenda calls for prohibiting citizenship to the children of the foreign-born;   curtailing or ending public benefits, education, social and health services for legal immigrants; intensifying border militarization and expanding border enforcement strategies into the U.S. interior to detain and deport "illegal" immigrants, among other restrictions. In their view, immigrants do not have or deserve environmental protections or other civil liberties and rights.

The consequences for the environmental health of communities are devastating. While the right-wing groups want to dose the border and drastically limit immigration they have no qualms about importing natural resources and exporting pollution across borders. Like ecological systems, communities of color do not have borders. Environmental justice recognizes that environmental racism has global and disproportionate impacts on sister communities, which are being subjected to toxic waste and industrial polluting production. For environmental justice community groups, organizers and advocates, the challenge is to protect all communities of color, regardless of their immigration status.

Globalization and Migration

In the debate over immigration's impact on the United States' population growth and the environment, anti-immigrant and right-wing forces fail to address or acknowledge U.S. liability for the displacement of communities that are forced to migrate. One of the main causes of involuntary migration is environmental degradation, resulting from economic restructuring. Globalization, or international economic restructuring, is driven by unsustainable social and economic development that puts profits before environmental protection and community. U.S. intervention—whether economic, cultural or military—triggers displacement and forces people to move in search of survival. As long as the U.S. and other Northern hemisphere countries do not pay for the costs and effects of displacement, the benefits of migration will naturally accrue to the U.S. or receiving country, and the burden will be placed on immigrants and their home communities.

The International Office for Migration reports that one in every 35 persons worldwide is a migrant with some 175 million people migrating across borders. That is almost three times the number of individuals displaced by World War II. While this represents a very small portion of the world's population, global migration is an indicator of the severe displacement being caused by "free" trade and the social, political and economic disruptions being visited upon communities across the world. For many, migration becomes the only option for survival.

The U.S. receives less than two percent of the world's migrants and refugees. The immigrant community grew rapidly during the 1990s, with over 13 million people entering the country, according to the U.S. Census. Now there are over 3 1 million immigrants in the U.S., representing about 11 percent of the population—still lower than the record level of 15 percent set in 1900. The Urban Institute reports that in  2000, while over two-thirds of all immigrants lived in six states (California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois), those states' actual share of immigrants declined from 75 percent in 1990 to 68 percent of the total in 2000. Many new immigrants have settled in other states, especially in the U.S. South, that had not seen significant immigration in over 100 years.

Over 85 percent of immigrants in the U.S. are considered "people of color," hailing from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and other parts of the world. This is the demographic revolution that troubles anti-immigrant groups. The majority of immigrants do not only share the same color, they also share the same strata of poverty and exposure to environmental degradation and toxic waste. The Census reports that one in five children and one in four low-income children is the child of an immigrant. Twenty-five percent of low-wage workers are foreign-born.

While the Right blames immigrants for the plight of inner cities and increasing racial disparities, the scapegoating of immigrants draws attention away from the government and business agenda institutionalized in the 1980s by then-President Ronald Reagan. That agenda imposed cutbacks and privatization of public services, and reversed and curtailed civil rights, environmental protections, and labor rights in order to maximize profits and capital mobility. Services, investments, industries, jobs and capital have since moved to the suburbs and across international borders, facilitated by "free" trade agreements. Low-income and working people, communities of color and immigrants bear the brunt of these changes.

The anti-immigrant agenda pits low-wage workers of color against immigrants and against each other, obscuring the structural conditions that deny access to living wage jobs and services to all workers. Repeating the mantra that immigration poses the greatest threat to the environment and dwindling resources, anti-immigrant groups are successfully promoting their belief that population—and not consumption—is the problem.

While the U.S. is home to less than five percent of the world's population, it consumes more than 35 percent of the world's energy and natural resources. Not all consumers are created equal; some have a bigger ecological footprint or impact than others. A Bill Gates or even the average white middle class suburbanite has a bigger ecological footprint and environmental degradation caused by unsustainable profit-driven development. A more equitable redistribution of the resources accumulated through globalization could ameliorate and even lessen the impacts that force people to leave their communities.

Justice for Immigrants, People of Color

Immigration is not a law enforcement or anti-terrorist problem. The immigrant rights movement is ultimately about securing sustainable community development and human rights, including labor, cultural, civil, social, economic and environmental rights, for everyone. Immigrant rights are also about equality and racial, economic and environmental justice. Immigrants, people of color, and low-income and working people share the same problems of poverty, access to jobs and housing, and suffer the same levels of unemployment and exposure to environmental degradation. Together they form a majority in the U.S. whose combined agendas have the potential to transform the human and political landscape of our country.

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Water (Summer 1992)

Vol.3, No.2: Summer 1992

When we first began to think about doing a special RPE issue on water, we quickly realized that this was a huge subject that had scarcely been explored from the perspectives of our culturally and geographically diverse communities. We understood that trying to organize material scattered in so many different places into a coherent framework would be a difficult job, to say the least. Determined to approach the subject in a holistic way, we began by looking at the water cycle in nature.

In its simplest form, this cycle consists of three stages: evaporation, precipitation and run-off. Water evaporates from lakes, rivers, oceans, and vegetation, and rises to the upper atmosphere, where it mixes with dust and gas in clouds. It returns to the earth in the form of rain or snow and then runs off into ponds or soaks into the ground. Finally, the run-off replenishes our lakes and streams, quenches the thirst of plants and animals. Civilizations from Egypt to China have been built on these three cycles, on the ways societies capture and manage or mismanage water.

Thinking about the grassroots organizations and communities of color we work with, we looked for examples of urgent water issues. We discovered that many poor communities around the world struggle with droughts, floods and poisoned water, crises directly related to the hydrological cycle. Hurricane Andrew hit Southern Florida and Hawaii was devastated by a hurricane a week later, about the time we were going to press – too late to include in this issue – giving a dramatic illustration of the way rain and wind storms violently affect all communities, but especially affect those with fewer resources. Poor communities have often been located in flood plains, and often lack the wherewithal to protect their property, health, and safety. From the dust bowls in the Southwest of the United States, to desertification in the African Sahel, we can see the devastating effects of water evaporation, flooding and erosion on soil quality and crops – effects which fall most sharply on poor people.

Toxic water, floods and droughts also plague urban communities. Rivers loaded with garbage, chemicals and sewage poison drinking water and fish, and destroy opportunities for leisure and enjoyment Checking out the human uses of water for transportation, irrigation, industry, municipal and recreational uses led us to greater insights about how to think about cultural diversity, social justice, and water issues. We soon discovered that we had much more material than we could possibly use in a single issue. So we have tried to select stories and examples which convey something of the range and complexity of this subject. We realize that it is only a beginning.

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In This Issue:

1   The Color of California Water Politics
     by Henry Holmes

1   Metropolitan Joins Mothers of East LA in Water Conservation

3   Communities and the Clean Water Act
     by Richard Cohn-Lee & Dianne Cameron

6   The Environmental Legacy of US Bases in the Philippines
     by Jorge Emmanuel

7   Lament of History, Call of New Civilization
     by Haipei Xu

Water News

8 The Fight to Save the Nagara, It's in the Water, Going
on a Water Diet

9 Project YES, Birth Defects in Brownsville

10 Life on the Mississippi

     by Jonathan Kozol

11 The Politics of Water: An Interview with Anthony Willoughby

13 Wetlands and Housing: A Search for Unity
     by Bruce Livingston

Water Marketing

14 Grassroots Activists Take on Water Barons
     by Thomas Nelson

15 A Modest Proposal
     by Ralph Santiago Abascal

16 St. Regis Mohawks Blast GM, EPA Cleanup Plans

16 Local Action: The Minority Environmental Association

17 California Water Policy: The Need for New Voices.
     by Karen Garrison

18 Toxic Fish Consumption by People of Color

19 EPA Touts its Environmental Equity Water Projects

20 Trouble in Paradise: An Interview with Steven Okazaki
     by Mike Lee

23 Reportbacks

The Color of California Water Politics

Water is a resource which all human beings need for survival. Presently in California, water is a precious and increasingly scarce resource because of environmental, economic, social and political factors. There is intense competition for access to water, which raises a range of related issues, from water quantity to water quality, from water use to how much water costs. Yet entire communities of people in California, namely people of color and low-income people, have no voice in the debate or in policy-making over water resources in the state. This is unacceptable. There is something fundamentally and morally wrong about excluding entire communities of people from the discussion and decision-making process involving water, a resource which is a critical need for all people.

Water Policy, People of Color, and the Poor

In all the forums discussing and formulating policy about water in California, people scratch their heads and ask, "Why aren't there more people of color?" It is often said that people of color do not care about the environment and that they are not interested in water. If you don't think people of color care about water, just turn off the tap to East Oakland and see how much that African American community cares about water. Shut off the tap to the Mission District in San Francisco and see if that Latino community cares about water. Try Chinatown and the Tenderloin, and you will see that working, low-income and poor people of all colors care about water. When people see their self interest at stake, they will pay attention. When people hear their needs being addressed, they will listen. Given the rapidly changing demographics of California's population, which will be comprised by a majority of people of color by the year 2000, it is short-sighted to fashion water policies without these voices at the table.

One may ask, Why should communities of color and low-income communities of the inner city care about water policy? What, if anything, does it have to do with priority survival issues, such as the need for jobs, food, affordable housing, adequate health care and the crises of drugs, violent crime, AIDS and the poverty of central cities? To answer these questions, we need to first look at what water policy is and what the impacts of water policy are on communities of color and low-income communities.

Examples of Water Issues Important to People of Color

  • Drinking Water & Lead Poisoning

Most of the focus on water issues in California is on water supply, water allocation, how water is used and the persistent drought. Little attention is consistently paid to safe drinking water. One in six people drink water with excessive amounts of lead, a heavy metal which impairs the central nervous system, learning ability and attention span. Much of the housing stock in the inner city is old, often containing corroding lead-soldered pipes, which leach lead into the tap water. Add this fact to the already high rates of lead poisoning in the inner city, particularly of young people, and one sees another facet of a serious threat to community health and safety of already stressed communities.

  • People v. Fish (or Jobs vs. the Environment)

Efforts to save the chinook salmon in the San Francisco Bay raised once again the tension between environmental protection and the economic survival of people, or more crudely put, the people versus fish (jobs versus the environment) dilemma Environmentalists claimed that dredging the San Francisco Bay to allow sufficient channel depth for ship navel to the ports of Oakland and San Francisco jeopardized the survival of the chinook salmon and its winter run. Mainstream environmentalists were adamant in their calls to save the chinook salmon – an important and necessary thing to do. But no less important and necessary is to fight for the economic survival of communities that would be devastated if the economic opportunities of the ports of Oakland and San Francisco, such as they are, were jeopardized. The experiences and perspectives of communities of color need to be part of the discourse concerning environmental and economic issues of the Bay, for they are inextricably interrelated.

Water Policy Excludes People of Color and the Poor

Though water resources and policies affect people of color and the poor, they are not part of the debate or decision-making process. There are a number of fora and institutions addressing water issues in California. For example, there are the "three-way negotiations" occurring among representatives of urban water districts, agribusiness and "mainstream" environmentalists. There is also the Committee for Water Policy Consensus and the San Francisco Estuary Project, in addition to dozens of public interest organizations and government agencies whose purpose is to deal with various aspects of California water policy.

One example from these fora that highlights issues of social justice and equity related to water is the "Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Urban Water Conservation (MOU)." This informal agreement was reached by participants on the Committee for Water Policy Consensus, a group comprised mostly of urban water suppliers, water districts and some large mainstream environmental organizations. It sets forth certain "Best Management Practices" for conserving urban water. One of these practices targets the top 20% of water users who would receive information and services related to water audits and incentives to implement various water saving devices, as well as adjustments to high water use bills if water conservation measures are implemented. Typical of middle-class investment models, this policy formula does not address social equity issues regarding inner city communities of color and low-income communities. The people who will benefit the most are the highest water users. Those who typically use the most water are either high-usage businesses or middle-class and high-income households, who can afford to wash multiple automobiles, hose down sidewalks and driveways, fill swimming pools and hot tubs, have multiple bathrooms with various water using devices, water lush lawns and gardens – water uses that inner city residents do not have the luxury of enjoying. This guideline, as one example of a market-based policy model that professes to be neutral and objective, is inherently biased.

Yes, those who use the most water should be targeted to conserve water. But, there must also be a mandate to make water conservation devices, services and incentives available to low-income households. As competition for water increases, as the prolonged drought persists, driving up the price of water, those left out in conservation efforts are going to be paying the higher cost of water down the road. The price of water sometimes varies widely from one community to another, thus making water pricing an important component of the water conservation debate. Additionally, land use and planning policies which favor suburban development exacerbate the decay and abandonment of the urban infrastructure and contribute to water policy inequities. Market-based policy models that do not account for these social inequities do not address the socioeconomic "externalities" that have very real impacts on particular communities of people.

Similarly, policies that target single family homes and new housing construction benefit those who can afford to own or build a new home or apartment building. Water conservation policies should target homeowners and new residential construction. But, they should also target existing older homes and apartment buildings in the inner cities. However, there is no policy mandate in the MOU to provide water conservation services to low-income and inner city water users.

Another example of the social equity implication of water policy is the concept of "water banking," or "water marketing." This market model is being touted as the answer to problems of water supply and allocation: if you let the "free market" take care of it, the result will be a more efficient water transfer system. From an environmental justice perspective, this argument is not convincing. Similar arguments have been made in the energy policy arena. While not a perfect analogy to water issues, the energy sector is riddled with social, economic and environmental inequities which the "free market" has, far from solving, often created and exacerbated. People of color and poor people bear an unfair burden of adverse social, economic and environmental impacts of our current energy system. These communities bear a greater share of toxic contamination and health burdens of every kind h m lead. carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and A benzene in motor vehicle and industry emissions, to contamination of soil and groundwater under abandoned gas stations, industrial parks, oil refineries, hazardous waste facilities and other toxic waste sites. They also bear a disproportionate economic burden, paying up to one third of their total household budgets for basic energy services. Market models being put forth to try to reverse adverse environmental impacts and to be disincentives to natural resource waste are all too often regressive and inequitable. There are lessons to be learned from the energy sector experience that should be applied to water policy. California water policy is lacking a systematic and consistent method for addressing the equity implications and the distribution of benefits and burdens of "free" or modified market water supply and transfer policy proposals.

If the "water negotiators" have decided or decide, a priori, that free market water transfers are the best solution to California's water needs, and expect others who had no part in debating that position to join with them in advocating this policy solution, then resistance from those left out should come as no surprise. This is not a constructive way to build bridges and establish coalitions with diverse communities with diverse interests. We all need water. We all need to decide what we are going to do about water in California.

New models are needed. Old assumptions must be challenged. Water politics as usual does not serve the public interest Cities, agriculture and the natural environment need not be antagonists. We need to look at the long-term view to make connections, see interrelationships, understand social, economic and environmental ramifications and put forth ideas that take these into account. Policies such as water marketing have equity implications, benefits and burdens, which affect city dwellers as well as rural communities. We can see that from the experience in the energy sector. We can see that in a free market logic that says it is "cost effective" to put toxic incinerators and hazardous waste facilities in communities of color and poor communities, urban and rural.

Building An Environmental Justice Advocacy Base: Bringing In New Voices

Diversifying the process of formulating California water policy is not a matter of asking some people of color to join and support the already-established group of people already sitting at the table and their respective agendas. It is not a matter of "inviting" people of color to "participate."

If communities of color, working and low-income people are to support water policies being proposed by "water negotiators" and public officials, then these negotiators and officials must support struggles for social justice. "Support" does not just mean finding out peoples' issues and advocating positions on them. While that is important, it is also important to work with people from diverse communities to shape and set the agenda, which means a willingness to step outside of one's area of "expertise" to address larger relationships and issues that others may see as being important.

Disenfranchised communities face a creative challenge of building an advocacy base from which their voices are injected into the water policy debate and their interests incorporated into decision-making regarding water resources and issues. There is a need to institutionalize knowledge, information, expertise and economic resources in the community regarding water issues and other key urban environmental resources, such as land, air and energy. Community development corporations, with their knowledge and connections to communities, are well positioned to take a leadership role in this regard – to be a repository of knowledge, skills, and resources regarding environmental justice in urban communities of color and low-income communities. People of color and poor people are affected by their environments, too often adversely. They have a stake in how we deal with urban environmental resources.

Environmental justice is about empowering disenfranchised communities to be a part of the debate and decision-making process about environmental resources. It is not about one group of people lading, joining or following another. It is about facilitating constructive, collaborative and cooperative working relationships among social justice advocates, environmentalists, policymakers, and others. So long as we hold to our "specialty" agendas, we will effectively get nowhere. For progressive change to happen to meet the needs of social justice and environmental protection, we need new visions and new models. To be equal partners and to sit at the policy-making table, communities of color, working, and low-income communities need access to knowledgeable people, information, and resources, including money, just as public agencies, private corporations and large environmental organizations have.

Water Policy and Ecologically Sustainable Community Economic Development

By looking at water policy, communities of color and low-income urban communities can discover and realize tangible opportunities for community economic development and empowerment In efforts to conserve and reuse gray and reclaimed urban water, community development corporations can develop programs to make water conservation information and services available to water users in the community. For one example, water audits of businesses, residences and public buildings, along with water conservation retrofit programs can provide employment opportunities to stimulate local economic development To the extent that water use is reduced within a community, it should be able to benefit from the savings in water expenditures and to keep the retained savings in the community to promote other economically and ecologically sustainable development As with energy efficiency, weatherization, and retrofit programs in the residential and small business energy sector, parallel efforts in water conservation and reclamation can be made while promoting socially and environmentally responsible small business opportunities, affordable housing and community economic development programs.


As diverse cultures and communities of color become the majority in California (in San Francisco and Oakland, people of color are already the majority), the public debate, policy and decision-making process must reflect that reality. African, Native, Asian/ Pacific Islander and Latino Americans, as well as low-income and working people, must become advocates of a new environmentalism which bridges community, culture, class, race and sex. The diverse cultural life experiences of people of color must infuse public consciousness and our orientation to environmental resources and environmental issues such as water. The social justice and equity dimensions of environmental issues must be directly addressed, for there are always social justice issues linked with the environment. This is true of water, as well as every other environmental issue.

Water policy provides an opportunity to define social and environmental equity as the starting point of the public debate and decision-making process. Only by involving the full scope of concerns and constituencies affected can California develop ecologically sustainable and socially-just policies regarding its water resources.

Water       ?õ¬?       Vol. 3 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1992

Related Stories: 

Asian and Pacific Islanders (Spring 1992)

Environmental Justice for Asian and Pacific Islanders (Vol.3, No.1: Spring 1992)

Download Full PDF Version (493KB)

In This Issue:


1 Environmental Justice for Asians and Pacific Islanders
by Pam Tau Lee

1 Koreans for Racial Justice
by Susan K Lee

3 Native Hawaiian Historical and Cultural Perspectives on Environmental Justice
by Mililani Trask

7 Endangering Lives, Contaminating the Environment: U.S. Burns Chemical Weapons in the Pacific
by C. Kijang and Lim Poo Kin

Dangers in the Workplace

10 Asian Workers at Risk
by Flora Chu

11 Asian Immigrant Women Advocates' Silicon Valley Project
by Young-lm Yoo


9 Asian Pacific Environmental Network Hosts Charles Lee

9 Labor Solidarity Bridges Cultures
by Gordon Mar

9 Spotlight on Bill Lan Lee
by Sam Su

13 The Anti-Immigration Environmental Alliance: Divide and Conquer at the Border of Racism
by Luke Cole

20 Dolphin-Safe Monitoring Program Expanded

20 Japan to Ban Drift Nets


14 Art Imitates Life, Dramatizes Environmental Racism

14 Urban Habitat Gathering Links Energy, Development

16 Sovereignty and the Environment: Protecting Mother Earth

22 Resources

Related Stories: 

Environmental Justice for Asians and Pacific Islanders

During the past decade, the environment has come to the forefront as a crucial issue. But many people have ignored the fact that environmental deterioration does not impact everyone equally. There is growing evidence that persons and communities of color throughout the world are the most frequently and severely affected victims. This phenomenon is called "environmental racism."

In the last two decades, a number of studies have been published which document the effects of environmental racism on the African-American, Native American, and Latino communities in the U.S. In contrast, very little has been written regarding issues of environmental justice in the U.S. Asian and Pacific Islander communities. This article reviews the small body of information which exists.

Asians and Pacific Islanders have settled primarily on the West Coast and in large cities such as New York, Boston, Houston, Chicago and Seattle.1 The "Model Minority" myth has blinded society to the realities which Asians and Pacific Islanders face in the U.S. This myth stereotypes most Asians as a successful minority group with high incomes, college degrees, and acceptance as equals in society. But many examples contradict this.

One case of blatant racial discrimination emerged at the signing of the 1991 federal Civil Rights Act. In 1974, 2000 Asian, Pacific Islanders, and Alaskan native workers filed suit against Alaska's Wards Cove Company for discrimination. The suit charged that the workers "were subjected to various forms of racial prejudice by the all-white management of Wards Cove...Most notably, we worked in racially segregated jobs, were housed in racially segregated bunkhouses, and are fed in racially segregated mess halls.”2 When the case reached the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "the segregation of housing and dining facilities and the stratification of jobs along racial and ethnic lines bear an unsettling resemblance to aspects of a plantation economy." But in a last-minute amendment to the 1991 Civil Rights Act, Alaska's two senators successfully proposed that the still-pending Wards Cove case be exempted from the provisions of the new bill. The law now specifically excludes these 2,000 Asian Pacific and Alaska native cannery workers from Civil Rights Act protection and allows Wards Cove to operate above the law and continue its discriminatory practices.

Hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islanders are dramatically increasing. Incidents include the brutal murder of Jim Loo, a 24-year old Chinese American from Raleigh, North Carolina. White men, screaming, "gook" and blaming him for the deaths of Americans in Viet Nam, beat him to death in the parking lot of a restaurant in 1989. Hate crimes may have reached a record high in 1991.3 Asians and Pacific Islanders are especially nervous since politicians, auto corporations, and the media are now whipping up anti- Japanese hysteria as a response to U.S. economic hardship.

While many Chinese, Pilipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Koreans, and Laotians are farmworkers, the majority live in cities. They live in overcrowded apartments or public housing in low-rent neighborhoods. In the majority of these neighborhoods, housing was built before 1950, and thus many families are exposed to toxic lead paint. These neighborhoods have heavy automobile traffic that causes pollution and accidents involving pedestrians. Neighborhoods also lack space for open air recreation. Asians have the highest rates of tuberculosis in the U.S. Sadly, their suicide rate also exceeds that of other communities.

Like African-American and Latino families, Asians and Pacific Islanders also live near Superfund4 sites and factories that spew thousands of tons of toxics into the air.5 In 1987, a Laotian family living in Richmond, California discovered that they were being poisoned by toxics. They were part of a Southeast Asian resettlement program administered by the Contra Costa County Public Health Department. An alert public health nurse visited the family and noticed that their home was located next to an abandoned factory designated as a Superfund site. Along the fence which separated the home from the factory, she spotted a hole leading to the family's vegetable garden on the factory side. On the factory wall a sign was posted warning of toxic dangers present in the soil. However, this sign was printed in English.

A blood test indicated that their children had blood lead levels of 25 micrograms per deciliter. In 1987, federal law considered such a level allowable (although it is certainly not desirable). At present, federal law considers 10 micrograms per deciliter the threshold of danger. On the other hand, the blood results for the men in the family showed lead levels of over 50 micrograms per deciliter. They were not only poisoned by the lead at home, but they were also being poisoned at the auto radiator repair shop where they worked.

The Occupational Connection

In 1988, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied 83 auto repair workers doing radiator repair or working near such operations. In many instances, their lead exposure was found to be ten times higher than the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) permissible limit.6 The high levels were a result of the lead fumes produced when workers soldered radiators and from the lead dust present when radiators were cleaned.

Dr. Wendell Bruner, Director of Public Health of Contra Costa County, cites the Richmond example as a good reason for investigating the workplace as well as in the neighborhoods. James Robinson7 found that the average Black worker is 37% to 52% more likely to sustain a serious job-related accident or illness than the average white worker. Davis and Rowland8 noted that statistics for Latino, Asian, and Native American workers are incomplete, but the same can probably be said for their experiences as well. All these researchers trace the problem to the fact that workers of color usually have access to only the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.

Young Hi Shin, director of Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, reports that the rate of occupational illness for electronic assembly workers, predominantly Asian and Latino women, is three times higher than for workers in other manufacturing industries. Incidents of headaches, nosebleeds, vaginal bleeding, and difficulty in breathing are common.

Asian workers make up 53% of the San Francisco Bay Area garment industry. Most are women. Asians (along with Latino and African-American workers) still work in 19th-century sweatshop conditions in many U.S. cities. Many of the conditions are identical to those in New York's Triangle Shirtwaist factory of 1911, where a tragic fire killed 146 immigrant women. The present day shops continue to be inadequately ventilated, poorly lit, and overcrowded. Exposure to fiber particles, dyes, formaldehyde, and arsenic used to treat the fabric causes high rates of byssinosis9 and respiratory illness among garment workers. All too often children accompany their parents and spend their days in these hazardous environments, since adequate child care is seldom available.

Asians, especially Pilipinos and Southeast Asians, also work on farms. These workers and their families are exposed to pesticides since they work in and live near fields where these chemicals are sprayed. Many small dry cleaning stores are owned and operated by Asian families. Chemicals used in dry cleaning, such as perchloroethylene10, are known to be especially harmful to children. Children of Asian families often accompany their parents to work in these small shops.

As awareness of the issues surrounding environmental racism increases, so does the need to involve Asians and Pacific Islanders in the development of policy strategies, and educational programs. Asians and Pacific Islanders need to be included in organizations which can effect change. Thorough research also needs to be conducted which includes the active participation of the Asian communities. Outreach into communities should be initiated in a way which is culturally appropriate and which involves Asians and Pacific Islanders in creating safe, healthy environments in both their neighborhoods and their workplaces.


1. "Asians in America 1990 Census," Asian Week (1991).

2. William Wong, "Anti-bias bill hurts Asians," OaWand Tribune (November 20, 1991).

3. Larry Tye, "Hate crimes increase, may hit record in '91," Boston Globe (May 14, 1991).

4. A Superfund site is a contaminated area containing hazardous materials which pose a threat to the public or the environment. The U.S. Congress established Superfund in 1980 for the cleanup of these dangerous sites when the responsible party cannot be located or refuses to pay the costs. The Superfund legislation is known as CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980).

5. A major report by the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ found that "race consistently proved to be the most significant among all factors tested in association with the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities. Communities with the greatest number of commercial hazardous waste facilities had the highest composition of racial and ethnic residents." C. Lee, Toxic Waste and Race (1987).

6. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 40, No. 8 (March 1, 1991).

7. "Racial inequality and the probability of occupation-related injury or illness," Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly/Health and Society, 64(4): 567-590, (1984).

8. 'Davis and Rowland, "Problems faced by minority workers." In Levy, B.S., Wegman, D.H. (eds), Occupational Health, Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1983.

9. Byssinosis is often called "brown lung disease." Symptoms include chest tightness and wheezing. Over a long period of time, the worker ends up continually short of breath and has distended lungs.

10. Perchloroethylene is used as a dry cleaning solvent. It is an irritant to eyes and skin. Other symptoms of exposure include dizziness, lack of coordination, drowsiness, unconsciousness, and death. Recent studies also indicate that perchloroethylene is a suspected carcinogen.

Asian/Pacific Islanders       ?õ¬?       Vol. 3 No. 1      ?õ¬?       Spring 1992

Related Stories: 

The Summit (Fall 1991/Winter 1992)

Vol.2, No.3/4

"Come Sunday morning, there's going to be a new environmental movement!"

With these words, Dr. Benjamin Chavis of the United Church of Christ charged the delegates, participants, and observers at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit with an awesome task. We, as people of color, had gathered to reclaim and define current environmental and social issues in our own words and experiences. The search for solutions would begin in earnest.

Yet at the core of the discussions, dialogues, and debates, the twin evils of racism and classism were always present. When one sector of a society uses its wherewithal to exploit others, the cure is not solely the responsibility of another, more benevolent sector of the dominant group. Those directly affected must have a voice in designing the repair. Even though the disenfranchised were not architects of the initial pollution, they are the recipients. However unintentional, racism and classism can pervert the most noble of goals. Acknowledging this fact was possibly one of the most difficult realizations for representatives of traditional environmental groups.

The traditional environmental movement has been fairly comfortable addressing issues in a more analytical or "preservationist" bent: an endangered species or wetland, an entity or entities that have no sentient voice. While these efforts are crucial, the amount of resources and time spent on these concerns has been viewed by people of color and low income people to have little or no regard for their more immediate needs. The activities of a Sierra Club or Audubon Society were viewed as efforts of the privileged class. They seem not relate to the concerns of populations who grapple daily with the effects of pollution or social policies that lead to more pollution which has an adverse impact on them. It is the struggle to work towards that point of mutual understanding that is at the center of the new environmental movement.

Yet the beat goes on. The circle has expanded exponentially. Those new to this struggle are encouraged and see strength in the ones who have been hard at work for their communities for years. The seasoned advocates have regained a measure of faith in the future. All of us ultimately will benefit, but we must not let the momentum falter.

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In This Issue:

1   Building Community

     by Baldemar Velasquez

1   Transforming a Movement
     by Dana Alston

3   Race, Poverty & the Distribution of Environmental Hazards
     by Paul Mohai and Bunyan Bryant

4   Woman Power at the Summit
     by Ellie Goodwin

4   Education and Youth Reportback from the Summit
     by Nindakin

5   Rev. Chavis Blasts Federal Inaction on Lead Poisoning

5   The Real Story Behind EPA's "Environmental Equity" Report

8   El Pueblo of Kettleman City Beat Chem Waste in Round One

9   Wangari Maathai Arrested

9   Another Reason Not to Let Polluters Open Shop in Your Community

12 The World Bank Dumps on the Third World Again

14 Air Force Report Dismisses Native Concerns
     by Grace Bukowski

15 Toxic Threat to Indian Lands Update
     by the Indigenous Environmental Network

16 Lead Poisoning Hits People of Color Hardest, NRDC Testifies

16 Fellowship in Environmental Law for People of Color


6 Reportbacks

10 Resources

Transforming a Movement


Rarely 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 Rim, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 24-27 meeting in Washington, DC, set in a 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.

The issues 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 Chem 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."

The Summit       ?õ¬?       Vol. 2 No. 3-4      ?õ¬?       Fall 1991/Winter 1992

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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 insure 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 threaten 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 provided 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 multi-national 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 which emphasizes 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 insure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.

The Proceedings to the First National People of Color Environmental
Leadership Summit are available from the United Church of Christ
Commission for Racial Justice
475 Riverside Dr. Suite 1950
New York, NY 10115

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Energy (Summer 1991)

Volume 2, No. 2: Summer 1991

In February of this year, President Bush’s National Energy Strategy was released to the American public from Washington, DC. The Strategy identifies no specific author or agency responsible for the contents, nor does it take into account the social justice aspect of energy policy planning.

For example, the NES missed an opportunity to address low-income weatherization policies. People who are transient or homeless usually have fewer options and less access to information regarding energy rebates and other programs. These individuals and their families fall between the cracks of practically every policy and program that is enacted in this country. Yet the halfway houses, shelters, and other public buildings these people occupy are among the most energy inefficient.

This issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment puts the spotlight on energy. When I look at the title of this newsletter on the one hand and think about energy on the other, the connections become apparent. RACE: people of color in this country have been largely absent from arenas where energy policy decisions are made, although those decisions have a direct impact on them. POVERTY: the poor must spend significantly more of their income on energy than the non-poor. ENVIRONMENT: the natural resources necessary to produce energy are often located in or near areas occupied by poor and/or non-white populations, particularly Native Americans. The extraction and production of energy, and the waste generated from these activities, has adverse effects on the physical environment and the nearby residents.

These are some of the reasons people of color and the poor must take a closer look at how energy policy is developed. Who are the people making the decisions? What are some methods local activists and citizens can use to make their needs known? Are there alternatives to the standard energy supplies?

The answers to these and other questions can and will shape energy policy well into the next century.

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In this issue... 

1   Energy and Air Pollution are Social Issues
     by Lily Lee

1   Hydro-Electric Power and Flooding of Indian Lands
     by Ann Stewart

3   Energy Policy and Inner City Abandonment
     by Carl Anthony

4   Energy Costs, Conservation and the Poor
     by Andrew McAllister

4   Energy Efficiency in Action
     by Max Weintraub

5   Native Americans' Energy Crisis: An Interview with Lance Hughes
     by Arthur James

9   Conservation and Economic Development Join Hands in Bayview
     by Christine Vance and Abu Baker

20 RPE Profile: Dr. Lenneal Henderson, Jr


6   Reportbacks

10 Resources

Related Stories: 

Energy Policy and Inner City Abandonment

Few people realize the price inner cities have paid for our national love affair with the automobile. But the evidence of devastation is not hard to find. White flight to the metropolitan fringe, driven in part by racism, is linked to destruction of human resources in the metropolitan core, to waste of petroleum energy, pollution of air and water, and degradation of urban biological resources. But older urban neighborhoods can help lead the way to more sustainable cities and suburbs.

I was recently invited by several foundations to participate in a seminar on energy and transportation. The meeting was held in an office building in downtown Philadelphia near City Hall. Since I had grown up in Philadelphia, after the meeting, I decided to visit the neighborhood where I had lived as a child. The neighborhood where I grew up during the Second World War had been typical of many working-class enclaves originally built in the late 19th century, before petroleum had become a cheap source of energy. Wood and coal were used for space heat, and trolley cars depended on coal-generated electricity for power.

I remembered our street as a tight little cluster of two-story brick townhouses with tiny backyards. Around the comer, two blocks away from our place, was the elevated train station, at the commercial center of the community. The intersection was filed with life. There was a newsstand on the comer, a shoe shine stand right next to it. Along Market Street was a poultry shop, a fish store, a bakery, a hardware store, a barbershop and a pharmacy, each with apartments located above. A block away, in the other direction from our house, was a tiny candy store. I had been allowed to go there by myself since I wouldn't have to cross any intersections. Less than a mile away was the University of Pennsylvania. My parents hoped my brother and I would go there when we grew up. They had chosen this neighborhood to raise our family, because it was conveniently located and the rent was cheap.

The neighborhood was not far from city center. A brisk twenty-five minute walk across the Schuykill River Bridge from the edge of downtown got me there. When I arrived at the familiar street, the house in which I had been born was gone. A dozen other houses nearby were empty, boarded up. Vacant lots—filled with sofas, old appliances, tires, and debris—were everywhere. The shops along Market Street were empty, except for a liquor store a few blocks up. The train station was still there, but the train ran underground now. The trolley tracks had been taken up, and a six-lane arterial, with halogen lamps every 500 feet, cut through what was left of the neighborhood. The big street trees were all gone, and there was no life, it seemed, except for the struggling ground cover along the asphalt road bed and three idle young men who gathered on the comer next to a lamp post.

The story of this community, its loss of economic functions and vitality, and the destruction of its housing stock, has been repeated in a hundred different neighborhoods in the older core districts of the nation's largest metropolitan regions. The story is a national disgrace. It is a story of investment decisions made without regard for community needs, a story of freeways wrecking businesses and undermining the social integrity of neighborhoods. Communities of color have borne a disproportionate share of toxics and health burdens based on these decisions—from lead in automobile emissions to contamination of soil and groundwater under abandoned gas stations to noise and accidents caused by industrial truck traffic too nearby.

As they search for incentives to reduce energy consumption, transportation and energy planners often overlook these issues, the needs of and the potential contribution that inner city communities might make to building new sustainable urban neighborhoods. At the seminar I attended, for example, most of the debate focused on the technical capacity of large corporations to manufacture more fuel efficient cars, the potential of legislation requiring large corporations to purchase these cars, the importance of developing alternative fuels, and strategies for extending new mass transit facilities to the growing suburbs. All of these topics are important. But a component is missing. How can we involve the inner cities—which have energy-efficient infrastructures already in place—as active participants in shaping and defining new policies? In reviewing the lessons of the past several decades, three important conclusions about connections between transportation, energy and urban social justice emerge.

  • The increasing concentration of poverty in the nation's largest metropolitan areas is linked to the practice of investment in suburban sprawl, and divestment from energy-efficient, inner city communities where people of color live.
  • Transportation and energy issues are of critical concern to low-income neighborhoods and practitioners of community-based economic development, but advocacy systems for energy and transportation issues are almost non-existent. These systems should be developed.
  • Community development corporations in low-income and minority communities are well-positioned to provide a new and potentially powerful national leadership in advocating energy and transportation efficient patterns for urban neighborhoods.

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Energy       ?õ¬?       Vol. 2 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1991

Related Stories: 

Energy Costs, Conservation, and the Poor

Meeting monthly payments for household energy use is increasingly difficult for families with incomes at or near the poverty level. While the system of extraction, generation, and distribution of energy in usable form has many other economic and environmental impacts on most sectors of society, for the poor, the monthly bill is this system's most direct consequence. Living in (often forced to rent) the least efficient housing in the country, the typical poor household faces energy costs of up to 25% of its total income. This household has but two options: reduce consumption and/or look for aid in meeting unmanageable energy costs. Federal funding for both of these options, however, has been dwindling since the mid-80s; more and more responsibility for controlling these costs to the poor falls on local governments and groups.

In a recently published study, "Utility-Financed Low-Income Energy Conservation: Winning for Everyone," one of the Energy Policy and the Poor series, the National Consumer Law Center, Inc. (NCLC) studied the relationship between energy use and failure to pay among low-income families relative to the nation as a whole. The study showed that the inability of a family to pay its energy bill is not, as many have thought, strictly the result of high energy bills, or of energy "wastage." In fact, low-income households generally use about 20% less energy than the non-poor; this conclusion is valid for the various fuels (electricity, fuel oil, and natural gas) used for different household tasks. The study found that the higher the portion of income needed for energy bills, the higher the rate of failure to pay. Payments for this fuel, though, can equal 25% of the total income of a poor family, as opposed to around 7% for the non-poor.

It will be difficult for the typical poor family acting alone to make further cuts in energy use. One reason for this is that low-income dwellings generally use more energy per unit area; this fact is largely a reflection of the low quality of poor people's housing. A 1986 study by the Economic Opportunity Research Institute showed that the average poor family spends up to 94% of its income on housing, food, and home energy. Very little remains for other items which can also be considered as basic needs: health care, clothing, transportation, etc. In short, the poor are under immense economic pressures to conserve energy, and are making a large daily effort toward that end.

Some accepted programs designed to help the poor or to promote energy efficiency in general, have had inequitable impacts. The classic "renter's dilemma" hits low-income tenants especially hard: since tenants pay the energy costs of wasteful buildings and appliances, owners have little incentive to pay for improvements. Two pertinent examples are given here: in one case, energy efficiency programs have actually discriminated against the poor; in the other, a federal housing and energy subsidy program costs the poor more than allowed by law.

In the previously mentioned study, the NCLC shows that utility appliance rebate programs can effectively result in the poor's subsidizing the efficiency appliances of the more wealthy. In general, in order to receive a rebate on, say, a refrigerator, one must have the money for a new refrigerator in the fist place—this de facto requirement serves to "screen out" the poor, who are not in the market for new refrigerators. The poor's utility payments do, however, subsidize these utility programs. The poor, then, in many cases have ended up helping the wealthy save energy and money. Some progressive utilities though, are working to eliminate this type of inequity by offering low-income rates or substantially larger subsidies for the poor. One electric utility in rural Minnesota is experimenting with low-income appliance purchasing programs which require no initial investment by the ratepayer.

Hidden energy costs in housing subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provide another example of the inordinate impacts of inefficiency, both organizational and with respect to energy, upon the poor. Here we are referring to privately-owned housing. Public, or HLD-owned, housing uses enormous amounts of energy too, but these costs are not passed directly to the residents. But about 40% of HUD units are not public-owned but rent-subsidized under the various HUD Section 8 programs. Briefly, the Section 8 programs work like this: landlords agree to receive a "fair market" rent, established by the Housing Authority (HA), in exchange for renting units in their buildings to low-income tenants. So long as tenant energy use is less than a "ceiling," also established by the HA, the tenant is to pay no more than 30% of adjusted family income for rent/ utilities; the difference is paid by a HUD Section 8 subsidy. Energy usage above the ceiling must be paid by the tenant. One recent survey of Housing Authorities, conducted by Steven Ferrey of Suffolk University, found that, largely due to both artificially low usage ceilings and inaccurate calculations by HAS, families under Section 8 programs pay on average over 36% of total income for rent and utilities, or 20% more than the law allows.

Though the physical condition of Section 8 dwellings is variable, as a group these units represent one of the most neglected housing sectors in terms of energy efficiency. HUD's management of these units is characterized by inadequate contact with building owners and limited capacity to evaluate not just energy costs but even building soundness. HUD can provide an illustration of lack of action to promote conservation in low-income housing. A brief look at HUD's energy expenditure woes will help us understand the complicated relationship between the provision of energy and the quality of life of the nation's poor.

Nationwide, HUD directly subsidizes the rents and/or energy payments of around 3.5 million units, or about 12% of the rental units in the country. Most public housing in the U.S. was built before 1973, when the first oil price shocks occurred and energy efficiency began to work its way into building construction. Much of the public housing stock, therefore, is very inefficient, especially in urban areas, where older multifamily buildings are the main low-income dwellings.

Energy conservation, affecting as it does realities of equity and environment, is essentially an issue of community development. Community groups are in an ideal position to equip themselves to enter the conservation field and help to lessen the energy burden on their poor. Particularly in urban areas, where inefficient buildings are inhabited largely by low-income renters, and where detailed local connections can be needed to gain the trust of owners and renters alike, community groups are essential. In communities where Community Development Organizations (CDOs) exist, these would seem to be logical managers of low-income weatherization programs.

Community-based groups have proven to be one of the most convenient and effective means to implement conservation programs. The most longstanding and successful utility program in California, as relied on community action agencies (CAAs), local contractors, and other community-based organizations for the installation of weatherization measures. In Minneapolis, a utility-sponsored non-profit works with a variety of other organizations to fund, install, maintain, and monitor energy-conserving retrofits; this group has at times cooperated with HUD and the local Housing Authority to contact owners of multifamily buildings in need of conservation work. In Portland, Oregon, the city's Energy Office coordinates with utilities and the CAA to put technicians and funding where they might do the most; they condense all relevant programs into one "conservation package," easily understood by the owner/tenant. There are many other examples of this type of coordination at the local level; the catalyst is a local group, in many cases a non-profit.

Community-based low-income weatherization programs throughout the country have been working against the general trend of neglect at the federal level; programs are getting much more effective even as program stability would seem to be more uncertain. Both the technical expertise and the marketing ability of weatherization agencies have developed as smaller-scale collaboration supplants federal leadership.

Entrance into the field of low-income energy conservation services, then, offers great opportunities for local groups to help their communities by reducing the negative impacts of energy costs on low-income residents.

Unfortunately, weatherization programs are usually evaluated by policymakers in strictly economic terms rather than within the context of community development For the CDO trying to get involved with weatherization, this fact presents some problems: 1) competition for money and contracts is a fact of life for weatherization firms, especially those bidding for demand-side management contracts; 2) similarly, groups which possess a high level of technical expertise have an edge over those that do not. Currently, there is a great need for trained weatherization personnel. For local groups, particularly non-profits which may have social goals such as job creation and basic skills training in mind, hiring and keeping qualified personnel can be difficult.

Small-scale, locally-run programs can help largely low-income communities begin to control their own energy destinies while creating jobs and teaching weatherization skills. In the face of decreased federal funding for weatherization, though, non-profits involved in weatherization are having to streamline their operations and compete for survival. There is a real danger of non-profits being locked out of the weatherization industry. The challenge for groups interested in community development and weatherization is to reconcile these opposing pressures.

Energy       ?õ¬?       Vol. 2 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1991

Related Stories: 

Pesticides (Spring 1991)

Farmworkers Fight Back * Alternatives in Agriculture * Organizing Strategies (Volume 2, No. 1: Spring 1991)

People who live in cities -- especially people of color -- should pay attention to the struggle of farmworkers against pesticides. Many African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos -- including some comfortably in the urban middle class -- are only one generation away from rural poverty themselves. They should easily understand the importance of joining with farmworkers to secure decent environmental conditions in which to live and wok.

The idea that pesticides are solely a rural problem needs to be re-examined. Contrary to popular opinion, pesticides directly affect urban residents - especially poor people and people of color. The use of pesticides does not begin and end in the agricultural field. For example, in Richmond, California, a largely African-American urban area, the community lives in the shadow of Chevron's massive oil refinery and pesticide manufacturing plant. Many of Richmond's residents live in poverty. Workers in the Chevron plant face exposure to a variety of hazardous chemicals on the job each day. Neighbors of the pesticide plant complain of constant odors, as well as respiratory illnesses and other pollution-caused diseases. Whatever pollutants don't go up the stack are taken to a toxic waste dump, often Chem Waste's Kettleman City facility, in a low-income Latino community in California's Central Valley. The pesticides produced are shipped around the country, where farmworkers face dangerous exposures.

Urban residents face other problems with pesticides. Pesticides poison our foods. Residents of housing projects which are routinely fumigated with dangerous pesticides, and children who play on lawns recently treated with pesticides are some of pesticides' many victims. Pesticide use is often more concentrated in urban areas, with household and garden users applying more pesticides per square inch to their living spaces, with less information about the chemicals they are using, than agricultural users in rural areas.


At the California Communities Against Toxics conference held in Kettleman City last April, about forty-five farmworkers were in attendance, mostly locals attracted to the event by the organizing efforts of the community group El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio. Two spokespeople from a major urban anti-pesticide group in Los Angeles breezed in on the second day of the conference, and gave an impassioned speech about the dangers of spraying malathion on Los Angeles to control the Medfly. Through an interpreter, the farmworkers listened to the speech, nodding in sympathy with the plight of the well-to-do urban residents. When the activists were done, the farmworkers were ready to talk about solutions - from the perspective of people who work, day in and day out, in fields where they are exposed to pesticide residues. They were about to speak, when they noticed that the urbanites had left, having made their pitch for support of anti-malathion efforts. The farmworkers shrugged, and another golden opportunity for building bridges was lost.

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1   Pesticides and the Poor in California
     by Luke Cole & Susan Bowyer

1   Urban Pesticide Problems?

3   Harvest of Hope: The Potential for Alternative Agriculture to Reduce Pesticide Use
     by Jennifer Curtis 

4   Organizing for a Change
     by Elizabeth Martin

5   Rachel Carson Remembered
     by Victor Lewis

8   Help Break the Circle of Poison!

9   The Circle of Poison (Chart)

12 Track Down Toxics and Send the Bill to Dow Chemical

12 New Money for Grassroots Efforts

13 An Open Letter to Environmentalists
     by Dennis Martinez

19 "Grape-Free Zones" are the Latest Boycott Tool

20 Farmworkers Tackle Pesticides, Launch Apple Campaign

6 Reportbacks

10 Resources

Related Stories: 

Rachel Carson Remembered

For a long time now, the name of Rachel Carson has been synonymous with the environmental movement. Many times I have heard that Silent Spring, her 1962 classic, was the fuse that triggered the explosion culminating in the current wave of environmental activism, and should be counted among the few books that have actually altered the course of history. I have even echoed its praise to my friends. But until recently, I had never actually taken the time to pick up and read the book. I hadn't a clue, really, of what exactly Carson had done to change the world, or whether she had acted deliberately to have such impact or stumbled accidentally into her place in history.

I recommend that anyone who has an interest in issues of science, agriculture, writing, feminism, politics, environmentalism, or social justice read Silent Spring. If, as I did, you assume that a book published 28 years ago must by necessity have a dated feel to it or be in many ways factually obsolete, you can expect a big surprise. If, as I did, you also believe that secondhand reports of Carson's achievements can provide you with all you need to know about her, please reconsider. Carson's work deserves to be known directly.

First, Rachel Carson's writing smolders with passion and sings with poetic beauty, while revealing a highly trained and disciplined scientific mind. Silent Spring, her searing indictment of our rampant misuse of agricultural pesticides, is a very good book. The reader will enjoy the experience, while, at the same time receive a solid but painless initiation into the world of pesticide theory. Carson's theory isn't a dry read because she never allows it to become separate from the passions of the web of life, the assault on which she so eloquent1 y chronicles.

Second, it is not just a cliché to say that Silent Spring, her last work, is the single most formative influence on the modem environmental movement, and perhaps the Environmental Protection Agency, which was established in 1970 in remarkable accord with recommendations prescribed by Carson in her 1963 testimony before the U.S. Congress. As we proceed into the current Decade of the Environment, it would be a shame to do so without a clear knowledge of the woman and the book that made "environment" a household word.

Third, Silent Spring is truly a paradigmatic work. It focuses explicitly on the dangers of chlorinated fluorocarbons and organic phosphates, and other "biocides" (a term that Carson prefers to "pesticides" because it more honestly points to the indiscriminate death-dealing nature of these poisons), but it does much more. With relentless force, it lays bare the way of thinking that has given us nuclear arms proliferation and the so-called "peaceful atom," as in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the recently disclosed Hanford (Washington) disaster. She makes plain the connections between the demented love affair of corporate power with the chemical insect controls and the now-confirmed tragedy of its current obsession with nuclear power. Carson reveals the way of thinking that brought US Love Canal, the Bhopal disaster, the Thalidomide horror and even the Dalkon shield. Although she died in 1964, having witnessed only the first vibrations of the chord she struck in the soul of her generation, her vision illuminates the conditions of the 1990s as clearly as if she now stood amongst us in the flesh.

Fourth, Silent Spring is, at least implicitly, a feminist work. The indignant and life-loving denunciation of the outrages of patriarchy that characterizes the best feminist theory permeates every page of Carson's book. If she had lived to see it, Carson would have undoubtedly found a home within the modem feminist movement that emerged within a few years of her death. In The Recurring Silent Spring, a tribute to Carson, Patricia Hynes brings to light the hardship that went along with being a woman scientist in Carson's day, not to mention the present, and further illuminates the virulent sexism that characterized the agribusiness smear campaign against Carson. Her enemies had no factual grounds to attack the integrity of her painstakingly documented work so they fruitlessly appealed to our ugliest oppressive conditioning to weaken her impact.

Fifth, in these days when 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth tops the NY Times best-sellers list, Carson's work stands out as one difficult thing that a woman did to save the Earth. She made her intentions to halt humanity's war on the biosphere very explicit. Her book was deliberately constructed to withstand any rebuttal. Twenty-eight years later, her work remains as fundamentally sound as the day it was published. Four years elapsed from the inception of Silent Spring to its publication, during which time she battled with arthritis and a host of other health problems, including breast cancer, a condition that eventually took her life. Most of what we need to do to save the Earth will not be simple. Silent Spring shows forth as one of history's greatest tributes to the difference that one person armed with the truth and a love of life can make to the future of the world.

Today, as we stand in the doorway to the Third Millennium, we witness an emerging voice from people of color and the poor as the conscience of the environmental movement, insisting that we make the connections between social and environmental justice, between civil and environmental rights. Silent Spring fails to make the connection as explicit as I would like. This is the book's only weakness, one that can excused given its historical context.

Anyone who decides to take up the task of reading or rereading Silent Spring should read as a companion volume Patricia Hynes' The Recurring Silent Spring. Where Carson stops short, Hynes soars, complimenting and expanding on the vision of Silent Spring in a thoroughly exciting manner. Hynes points out that, by coincidence, the charter convention of the United Farm Workers (UFW) took place on September 30, 1962, only 3 days after the publication of Silent Spring. Carson made several references to the possible human costs of pesticide use but mistakenly assumed, probably due to her academic conditioning, that there was little "hard data" available on the subject. If Carson had attended the UFW convention she would have encountered a wealth of "hard data" on the human toll of chemically-dependent agriculture. She would have received first-hand accounts of the skin rashes, dizziness and nausea, respiratory ailments, miscarriages, birth defects, cancers and deaths faced by the farmworkers due to pesticide exposure. Carson's activism would have certainly been enriched and deepened by these struggling Latino farmworkers; she would have undoubtedly come on strongly on their behalf, and the movement that she inspired might have developed a much stronger social justice critique than it has. All speculation aside, Silent Spring is a book of unique and timeless impact, and Rachel Carson, a remarkable individual. Such distinctive humanity deserves our keenest attention and our utmost appreciation. In times like ours, when we desperately need environmental heroes as models after which to pattern our own commitment to celebrating and defending our home planet, we need look no further than this woman, our bold foremother, to lend us the courage and example we need to carry the good work forward into the next century.

Victor Lewis is a policy board member of the Urban Habitat Program.   

Pesticides      -      Vol. 2 No. 1      -    Spring 1991

Related Stories: 

Women of Color (Winter 1991)

At the Grassroots * As community Leaders * In "Traditional" Environmental Careers * Redefining the Movement (Volume 1, No.4: Winter 1991)

This issue is the second of our theme issues, with our focus on women of color in the environmental movement. We have submissions from all over the country--some encouraging, others not so. All the pieces are empowering to people interested in the effect women of color are having on the environmental and social justice movement, and the progress being made. We tried to solicit our material from women of color, where possible -- we felt that the most honest and direct way to get the real story was to have the people most involved share their views.

To focus primarily on women of color in te environmental and social justice movement was an ambitious venture. By no means can just this issue of RPE do justice to what is happening. Within these pages, however, is a sampling of success stories, major setbacks, and outstanding victories. There are many other publications that highlight women involved in this work and we encourage our readers to seek them out -- several are listed in the Resources section.

The care, determination, and personal growth the women in this issue experience through their involvement in urban and rural coalitions provides positive role models for young people everywhere, particularly for young women of color. Our hope with this issue of RPE is that a few of these stories can be told and shared as examples of what can and is being accomplished in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. 

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1   Women in the Movement
     by Jane Kay

1   Forest Service Prepares for the 21st Century
     by Dianne Saunders

3   PUEBLO is the People, an interview
     by Ellie Goodwin

4   A Resource for the Environmental Justice Movement
     by Jim Abernathy

4   Hunter College to Fight Environmental Racism

5   RPE Profile: Cora Tucker
     by Claude Engle

11 Summit Planned to Address "Environmental Racism"

12 We Speak for Ourselves: Social Justice, Race & the Environment

13 Traditional Culture, New Agriculture
     by Emma Torres

17 A Global Perspective, A Local Meeting
     by the United Nations Environmental Program

20 Civil Rights Suit Filed to Block Toxic Waste Incinerator

2 Editor's Notes

6 Reportbacks

10 Resources

Women in the Movement

From the Navajo women fighting uranium tailings to the Latinas pursuing lead cleanup in Oakland, people of color who bear the brunt of pollution across the country are moving from victims to activists.

And in grassroots resistance to pollution, women have been leading the way in calling attention to environmental health problems and doing something about them.

In my travels as an environmental reporter, I've been awed by women who've led difficult struggles to get horrendous environmental problems targeted and solved.

Perhaps it's because women aren't as easily intimidated by authority. At an historic women's meeting in Window Rock, Arizona, in the mid-1970s, Navajo Tribal Council member, the wise Annie Waneka, was a model for other women. She found the room for a big national conference locked. She just laughed, and said it didn’t surprise her. She got it opened.

Or perhaps it’s because women find the courage when they see their children threatened by dangerous radiation or chemical emissions or leaded paint or pesticides or toxic waste incinerators. Women who have never spoken in public, or raised their voices or questioned authority, find it easy when the health of their families is at stake.

Women, including women of color, are on the front lines of protest, research, lobbying, and public education to slowly and painfully bring about change.

Here are some of the places:

In Arizona,

  • Cyanide in a Tombstone silver mine threatened groundwater.
  • Families lived in mobile homes atop asbestos tailings and Tonto National Forest residentws in Globe were sprayed with the herbicide 2,4,5-T.
  • A copper smelter spewed out sulfur dioxide in Douglas.
  • Drinking water tainted with trichloroethylene, or TCE, was unknowingly delivered to people's houses for 30 years in Tucson.
  • On the Arizona Strip at the Utah border, Mormon communities were contaminated by Nevada Test Site atomic fallout.

In California,

  • A fire released toxic chemicals into neighborhoods in Oroville.
  • In Calaveras County, asbestos dumped on roads put children at risk.
  • In the Central Valley, people drank well water contaminated with pesticides and worked in freshly-sprayed fields.

In researching a recent story on lead pollution in Oakland, I met more strong women. I can still hear the words of Guadalupe Nuño, Maria Garcia, and Luz Maria Fonseca, who talked of a new organization in the Fruitvale neighborhood.

The mothers became part of the environmental movement after they learned from People United for a Better Oakland (PUEBLO), a group launched by the Center for Third World Organizing, that their yards and playgrounds contained lead.

Now they go from door to door to get people to meetings. They—whites, blacks, Filipinos and Hindus—protested at Children's Hospital in Oakland in July 1990 to change the system and get routine lead testing under the Children's Health and Disability Prevention Program of Medicaid.

Nuño, sitting in her living room, said she had lived in her tidy house by the railroad tracks for 15 years before she even learned about lead in paint, soil and air.

"There are a lot of problems with lead, but they don't want to listen to us. They don't want to clean up our neighborhoods. The people who live here, well, we've known each other for 10 years, but they don't do anything for us.

"We need more information. We need more people to come here and speak to us in Spanish. But I don't feel isolated, and I'm not afraid of going to protests. Slowly more people understand about the lead problems." She smiles and says, "Adelante."

Women of Color       ?õ¬?       Vol. 1 No. 4      ?õ¬?       Winter 1991

Youth (Fall 1990)

Volume 1, No.3: October 1990

Welcome to our third issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment. This issue is the first of our theme issues, with the topic being youth. We have tried to pull together articles and resources that explore and analyze race, poverty, and the environment as they apply to children and youth, to examine the ways that children are most vulnerable to environmental hazards, and to show ways that children are in the forefront of responding to this nation's environmental crises. We think - not immodestly - that this issue showcases the diversity of approaches to environmental problems.

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Inside this issue...

1   The Iraq War: Young People on the Front
     by Victor Lewis

1   Lead Poisoning Still Strikes Inner City Youth
     by Arthur Monroe

3   People of Color and the Environmental Job Market: Good News, Bad News
     by Marcia Chen

4   Call in the Natural Guard
     by Randall Beach

4   EPA Focuses on People of Color

5   Billboards: Teaching Kids to Smoke
     by Ed McMahon

19 Youth Notes

2   Editors' Notes


6 Kettleman City, CA, March 10-1 1, 1990

7 Berkeley, CA, March 29-April 1, 1990

8 Washington, DC, April 9-1 0, 1990

9 Dilkon, AZ, June 29-July 1, 1990

10 Resources

The Iraq War: Young People on the Front

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and the subsequent world response, has dominated the news for the past two months. What has been missing from the reports is an analysis of how the issues of race, poverty and the environment are central to—and play out in—the Persian Gulf crisis. Also missing is any examination of the war's toll on children. As part of our special issue on young people, this article attempts to fill some of these gaps. As Thomas Pynchon wrote, "If they get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."

War and Children

Young people bear the heaviest burden of war. Because of their small size, physical weakness, and lack of experience at the game of survival, they make the most vulnerable targets. Hunger, a major consequence of war, damages and destroys children much more swiftly than adults. Growing up in the midst of armed conflict might cost a child the loss of one or both parents, or the loss of an eye or a limb. But it also costs them something more—their childhoods.

Young men, ordered by their elders, do the lion's share of the fighting in war. And if they are not killed in combat, they wear the physical and emotional scars for the duration of their lives. The average age of an U.S. soldier in Viet Nam was 19. These vets now have perhaps the highest suicide rate of any identifiable sociological grouping in the nation.

Young people are never seriously consulted by policy-making elders on the desirability of war. Children of war learn discouraging and distorted messages about the nature of life and the basic friendliness of the world. The childhood terrors of today's young war survivors will continue to haunt them as they become tomorrow’s leaders.

Since World War II, the nations in which military conflicts have been fought have overwhelmingly been desperately poor nations in the Third World. The U.S. hasn't had a war on its own soil since the Civil War, and as quiet as it is kept, this was a war from which we have yet to recover. We cannot imagine the trauma of living in a state of perpetual war, except perhaps by picturing the plight of our sorriest ghettos and magnifying that anguish. War is bad. It is always waged on the poor—and the largest and most vulnerable section of the poor in this country and abroad are children.

The Race Question

A number of issues of race have not gotten their share of attention in the recent debate over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The present conflict in the Persian Gulf has a long and complicated history in which race plays a major role. During World War I an army of nomadic Arab tribesmen, under the leadership of Lawrence of Arabia, helped the allies topple the Ottoman empire. They were promised a united Arab sovereign state as a reward for their efforts. Like so many promises made to people of color by whites in the last few hundred years, this promise was as empty as a broken jar.

The political landscape of the modem Middle East was shaped by European colonial powers shortly after World War I, with the political and economic interests of rich white rulers and corporations in mind, and contempt for the aspirations to self-determination of .the majority of people in the region. The current crisis could be regarded as, among other things, an Arab response to the arrogance and deceit of the Anglo- European and U.S. powers who still exert a strong influence in the region.

People of color are over-represented in the 200,000-member fighting force that the U.S. has sent to kill and die in the sands of the Middle East, because of the relative lack of employment opportunities available to men and women of color in this country. If there is a war, people of color and poor people generally will die in numbers out of proportion to their presence in the general population while sharing little in the rewards that could emerge from such fighting. (It is ironic that while people of color are grossly under-represented in the leadership of the military, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin Powell, an African-American, is the man who decided that the initial deployment of U.S. troops should be a massive one, rather than the small beginnings of Viet Nam.)

People of color, who are "have-not" people almost by definition, are also the designated enemy. The soldiers working for Saddam Hussein and other Arab leaders are almost all men who are poor to begin with and who are likely to be far more impoverished if they were not soldiers. The vast majority of Middle Eastern people live in grinding poverty. Oil is the only toe-hold on survival in the global economic order that their countries have, since they have no other major exports to the world market.

Saddam Hussein has been called a "monster” who must be stopped at all cost. The invasion of any sovereign state by another must be condemned. But the Persian Gulf situation is much more complex than the question of whether or not he is a monster or if he should be stopped and how. The hypocrisy of condemning Hussein's "naked aggression” deserves to be examined in the light of the total history of the region. We should also question the "well-dressed” aggression of our own government's leadership, snuggling up to such champions of democracy as Somoza and later the Contra in Nicaragua, the Shah of Iran, Marcos of the Phillipines, and Pinochet of Chile, to name a few. From a comfortable and sanitary distance, the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Pentagon have fashioned U.S. policies which have visited death and suffering upon many millions of people of color all over the globe in the last half century. But ours is a kinder, gentler form of brutality than the Arab Saddam's.

When Latino children from McFarland, California succumb to 300% more cancers than the average, probably due to exposure to pesticides, to paraphrase poet Marge Piercy , they say "I am dying," not “they are killing me." When chemical companies export lethal pesticides to unwitting farmers in the Third World because they are deemed too dangerous for use within our own borders, it’s considered just good business. When more young African-American men find themselves in jail, on parole, or on probation than in college, no "monsters" are created and condemned except among the victims of these conditions. The chronic underdevelopment of African-American, Native American, Asian, and Latino communities within our not-quite-democracy produces needless suffering and death through lack of education and employment opportunity, substandard housing and health care, police repression, bias in the legal system, unfair and unequal exposures to toxic hazards. Although the cost in the quality of human lives and outright deaths as a result of these socially-created conditions runs into the millions, seldom are the "well-dressed” aggressors who make and enforce the policies that result in these situations demonized and portrayed as "monsters."

Given the record of our own policies, how proud President Bush must be of Kuwait, that shining example of an open and just society that exploits thousands of Palestinian and Jordanian migrant workers in order to maintain a ''comfortable" way of life for its citizens. He must be equally proud of the Saudi Arabian style of democracy, where women can be stoned to death for "adultery," where they cannot drive even if they behave themselves, where petty heft can cost the thief the loss of a hand, and where the country itself is named after the ruling family, the house of Saud Why doesn't Resident Bush just tell us the real reason why our military has been deployed to the region? We are there to defend our "rights" to Arabian oil fields. If Saddam Hussein is a "bad guy" in his own right he has also been selected by the Bush administration as a post-Cold War replacement for the "evil empire" as a target for U.S. fear and loathing. Like Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein is being used to manipulate the unconscious racism and fears of the American people for veiled political and economic reasons. U.S. invasions of tiny countries like Grenada and Panama, to say nothing of covert activities around the world, makes Bush's media stance as a champion of the underdog sound like a sick joke.

There are many things about Arab and Islamic people generally that Americans might tend to find "exotic" at best, or, unfortunately for all concerned, alien or brutish. The problem here is our own. We don't understand their languages, customs, religious beliefs and politics, histories, political systems, diets, aesthetic sensibilities and other features of their cultures, and have been little motivated to learn. It is possible that, when we pass judgment on these people and their leaders, to some extent we don't know what we're talking about. This mistake has been made before. People of color here in the U.S. have been repeatedly misperceived and mistreated through filters of ignorance and arrogance. We should not perpetrate the same kind of mistake on people in the Middle East.

The Poverty Factor

Higher petroleum prices for U.S. consumers and businesses means higher prices for products or services reliant on petroleum energy. Household lighting, heating and cooling, food grown with petrochemical fertilizers and shipped by petroleum-guzzling transport, and medical care, are just a few goods and services whose costs are affected by changes in fuel prices. Poor people pay a higher percentage of their income for these things than middle-income people, so they will feel the tightest pinch of any fuel-related price increases. To make matters worse, global climate change due to fossil fuel pollution and ozone depletion from CFCs will increase the demand for energy, driving up its costs further, it will hurt crop yields thus driving up food prices; and it will increase the demand for medical care for such things as heat stroke, skin cancers and pollution-related illnesses. While these general conditions may affect everyone, those at the lower end of the ladder of economic and political power will be least prepared to adjust to these new conditions.

If oil-poor Third World nations are hit with skyrocketing petroleum prices, they will not be able to develop much-needed industry and productive capacities to feed their exploding populations. Widespread death and devastation could result Increased difficulties for these countries in paying foreign debts could deal the international banking system a severe blow, making the Savings and Loan bailout pale in comparison. People from all over the U.S. will die even if not a single shot is fired upon our 200,000 soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia. Our domestic crises such as the $500 billion dollar S&L ripoff, the blossoming budget deficit, and the attendant cuts in domestic spending for life-saving services, are all being shoved to the back burner. Inevitably, these problems will claim the lives of thousands. Meanwhile, our post-Cold War "peace dividend" which was to help us to rebuild the economic infrastructure and the morale of the nation has evaporated.

Environmental Damage

Lands on which wars have been fought become broken lands. They become lands where food won't grow and animals won't graze. They can become unfit for people as well. This is especially true where chemical or nuclear weapons are used, a frightening possibility in the current crisis.

We are facing a renewed push by corporations to develop our domestic resources by drilling off California's coast for oil, and destroying more of the traumatized Alaskan wilderness to exploit its reserves. The Reagan Administration's gutting of federal programs aimed at conservation and research into renewable energy resources is directly responsible for our continued dependence on foreign oil, a policy for which the average U.S. citizen is left holding the bag.

Energy conservation could provide a way out of our dilemma, simultaneously solving energy, security, economic, and environmental problems. In 1988, only 19% of our energy needs were supplied by foreign sources. If the U.S. government mandated fuel efficiency on all new automobiles to the tune of 40 to 50 mpg, a simple and realizable goal, that could make the U.S. an energy independent nation within a few years. Conservation measures could eliminate half of the U.S. energy consumption with absolutely no decrease in the quality of life within five years. By the year 2000 we could cut consumption in half again while increasing our productivity.

The Federal Republic of Germany and Japan both have technical advances and productivity greater than the U.S,. yet their energy expense per capita is roughly half that of U.S. levels. It should be possible in our own country to reroute most of the billions of dollars that we now waste through pollution-generating inefficiency to the rebuilding of necessary social programs, the creation of a national health care system, the realization of full-employment, the reduction of the national debt, all with—read my lips—no increased economic burden to the American people. Simultaneously, we can reduce our contributions to global warming, smog, acid rain and other environmental stresses. Conservation makes sense. Additional cuts in unnecessary defense spending and welfare for the rich could make us for the first time a universally prosperous nation.

Most people in the U.S. do not want a war in the Persian Gulf. They remember Viet Nam and, to their credit, do not want to repeat the obscene mistakes that were made in that era. War is an expensive, dirty, polluting business. Even posing a military threat is grossly expensive. In 1987, before the current crisis erupted, U.S. taxpayers spent 47 billion dollars on military escorts for tankers in the Persian Gulf to ensure our right to "cheap" oil. The average U.S. citizen has been hoodwinked into believing that we're getting a bargain on gasoline because we haven't been paying through the nose at the gas pump.

In addition to the economic and environmental costs, war has a terrible human cost, and in our age, this cost will be weighted upon the most vulnerable members of the human community: children, the poor, people of color. To maintain our humanity, and ultimately for the sake of our own survival, we need to find another road.

This other road will consist of partnership between the "haves" and the "have-nots" of the world the likes of which we have never seen. The parasitic relationship of the industrialized nations to the Third World will give way to an equitable exchange of natural and technical resources that insures the maximum benefit for all parties. Military interventions, actual or threatened, will also diminish in importance in favor of diplomatic means of resolving international conflicts. The U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world have the means to support swift and ecologically sound development in the Third World and in our own nations. These kinds of drastic measures must be taken, and soon, to avert global, human, and natural catastrophe, perhaps triggering the end of the human experiment. An equitable sharing by all of humanity in the wealth of the Earth will be the cornerstone of any long-term solution to the problem of wars, including the current conflict unfolding in the Persian Gulf. The alternative will be a persistence of such conflicts, heavy loss of life in poor nations, and eventually the loss of all that we hold dear.

Youth       ?õ¬?       Vol. 1 No. 3      ?õ¬?       October 1990

Cultural Diversity (Summer 1990)

Volume 1, No.2: Summer 1990






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1   The Struggle for Cultural Diversity
     by Winona LaDuke

1   Inner Cities to Join Ecology Debate

3   The Quest for Environmental Equity: Mobilizing the Black Community for Social Change
     by Robert D. Bullard 8 Beverly H. Wright

4   Urban Barnraising: Building Community Through Environment
     by Karl Linn

5   Blacks and Greens
     by Paul Ruffins

18 People of Color Form Action Network


6   Berkeley, CA, April 17

7   Los Angeles, CA, April 25

7   Austin, TX, June 2

10 Albuquerque, NM, June 8-9

2   Editors' Notes

9   Resources

The Struggle for Cultural Diversity

I want to talk about the need for cultural diversity as well as biological diversity, and the need to look holistically at the problem. First, I want to talk about something from our own culture, which is the Anishinabe culture, the Algonquin culture. We have an economic system, a whole value system, and part of that value system—part of our whole way of living—is a concept called reciprocity.

When I go out and I harvest wild rice up on our lakes in Northern Minnesota, on our reservation, I bring tobacco, saymah, and I put the tobacco out. I make an offering when I go out to harvest, and then I collect different things from the land. We do the same thing when we go out hunting—when we go out hunting, whether its for wapsh or atuk, rabbit or deer, all the different parts of the creation, we give something in order to get something back from the creation. We have a reciprocal agreement, and this confirms our relationship to the creation—we're a part, an integral part of the creation. We're an integral part of the ecosystem in our areas. Reciprocity is an essential part of our value system, which is very contrary to the industrial value system and the industrial society in the United States.

The industrial system is based on capitalism, and essentially the mainstay of capitalism is that you put things like labor and capital and resources together for the purpose of accumulation—you take more than you need. That is the whole essence of capitalism, to accumulate more than you need. In contrast, the essence of our relationship to the creation, the essence of reciprocity, is that we take only what we need.

For the rest of the article, download the PDF.

Cultural Diversity      |       Vol. 1 No. 2      |     Summer 1990

Urban Barnraising: Building Community through Environment

People are becoming more aware of how racial discrimination and oppression are reinforced through the designed physical environment in which we live. In many insidious ways, the process by which our habitat is planned and built keeps people isolated, disempowered, and repressed. A deepening understanding of the impact of the urban habitat on peoples' lives, and how our habitat can be employed for our empowerment, should contribute to our liberation.

All cultures shape their habitat. Traditionally, indigenous people the world over have built beautiful homes with local materials, as well as villages and towns which nestled harmoniously in the landscape. Constructing their own homes instilled in the builders feelings of accomplishment and self-confidence, and generated a deepened sense of belonging to a place.

Today, labor-displacing machines are creating impersonal and alienating buildings without human hands. Massive, regimented apartment buildings and office complexes intimidate and isolate their occupants from one another. Reducing people to passive spectators in their own living and working environments contributes to their experience of powerlessness, as their sense of self-reliance becomes undermined.

Over the centuries, the architecture of buildings and open spaces and the planning of entire cities has evolved as a professional service to the privileged few. The accumulation of capital enables private patrons, corporations and governments to create physical settings designed to protect their bounty and strengthen their empire. Like the military triangle, the - private and corporate patrons, the architects, and the building contractors reinforce each other in constructing large and ostentatious structures for their own profit and ego gratification. The resulting skyscrapers provide regimented social lives for ever-growing masses of people.

The most dramatic environmental expression of social stratification, oppression and racism is in the location of peoples' communities. Living on the "wrong side of the tracks" or the "wrong side of the highway" separates the have-nots from the haves—usually people of color from the white middle class. Similarly, each higher foot of elevation that houses occupy on the hills of cities suggests a proportionate increase in investment portfolio of the owners.

The majority of inner-city dwellers, largely people of color, live in declining neighborhoods and substandard housing in the flatlands of cities. These are also usually the designated locations for polluting industries and incinerators, and dumping grounds for toxic waste. The African-American and Latino residents of these neighborhoods struggle to survive despite abject poverty, unemployment, and no prospect of change. Many succumb to despair and escape into drugs and violence.

At the same time, the affluent minority–the white middle class—lives in the expanding gentrified quarters of cities, saturated with extravagant consumer offerings, their neighborhoods adjacent to but in contrast to the "others." In the words of Lester Pearson, former president of Canada, "No planet can survive half slave and half free, half engulfed in misery, half careening along toward unlimited consumption. Neither ecology nor morality can survive the contrasts."

Community Design Centers

Grassroots organizations and progressive social movements, especially in their early stages of growth, have paid little attention to their built environment. It seemed intractable and too expensive, and consequently irrelevant to their struggles. Yet the spaces in which we live affect our spirit and action much more than we realize. Oppressive physical surroundings perpetuate and reinforce their residents' oppression.

During the last 30 years of working with a variety of grassroots organizations and social movements, environmental designers have learned to work with highly conscious and inspired but often unskilled volunteers, and with little money. Organizations such as Planners for Equal Opportunities, the Planners' Network, and Architects/ Planners/Designers for Social Responsibility have worked closely with neighborhood residents on affordable housing, control of land for community open space, and counter-gentrification strategies to stave off the displacement of the poorer residents. Community design centers also offer economic advice, trainings, and employment.

To encourage active involvement of residents in the restoration of the private and public spaces in their neighborhoods, participatory planning and self-help management and construction methods have been developed. This is to ensure that peoples' active participation, their "sweat equity," will produce material equity and growing control over the habitat that they restore. The sense of satisfaction in joint accomplishment of tangible restoration work is an empowering experience, contributing to the growing solidarity and community among the participants.

For neighborhood grassroots organizations to tackle restoration projects effectively requires a realistic assessment of available human and physical resources. Small improvements—for example, the clearing of a vacant lot to build a neighborhood commons consisting of a community garden, a sitting area, and a playground—bring people together to improve the quality of their daily lives. Restoration of community open spaces is also relatively easy to accomplish, preparing people to tackle more demanding efforts such as the restoration of buildings. To begin with, people could also paint murals on the bleak surfaces of neighborhood buildings, murals depicting their struggles and aspirations. People could also paint over the billboards which tower over urban neighborhoods, ruthlessly exploiting peoples' vulnerabilities with advertisements for liquor and cigarettes. The Rev. Calvin Butts, who ran such an effort in Harlem, says, "I started this campaign because alcohol and tobacco are the leading killers of people in this community."

Community-based restoration workshop centers could also be set up, and accumulate tools and equipment. These centers could conduct research and development in creative recycling of salvage and surplus building materials, to produce marketable products which would strengthen the economic viability of the organization. The centers could also serve as training grounds far neighborhood residents and young people. In time, these workshops would be magnets of creative work, social hubs of inspiration and communication.

Urban Barnraising

Despite the evolution of human habitat-making into a function of elite patronage, building traditions which engender cooperative participation and community are still alive. The old American tradition of barnraising, for example, generates cooperative spirit and sense of community. A farmer alone was unable to carry the long, heavy beams necessary for the barn. In order to survive, European settlers had to engage in mutual aid and erect each barn as a cooperative effort. As they worked together, they experienced their interdependence. Though Africans and Native Americans were excluded from these barnraisings, they had their own traditions of barnraising.

Our disintegrating urban habitats with their multitudes of unemployed and homeless people are the new frontiers for restoration and urban barnraising. Restoration efforts should aspire toward environmentally, economically and socially sustainable development at the grassroots level. Urban barnraisings can be inspiring, celebratory events, bringing together large numbers of people to work cooperatively.

Affirmation of cultural pluralism at the grassroots is beginning to transform the image of urban neighborhoods. Ethnic, lifestyle and religious diversity is becoming impressively visible through large murals, building design, and public open spaces. With the passage of time the colorful richness of human expression can imbue the fabric of peoples' habitat with the vibrant spectrum of the rainbow.

The rigor and discipline of restoration work, and the cooperative spirit that barnraisings engender, promise to prepare a fertile soil for the growth of community among people, the very roots of democracy.

Cultural Diversity       ?õ¬?       Vol. 1 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1990

Earth Day (Spring 1990)

Volume 1, No.1 (Spring 1990)








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 In this issue...

1   The Need for New Coalitions

     by David Brower

1   A Statement of Purpose
     by Carl Anthony and Luke Cole

3   Women, Home & Community: The Struggle in an Urban Environment
     by Cynthia Hamilton

4   A Challenge to the Environmental Movement
     by Victor Lewis

5   Why African Americans Should Be Environmentalists
     by Carl Anthony

7   Freeways, Community & "Environmental Racism"
     by Gar Smith

8   Environmental Groups Told They Are Racist in Hiring

8   A Short List of Resources Organizations for Grassroots Environmental Activists
     by Sanford Lewis

9   No Deposit, No Return
     by Paul Ruffins

14 U.S. Forest Service Hosts African-American Leaders

14 Resource Groups

15 Job Opportunities

15 Reportback

15 Upcoming Events

17 Resources

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 multi-cultural 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 challenges there is, 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.

Earth Day    |    Vol. 1 No. 1     |      April 1990

A Statement of Purpose

The idea for the Race, Poverty & the Environment 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 RPE 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.

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 and upcoming events of interest, profiles of activists; for constructive criticism of our communal efforts; for mailing lists of people who should receive the RPE 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 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 RPE Newsletter will cover pro-active 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 (see, for example, "No Deposit, No Return," on page nine). We must work together in the future.

Several procedural points:

Time. We are proposing that the RPE 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.

Special thanks to the authors of the pieces in RPE, and to Arthur Monroe, Karl Linn, Ellie Goodwin, Johanna Wald, Izzy Martin, Craig Breon, Marta Salinas, Bob Bullard, Eleanor Waldon, Daniel Suman, Robin Cannon, Lori- Ann Thrupp, Cordell Reagon, Ralph Abascal, Marion Standish, Jod Padilla, Halima al Zahid, Arnhara Hicks, Jerry Poje, Indra Mungal, Mary James, Justin Lowe, Brad Erikson, Robin Freeman, Rachael Steinberg, Rev. Dan Buford and Steve Rauh. This is what we are thinking. Let us know what you are thinking...

Earth Day       ?õ¬?       Vol. 1 No. 1      ?õ¬?       April 1990