Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom, eds., Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class and the Environment. Available from UUA Bookstore HERE; from Amazon HERE.This week, chapter 2: Paula Cole Jones, "The Formation of the Environmental Justice Movement."
In 2014, UUs from around the country assembled in Detroit for a "collaboratory" to learn and reflect on our denomination's environmental work. Detroit was a good example of the intersection of environmental issues and urban issues. As local environmental activists showed the UUs around the city, they saw a city
"dominated by abandoned homes, crumbling industrial plants, and sparsely traveled streets."They met people
"fighting for access to municipal water services and the enforcement of clean air stands at recycling plants,"and saw the work to develop "urban agriculture to meet the city's goal of food sovereignty." They witnessed commitment to the principle, "No one is expendable. Everyone matters."
When waste sites and polluting industries are located in poorer and darker communities, this may appear to be following the path of least resistance. But this explanation
"takes the focus off of the systemic nature of oppression; specifically, who gets to make the decisions."It leaves out the role of
"racial and ethnic segregation, income inequality, and limited access to resources and policy makers."The environmental justice movement, still relatively young, corrects this lack. How did this movement emerge?
The post-WWII boom substantially increased both prosperity and industrial waste and pollution. These two factors led to the modern environmental movement, landmarked by the first Earth Day in 1970. The movement was slow, however, to attend to ways entrenched racial inequality affected environmental decisions. Research by African American sociologist Robert Bullard, published in 1983, found that
"African Americans making $50,000 to $60,000 per year are much more likely to live in a polluted environment than poor white families making just $10,000 per year."In 1982, the environmental justice movement broke through to national recognition in a case from Warren County, North Carolina. The sending of PCB-contaminated oil to a landfill in Warren County's poorest and most heavily African American community was resisted by activists seeking to protect their groundwater.
"More than five hundred people were arrested, including Congressman Walter Fauntroy and pastors Benjamin Chavis and Joseph Lowery."A citizen class action suit was filed.
"They did not win the case or stop the landfill, but they successfully launched the environmental justice movement."In 1991, three hundred people of color gathered for the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. The Summit adopted seventeen “Principles of Environmental Justice” which continue to frame and guide the movement.
Paula Cole Jones concludes:
“As Unitarian Universalists continue to work on environmentalism and climate change, we must operate with the knowledge of structured racial and economic inequality so that we are truly confronting oppression and doing our part in building the Beloved Community.”Also read:
- The Seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice adopted at the 1991 Summit: HERE.
- The Environmental Protection Agency’s Eco-Justice 2020 Action Agenda (2016), 66pp.: HERE.
- How well do you know the history of the environmental justice movement? What will you do to become more familiar with this history?
- What do you know about federal and state government actions that ameliorate or exacerbate environmental injustices?
- Are environmental decisions in Westchester County fair and equitable?
- Which communities are at risk? Where do Westchester community officials stand on local environmental justice issues?
- What local organizations have been formed by and for people of color and working-class communities to address environmental racism and classism?
- How can CUUC partner with people of color in our community?
- Who could be invited to speak here about environmental justice?
- What can you do to build relationships, trust, and partnerships that make a difference?
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