Archive for January 2019 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on SW Community Stands Up to Companies in Classic Environmental Justice Case

By Claire Jordan, NeRAC volunteer and DC EcoWomen board member

When people in Washington, DC think of Southwest DC, they probably think of Nationals Park, the new DC United Stadium, Superior Concrete Materials, and the construction of the new Frederick Douglas Bridge. Most people, however, don’t think of the Buzzard Point community in DC or the organizing group Near Buzzard Point Resilient Action Committee (NeRAC).

NeRAC officially began in 2017 but has been in the works for much longer. Founded and run by three DC women (Rhonda Hamilton, Kari Fulton, and Alisha Camacho), NeRAC is organizing Buzzard Point community members around the atrocious environmental injustices occurring because of the rampant and unchecked development.

NeRAC’s mission is to “build a resilient community by addressing and solving issues affecting near Buzzard Point residents in Washington, DC.” Its goal is to “empower residents, improve air quality, and improve and secure housing.” It is a think tank of residents, community partners, and experts working together to address pressing issues near Buzzard Point, Washington DC, and tackles air pollution, public health, and housing problems.

Some may see the new development in Buzzard Point as a positive contribution to this community, but with new development and construction comes compromised air quality and very sick residents who weren’t consulted on these development projects. The construction and increased traffic have created dust storms and dangerous levels of particulate matter in the air. Buzzard Point residents are having trouble breathing, asthma flare-ups, and burning sensations in their eyes. So, while people all over the city come to the Buzzard Point Community to experience the new development, residents are left to deal with the very serious health ramifications.

Rhonda Hamilton, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) representative for Buzzard Point and longtime resident, started working with filmmaker Alisha Camacho and Empower DC organizer Kari Fulton to take stock of the damage in the Buzzard Point Community and organize community members around these issues. Together, they created NeRAC. Today, NeRAC holds regular meetings, testifies in front of the DC City Council and the DC Department of Energy and the Environment, hosts a neighborhood spring cleanup to engage residents on the environmental issues their community faces, and more.

While perhaps unknown to many, the imperative work being done by NeRAC and by the three women founders should not go underestimated. When communities come under attack, we often see women at the forefront leading the charge to defend themselves and their loved ones, and it’s no different this time around.

If you’d like to stay involved and up to date on the fight happening to restore clean air in the Buzzard Point Community, you can follow NeRAC on Facebook and Twitter and attend the monthly meetings. Meeting details are below*.

*NeRAC meets the third Wednesday of every month from 6:30-8:30pm at 1501 Half Street SW, 2nd floor.

Claire Jordan serves on the Professional Development Committee of the DC EcoWomen Board and just recently finished her tenure as advocacy and outreach manager for Trash Free Maryland. Claire lives in Petworth and can be found hanging out at the library, buying tea at Teaism, or riding her bike through Rock Creek Park.

Photo 1:  NeRAC members hand out educational fliers on the issues impacting Buzzard Point to DC United fans as they make their way into the new stadium. Photo taken from NeRAC Twitter Page.
Photo 2: NeRAC Founder Rhonda Hamilton walks with a reporter from the Washington Post around Buzzard Point to showcase the air quality concerns. Photo taken from NeRAC Twitter Page.

posted by | on , , , | 1 comment

By Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist and DC EcoWomen member

I remember a time, growing up in a small rural community in the Caribbean, where my grandfather would disappear into the backyard on Sunday for about an hour and return with a chicken– dead and defeathered– for my grandmother to prepare for lunch. Back then your eggs, peas, and even orange juice came from the backyard. And, if for some reason you didn’t have enough, you called your neighbor over the fence.

These were my first impressions of food and how we eat. Food was not about driving to the grocery store, examining labels, or wondering whether you should pay the extra $2 for the organic version. I may be showing my age here, but while my childhood experience may be from another generation, our food system has changed. Drastically.

Food deserts abound in poorer communities, especially communities of color who, now removed from living in close cooperation with the land — like my grandparents did, fight the challenges of distance and decreasing paychecks to put fresh, healthy foods on their tables. These communities face very real food insecurity challenges that tend to go ignored.

Our diets have also changed. Indigenous varieties of corn, once in shades of black, red or blue have been replaced by yellow– the color corporate agriculture has decided we should prefer. Not only that, but this corn is genetically engineered to resist the pesticides we spray on fields, killing beneficial insects, and poisoning our waterways. Instead of chickens running in open backyards, like those at my grandparent’s house, thousands are crammed into tiny holding cages, often unable to walk and fed antibiotic and hormone-laced grain until they become so large and deformed that they cannot stand.

Let’s face it. The way we grow food and feed our families has changed. And while we are told large monoculture fields, factory farms, intensive chemical application, and corporate takeover of our seed banks is the way we will feed a growing global population, we are beginning to see the ravages industrial agriculture places on our environment and farmworker health.

However, there are sustainable ways we can grow our food system, put healthy foods on our tables, eliminate food deserts, and take pride in the stewardship of the land. Taking the lead are often small beginning farmers, many of whom are farmers of color returning to the ways our grandparents farmed with a few tweaks of their own. These farmers, along with farmer-led organizations that support them, are building collaborative networks in their communities integrating sustainable food production that enhances the environment and social health of people, while improving safe handling, distribution, and consumption of the food they produce.

African-American, Latinx, Native-American, Hmong farmers and others are finding ways to reintroduce indigenous varieties of fresh and healthy food back into their communities. These farmers are building their skills, training other farmers, focusing on building healthy soil, conserving water, and providing habitat for wildlife. They are in rural and urban communities, in food hubs, farmer’s markets, community gardens. They are involved with groups like the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS), bringing together farmers of color, educators, chefs and food justice advocates around conversations like, “Where does our food come from and who provides it?” and “Why don’t we see more Black farmers at the farmer’s markets?”

Unfortunately, at the national level, these farmers are often overlooked for federal funding to expand and retain their operations. For many years, federal policies did not grant the levels of support to farmers of color as they did to their white counterparts. This inequity has historically led farmers of color — often cash-strapped and unable to access credit or pay back loans — to lose their farms, pushing them out of business.

But things are changing and many organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, and others, are working on policy to increase farmers of color’s access to agriculture research and funding to sustain their farms. In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that oversees much of U.S. agriculture. There are some significant improvements to programs that support agriculture research for organic and sustainable systems, which will help beginning, underserved/farmers of color, and veteran farmers. These improvements include more funding for training and support. With new funds, these farmers will be able to get the support they need and help feed their communities.

The diversity of what we eat should be reflected by diversity in our food system and the farmers and workers who put food on our tables. A movement of farmers of color are primed to do just that while challenging our relationship with food. Will you join us?

Learn more about these farmers and organizations. Support sustainable food systems that also fight for food justice for all. Recommended Resources: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS) https://www.blackurbangrowers.org/; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition http://sustainableagriculture.net/; Rural Coalition https://www.ruralco.org/

Nichelle Harriott has spent 10+ years working to educate consumers about the food they eat and advance environmental health and agriculture policy. She is currently a policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and lives in Maryland where she plans her next travels.

Photo credits: Pixabay, USDA

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How Online Campaigns Can Spark Action on Environmental Issues

By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member

2019: it’s the start of a new year and anything is possible! Let this fresh start motivate you to push for more climate action this year. It’s no time to give up, since your voice is needed more than ever. But where to begin?

Look no further: the device you’re using right now can be the starting point for fresh activism in the new year. Online actions can be a crucial part of sparking action on environmental issues. Sometimes they get a bad rap — hence the “clicktivism” pejorative — but the truth is, digital and social media can reach more people at a faster rate than traditional media, educating them and inspiring further action. Don’t believe me? Here are 7 ways digital campaigns helped spur on real change.

1. LEGO: Everything is NOT Awesome

Everything is awesome? Not when you’re a kids’ company partnering with Big Oil. Greenpeace’s emotional video took Lego to task for its $116 million partnership with Shell, a company drilling in the Arctic — devastating the climate for the kids who play with its toys. After just three months and a million people showing their support, Lego ended the partnership. Meanwhile, Shell has halted its Arctic drilling exploration.

2. Clean Power Plan

Did you know the EPA received 1.6 million public comments about the Clean Power Plan — a landmark regulation that placed limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants? As part of the federal rulemaking process, the public can submit comments to communicate their support for or reasons against a proposed regulation. Democracy! And in this modern age, you can do it online through regulations.gov.

Nonprofits and organizations across the country banded together to encourage as many Americans as possible to share their support for cleaner power and reducing carbon pollution from power plants.Today, the fate of the Clean Power Plan is in limbo, and the current administration is working on new rulemaking to replace it. If and when that happens, you’ll likely have a chance to get active online and demand stronger carbon pollution regulations. Follow the experts at Union of Concerned Scientists or Environmental Defense Fund to stay updated.

3. Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement — a worldwide commitment signed by 193 countries who promised to decrease carbon emissions in order to prevent climate catastrophe — is the biggest step the world has taken to address climate change. And while the US president says he wants to exit, the fact is he can’t — at least not until November 4, 2020.

So how did this global milestone happen? In short, the pressure had been building for years, with time running short on addressing climate change to keep global temperatures under 1.5* Celcius. By 2015, even the Pope got on board with his Laudato si encyclical. Environmental organizations worldwide combined forces to campaign for a strong agreement using online and social media. Together they delivered 6.2 million petition signatures at the United Nations for the start of COP21.

4. Standing Rock

When did you first hear about Standing Rock? Chances are, you first read about it through social media. Do you remember when everyone was ‘checking in’ on Facebook at Standing Rock and changing their status to “I stand with Standing Rock”? In 2016, a million people checked in to show their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) in response to a viral post claiming that police were using Facebook to surveill and target protesters on site. Whether that was the case or not, one thing is sure – it certainly called an exponential amount of attention and support to the issue. This battle may have been lost, but the war wages on.

5. Flint, MI

When the mainstream media outlets weren’t taking notice, social media was lighting up with posts about the #FlintWaterCrisis. The problem in Flint still isn’t solved, but thanks to the spotlight shone on the problem first in social media, more organizations, nonprofits, and even celebrities stepped up to help, mobilizing funds and providing immediate assistance for those in need, likely saving lives in the process.

6. #StopSucking

More recently, one single item has earned the ire of social media gadflies everywhere: the plastic straw, making it the ‘biggest trend of 2018.’ Today, cities, states, and corporations are enacting or considering limits to plastic straws. But where did this momentum come from? In short, it can be traced back to one unfortunate sea turtle. After the video went viral, the Surfrider picked up the #StopSucking banner this year to campaign against straws. Soon after, celebrities and influencers showed their support on social media.

Reducing the unnecessary use of plastic straws is one relatively easy step in the right direction. But it’s only a starting point. Now if only people would also curtail their use of single use plastic cups and bottles too!

What can you do?

If you’d like to join in, there are several ways for you to get involved in 2019. First of all, make sure you’re following organizations working on the issues you’re passionate about on whatever social media you use most. That way, you’ll be in the loop when they have actions for you to make a difference. For instance, you can find DC EcoWomen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and more ways to get involved here.

Another tip: Tag a few of your friends or followers to make sure they get notified when you share an action online. You can also do the same thing by joining a Facebook group focused on your favorite topics, or starting a group chat with a few of your friends who care about the same issue – for example, water issues or reducing single-use plastic. (Just make sure you’re not sending out every message to every one of your friends — no one like a spammer!)

Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.