Posts Tagged ‘environmental justice’

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By: Sarah Marin

Every tenth year ending in zero, the U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the population be taken. This once-in-a-decade count works to collect statistical data of the lives of more than 331 million Americans to create a clearer picture of where, who, and how we live. While these population counts directly affect how District of Columbia Ward and ANC boundaries are drawn and how the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned, it will also determine how more than $1 trillion in federal spending will be allocated towards states and localities, and thus plays a critical role in health and environmental justice in our communities.

The deadline to complete the Census is soon approaching and is set to close October 31, 2020. With a population of just over 705,000 in 2019, (a 19% jump from the approximately 605,000 counted in the 2010 Census,) federal dollars flowing to the District will continue to rise. According to the DC Policy Center, the District of Columbia has received approximately $6 billion every year following the 2010 census. The funds allocated through the census over the past decade have supported more than 55 programs that directly and indirectly impact every resident of the District including: Medicaid, the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), Section 8 and public housing assistance, highway and road construction, community facilities development and critical wildlife, environmental, and public health programs to name just a few. 

With so much at stake in the 2020 Census, it is crucial that every District of Columbia resident is counted. The good news is, as of October 12, 2020, D.C.’s enumerated percentage of housing units counted was 99.9%; however, self-reporting counts and count concerns for the city’s homeless population continue to underscore long-standing disparities in representation, environmental justice, and access to services for those who rely on them the most.

DC currently ranks 34th in “self-response rates,” with only 63.5% of households self-reporting. Notably, the census tracts in the northwest areas of the City have self-reporting rates far outpacing the areas to the southeast. For instance, the census tract with the highest self-reporting is Tract 10.03 in NW (Ward 3) with a rate of 90.5% and 84.1% reporting by internet for the first time. This rate is more than 60% higher than the tracts with the lowest self-reporting; at 25.7% self reporting with only 21.8% by internet in Tract 23.02 in NE (Ward 5) and 28.6% self-reporting with 17.9% by internet in Tract 74.01 in SE (Ward 8).

Interestingly, yet unsurprisingly, these low reporting tracts have some of the highest poverty rates in the city. While the average rate of poverty across the District is 13.5%, Tracts 23.02 and 74.01 have 18.3% and 70% of their populations living below the poverty line, respectively. These tracts are also located in some of the most environmentally unjust areas of the city, with Tract 74.01 adjacent to the Navy Yard toxic waste site and Tract 23.02 in close proximity to one of the city’s five trash transfer stations, the Fort Totten Transfer Station.

While just a few small examples, these figures directly highlight bleak patterns in access and equity for DC’s marginalized communities who may have limited access to internet or phone services or lack permanent housing. Community membership includes people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with limited English, and other marginalized groups traditionally undercounted. It is our responsibility to make sure that every D.C. resident is counted to help close these longstanding gaps that make the need for funds apportioned through the Census more important than ever!

UPDATE (as of 10/20): The Trump Administration closed the 2020 Census on 10/15/2020. However, DC EcoWomen felt the content of this blog was still vital and deserved to be shared with the community.

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Sarah Marin is an Associate and Client Services Manager at Sustainable Strategies DC and a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she studied International Affairs with concentrations in Environmental Studies and Public Health. Sarah is passionate about developing equitable and sustainable cities that support vibrant communities and a thriving, healthy planet for all. 

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By: Margaret Morgan-Hubbard

I am the daughter of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped the holocaust and landed in NYC in the mid 1930’s. Farming may not be in my blood, but fighting for justice certainly is part of my inheritance.  I aim to expand equity and justice, while protecting and restoring the environment. 

While working at the University of Maryland, I formed the Engaged University (EU) to make the University more accountable and responsive to our local community. I began to focus particularly on community health, food and the environment, because I discovered the systemic neglect and abuse inflicted by industrial food production on local people and the land. I wanted to explore ways I could act locally and impact globally.  

In 2007, I started the Masterpeace Community Farm. The goal of the project was to create a communal space that enabled the growth of middle school youth, college students, and local community residents, primarily of African and Latinx heritage. My staff and I found the young people’s positive response to growing, preparing, and eating healthy food especially intriguing.

When the University of Maryland defunded the project, a few of us decided to continue our food justice work through the non-profit we formed called Engaged Community Offshoots, or ECO. Ultimately, our work evolved into ECO City Farms. 

When we began ECO, we secured an agreement with the chief dietitian of the Prince George’s Public School System to supply seasonal organic vegetables for a salad bar at William Wirt Middle School. Although this agreement was never honored, we were able to leverage the commitment to secure land from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission as well as funding from a number of area foundations for the farm. 

Losing Masterpeace Community Farm solidified our determination to own the land for ECO. We located a perfect site— a residential house in a low food access/low income neighborhood with a large back yard where food had been grown for decades. 

When I met with the Planning Office and local Council members, I was informed that I could never build hoop houses nor create a commercial urban farm in a residential neighborhood, and that urban farming was  not a legal land use in the County. Nevertheless, I persisted.   I continued to insist on meetings with planning supervisors, and then their bosses, going higher and higher up the chain of command. After a series of such meetings, I finally reached a director who publicly declared: “This woman is never going to go away, so let’s just give her some parkland on which to farm!” I was escorted to the Parks Division and spent many hours looking over maps to find a suitable site. 

The land I ultimately secured for ECO was just two blocks away from the land I tried to purchase, and it was free. However, the use agreement was only good for one year and the land had a tennis court in front of it that the town hoped to redevelop. Nevertheless, we built our farm and immediately began growing and selling food. 

Local politicians were so impressed with our achievements that by the end of the year, we were able to achieve a number of things, including: negotiating a 15-year renewable use agreement, expanding onto the obsolete tennis court, building a processing kitchen out of a shipping container, and renting the first floor of a Parks & Recreation Division house for our offices, less than a mile from the farm. After months of persistent advocacy and the struggle, the County code was changed to allow urban farming, along with its accompanying infrastructure, in almost every zone of Prince George’s County.

With land secured, funds raised and basic infrastructure built, we imagined that all we had left to do was grow good food for our healthy-food-deprived neighbors and they would come. But nothing is that simple. 

While there is certainly a need for healthy locally grown food in every community everywhere, there is often a disconnect between the food we grew and the eating habits, purchasing practices, cooking skills and desires of the community where that food is grown. Our clientele was rarely the predominantly working class Latinx residents who neighbored the farm.

Over ten long years, with many advances and setbacks, ECO has become the première urban farm in the metropolitan DC region, employing 7 people—mainly women– full time and exposing hundreds of people yearly to the art and science of urban growing. We have taught many hundreds of DC area residents, aspiring farmers and their families through community-based experiential learning courses at our farm– incorporating cultivating and harvesting vegetables, cooking, nutrition, composting, herbalism, business skills and responsible environmental stewardship. 

We’ve exposed many hundreds of area school children to environmental education and conduct 6-week-long youth summer employment programs every year, including this one. We’ve engaged hundreds of area college students in programs about healthy eating and active living. We’ve held dozens of community events, poetry readings, festivals and celebrations. 

Together with Prince George’s Community College, we’ve issued a Certificate of Completion in Commercial Urban Agriculture to the hundreds of trainees who attend our courses and we are just now completing the fourth of a six-year USDA grant to train urban farmers to fulfill ECO’s mission to “grow great food, farms and farmers.”  

We’ve managed to keep our farms open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing practices that maintain social distancing amongst staff, customers and apprentices.  Simultaneously, we’ve provided affordable weekly farm shares to 70 local families and supply free weekly shares to 25-40 area senior households.

We helped to found the Prince George’s Food Equity Council to advocate for the policy change that is needed to make food production, distribution and consumption more equitable.  Our goal is to undo the damage wrought by the plantation economy, persistent racism, the  devastation of the environment and the industrialization of the food system.

Despite all of our collaborative work to date, urban farms have not proliferated as rapidly as we initially imagined; few children get to eat healthy, fresh, locally grown foods at school; most families do not know where their food comes from or how it is produced; small scale farming is only marginally economically viable; and few public resources are devoted to ensuring that toxic-free food is a human right.

I am proud that after 10 years of hard work and persistence, ECO City Farms still exists as a model of what is possible. And I am excited that when we advertise  our training to students now, the majority of our responders are women of color of all ages who want to ensure their food is toxic-free and grown by people they trust, and who earn a living wage. But there are still very few new urban farms, and many financial and other impediments to becoming a full-time urban farmer. 

I know that I and my partners in this struggle cannot rest until truly sustainable urban farms pepper the landscape of Maryland and beyond, and that everyone who wants to grow food, for themselves and/or others, has the opportunity, means, resources and know-how to do so. 

Please join me in this effort. Let me know what steps you are taking to make your local food system more just, equitable and healthy for all.  [email protected]

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder of ECO City Farms in 2010, is a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and friend of the earth, who has lived in the DC area since 1982. ECO is the premier nonprofit urban teaching and learning farm in Prince George’s County that grows great food, farms and farmers in ways that protect, restore and sustain the natural environment. Working with area children, youth and adults, ECO educates and trains the area’s next generation of area urban farmers and eaters.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Taking Stock: A vision for an economic recovery that puts workers and the climate first

By: Jessica Eckdish

This month we celebrated Labor Day, an important day to honor and celebrate America’s workers and the contributions of the labor movement to our country. As we are also nearing the end of the current presidential term, it’s an important opportunity to take stock of the direction we’re heading and whether the path we’re on is working. 

It’s not.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll and is nowhere close to done. America has surpassed 7 million cases and 200,000 deaths, millions of people have lost jobs and remain unemployed, and workers continue to struggle to stay safe and healthy on the job.

We went into this pandemic with three ongoing interconnected crises: economic inequality, racial inequality, and climate change. The pandemic has cast a harsh spotlight on just how severe and disproportionate the impacts of these crises are.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, “the bottom 90% of the American workforce has seen their pay shrink radically as a share of total income,” from 58% in 1979 to 47% in 2015. That is almost $11,000 per household. There is a direct correlation with the decrease of worker power, as the share of workers in a union fell from 24% in 1979 to under 11% now.

And the deck has been stacked against people of color. Data point after data point illustrates exactly how unequal our economy is. Regardless of education level, black workers are far more likely to be unemployed than white workers, and black workers are paid on average 73 cents to the dollar compared to white workers. The wage gap persists regardless of education, and even with advanced degrees black workers make far less than white workers. 

The systemic racism inherent in our society has proved deadly for black Americans, who regardless of making up just 12.5% of the U.S. population, represent 22.4% of COVID-19 deaths. And among those aged 45-54, Black and Hispanic/Latino death rates are at least six times higher than for whites. 

We’ve seen clearly just how dangerous the status quo is. We need to move urgently towards economic recovery. At the same time, we know that returning to “normal” is not good enough. We have to do better.

Last summer, the BlueGreen Alliance alongside our labor and environmental partners released Solidarity for Climate Action, a first of its kind platform recognizing that the solutions to economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change have to be addressed simultaneously. With COVID-19 worsening these crises, the vision of Solidarity for Climate Action is more important now than ever.

We can tackle economic recovery in a way that achieves multiple goals simultaneously—we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change, deliver public health and environmental benefits, create and maintain good, union jobs, address economic and racial injustice, and create a cleaner, stronger, and more equitable economy for all.

Here’s how we can do that:

In addition to prioritizing frontline workers’ and vulnerable communities’ health and safety, recovery efforts must prioritize equitable rebuilding and investments in workers and communities that need it most, especially low-income communities, communities of color, and deindustrialized communities. Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. We must inject justice into our nation’s economy.

We must invest in our infrastructure. From our failing roads and bridges and water systems to our buildings, electric grid, and transportation systems, infrastructure investments will boost our economy and create millions of jobs, while also reducing pollution.

We need to support and retool America’s manufacturing sector, which took a major hit during the pandemic. Making a major reinvestment in transforming heavy industry and retooling to build more of the clean products, materials, and technologies of the future here can provide pathways to good family-supporting jobs and strong domestic supply chains while reducing growing climate emissions. 

The pandemic exposed the inadequate investments we’ve made in our public sector. We need to rebuild and invest in our health care systems, public health agencies, education, and community-based services to be better prepared for disasters like COVID-19 or natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. We also must rebuild and expand the social safety net—including pensions, healthcare, and retirement security—and ensure and enforce worker and community health and safety.

We also have to ensure these investments support and create local jobs with fair wages and benefits and safe working conditions, create economic opportunity for all people in the communities in which they reside, and meet forward-thinking environmental standards to ensure resiliency. 

By making smart investments where they are most needed, ensuring that economic and racial justice are core principles in all we do, and rebuilding with the reality of climate change at the forefront, we can and will build a fairer, more sustainable, and just future for America.

Jessica Eckdish, Legislative Director with the BlueGreen Alliance, writes about how labor and environment can come together to create a “cleaner, stronger, and more equitable economy for all.” This roadmap to economic recovery could allow us to achieve multiple goals related to climate change, public health, and the environment, as well as the creation of good union jobs that address economic and racial justice. 

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Eight Black Women who have impacted the environmental movement in Washington, D.C.

By Dajah Massey

In recognition of Black History Month, DC EcoWomen celebrates the following eight women for their accomplishments in environmental spaces, their advocacy for the African American community, and their continued impact in the Washington, D.C. area.

Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler confronts DC Mayor Marion Barry, 1978 – photo and caption from https://washingtonparks.net/josephine-butler/

Josephine Butler was born in 1920 in Maryland. She was the daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of slaves. Butler moved to D.C. for medical treatment and then became a community leader, environmental activist, and social change agent in the District. Butler started America’s first union of black female laundry workers and was a major contributor to the desegregation of schools. Butler helped to transform Malcolm X Park, also known as Meridian Hill Park, from one of the most dangerous parks in D.C. to a beautiful oasis by planting trees, providing nighttime neighborhood watches, and hosting community education events. 

In a time when environmentalism was not popular, Butler served as a community health educator for the American Lung Association in D.C. and taught thousands of children about the effects of air pollution. In 1995, she served on the D.C. Coordinating Committee for the International Women’s Year. Butler also became a representative on the Mayor’s Health Planning Advisory Committee and served on the D.C. Human Rights Commission. Today the Josephine Butler Parks Center, which overlooks Meridian Hill Park, stands in her honor. 

Click here to learn more about Butler. 

Rue Mapp

Photo from https://outdoorafro.com/team/

Rue Mapp is the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit organization that connects African Americans with outdoor experiences and aims to change the narrative of who engages in the outdoors. Outdoor Afro has offices in Washington D.C. and Oakland, California. The organization has selected and trained 80 national volunteers and created leadership teams in 30 states – building a powerful network to nurture a community of black outdoor enthusiasts. Mapp first launched Outdoor Afro as a blog in 2009. The organization now has national sponsors and worldwide recognition. Mapp serves on several conservation boards, was part of the team that launched Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, and was appointed program officer for the Stewardship Council’s Foundation for Youth Investment.  She also organized the first all-Black U.S. expedition team to climb Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest freestanding peak. Her proudest accomplishment is being a mother of three. 

Brittany Leavitt

Photo from https://www.britleavitt.com/

Brittany Leavitt is a D.C. influencer — not the social media type, but a real-life changemaker. Leavitt is influencing her community and shaping the minds of D.C.’s youth by teaching preschoolers at the Smithsonian Museum about the natural world. She has also partnered with the North Face and the Girl Scouts to create a new adventure badge that young girls can earn. In addition to mentorship, she is a REI instructor and leads climbing, backpacking, and hiking classes. Her purpose is to build spaces for Blacks, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to enjoy the outdoors. Brittany was part of the Outdoor Afro first all-black climbing group to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Through her variety of partnerships, she is diversifying the climbing community. 

Kari Fulton

Photo from https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4693971/user-clip-climate-change-protest

Kari Fulton may be young, but her accomplishments and contributions to the environmental movement are not adolescent. She co-founded the Loving Our City, Loving Ourselves (LOCLOS) campus and community initiative, to build stronger campus and community solidarity on issues of concern in the Washington, D.C. area. She served as the Energy Action Coalition Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator for the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. She supported and trained hundreds of young people at more than 50 universities, and has become a pioneer organizer working to build up the youth climate movement amongst young people of color, in particular, students at historically black colleges and universities. She is currently a Class of 2020 National Urban Fellow at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, and a Master of Public Management candidate, as well as a Policy Fellow with the Climate Justice Alliance. 

Fulton said: “My hope was for people of color and low-income individuals to get information that will help them take advantage of the growing green movement so that they are not left behind economically or environmentally.” 

 

Lisa Perez Jackson

 Photo from https://archive.epa.gov/epa/aboutepa/administrator-lisa-p-jackson-2009-2013.html

Lisa Perez Jackson is a Princeton University alumnus and a chemical engineer who served as the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 2009 to 2013. She is the first African American to have held that position.  According to the EPA, she “outlined principles to modernize our nation’s 30-year-old chemical management laws, called for unprecedented innovation in drinking water protection efforts, and announced tough standards to clean the air we breathe.” During her time with the EPA, she improved environmental regulation policies and supported communities that were historically underrepresented in environmental initiatives such as low-income areas and vulnerable age groups. Today, Jackson works as Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. Each day, she strives to transform Apple into a more environmentally conscious company. 

Dr. Adrienne Hollis

Photo from https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/adrienne-hollis

Dr. Adrienne Hollis has always been an academic with a passion for the environment. She holds a doctorate degree in biomedical sciences and a law degree with a concentration in environmental law. Dr. Hollis worked on environmental issues in her postdoctoral studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, was employed as a Supervisory Environmental Health Scientist and Toxicologist (Section Chief) at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, worked as a Project Attorney at Earthjustice, a premier non-profit public interest law firm, and was the Director of Federal Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, in their Washington, D.C. office. Her positions have allowed her to make great contributions and changes within various environmental fields. Today, Dr. Hollis is the Senior Climate Justice and Health Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). She leads the development, design, and implementation of methods for accessing and documenting the health impacts of climate change on communities of color and other traditionally disenfranchised groups. 

Jacqueline Patterson

Photo from https://collegian.com/2016/09/jacqueline-patterson-speaks-about-environmental-injustice-at-diversity-symposium/

As Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Environmental and Climate Justice program, Jacqueline Patterson helps the organization achieve its three major goals: to reduce harmful emissions, particularly greenhouse gases, advance energy efficiency and clean energy, and strengthen community resilience and livability. Patterson has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist for women’s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice.

Leslie G. Fields, Esq.

 Photo from https://www.sierraclub.org/environmental-justice/staff

Leslie Fields, Esq. is another D.C. environmental powerhouse serving multiple organizations to bring environmental improvement and social justice to our nation. Fields is a graduate of Cornell University and the Georgetown University Law Center and the current senior director of Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities for the Sierra Club. She is the former international director of Friends of the Earth-US in Washington, D.C. and is currently an adjunct law professor at Howard University School of Law. Fields serves as a Commissioner on the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies’ Commission to Engage African Americans on Energy, Climate and the Environment. In a recent interview with The Trouble, Fields said: “What we’re trying to do is work with all kinds of communities to push reducing carbon emissions and remedying in an equitable way, not just marketing solutions that are going to leave communities of color behind. We’ve got all kinds of problems, food justice issues, gentrification—all the stuff in this direct line. We can’t create any kind of solution without dealing with the legacy pollution.”  

Dajah Massey is an environmental engineer and STEM advocate who is passionate about improving our environment and informing underrepresented communities about career options within engineering and STEM fields.  She is also involved with brand management, print modeling, and women empowerment initiatives. 

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 , , , , , , | Comments Off on What Every EcoWoman Should Know About the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

By Sonia Abdulbaki

I recently wrote an article on the DC EcoWomen blog regarding the global concern of water shortage. I quote myself saying, “Luckily for us, water is a luxury available with a turn of a faucet.” Suffice to stay, I stand corrected, and have the account of the 100,000 Flint, Michigan residents to back up my claim.

You also might be wondering, where is Erin Brockovich when you need her? Well, she was right there, raising awareness on several cases of water contamination, including the recent water pollution crisis in Flint. She also brought it to the attention of President Obama, who then declared the issue a state of emergency.

According to MLive, on January 18, 2016 about 100 protesters in Ann Arbor called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the state's handling of the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Snyder lives in Ann Arbor.

According to MLive, on January 18, 2016 about 100 protesters in Ann Arbor called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the state’s handling of the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Snyder lives in Ann Arbor.

The gist of it

Before the President had a hand in the matter, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency in December 2015. What started two years ago as a pursuit to supply water independent of Detroit to save money transpired into a water pollution crisis.

Lead from the old pipes seeped into the Flint River and citizens knew that if the water looked, smelled and tasted wrong, then something was wrong. Although the move to locally sourced water was planned as a temporary one, its expiration date came earlier than anticipated.

The event was accompanied by longer lasting effects, including the rising lead levels shown in children’s blood tests. Increased levels of lead can result in behavioral changes and negatively influence neurological development. Brockovich pleaded for action, with claims that the legionnaire’s disease was another outcome of the crisis.

Damage control

Once the news was out, the city turned back to Detroit’s water system to put things back on track. Regardless, officials responded slowly. Accountability, as well as the damage that remained, needed to be acknowledged.

Flint’s mayor set out to replace the pipes with a $55 million plan. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, turned to the National Guard for help in giving Flint citizens clean water. The time it will take to achieve this goal is unknown. President Obama aided with $5 million and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 75% of water related costs.

In the meantime, residents were taking action, obtaining water through filters and bottles and more seriously, filing a class-action lawsuit against political officials. The crisis was reported to have lasted for months, yet lawsuits are claiming that the state knew about the contamination for about one year.

Lawsuits may address accountability but major concerns remain, such as improving infrastructure and the accompanying cost, serious health risks and thorough investigation in order to stop it from happening in the future.

Erin Brockovich, an Eco-woman to be reckoned with

Erin BrockovichYou might remember her from the movie, starring Julia Roberts, as a single mother struggling to find a job, which led her to investigate a case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. She discovered that land in the area was poisoning the residents, contaminated by a deadly toxic waste that the company was illegally dumping. She led her law firm into one of the largest class action lawsuits in the country’s history, one involving a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Yes, real woman, real story.

That was a couple of decades ago, and Brockovich is still on the move. She continues to fight for residents nationwide against toxic environments through her influence. Her voice resonates with the half a million followers on her social media, a platform that brought the Flint crisis to the media and government officials’ attention. Brockovich spoke out for Flint by calling out businesses, councils and the slow government response.

And yet, it is merely one of the hundreds of others in the nation whose water systems also are failing.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and MovieswithMae.com.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Why Should You Care About Equity Over Equality in Environmental Work?

By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Among other things, the EcoWomen Community is a network of change agents and activists who take on the cause of healthy and balanced society. We convene to learn from one another, support individual development and sustain a growing community of professional women.

As a member of the DC chapter, I have firsthand knowledge of our collective skill in developing relationships for lasting growth, power and access for women across sectors.

This post compares two conceptual frameworks we apply to the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges that underlie our pursuit for a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. To reach these noble aims, we must scrutinize our individual perspective by looking more closely at the ignoble status quo.

We all think we want equality, right? To avoid zero-sum outcomes we must look at the currency and costs for everyone involved. And that requires us to opt for equity instead.

Advice photo

Equity and equality: do they mean what you think they mean?

Equality is the quality or state of being equal; the feature or status of having the same rights, social status, etc., whereas equity is demonstrating fair treatment of people within relative circumstances. Superficially, the ideas seem virtually identical– honorable, proper, even moral. However, in real life, the difference can contribute to detrimental outcomes for vulnerable people.

Let’s agree to think of equality as fairness, based on a presumption of sameness. It aims for equal treatment through equal access to a tool, medium or a resource. Whereas, equity is akin to justice, a more contextualized form of access; it considers the circumstances and background of everyone involved, exercising deference to each.

To think about it abstractly, equality is like the golden rule and equity is more like the platinum rule, if such a thing exists. Equity treats people how they would like with the understanding that resources, benefits, and burdens are meted out based on culturally derived and defined differences.

Metaphorically speaking, equality gives everyone a boat, whereas equity ensures that each boat, based on its location, is able to make it to shore in light of the conditions facing it.

Why should you care about equity over equality in environmental work?

Umm…to avoid silos. Environmental work does not occur in a closed universe, but in interrelated systems. As such, we work on improving the quality and impact of specific efforts to protect the whole environment and we do it as women of intersection, bringing our entire selves to the site of our resistance (air, conservation, oceans).

Women-Empowerment-Stock-PhotosIn order to make substantial impacts, we must see one another beyond silos in the context of our American life – in light of our intentional, persistent and inglorious history of unequal distribution.

In the rush to save the planet, we should avoid greenwashing the past, which is full of poor land use decisions, wasteful, destructive, polluting activity, and excessive burdens stacked on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. We must look at it all, in policy and practice, in order to make it together into the future.

What does equity look like?

Acknowledgment, assessment and dismantling of privilege.

Equity as a practice involves habitual refocusing on those persons, communities, and groups at risk in a given action. It means taking steps to provide relative access to a right or a benefit that may be available to all, with the knowledge that all things are not equal.

Equity demands recognition of systematic privilege created for the benefit of some and a willingness to address the corresponding burdens for those that are not privileged. The disenfranchisement accumulates at the same rate as the advantage for those the system of privilege is designed to serve.

zen-garden-stone-stack-26870677

Further, equitable practice means engaging the past. It means re-balancing norms that perpetuate present and continuing harms. And a sober assessment of policies that protect privilege and create inequity followed by corrective actions that dismantle the systems that safeguard the inequity.

Equity in green spaces

So, what does equity look like in our work? Program and policy initiatives that seek to understand the lived experience of disenfranchised groups and communities. This includes analyzing the current array of economic and environmental health, programs, as well as land use and transportation decision-making strategies.

Equity forces us to question the present day make up of advocates for under-served groups, and it takes cues from affected people when targeting issues of concerns on their behalf. Resulting methods should incorporate community knowledge into the baseline factors that determine where to allocate our dollars, what problems to address and who is employed to respond to identified problems. And all of this must come with a conscious excising of bastions of privilege and redistribution of resources as a matter of economic policy aimed at offsetting wrongs.

Environmental equity looks like parity, in processes that determine who bares the impacts and burdens of an action, project or an undertaking. It takes shape in policy, in the development and enforcement of legal boundaries that actively protect against shifting pollution or hazards from one group onto another.

In effect, it is environmental justice.

Equality in green spaces

To be clear, equality isn’t malevolence, it’s just not enough. Access, even equal access, can be a well-meaning and sincere disservice.

Unless it is coupled with equivalent ways and means, we cannot realize the dream of unfettered, healthy contact with nature. Unless we create space for environmental work that reaches the under-served, as they exist, and not as we would make them we waste our efforts developing climate justice tools, education and policy.

green harony imagesOtherwise, the work has no effect in spaces beyond our present influence. We run the risk of deepening injustice, and miss the opportunity to affect positive change. And isn’t the point of social justice work: to reach a future where we achieve sustainable access for everyone?

For more information and resources on these topics check out the following resources on privilege, and equity.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga. 

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on DC EcoWomen’s EcoHour with Talia Buford

By Sonia Abdulbaki

DC EcoWomen is a group with a mission “to provide an educational forum for women that empowers women to become leaders in the environmental community and the world.”

Women. Environment. Community.

9RTw2657The monthly EcoHour event sets out to empower these words and apply the mission statement by inviting accomplished speakers to inspire other women with their stories. Talia Buford, a successful Black American environmental journalist, was invited to speak at the September EcoHour event to share her experience with us.

Buford received a degree in journalism from Hampton University and then went on to acquire a master’s degree in law from the Georgetown University Law Center. Currently, she is a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and formerly an energy reporter for Politico, where she covered natural gas and the Department of Interior and authored the daily Afternoon Energy newsletter. Prior to that, she held a position as legal affairs and municipal reporter for The Providence (R.I.) Journal. The Rhode Island Press Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Foundation have all recognized her work.

Buford spoke fondly of her work at her hometown newspaper in Michigan because it reflected her community. It was while working there that she was exposed to the environmental justice reality created by a power plant near her neighborhood. The issue was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is still pending for 17 years to date. This issue hit close to home and motivated Buford to investigate on more of the same and to make sure the public and communities like her own were informed.

Her work as a reporter for The Providence Journal was described as tedious and prolonged, taking the immediacy out of journalism. She expressed that sitting in court, vigorously reporting on cases through serial narratives, was not her calling. Instead, she shifted her focus to reporting on environmental justice and labor issues; those topics have always appealed to her, especially because her loved ones were directly affected by these issues. Buford’s approach was informative, humble and relatable.

"It's important to see women as journalists. It's important to see people of color as journalists. It's because we tell different stories, and that's valuable." - Talia Buford at ??EcoHour?

“It’s important to see women as journalists. It’s important to see people of color as journalists. It’s because we tell different stories, and that’s valuable.”

Recently, Buford reported on the EPA Office of Civil Rights’ response to environmental justice issues. She unearthed various civil rights complaints that were made to the EPA since 1964 that had never been addressed or thoroughly investigated. EPA is reforming their approach, especially with the ability to submit complaints online.

Other issues she has covered include vital pesticide regulation in California, radioactive dumping in New Mexico and issues surrounding the EPA’s environmental racism.

She expressed the importance of journalism, to her community and to her own identity as a Black American woman. The advice she gave EcoWomen was to advocate for ourselves, something she wishes she’d known to do at the start of her career.

Buford was a lovely speaker who spoke with a natural conviction that will resonate with the community of environmental women.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and contributing editor for MovieswithMae.com.