article was prepared by the Environmental Justice Resource Center, Clark
several false starts and two years of planning, environmental justice
leaders convened the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership
Summit (Summit II) in Washington, DC. Summit II organizers planned the
four-day meeting for 500 participants. Over 1,200 delegates from grassroots
and community based organizations, faith-based groups, organized labor,
civil rights, youth, and academic institutions made their way to the
nation's capital to participate in the historic gathering. "We
made a special effort to raise funds and outreach to get grassroots
groups and community based organizations to the meeting," said
Beverly Wright, chair of Summit II and director of the Deep South Center
for Environmental Justice at Xavier University in New Orleans. The vast
majority, over 75 percent, of Summit II attendees came from community
II, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel Capitol Hill, October 23 - 27, brought
three generations (elders, seasoned leaders, and youth activists) of
the environmental justice movement together. The "new" faces--persons
who were not present at the First National People of Color Environmental
Leadership Summit held in 1991 - outnumbered the veteran environmental
justice leaders two to one. Summit II attendees came from nearly every
state, including Alaska and Hawaii, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The environmental justice continues to expand and mature. The 1992 People
of Color Environmental Groups Directory listed only 300 environmental
justice groups in the U.S. By 2000, the list had grown to over 1000
groups in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Summit II also had an international flavor with nationalities represented
from throughout North America, the Caribbean, South and Central America,
Asia, Africa, and Europe. Delegates came from places as far-flung as
Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Trinidad, Panama, Colombia, Dominican Republic,
Granada, South Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines, India, Peru, Ecuador,
Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, and the United Kingdom.
Madihlaba traveled all the way from Johannesburg, South Africa to attend
the Summit II. "I wanted to be here because this Summit is an extension
of the work and networking we did at the World Conference Against Racism
and the World Summit on Sustainable Development,"
said Madihlaba, who is the national coordinator with the South African-based
Environmental Justice Networking Forum. "It was truly a global
and multiethnic Summit," said Devon Pena, a Summit II organizer.
Pena is a professor at the University of Washington and a leading environmental
led, moderated, or presented in more than half of the 86 workshops and
plenaries. "Women are the backbone of the environmental justice
movement. We took great care to assure gender balance in all aspects
of the program," said Peggy Shepard of the West Harlem Environmental
Action, Inc. Shepard chaired the Summit II program committee. "The
response from the environmental justice community was incredible. We
had to turn down a dozen or more workshops because we just did not have
the meeting room space to handle all of the requests."
II leaders honored 12 outstanding "sheroes" of the movement
in a Crowning Women Awards Dinner. The awards event was dedicated to
the late Dana Alston and Jean Sindab, two giants in the environmental
justice movement, and other women of color who are deceased and who
dedicated their lives to environmental justice. One of these 12 outstanding
"sheroes", Hazel Johnson of People for Community Recovery
- a Chicago-based grassroots environmental justice organization - was
also awarded the Dana Alston Award. "It's great to see all the
beautiful colors of the rainbow in our movement. When I first got started
working on environmental issues more than two decades ago, it was hard
being the only black face in the sea of white environmentalists,"
and young people have fueled every social movement in the United States
such as the civil rights movement, environmental movement, anti-war
movement, and women's movement. Several hundred youth and students attended
the conference and made their voices heard through a well timed protest
demonstration and long hours of hard work. The young people were able
to incorporate many of their issues and priorities into the program.
an effort to have substantives materials going in and coming out of
the Summit II, a nationwide call for resource policy papers was made
this past Summer. The end result was two-dozen resource papers on subjects
ranging from childhood asthma, energy, transportation, "dirty"
power plants, climate justice, military toxics, clean production, brownfields
redevelopment, sustainable agriculture, human right, occupational health
and safety, and farm workers. The resource papers helped guide the workshops
and hands-on training sessions.
Carrasquillo, an organizer with CATA Farmworker Support Committee, expressed
concern about the slow pace at which basic health and safety standards
are extended to farm workers. "Migrant farm workers are still second
class workers," said Carrasqiullo, who also serves on the Summit
II Executive Committee, the body that planned the meeting. Farm work
is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States. Farm workers
suffer from the highest rate of chemical injuries of any workers in
the United States. EPA estimates that pesticide exposure causes farm
workers and their families to suffer between 10,000 to 20,000 immediate
illnesses annually, and additional thousands of illnesses later in life.
environmental justice movement has made tremendous strides over the
past decade. When the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership
Summit was convened in 1991, there were no environmental justice network
or university based environmental justice centers or environmental justice
legal clinics. Today, there are a dozen EJ networks, four EJ centers,
and growing numbers of university-based legal clinics that have environmental
justice as an emphasis. It is important that we infuse the environmental
justice paradigm throughout the academy," said Bunyan Bryant, a
professor at the University of Michigan. Professor Bryant's program
offers a masters and doctoral degree in environmental justice-the only
such program in the country.
1991, there was only one book published on environmental justice. Today,
there are over 100 books in print on the subject. "We all know
that knowledge is power. It's important that we have researchers, writers,
and academicians at the Summit," said Robert D. Bullard, author
of Dumping in Dixie. "As people of color, we have to document our
struggles and tell our stories." For the first time in the environmental
justice movement's history, six leading environmental justice authors
were brought to the Summit to have a dialogue and discussion on their
books, writings, and research. Much of these authors' work laid the
foundation for environmental justice theory, policy, and legal practice.
general themes emerged from the four-day meeting. There was general
consensus among the Summit II participants that environmental justice
must be a top priority in the 21st century. Despite improvements in
the way government carries out environmental protection, gaps persist.
Community groups are faced with rollbacks and the steady chipping away
at civil liberties, basic civil and human rights, and environmental
delegates called for youth and students to be integrated into the leadership
of the environmental justice movement. "Growing new leaders must
be a top priority of the movement. Leadership by example and mentoring
will go a long way in training young people to take up the torch of
environmental justice," said Angelo Pinto, a youth delegate and
student at Clark Atlanta University.
a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-issue, anti-racist movement is not
easy. Much work is still needed to build trust, mutual respect, and
principled relationships across racial, ethnic, cultural, gender, and
age lines. These issues were around long before the 1991 Summit. They
were present at Summit II. And they permeate the larger society. Language
and cultural barriers still hinder communication across the various
ethnic groups. Nevertheless, the strength of the environmental justice
movement is in the diversity of its constituents and organizations working
together for positive change.
II delegates reaffirmed the "Principles of Environmental Justice"
and "A Call to Action," both adopted at the 1991 Summit. "These
principles are as true today as they were eleven years ago," said
Pam Tau Lee, a program coordinator at the University of California-Berkeley's
Labor Occupational Health Center. Delegates adopted three principles
(Principles of Working Together, Youth Principles, and Principles Opposing
the War Against Iraq) and presented fifteen resolutions. The working
groups put many hours into developing these documents to complete the
work necessary to develop the documents. "These documents belong
to the people. Because of their work, they have complete ownership of
the work product," said Lee.
were especially concerned about the "War on Terrorism" and
militarism and their negative impact on the quality of life for poor
and people of color. "While government officials have met with
industry on homeland security issues related to oil refineries, petrochemical
plants, seaports, and other industrial installations that might become
targets of terrorist attacks, only minimal government contact has been
made with "fence-line" communities and their leaders,"
said Marjorie Richard, a resident of Norco, Louisiana who lives near
a Shell Oil refinery.
Summit II ended with the leaders reaffirming their commitment to go
back to their respective communities and work for environmental and
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