Scales of Environmental Justice: Building a Transformative Politics


Good afternoon. Thanks for braving the
deluge and being with us. My name is Robin Kelsey. And along with Ian Miller–
my colleague in the history department– I want to welcome you
to the environment forum at the Mahindra
Humanities Center. The center director,
Homi Bhabha– without whom Ian and I would
be holding these events in the subbasement of Weidner– could not be here
this afternoon. But he sends his
encouragement and benevolence. His support for our
venture is essential. But that said, without the
Mahindra Humanity Center’s Steve Biel and Sarah
Razor, Homi, Ian, and I would be hosting these events
in the subbasement of Weidner. So to them go our heartfelt
thanks for all that they do. Some of you may know that
Harvard has a program called Harvard Heroes that
recognizes staff members whose contributions to campus life go
above and beyond any reasonable expectation. And last week it was
announced that Sarah is a hero, which
we already knew, but it is wonderful to have
it recognized officially. So I’d like to give
Sarah a round of applause [APPLAUSE] The environment forum
has a particular purpose. When Ian and I approached
Professor Bhabha with the idea for the forum, we were not
content with the notion of sprinkling some humanist
ideas into conversations around the environment. We wanted to bring
the environment to the center of conversations
about what the humanities might be. The aim was not to include the
environment in the humanities as one more topic
or theme, but rather to ask what happens
to the humanities when one takes the
immensely challenging environmental conditions
under which we live as a pressing and
critical fact of human life. I’ve been speaking
of the environment, but of course there are many
overlapping environments that touch human
lives differently, depending on social relations
and material circumstances. Wealth and privilege offer
buffers from the consequences of environmental
disruption, which is incurred largely in the
production of that wealth and privilege. While poverty,
discrimination, and abjection bring many forms of
exposure and vulnerability. In launching the
environment forum, questions of environmental
justice, as well as questions about where theory
hits lived experience, were very much on our minds. From the start, Ian
and I have wanted this to be an
inclusive venture built on an ever widening circle
of students and faculty interested in the intersection
between humanistic questions, broadly defined, and
environmental issues. One colleague with whom we
knew we wanted to collaborate was Ajanta
Subermanian, professor of anthropology and
South Asian studies. And this gathering,
this event on Scales of Environmental Justice,
Building A Transformative Politics, is in every
profound way her event. And we are so grateful
for the vision and energy that she has brought
to putting it together. With that I will turn over the
task of further introductions to her. So please join me in welcoming
Ajanta to the podium. [APPLAUSE] This is not conducive
to short people. [LAUGHTER] Thank you Robin for that. So this event has been a
long time in the making. And I’m delighted to have all
of my fellow panelists here. So scales of
environmental justice. These are urgent times. We’re witnessing the
rise of authoritarianism and ethonationalist
politics the world over. In the United States, the
election of Donald Trump has ushered in more
tolerance for overt racism, greater collusion between
government and corporate interests, and the rollback
of hard won advances in environmental
and social security. With Scott Pruitt reversing
environmental gains at breakneck speed,
what is at stake is nothing less than the
very idea of the greater social good. These are times that are
particularly well suited to environmental justice. A politics born out of
necessity and possibility. From the vantage point
of environmental justice communities, however, the crisis
in ecological and social health has been urgent for a
very, very long time. Capitalism– even
the democratic kind– has always had its
sacrifice zones where ecologies and
populations have been treated as expendable. Within the United States
most of the sacrifice zones are poor and non-white,
and have been subject to repeated
histories of marginalization. The list is long– Warren County, North Carolina,
Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the Lower Ninth
Ward in New Orleans, Flint, Michigan Chicago’s south
side, the Standing Rock Indian reservation, Puerto Rico,
Roxbury, Massachusetts, and on, and on, and on. These are also places where
environmental justice movements have arisen, that point to the
overlap between race, class, dispossession, and toxicity. These movements
eliminate the limits of mainstream
environmentalism, and the need to bring within its purview
industrial regulation, public health,
occupational safety, labor rights, urban green space,
and sustainable cities. In this sense,
environmental justice has always been a
universalistic politics aimed at prioritizing public
goods over private gain. Although environmental justice
was a powerful challenge to mainstream environmentalism,
environmental justice activists typically refer
to themselves not as the new environmentalists,
but as the new civil rights activists. And they do so to
place themselves within a particular
genealogy of struggle, where the rights of nonwhite
populations and the poor have been at the center. Language– or more
specifically storytelling– has been an important tool
within environmental justice activism for naming
and illuminating injustices that have been
invisible to a wider public. Take the term
environmental racism, coined by North Carolina pastor
and community leader Benjamin Chaffetz in 1982, to describe
the siting of a toxic waste dump in predominantly black
Warren County, North Carolina. The Warren County
mobilization racialized the anti-toxics agenda,
and generated a whole host of studies on the unequal burden
of enviromental toxicity borne by US racial minorities. By naming this phenomenon
environmental racism, activists expanded the
parameters of the term environment, and made visible
a widespread experience shared by poor and nonwhite communities
across the United States. Similarly environmental
apartheid– another term coined by urban
planning scholar and activist Robert Bullard– pointed to the overlap of
race, place, and toxicity. And the parallel
hazards of black life in apartheid South Africa and
the democratic United States. Through these
practices of naming, environmental justice
disrupts normative narratives about which places
and which people have value, and shapes
alternative imaginations of place and politics. It also offers ways to
channel experiences of harm into public knowledge
and collective action at different scales. As our panelists will show
eloquently through their work, envirometal justice
is a multi-scaler of politics that ranges
from the scale of the body, to that of the home, the
neighborhood, city, nation, and beyond. So what does it mean to think
about environmental justice at different scales? My justice has always
emphasized that importance of grounded experience to
transformative politics. As stated in the charter
of the 1991 National People of Color Environmental
Leadership Summit, convened in Washington DC,
enviromental justice is about doing environmental
in the very places, quote, “Where we live, work,
study, and play” unquote. The embodied
experience of locality has been key to the making
of knowledge of community and of politics. The emphasis on
the local scale has been a way to foreground the
meanings, through which people who are typically
written out of, or simply subsumed within
larger narratives, make sense of their own lives. It’s an argument
for their agency in interpreting the
past, the present, and building a better future. But environmental justice
has never been just about the local scale– it’s also been about the
broader contextualization of local experiences, to make
clear shared predicaments, and enable coalition building. The need to think and act
both within and across scales has only grown
with the expansion of the movement over
time from its beginnings in the citing of dirty
industries and toxic waste, to now taking on
issues as diverse as transportation justice, urban
green space, housing quality, the beauty industry,
militarism, and climate change. Each of these issues has
required new strategies and alliances, which
foreground both the promises and tensions of working in
coalitions across scales. We have very powerful
examples of such solidarity. Some have involved
collaboration between activists and scientists. Public health scientists
and women activists have together shown that
non-white women’s heightened exposure to toxic chemicals
in beauty products is an instance of a
global health disparity. In doing so, they’ve linked the
toxins in hair straighteners, skin lighteners and
non-white women’s bodies to structural racism. While toxins are one
diagnostic of broader structural conditions,
water is another. Water has been at the heart
of an environmental justice politics that is both
local and trans-local. In Gaza, Flint, Durban,
Cochabama, Bhopal, and Standing Rock, residents have demanded
the right to water as is safe, evenly distributed,
public resource. The claim to water as life
is a far-reaching critique of commodification,
privatization, and settler colonialism that has brought
residents into alliance with lawyers, litigating
on their behalf against both states and
corporate polluters. Once these similar efforts
to illuminate commonalities through shared struggles
around the right to housing, to transportation
equity, and to green space. So these are examples of how
environmental justice scales up from the most intimate and
everyday forms of bodily harm and need, to wider
systems of oppression. By contrast, the
climate justice movement works in the other direction. By reframing global warming
as an environmental injustice, the movement scales
down to highlight the localized differential
impact of climate change. As a result, we now recognize
enduring differences within a shared crisis, that
most immediately affects frontline communities, such
as the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the
Inuit of the Arctic. These and other
solidarity movements have connected the dots between
an individual health problem, or a localized
struggle for resources, and wider processes of
redlining gentrification, state violence, and corporate power. They’ve shown how links
between scales both perpetuate injustice, but can
also become key to battling it. And environmental justice
as a multi-scaler politics is not just about
the relationship between spatial scales. It’s also about scales of time– by pointing to the birth defects
in children born 30 years after the Bhopal gas disaster,
by characterizing the water crisis in Gaza and Standing
Rock as settler colonialism, or Shell Oil’s extraction sites
as petrochemical plantations, or the anthropocene
as the capitalocene, environmental justice
movements offer a different way of thinking about
and inhabiting time. Not as linear, but as
overlapping, continuous, cyclical, or repetitive. Within these conceptions
of past and present, there are also ways of
re-imagining the future. The panelists who have
joined us this evening represent a few of
the remarkable women– women of color– working
on the front lines, and across different scales
of environmental justice. Kalila Barnett is currently
the interim director, executive director of the Dudley
Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community organization
based in the Dudley Street Neighborhood of Roxbury. Kalila is also the
former executive director of Alternatives for
Community and Environment, a leading environmental
justice organization in Boston. Kalila has over a decade
of experience in community organizing around affordable
housing, land development, and environmental justice. She serves on the board of
Mass Budget and Policy Center, the Center for
Environmental Health, and the Center for
Economic Democracy. Kalila graduated
from Bates College with a degree in American
studies and Spanish, and is a Rothbury native, and
lifelong resident of Boston. Trina Jackson is
the practice leader for community engagement
at Mission Works, where she manages the inclusion
initiative, a grant program which funds
cross-sector collaborative work for economic justice
in communities of color. Her background includes
facilitating community dialogues, and consulting on
issues of anti-oppression, civic engagement, economic
justice, racial justice, leadership development
collaboration, and community building. Trina is also a gardener,
and is originally from Louisville, Kentucky. Indira Garmendia Alfaro
is a native of Nicaragua and resident of Chelsea
who’s worked as a community organizer in Nicaragua
and Central America, where she used popular
education strategies to engage and empower local communities. Here, Indira has worked to
create women-led cooperatives in East Boston, and to
envision a community land trust for Chelsea. Indira is committed and
passionate about creating systemic change to bring
about racial justice and immigrants’ rights. Tenbit Mitiku is a member of
Alternatives for Community and Environment,
where she has served as a volunteer, development
intern, and now development and communications assistant. Born and raised in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, her background includes
community oriented education, that focused on empowering
low-income women to participate in the labor force. She’s also been involved
in several projects that address issues of homelessness
in the greater Boston area. Tenbit earned a sociology
degree from Simmons College, and is currently
studying global studies and international relations
at Northeastern University. Her interests are in
economic development, environmental research,
and global health equity. And last, but not least, Ami
Zota received her master’s and doctorate in
environmental health at the Harvard School
of Public Health, and is now an
assistant professor in the Department
of Environmental and Occupational Health at
George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health. Ami’s work seeks to secure
environmental justice and improve health equity
through advancements in science, policy,
and clinical practice. Her research identifies
novel pathways linking social disparities,
environmental exposures, and reproductive and
children’s health. Ami received a career
development grant from the National
Institutes of Health, and was recently recognized
as a pioneer under 40– she’s a baby– pioneer under 40 in
environmental public health. Her research has been featured
in national and international media, and has helped shape
health and safety standards for toxic chemicals. So before turning
to our panelists, let me just say a
little about myself, and why I’m so excited
for this panel. So I’m an anthropologist, and
my work is on rights politics in India. At Harvard, I teach an
undergraduate course titled politics of nature, which
is devoted to understanding the relationship between
environmental injustice and social inequality. And each time I’ve
taught it, Ami and Trina have done guest lectures,
and the students have gone on a toxic
tour, organized by ACE– the organization that Tenbit
and Kalila have been a part of. And most of the students
who take the course– and some of them
are actually here, which I’m really
delighted about– most of them take the
course because they have some investment in
environmentalism of politics, and many would even
characterize themselves as environmentalists. But a lot of them
typically don’t think about environmentalism
as social justice politics. And that’s what the course
really pushes them to do. And this is why I
think this panel is so important as an addition
to the Mahindra Environment forum– and my hope is that
this conversation about environmental
justice, and local activism, will have a lasting
impact on how we think about the environmental
humanities [INAUDIBLE].. So let’s turn now
to our panelists. I’ve asked each of them to
speak for about 10 minutes, after which we’ll open
up the floor to Q&A. So we’re going to
start with Kalila. Thank you so much for the
opportunity to be here on this cold, wet afternoon. Especially, I’m happy to be here
amongst this wonderful group of panelists and women who,
some of whom I’ve worked with, some of whom I’ve
just met today. It’s a real honor for me. So I was asked to speak
about the scale of the city, in terms of
environmental justice. And so I will be
talking primarily about my experience and my
work in the city of Boston, because that is the place
that I know the best, for better or for worse. And I wanted to start by
talking about this event that’s coming up, that
I hope all of you will participate in, that’s
very inspiring to me. So May 1st is World
Asthma Day, and it is also International Workers Day. One of the organizations that
I am very closely connected to, because of my work at
ACE, and my activism work, is Community Labor United. And that organization has formed
a coalition called the Green Justice Coalition. And it’s a group
of organizations across the state of
Massachusetts, community organizations, environmental
organizations, and labor unions, who are organizing
around the intersection of environment and economics. And the event that we’re
putting together that day is called #letusbreathe. And the way that we
envision this event is just by this
brief statement– “Around the world, there are
people struggling to breathe. For some, it is the
effect of pollution. For others, crippling heat,
intensified by climate change. And then there are folks
like Eric Garner, whose airways were restricted
by a combination of asthma and brutal force.” And for me, this
is a real summation of where the environmental
justice movement is at, at this moment. So in many ways the shape of the
environmental justice movement, the kind of battles that
we’re facing in 2018, are different than they
were when I started at ACE, and when large
environmental justice organizations across the
country were formed in the ’90s. The sort of structures
that we’re fighting against are still remaining,
but the battles look a little bit different. And the struggle really,
at this moment, I think, is trying to figure out how
do we build the kind of power that we need to achieve the kind
of change that we want to see. And for us, that’s really
about the power and control to make decisions
about our lives, and the ways in which we want
to transform our community. And in Boston, in
particular, I think there’s kind of three ways
that the landscape of how we’re working has really
had to change and to adapt. I think one of the biggest
drivers is the cost of land and the cost of housing. So I grew up in Roxbury, and
during my middle school period I was bussed to a
school in the suburbs. I was a part of
the METCO program. And so at that
time period, when I would go to Wayland,
where I went to school, and tell people that I lived
in Roxbury, it was like, whoa, it’s so dangerous there. I can’t believe you’ve
even made it out here. [LAUGHS] Somehow I survived
all of those years, and was able to be
a part of a thriving and beautiful community. But that was the image. But now, many of
those people who were contemporaries
of my younger siblings are moving towards the city– are buying condos, are
starting businesses, and there’s a lot of
speculation that’s going on around the vacant
properties around where I grew up. Members of our
organization of ACE, other organizations that
we’re closely connected to, are facing rent
increases, and are having to move
further and further outside the city of Boston,
outside of their community. Sometimes even to southeastern
parts of the state, so outside of even the
greater Boston region. And that’s pretty different
from the conditions that we were facing
in the early ’90s. So if you think about
organizations coming together during that time,
particularly in major cities across the country, dealing
with the impacts of– or the consequences of
redlining, of disinvestment. The organization that I’m
connected to right now, the Dudley Street
Neighborhood Initiative, was when residents came
together to get eminent domain powers to take back
control of the land. The other thing that has also
very much changed, I would say, is the wealth gap
that we’re facing. So there’s always been a huge
disparity, always been troubles and challenges with that. But a recent study that
was done in 2016, called the Color of Wealth, mentions
that white households in the Boston area had the
median net worth of a quarter of a million dollars,
while black households have a net worth of $8– $8. So not only are residents
facing pressures from a speculative land
and housing market, they are not able
to find the wealth, they’re not able
to find the income to bring themselves into place. And then the third piece I
think is really important is the actual infrastructure of
grassroots community organizing entities across our region. So while I was at ACE,
my job was fundraising, was asking for resources to
help us build out the organizing work that we needed to
do to build leadership within our communities. And even during the
course of my eight years there, we saw a number
of national foundations who moved away from funding
grassroots organizing. A lot of money shifted towards
a national climate bill– a lot of money given to large
environmental organizations, and not given to us. And so the infrastructure
upon which we really need to build our movements
has gotten more fragile, I would say, over time. And that’s really something
important to consider and to talk about. But I want to end on
a more positive note. And to offer a couple of
thoughts about, even given those conditions, how do we
build the kind of movement that we need? How do we build more
events, more collaborations, like #letusbreathe? So one thing I think
is, we need to have a bold and audacious
vision that goes across a bunch of
different boundaries. We need to not be
afraid to ask for and to demand the
kind of resources that our communities
really need, rather than just what we
think is politically feasible. One of the ways in which
we’re beginning to do that is by building what we’re
calling a 10-year agenda. So it is an opportunity
for organizations across different
sectors to come together and to say, what do we want
the state of Massachusetts to look like over the
course of the next 10 years? And we’re thinking
not just about, what does it look
like in education? What does it look
like in housing? But what does it
actually look like when we think about those things
in an intersectional way, and really do them together? I think we’re also talking about
this idea of a just transition. So we know, because the
climate is changing, that things are
going to keep moving. The change is inevitable,
but justice is not inevitable unless we speak out, unless
we make a difference. And so using this idea
of just transition, we’re fueling experiments and
projects that would actually have community members
make decisions, and govern, and lead. One of them is a micro-grid
project that folks in Chelsea are working on,
and also Chinatown within the city of Boston, where
there is a micro-grid that’s owned by the community. So if there is ever a
major weather event, we know what the impacts can be
when people don’t have access to the resources they need,
electricity, water, et cetera. So how do we prepare
ourselves for those things that we know that
are coming, but do so in a way that shifts
the ownership? Shifts who gets
to make decisions about those
resources, and really begin to make those
decisions together? I think, in closing,
the other things that give me hope and signal
to the kind of movement that we need to be building is
the rise of the climate justice movement. And so we know that that has
roots internationally, but also here within the
US, organizations like the Climate Justice
Alliance, Grassroots Global Justice, are bringing folks
together at multiple scales, and cities scales, local
scales, regional scales, to talk about what does
it take to really build a just transition? How do we actually have a hard
line against the fossil fuel economy? How do we not allow
ourselves to– that’s my timer– how do we not
allow ourselves to just rest in what is politically feasible,
but offer solutions and visions that are bold, and what
really needs to happen? I think the other place
for a real opportunity and intersection is the rise
of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the
ways in which I see people trying to build
and grow the civil rights legacy in this country. I think there’s a lot of
opportunity for intersection, a lot of opportunity for
leadership development, and for sharing of struggles. And so for those reasons,
and probably more that we’ll get to talk about
in the Q&A, I remain excited. So thank you very much for
the opportunity to talk. [APPLAUSE] How is it, Jennifer– oh, I forgot to
introduce Jennifer. I’m so sorry. We’re having simultaneous
translation from English to Spanish, thanks to Jennifer. How’s the speed? Should we speak more slowly? Maybe just a tad. Just a tad? OK. Trina? I’m going to get up
and go to the podium. Beautiful, OK, good
evening, everyone. My name is Trina,
and as Ajantha said, I had just the honor
and the joy of being with her and her students. It’s like an annual ritual– it’s really an important part
of my own growth, and I love it. And so I’m really happy to
be invited to speak with you today, really about something
that I don’t talk about a lot. And so I’m not used to talking
about this area of interest that I have, so if
you bear with me, I’m just getting familiar
with my own interest and wanting to share with you. So as Ajantha said,
I love to garden. I’m not a very good gardener. I’ve grown up in a family
of black women who garden. And so what I wanted
to do was to learn more about African-American
women’s gardening practices, and in particular how
African-American women have not only contributed to
environmental justice movement through our gardening
practices, but also to US environmental history. And so part of this
project came as part of my undergraduate
degree work, which I only completed recently, like
within the last two years. I went to Goddard
College in Vermont, which hasa very different
kind of program– one that really suited me, and
I wanted to back and finish my college education. And so have this interest
in African-American women and our gardening practices. And I thought for a long
time, what language am I going to give this interest? What is the story that
I’m really trying to tell? And so I came up with
this, Grown by Herself. Let me say a little bit
about what that means to me. The first thing is that,
gardens are stories, and they are a way that we
author and we tell our stories. And so I thought, well, how
can I make that connection? And so, Grown by Herself– so in the tradition of the
slave narratives, and that they were written
by him or herselv. These were stories
that formerly enslaved people would tell
others about what it was like to be
enslaved, because we know a lot of enslaved people did
not learn to read and write, because that was forbidden. So in order to
capture those stories, they would tell their stories
to other writers, and other [INAUDIBLE]. So I took the term,
thinking that gardens are a way of authoring our
stories, Grown by Herself is very much in that
same tradition– that black women have authored
an account of their lives through gardening. And that’s what the term,
Grown by Herself means. It also means about black
women have ushered and fostered environmental movements. So the environmental movement,
environmental justice, has been grown by
African-American women’s garden practices. I’m just going to grab my water. So, Grown by Herself,
as I say here, is about the role
of community gardens in the lives of
African-American women in their environmental activism. And African-American
women have been at the forefront
of the leadership for environmental
justice in the US. Their activism has been
about mobilizing communities to shut down power plants
in their neighborhoods, or work to beautify streets,
or to convert vacant lots Into community gardens. And those are just
a few examples of how African-American
women have led an environmental movement
in our garden practices. So let me say a
little bit about– oh, here we go– so part of my research,
for Grown by Herself, was thinking about the roots
of African-American women’s gardens, and what we
grow in our gardens, and how we developed our
gardening practices over time. And so I did a little
bit of research, and I learned a lot about
the provision gardens that enslaved
people had, as part of how they would grow food. So they would work
in the fields, or they’d work in the house,
but also enslaved people had their own gardens. And of course, that
varied by situation, but in this illustration here,
that was part of my research, you see what that looked like,
and what the structure of that is. So you see the dwelling, you
see the small plots of gardens, and then you see the women
there tending their gardens. And usually, it
was the women who were doing a lot of the
tending of the gardens, and so forth and so on. And so there was a lot of
like community connection. Often different
families would come and they would plant together,
they’d grow together. And so there was a lot
of relationship-building and connection between
enslaved families. So that’s just kind
of an illustration that I found as
part of my research. So I also wanted to
talk about the foods that African-American women
grew in their gardens. And I did a little bit of
research on some of the– there were lots of
different stories about how these
seeds are the foods that enslaved
African-American women grew, and how they actually made
it and survived the Middle Passage. So there’s all of these stories,
which I have not really– I haven’t learned
a whole lot about and found a lot of
evidence, but there’s a lot of anecdotal
evidence about women hiding seeds in their hair, or lots
of different ways that some of the seeds of
these vegetables– yams, and collard greens,
and so forth and so on, food staples that are part
of the African-American diet were actually grown
in these gardens. That was also just part
of my own learning. And what these practices
really meant to me was that women were– they had a resilience, that
even in those conditions of enslavement,
African-American women were committed to a community
story and identity that was more about
self-determination, which has been a constant theme
of environmental justice work. So that theme continues to
be the way that we think about environmental justice– as people directly impacted,
telling their own stories, being very self-determinant. So I was also interested
in, at the end of slavery, how did African-American
women continue the gardening practices, especially for
people that stayed in the South. And so this picture here
is just a reflection of how a lot of the
foods that people grew, they continue to grow, if
they were able to hold on to land in the South. And this is just a
reflection of even the way that people grow food in
rows, and so forth and so on. And how it just
continues to be a way that African-American women
continue to take leadership just around connection to land,
family connection to land, family connection to tradition. So also, I was thinking, then,
how this evolved over time, into the vacant
lot gardening that became kind of the hallmark
of the civil rights movement. And the growth of the
environmental justice movement with the toxic waste
study in the late ’80s, in the early ’70s, when
black families were really starting to want to be very
self-determinant about what was happening in
their neighborhoods, and the disinvestment
in black neighborhoods, and the open lots that city
governments didn’t really take care of. So families would,
and communities would start to do
a lot of activism around the vacant lots. And so it just became– it’s how how this form
of activism evolved, and African-American were
at the forefront of that. So again, this is
just one reflection of how this has been– young people have
been involved, and how they’ve learned through
these kind of practices and traditions
about what it means to be environmental leaders
in their own neighborhoods. So this last slide here,
again, represents how black women have continued to– you see this woman here,
she’s holding up a kale as she’s marching
through the streets, again symbolizing the way that
black women have continued to be at the forefront
of this kind of activism for environmental justice,
food justice, clean water, safe communities, and just being
on the forefront of this EJ movement. And so I just wanted
to show that image, because I feel like it really
reflects how black women have continued in that tradition. To this question of
what gives me hope– I think what’s
important for us to do is to be able to
tell our stories, and to listen to the voices
of people that really tend to be marginalized within this
whole discussion about what it means to have an
environmental movement in the US. And environmentalism, as
folks have been saying before, was sort of couched in this
saving our national parks, and the polar bears,
but not really rooted in analysis of where
people are living, where they’re going to church,
where they’re going to school, and making a lot of these
deeper intersections, and the impact of
environmental racism. And so I really believe
that it’s important that we lift up the leadership
of people that are directly impacted by
environmental racism, environmental degradation. And that we start to put the
solutions and the resources in the hands of
those communities. So, thank you. [APPLAUSE] [SPEAKING SPANISH] My name is Indira Garmendia,
I am from Nicaragua. [INAUDIBLE] [SPEAKING SPANISH] I’m very happy to
be here, and I’m very happy to be able to have
a voice in this type of space. [SPEAKING SPANISH] I want to talk
today about the work that we do at
GreenRoots in Chelsea, and how we work with
environmental justice. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And I would like to ask you a
few questions to begin with. And so, if you would answer
yes, please raise your hand. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Who uses salt to melt
their snow in the winter? [SPEAKING SPANISH] Who’s gone to Boston Logan
Airport to take a trip? [SPEAKING SPANISH] Who likes to consume fresh
fruits and vegetables? [SPEAKING SPANISH] And who uses their
heat in the winter? [LAUGHTER] [SPEAKING SPANISH] So, I actually have
some bad news for you. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So, without meaning
to, all of you guys have contributed to
environmental inequality in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And I’ll explain why. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So in Chelsea, in
the river in Chelsea, we store 100% of the jet fuel
that is used by Logan Airport. So in Chelsea and East
Boston, along the river. [SPEAKING SPANISH] 70% to 80% of the oil that is
used for heat in New England is also stored along
the river in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] In Chelsea, we also have
more than 400,000 tons of road salt that is used for
more than 350 cities in New England. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Also in Chelsea, we have the
second largest produce center in the United States,
which not only serves cities in New England,
but also in other parts of the United States. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So now I would like to talk
about who lives in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And then we will understand
why all of these industries are found in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Out of all of the people
that live in Chelsea, 73% are ethnic minorities– people that we consider
people of color. [SPEAKING SPANISH] 24% live below the poverty line. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Out of those 73% of people
of color, 65% of those are immigrants, are Latinos. [SPEAKING SPANISH] In Chelsea, we have the highest
rates of hospitalization because of asthma. [SPEAKING SPANISH] We also work in East Boston. [SPEAKING SPANISH] East Boston, although
it’s five squared miles, the people of East Boston
only live on two square miles, and that’s because the
other three are used up by the airport. [SPEAKING SPANISH] 53% of the residents
are Latino, and 17% live below the poverty line. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So as you can see,
we have a lot of work to do in Chelsea
and East Boston. [SPEAKING SPANISH] You know, in GreenRoots,
we work a lot for environmental justice, and
we have a lot of work to do, a lot of illnesses to
confront, and things that we have to solve because
they’re impacting our bodies. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So we’re trying to achieve
this environmental justice, and improve the quality of
life through collective action, unity, education,
and youth leadership in our neighborhoods
and communities. [SPEAKING SPANISH] These are some of the
topics that we deal with. As you can see, land and
food justice, youth power, waterfront access, energy
democracy, transit justice, clean air and public
health, and climate justice. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And for us, it’s not
that we’re trying to work for the community,
but rather with the community. Because we cannot achieve
anything that we want to achieve without working
with the community. And that’s why we talk about
implementing, empowering, and engaging the community. [SPEAKING SPANISH] We have been working in
Chelsea for 23 years, and we have had
lots of victories. And we’ve also had
lots of losses. But I would like to
talk to you about one victory in particular. [SPEAKING SPANISH] How many of you have heard of
the power company, Cape Wind? [SPEAKING SPANISH] This power company,
Cape Wind, in 2006, at the same time that it
was proposing a wind power plant in Cape Cod, it was also
proposing an electrical plant to be situated right
across the street from the only elementary
school in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So why? What was the difference? [SPEAKING SPANISH] So just remember who
lives in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And who live in Cape Cod. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And in 2006, we were able
to beat the company– we were able to
beat this proposal, so that it wasn’t built
right across the street. This is just an idea of what
the electrical plant would have looked like if it
had been constructed right across the street
from the elementary school. [SPEAKING SPANISH] We were able to
stop this project with public action, oral
and written testimonies, collecting signatures from
the residents of the city, and legal advocacy. And we were fighting
for a year and a half, but we were finally able to win. [APPLAUSE] [SPEAKING SPANISH] We’re doing a lot of
different projects, we have a lot of
work, as you can see– there’s a lot of work to
be done in these areas. But I want to share
two particular projects that we’re doing. [SPEAKING SPANISH] We’re working on a
micro-grid, in collaboration with the organization
Green Justice Coalition. We won $75,000 to
conduct a study on micro-grids in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] This micro-grid
would be connected to the much larger energy grid
of the electrical company. [SPEAKING SPANISH] It’s a little bit complicated
to explain it, but– [SPEAKING SPANISH] But I’m going to try. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So the buildings that would
be connected to the grid would produce their own
renewable energy, whether solar or wind. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And then they could sell this
energy to the larger company. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And in that way,
reduce energy costs. [SPEAKING SPANISH] These buildings,
the buildings that would be connected
to the micro-grid, would be public schools,
municipal buildings, hospitals, public housing, and the
large produce market that I was mentioning earlier
that serves many communities, in addition to New England. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So we are looking beyond
our local borders. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Also, if there’s a
natural disaster, the residents of
the town could go to these buildings as shelter. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And this would also prevent
what our brothers in Puerto Rico have suffered. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Also at GreenRoots, we’re
working on community land trusts, to create
these land trust with a group of immigrant
women, some Latinas who will live in Chelsea. [SPEAKING SPANISH] The idea actually
came from the crisis that Chelsea is
going through, and I would go as far as to say that
this is a national crisis. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And it’s especially
an important housing crisis for people of color,
and people of low income. [SPEAKING SPANISH] More than 70% of the residents
in Chelsea are tenants. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So there’s this great
crisis in Chelsea, because now that it’s
being gentrified, people are seeing
their rents go up and they have to be displaced
to other communities. [SPEAKING SPANISH] The people in that community
understand what’s going on, and the crisis– the housing crisis that
they’re going through. But they also
understand that they’re fighting for land
and for housing, because it’s one
of their rights. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So in addition to
these land trusts, we also want land, in order
to build housing, community gardens, and green spaces. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Thank you. [APPLAUSE] So, I am from an environmental
justice organization that many of my
sisters mentioned– Alternatives for
Community and Environment, ACE, located in the
Roxbury neighborhood. For 25 years, ACE
has brought together families and communities
to build their power, to eradicate
environmental racism, classism, and create healthy
sustainable communities, and achieve
environmental justice. This mission is implemented
through a community organizing membership model that engages
and empowers people of color, and low-income communities,
to identify solutions to their shared problems, and
to run successful campaigns in implementing the solutions. That process is facilitated
through our programs. The Roxbury environmental
Empowerment Project, REAP, the T Riders Union, TRU,
the Roxbury campaign committee, our membership program,
environmental justice legal services, and our
leadership in coalitions, advancing environmental justice
in Boston and in our state. Our GreenRoots
leadership development is grounded in a
strongly held belief that those most
impacted by injustice must lead us in resisting it,
and in creating solutions. To ensure we live this belief,
and are led by members, ACE provides formal
and informal pathways for skills building, learning,
and practice within all our organizing and programs. I’d also like to mention that
women in our organization are at the core of the
environmental justice work. It is an anchor for the
movement to generate smart ideas in this struggle. Women of color at
ACE are involved in many aspects of
the administration, fundraising, and
organizing projects. I think there is also a sense
of acknowledgment in the Roxbury neighborhood, that women are at
the center of leading the youth development, that also encourage
the community to participate in urban gardening,
transportation, and health equity. We also believe in advancing
ourselves with education, so that we have all the
necessary tools to plan the next steps in our
sustainable work for better transparent policies. Our T Riders Union
program organizes transit riders from
low-income communities, and communities of color, to
advocate for better service from the MBTA. In our public
transit justice work, we also continue to collaborate
with GreenRoots Chelsea, with whom we partnered to
gain former governor Patrick’s support for executive order
552, the MBTA’s adoption of the youth pass program. The transportation
for Massachusetts, a diverse coalition of
over 70 partner and member organizations, who advocate
for transportation funds to be spent fairly and wisely
for transportation decisions that are transparent,
accountable, and to ensure that
our transportation system has sufficient resources
to meet the Commonwealth’s needs. Roxbury Environmental
Empowerment Project– REAP– works with youth
of color on a variety of environmental justice
issues, identified by youth as relevant to their lives. They know that a healthy
and sustainable community is one that must not
weather the storm and be resilient, but also adapt
and prepare for climate change. Essential to this
work of adaptation is creating community-based
alternative models, which enables residents
to experiment, learn, and envision
a sustainable future. REAP’s Grow or Die
campaign has successfully transformed four
city-owned vacant lots into multi-use community
gardens, where residents build community and develop
the skills in food cultivation. In the next year, we
will expand our vision, and engage in efforts to
promote long-term community land use and control. We believe this move
to our community control through
community land trusts will protest against unwanted
private development that drives the
gentrification, instead of supporting the stabilization
of our neighborhoods. As an anchor organization of
the Green Justice Coalition, one of ACE’s goals is to lead
public education strategies to build legislator and public
support for clean energy and environmental protection. ACE leads Green Justice
Coalition’s work on a landmark
environmental justice bill, an act relative
to environmental justice and toxic reduction. And the comment was,
which would incorporate a definition of environmental
justice community into the Massachusetts general
laws, required the development and implementation of
environmental justice policies across state
secretariats, and limit the setting of new
industrial facilities that rely on toxic materials
in environmental justice communities. Through our coalition
work, ACE effectively pushed Massachusetts to
enact its first statewide environmental
justice policy, which created a legal structure
necessary to combat and prevent the environmental overburdening
of low-income communities and communities of color. With an advocated and
negotiated approval of the state’s three-year
energy efficiency plans, making visible the needs
of low income energy consumers and renters. In all of our environmental
justice organizing and advocacy work, we bring an intersectional
analysis connecting clean energy and
reduce greenhouse gas to greater equity and economic
livelihood, development plans, housing, and health outcomes,
and legal and technical expertise. Neighborhoods that
have seen decades of public and private
disinvestment, environmental degradation,
and racist segregation, are now being flooded
with an influx of new capital,
new developments, and new residents. A large part of this
problem is an over-reliance on the private sector,
and an overall agenda to drive urban development. The public sector sees its role
as facilitating and supporting private development through
public policy and spending. There is currently no greater
threat to Roxbury’s culture and economicals
than gentrification, and the risk of
further displacement. The Roxbury campaign committee
is educating and organizing Roxbury residents around the
Boston Planning and Development Agency. the planning process
and development plans to ensure sustainable and
equitable community development in our neighborhoods. And our membership
program provides a space for our constituents to
identify problems and implement solutions. Our movement affirms
the rights of all people to public policy that
is free from any form of discrimination, to
participate as equal partners at every level of
decision making, and for communities
to not be subject to environmental extraction. This movement more
broadly affirms the rights of communities not to
be subject to extraction that also includes culture
and the local economy. In transitioning from an
extractive to adjusted economy, municipalities,
developers, and communities must work to
preserve and enhance local cultural and
economy assets. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Hello, OK, so we’re going
to shift gears a little bit. I am an environmental health
public health scientist. And so if we view many of
the environmental and social justice problems that my
colleagues have talked about today as nails, one
of my main hammers is the scientific method. And I’m probably more
comfortable talking in the language of data
and statistical models than I am storytelling–
so I’m actively resisting the urge of showing
you lots of graphs and data. [LAUGHTER] And rather, sharing
with you how I try to implement this
dual goal of conducting rigorous, innovative science
that actively addresses public health problems,
and that actively is used to promote health
protective policies, and support decision making– whether that’s on the
local or national level. As Ajantha mentioned, I
seek to make advancements in science policy
and clinical practice to help secure
environmental justice and improve, unfortunately, the
growing inequalities in health. Particularly in our country– we’re really moving in
the wrong direction. Instead of improving
things, even though we’ve been documenting a
lot of these health disparities for many
years, many decades. For the past 15
years, I’ve worked alongside various
community organizations using the scientific
method to both document and validate community concerns. I’ve addressed health
risks from various forms of environmental degradation,
ranging from poor indoor air quality in public housing
to ambient air pollution from oil refineries and
other polluting industries, metal-laden mine waste
at toxic Superfund sites on Native
American reservations, and most recently toxic
chemicals in beauty products marketed to women of color. I’m going to share a few
examples from my own research, and you’ll probably see some
examples of scaling of issues, and the evolution of my own
work, which has been greatly influenced by listening
to community members, listening to collaborators. Also listening to
the data, and being willing to try new things. So the first example
I want to share with you comes from a
community-based participatory study, called the California
Household Exposure Study. This study was done
in collaboration with several
universities, and two community-based organizations,
including an EJ organization called Communities for
a Better Environment in the San Francisco Bay Area. The goal of this study– it was done in
northern California– and our main point was to
compare indoor and outdoor air pollution exposures
between Richmond– a neighborhood bordering an
oil refinery– and Bolinas, a rural neighborhood that
served as a regional comparison. Something that was
unique about this project was, we had in many
different types of goals. So our scientific goal– and this was a project that
was funded by the National Institutes of Health– so
our scientific goal was to characterize cumulative
impacts of various pollution sources in an environmental
justice community. Which we defined as
an area of low income, or ethnic minority residents,
who are disproportionately affected by pollution. We did this by measuring
numerous pollutants and assessing differences with
homes in non-EJ communities. In addition to our
scientific goals, we also had educational
and policy goals. Our educational
goals were to inform community members about
their air quality, and strategies for
exposure reduction. And then, one of our
main policy goals was actually to help our
advocacy partners inform local decisions about
the oil refinery. So those policy goals were
derived in collaboration with our advocacy partners. And so to help facilitate
those policy goals, we did a couple of things. One, we actively
reported the results back to the community in
various different ways. Too often, scientists come
into these communities, collect data, and then leave. There’s never that return back. We held community events with
Spanish language interpreters, and child care, where
we gave the results back to the community in ways that
were culturally appropriate, at the appropriate
educational level. Which really also pushed us
to find new ways to visualize and communicate our data. We also reported individuals’
environmental exposure results back to them, if they had
requested that information. And at that time, that
was also very novel, because often
people think, well, if there aren’t clear health
and safety thresholds, perhaps reporting the data back
will only create anxiety, or perhaps community
members won’t know how to interpret that information. But we decided we would help
them in that interpretation process, and we
would we would let them make some of those
decisions for themselves. So these intentional
efforts helped to create a dialogue
and exchange with the local community. And it also led to a shared
ownership of the data. As a result, our community-based
organization partner presented the data to
the Richmond city council and planning commission,
and argued in court for a cumulative
impacts assessment to be included in the oil
refinery permit applications. And that was an approach that
was central to our research. This advocacy resulted
in a legal victory that actually blocked the
expansion of the oil refinery. So we saw that as a big
win for public health. Another kind of big I
guess lessen or component of this project
was the diversity of our scientific team. I think it also helped to
change how the community viewed scientists and science. Many communities of
color carry a distrust of science and medicine. In part because there’s
been historical expectations of these communities by
the scientific enterprise. But also because
science and medicine are still commonly used to
discredit community knowledge and experience. You know, I did a
lot of the reporting back of the results
to the community, and I, probably
for many of them, I was the first woman of color
scientist that many of them had ever met. And I think that brings up an
important issue for this panel, which was very intentionally
created to lift up voices of women of color, about
why diversity and inclusion are important. Because it really does impact
what research questions are asked, the methods that
are used to answer them, as well as whose perspectives
and voices are included. Another side, another dimension
of the work that came out of that same community-based
participatory research project, involved more work on toxics
at the state and federal level. So another one of
our policy goals was to impact state
and federal policies regarding endocrine-disrupting
compounds in consumer products. So endocrine-disrupting
chemicals are substances
that are often are man-made industrial chemicals. They can interfere with how
hormones behave in our body, even at low levels. Many of these
chemicals are widely used in consumer products,
and consequently are ubiquitous in our
everyday environments, as well as in our bodies. So in this California
Household Exposure Study, we looked at a lot
of chemicals that may have come from vehicular
exhaust, or the oil refinery, but we also measured a
wide range of these EDCs. And we found very high levels
of PBDE flame retardants in all of the California homes. And they were some of the
highest levels in the world. And so this was kind of
a surprising finding, but we followed the data. And the back story on
these flame retardants are quite interesting. So beginning in
the 1950s and ’60s, we started seeing a big
uptick in household fires, and fire-related
injuries and even deaths. And it was largely because
smoking rates were going up, lots of people were
smoking indoors, often falling asleep with
half-lit cigarettes. At the same time, we were
having more consumer products like furniture being made
from petrochemical byproducts, like polyurethane foam. So there was this perfect
storm of more smoking, and highly flammable products. Well, the tobacco
industry was very clever, because they very
cleverly shifted the focus from the cigarettes– which
was really the main problem– to the couches. And they’re like, those are
the things we have to fix. So it was a well-intentioned
intervention, but furniture makers
started treating furniture with these chemical
flame retardants, which they just mixed into the foam. And they thought
they were inert, and they thought they were
staying in the products. Well, lo and behold,
they weren’t inert, they were actually
neurotoxicants. And they weren’t staying in the
furniture– they were actually migrating out of our products
into our dust and into our air. So we found– jump
forward 30 or 40 years, people had started
detecting them in breast, in house dust. And we found these very high
levels in California homes. And we hypothesized that it
was the unintended result of the very unique and stringent
fire safety standards that were unique to California. So they said that,
all furniture must be able to withstand an
open flame for 30 seconds. And so the way that
most furniture makers did this was by adding
these flame retardants. And so we wanted to
see, well, would we see the same thing
in people’s bodies? And so we did several
other studies, and we actually found
that low-income, racially diverse pregnant
women in California, had some of the
world’s highest levels of these PBDE flame
retardants in their bodies. And remember, these are
established neurotoxicants, based on studies in cells,
in animals, and even humans. So around this time this
research was published, California policymakers
started considering a change to the state’s fire
safety standards. I happened to be doing
a post-doc in California at that time, so I testified
in front of the California legislature, and also
started writing commentaries to highlight the
disproportionate burden of chemical flame retardants
among low-income communities of color. And it was important
to highlight these disproportionate
impacts, but it was also important for
building coalitions, because up until that point,
the chemical industry had really tried to say, oh, this is
green legislation that only the enviro groups wanted. And they actually
tried to kind of pit the enviros against some of the
EJ and social justice groups, because still, low income
communities of color were dying more from
household fires. So during this
time, too, new data was coming, was being revealed
that these flame retardants really weren’t that effective
in addressing the problem. So we started writing
about how you should really think about this fire
safety standard not just as an environmental standard,
but really a social policy. Because we know a lot
of these communities already face so many barriers to
healthy growth and development. So here is a chance
to prevent exposure to a known neurotoxicant. And over time, this
body of work has helped to change our approach
to fire safety at both the state and federal level, to
ensure adequate fire safety without the use
of hazardous chemicals. So now I just want to share
one last example, where my work is getting increasingly,
I would say, molecular. I’m becoming more
interested, and really trying to understand how
structural racism, and other systemic forces really
become biologically embedded at the molecular and cellular
level to affect health, and to also affect the
health of future generations. And some of this
work really lies at the intersection of
environmental justice, but also reproductive justice. Because a lot of it is really
about the right of women to control their
own bodies, and also to have control
over their ability to have a healthy
pregnancy, and to be able to raise their families in
healthy and safe environments. And some of this
work has been getting a lot of attention in the media
recently, just thinking about black women’s health, and just
the really disturbing disparity around how many black women
are dying in childbirth today. You look at my own city of DC,
one of the most wealthy cities in this country, and our
maternal mortality rate is twice the national average. There’s whole wards of DS
that lack a maternity ward. Which to me is completely
unacceptable in 2018 in USA. So I’m trying to connect
structural racism, and how it may become
biologically embedded to impact reproductive health. And so one way we’re
doing that is we’re starting to look at the
health repercussions of toxic chemicals in beauty
products through an EJ lens. Something we refer to as
the environmental injustice of beauty. Beauty products use is
an understudied source of environmental
chemical exposures. Some of these
products could include reproductive and developmental
toxicants, such as pthalates and heavy metals. However, disclosure requirements
are limited and inconsistent. Compared with white
women, women of color have higher levels
of beauty product related environmental
chemicals in their bodies. And this is independent
of socioeconomic status– so it can’t be explained by
socioeconomic status alone. So it can’t be
explained by class. Even small exposures to
these toxic chemicals during critical periods of
development, such as pregnancy, can trigger adverse health
consequences on fertility, on pregnancy, on brain
development, and even cancer. Mass distributions of images
that idealized whiteness can influence sales of hair
straighteners, skin lighteners, and odor-masking products. And racial discrimination
based on European beauty norms can lead to internalized racism,
body shame, and skin tone dissatisfaction. Factors that can
influence product use to achieve these
idealized beauty norms. So we are starting to look at
beauty products use as one way that structural
discrimination may become biologically embedded. And in one future project,
or upcoming project, we’re actually
going to be working with a multi-disciplinary
team of public health scientists, social scientists,
as well as grassroots, EJ-RJ organizations to identify
links between beauty product use and racial ethnic
differences in breast cancer, through community-based surveys
and chemical product testing. In general, we’re trying
to use sophisticated, emerging, biological
molecular tools, with nuanced social
structural frameworks to move beyond just
looking at race as this dichotomous
biological construct, to one that’s really looking at
it more as a social construct, and really focusing on racism,
in addition to just race. So and all of this
research, I should say, has been a great opportunity
to train the next generation of women of color
scientists, and to get them engaged into this work. So it’s kind of new models
of not only new disease models, but new ways
of creating knowledge. And I just want to end by
saying that, even though I often speak in the language
of data and numbers, good science alone is not
enough to create social change. I’m equally committed to
translating and disseminating the science for public
health policy and practice. So I’ll just leave it at that. [APPLAUSE] That was wonderful. Thank you so much for those
incredible presentations. I just want to
open the floor up. You guys have all
been here listening, so I’m sure you have
lots of questions. I have questions of my own, but
I think let’s start with yours. Yeah? [INAUDIBLE] Trina, I want to ask you a
question about the garden project. What are your hopes
for the project? How do you see this evolving? Well, that’s a really
great question, thank you. I’m very interested in
the power of stories, and the power of culture,
and how we talk about change that is led by people who
are directly impacted. I’m also very interested
in black women’s stories, black women as leaders,
black women as innovators, and thinkers, and scientists. And I just feel that black
people’s relationship to land, because of the legacy
of enslavement, that that connection is really– and analyzing why
that connection is really important in terms
of our environmental activism. And I love gardening, and I have
lots of black women in my life who garden, and I love them
all, and I learn something from all of them. And I think that
just gardening are really interesting stories– they’re ways of telling
stories about who we are and where we come from. And that’s powerful to me. So I don’t know if that’s a
direct answer to your question, but I think there’s a lot
to learn from black women environmental leaders
that we don’t know. And I’m interested in those
stories being uplifted. Can you introduce
yourself, actually, before you ask your question? –sit on the back of this couch. I’m Amelia, I’m a
junior at the college. And I want to say
thank you to all of you guys– this has been a
really fascinating panel. My question is about
the future, I guess. We’ve heard a lot about
the need for adaptation to climate change on both
macro and micro levels. But I’m wondering
what your thoughts are about how communities can
adapt, in terms of transforming themselves, and whether
environmental justice is also a project of
transforming communities to tackle the future? I think that’s
addressed to any of you. I guess a couple of
things come up for me when I hear that question. I think climate
resiliency, the that term has been coming up a lot
in philanthropic spaces, and also in spaces
of organizing. And I think that one
of the lessons that was learned from
Hurricane Sandy, from Katrina, that I
think is important, is to understand that our
neighbors and our communities are also first responders. And so part of how
communities are able to adapt is by continuing to build
relationships with each other. And that sounds
sort of slow, but it is the thing that saves
people in those moments, is their ability to be
rescued, to be recognized, and to be connected
to a social network. And so I think
adaptation and resiliency is about the physical
infrastructure that gives people a few more
hours to get to a safe place, but it is also about, what
are the ways in which we need to have policies that
support and strengthen communities? Which is one of the reasons why
gentrification and displacement is such a huge threat to
communities that are already going to be less likely to
be able to be resilient, because people are moving away
from those social networks. I think it’s also a reason
why jobs and economic policies are really important, because
the ways in which people have to have multiple jobs– so they’re not at
home being able to be in those social
spaces because they have to work to pay their rent. And so I think all
of those things are really linked together,
and the environmental justice framework, I think,
provides analysis of how those different
problems are intersected and how we can think
about solutions. If I can just add– and I also would just say
that, communities of color have always adapted. And you don’t survive 400
plus years of oppression, and not have strategies
for adapting. And so I feel like one
of our opportunities is to learn from what
people have always done, and that we don’t
always take ideas from, as Ami’s pointing
out in her work. That you don’t always
lead with the ideas that comes from
outside the community. That you’re actually
engaging the community on what they know already. And that becomes part of the
strategy that we all value. So we’ve always adapted,
everyone has always adapted. And of course, we
always have to be attentive to what’s emerging,
but we’ve always adapted. So this narrative about
what do people need to do? What have people
always done that we can learn from, and
invest in those strategies and to actually support them. Thanks, thank you very much. This is great. I’m loving hearing
about all of your work. I was wondering– Introduce yourself. Oh, my name is Kaya, I’m
an anthropologist, as well. I was wondering if you could say
a little bit more, all of you, about– I feel like I heard you all
are doing really intersectional work, and I feel like I heard
a lot about the intersections of environmental justice,
housing justice, transit justice, and I’m wondering
if you could just say more about where criminal
justice fits into that? How you see your work
intersecting with mass incarceration, with effects
of that on the communities that you work in. And where you see
the opportunities for working on that. Anyone? I have a lot to say
on that, but I– [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGHTER] So in Roxbury, you
probably know that there are two police stations. It is one of environmental
concerns, too. If you look around, you see a
lot of elderly people, not too many young people. Also, on top of that,
some of the problems we identified in mass
incarceration was, within mass
incarceration itself, there is a form of environmental
justice problem there. In some of the
Massachusetts facilities that are hosting a lot of
incarcerated people of color, we identified that there is a
concern of contaminated water within the facility, and we
are working with some house expertise to identify,
and what it means. So if you see environmental
justice, the scope goes on. And for ACE, or any
environmental justice community that we have been
working, the shape and the form of the
struggle has been changing. We may have a few successes,
but definitely in the past 20 years, they have changed. They have become more
complicated, structurally. So seeing environmental justice,
and the criminal justice, they are all connected. So for our organizing
work would be to see the structural problems– just saying, oh, this
is people of color, so they are impacted by this. But it’s much deeper than that. So the movement of Black
Lives Matter is just not an open-air– some type of– so it has been
around for many, many years, as you can imagine. But within a struggle,
there’s another struggle. That’s why I’m trying to say. And there is a lot of work
to be done, definitely. But finding those solutions
is what we should focus on. Because it seems
sometimes, it’s endless. But yeah, if anyone
wants to add on that. Well, and sometimes
we know the solutions, but it’s about implementing
basic solutions. So take the example of lead– we know the health
effects of lead. We know how to fix that problem. Whether it’s lead in water,
or lead in lead paint. And yet, in some
ways, lead, like the problem of getting
blood levels down is considered a
public health victory, but really it’s been
concentrated globally among poor people, and in this
country, and in EJ communities And we know that lead
exposures in children, they’re irreversible. And they also affect
brain development, but they may also be
increasing violent behavior and things linked to– so they’re almost
predisposing people to get into the
criminal justice system. So in that way, some of
these environmental concerns are perpetuating these cycles. And in the case
of lead, we don’t have to go out and
hunt for a solution. We actually know
them pretty well. So it’s about just
having the political will the implement what we know. [SPEAKING SPANISH] I would like to add something. [SPEAKING SPANISH] I think that criminal justice
and environmental justice are linked. Because when you look
at all of the bodies that live in our communities,
who are these bodies? Who are these people? And it’s people of color– immigrants, black communities. And these are the
very communities that are being criminalized
specifically because they’re black, and there’s this
prejudice behind being black, or a person of color, or a
person that’s an immigrant. [SPEAKING SPANISH] In my community where I
live, 65% are Latinos, and I see that a lot of young
people are being incarcerated. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And these young
people are also black, because even though
we’re Latinos, Latinos are very diverse. And so there are
also black Latinos. [SPEAKING SPANISH] With the current
administration that we have, they’re implementing
anti-immigrant laws that our communities
are suffering through. And it’s not only
our communities that are being incarcerated,
but they’re also being deported. [SPEAKING SPANISH] These policies are
separating our communities. And for a lot of our
communities, to be deported means to die. Because when they
arrived here, they were able to escape
that violent situation. [SPEAKING SPANISH] When we talk about
environmental justice, we are also talking
about criminal justice. And all sorts of
types of justice– human rights, just
basic human rights. It’s not only about
having clean air but rather having the
right to live and to have a life of quality. Thank you. From the same couch, up front. Hi, I’m Shalonda Baker,
and I’m a professor of Law and Public Policy
at Northeastern. So it’s good to see
you, Tenbit, here. So one of the successes of the
environmental justice movement has also been its downfall,
in terms of the gentrification that we see in communities
that have been, quote unquote, cleaned
up, and are now more inhabitable and safer. So I see environmental justice
as a really useful framework, and a theoretical tool, to
identify problems, and then remediate. But I think we’re in
this really unique moment with the just transition, which
many of you have mentioned, to look at the
different intersections between gentrification,
and among climate justice and
environmental justice, as well, particularly in some
of the energy innovations that some of you mentioned. And I was just wondering,
more concretely, about the particular
policy opportunities to link the gentrification piece
and the threats to the home with innovations around
energy and energy democracy– I know that was mentioned by
Jennifer, and also Kalila. And so I don’t know if there’s
anything happening locally in Boston around home security,
and security of land, that could allow for this just
transition to happen, that doesn’t further
jeopardize the communities that are already at risk
of losing their homes. I would say that– I wouldn’t say that
people are necessarily already making those links. But hopefully we’ll
be there, soon. But a couple of folks
had mentioned the idea of a community land trust. And so Dudley Street
Neighborhood Initiative convenes the greater
Boston land trust network, which includes
GreenRoots, and ACE, and several other community
organizations across the Boston area, who’ve combined
forces to try to push more broadly
the land trust movement. So some of those folks are
just starting land trusts, so they’re in the
process of trying to actually acquire the land– which is particularly
challenging, in the case of Chinatown, for
example, one that there’s not a lot of vacant land. But then OK, you
can afford to buy a triple decker for, I don’t
know, $700,000 or something, let’s say. But then you don’t
have enough resources to keep it affordable for the
tenants that are in there. And so one of the things that
they are trying to push for is dollars from the
Community Preservation Act. So this was a policy that
Boston passed last year, that allows access for resources
for affordable housing, green space, and
historic preservation. So I think that’s
one opportunity. Also talking with the
city about prioritizing land for disbursement
to land trusts. So there are still some
smaller parcels of land in the city of
Boston, particularly in Roxbury, Dorchester,
and Mattapan. So how do we prioritize
that public resources going for the public good? And there have been
examples of that recently, with Dudley Street
Neighborhood Initiative. So we acquired a commercial
property in Upham’s Corner– one of the largest commercial
properties that the land trust ever acquired. Its design and planning
is being discussed as a part of the larger Upham’s
Corner planning process. What I haven’t seen
people do just yet, is to think about what are
the opportunities for energy efficiency, or a connection
on the land that we do have. I think, in part,
because people are just like, the land is so expensive,
how do we even just get it? But there is also kind
of simultaneously a push around codification
of climate resilient– basically climate
resilience policies around the building codes
within the city of Boston. So a lot of the things that
developers are doing are– they’re not required
to do those things. And so perhaps there’s an
opportunity to think about, not only should this land be
used for the public good– which we’ve defined broadly
as doing affordable housing– but what are the
opportunities to build in a more sustainable
and resilient kind of way by looking at the
building codes. So yeah, those are
a couple of things that folks are talking about. I’ve also heard about policies
for when subsidized housing is redeveloped, to push for
upgrading of air conditioning within those units. Because we know that
especially for communities that are way from the
coast, where there’s just a lot of concrete,
heat is one of the ways that people are going to be
suffering, and probably dying, if they don’t have access
to cooling centers. Can I just– because
several of you talked about the land trusts,
and also about the micro-grid. So is there no link between
the land trust and micro-grid? Is that what you’re saying? I’m saying it’s really
just getting started. So the micro-grid
project, I think the award for that
came earlier this year. And so the land trust that
DSNI has, for example, has been around for
a couple of decades. So some new things
are being introduced into the conversation because
there are environmental justice organizations at the table,
like ACE and GreenRoots. But I would say
within the past six to eight months people are
beginning to explore those. Hi, my name is Pua
Brown, I’m a senior. Thank you all for coming,
and for your contributions, and all your work. It’s really amazing. I am in environmental science
and public policy at Harvard, and I just finished my
thesis on food sovereignty– [APPLAUSE] –in traditional
Hawaiian agriculture, in the context of the
whole food system, but really focusing on water
rights and the public trust doctrine, and restorative
environmental justice. And so that brings in what you
are saying about communities uplifting themselves,
giving them the resources– whether it’s
environmental resources, or economic resources– to
make the change that they seek. And so I guess– and I took Professor
Subermanian’s class last semester, and it
was a huge inspiration. In clarifying on these
thoughts, and one of the things that just kept coming up,
so many of these themes were throughout my thesis,
but the intersectionality of environmental justice. And creating a world,
imagining alternative futures, in a world of shared values. And I really think that there’s
a huge potential in terms of indigenous rights, and
environmental justice rhetoric, and also restorative
environmental justice for all marginalized
communities. And so I was wearing if you
guys had more to say about that. One thing– thank
you, very much, and for just even lifting
up this future of where we have shared values. You know, I think that part
of the power of storytelling, and in hearing each
other’s stories, is that we start to build
empathy for each other. And I feel like that’s a
really undervalued facilitator of how we might start to
create equity and justice. And so I think that
when we hear stories and we start to make connections
between our histories, and understanding that a lot
of what we’re dealing with has been set up, there’s
a historical precedent set in motion by certain
laws and policies that got us where we are today. And so I think that it’s that
larger ecosystem of what you’re saying, is how do
we lift up what is indigenous rights, what is
the community knowledge that we hold? I think that one point
that I’m taking away, just from your own
reflection, I think it’s going to take an
intersection of all of those different strategies. And I think that the
strategy around policy, I think that is an area where
we’re playing a little bit of catch-up, and we have to
really engage our folks on– what are the
policies on the books right now that
need to be changed? That are causing
harm, that many of us really don’t know
that much about? And we have to politicize
folks about policies, and how we can change policies. And so I feel like
that’s an area– whether it’s around
land usage, or energy. And if I could just lift
up a couple of things that some of our
grantees are doing, we had a grantee
network in Rhode Island of immigrant workers that just
passed legislation at the state level in Rhode Island,
that recognizes worker-owned cooperatives. That had not been
recognized in the state of Rhode Island, worker-owned
cooperatives, as businesses. Which means that maybe they
can get some state funding to start. But that’s a game
changer for people. Or even thinking about
the incarceration– that there was a
group of young people that passed the CSA Act in
Providence around police brutality, and mandating that
the police department keep data on who they stop and why. Because they were learning
that young people had these– after having interactions
with the police– that their names are in
these gang databases. And they had no idea why. And so parents didn’t know,
the youth didn’t know. They’d go to apply
for jobs and programs, and then these
records would come up. And it’s like, how the
hell did they get in there? And they’d have these
interactions with the police, and the police would put
their names in the database. So they just passed
a law that changes that, where the police have
to be transparent about what they’re doing when they
interact with youth of color. So this is what I’m saying– this is the multi-strategy,
policy-level engagement that we have to be on top of. So I think that that’s one of
the opportunities that we have. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed
the conversation on different scales. My question emerges out
of some of the things around the
environmental justice, and moving more to
what Ami was talking around science and
production of knowledge on a scientific level. And I wanted to raise– that’s my first question,
how do you really make those connections
more explicit? Because most of
the time, when we think from
environmental justice, immediately that knowledge
is degraded as being less, scientifically less
knowledgeable, or less insightful about innovation
and all that stuff. And so I think it may be
interesting to see, how do we have that conversation,
that it doesn’t really become us versus them? Because for instance, I am– by the way, I didn’t
introduce myself. I’m [INAUDIBLE],, I
teach in Toronto. I sent some of my
students to go into one of the communities,
which is like Chelsea, and they were shocked how the
corporations have come in, and making demands and
claims on the indigenous land in order to build their
own power plants there. While the indigenous
people have been struggling for more than 40 years
in this particular area to really say, we don’t
want power plants, because it’s
contaminating our waters, it’s destroying our lives–
cancer rate is higher than any other community. So I’m wondering
if there is a way of speaking to that kind
of gap, if you will. So that’s my first question. My second question because I’m
also an international relations professor, one of the big
issues that you guys brought up about energy and migration,
we saw Donald Trump just attacked Syria. And one of the
major issues there is foreign policy
and militarization. So I just wanted
to throw that out, because I think one
of the major issues here is like a lot of
resources, public resources end up going to militarization,
and basically stealing other people’s land
and energy resources. So how do we make that global
connection more explicit? And I think in a way we can
speak about America as being so isolated, and the big empire– can kill anybody everywhere–
but I think it may be important for us to start thinking,
especially around migration, what are those connections? Because when you are
displacing refugees, they’re coning here,
perhaps, or Europe, but with what implications
on environmental issues and scientific approaches
to understanding? The environmental destruction? Thank you. Sure, I can start. I think your point is well
taken about the production of knowledge, and how
to engage communities and to lift up their knowledge. Especially to protect
their environment, protect their rights. And I think conversations
like this are very important. And I think it starts
with developing trust among different people– investing in these
relationships. I think everything starts
with relationships. And that gets back to
what Trina was saying, and especially relationships
across difference. And then once you have
those relationships, to be creative about
what you produce, and also the different
languages you can use in your
production, and also the different types of output. So language is being
anything from English to indigenous languages,
to more scientific, quantitative
language, to something that’s very much
constructed to move policy. Which is, in and of
itself, its own language. Or a language that’s
very much constructed to increase everybody’s
awareness of a problem, which often means policy. So really thinking about– in a sense, I think, to
create change, a lot of us have to almost think
bilingually, but not necessarily thinking about
language in a looser term. Because I think
community-based partnerships can take many different forms. But I think that the best
ones recognize the fact that different stakeholders
have different needs, and ideally we’d be trying
to address some of these. Kind of going back to
your point about moving policy, two things– I’ve started to
get more into that. And it is a very
different way of thinking, and a different way of
translating information. And also asking very specific
questions that may be different sometimes the most
pressing questions for the scientific community. But then, I think the
other elephant in the room is, what is our
likelihood of changing policy for the better
on the federal landscape in the next few years? So even if that’s what we
need to do, if you look at, in the space human rights
environment, public health, likely, the only thing, it
anything that’s happening, is going strikingly in
the wrong direction. And so what are the
strategies in the face of that the big elephant in the room? But that also speaks to
different levels of government. So it’s not that all the levels
of government line up neatly. So you’ve got
California, which is at war with the federal
government right now. So it’s not just
about figuring out the language of policy,
and how to navigate the world of policy, but
at what level of state– you pitch your claims. And you can even use tensions
between different levels of government to your advantage. I heard a lot about
the municipal level. And that level of government
having a little more give, that it’s a much more– there’s possibilities
for participation. There’s possibilities to lay
claim to policy as a right. I don’t know whether
it’s that easy to do at the federal level. Were all like, so
many things to say. I think you’re right– a lot of us are mostly
contesting for power at the municipal
level, because that is where it’s a level
that our base understands, and can vision around. And at the same
time, I also believe that this is part of the
reason why I was talking about this 10-year agenda. So part of the reason– I should say, we’re not in this
position as a country because of this one election. So there were a series of
decisions and power strategies that folks had been
planning decades before this moment that happened
to come to fruition, maybe by– who knows, just as a
cloud of circumstances brought us to that. And so I think for me, that
means that we, our side, needs to also be doing
that kind of level of planning and strategy. Not that it’s easy. But the hard part
is, not only being able to say what we don’t want,
but really doing the hardware to vision about what
does it look like when we’re going to govern? And how do we actually want
these systems transformed? And I think that’s
the part that we have to really begin thinking
and strategizing about. And unfortunately, understanding
and grappling with the fact that, during this
period, there’s going to be a lot of harm. That is just inevitable. And so how can we also
strengthen our practices for healing with each
other, and dealing with the multitudes
of many faceted ways that trauma is going to be
continuing to attack our folks, and is already is already here. But yeah, I think we have to
do you longer term visioning and planning. Does anyone want to answer
the militarism question? [SPEAKING SPANISH] Something that was very
interesting about what you had mentioned was that
intersection between what is happening here,
and also what is happening in other countries. [SPEAKING SPANISH] I think that when we talk
about environmental justice, we also have to talk
about capitalism and the economic system that we
have, that is, quite frankly, destroying our lives. [SPEAKING SPANISH] I’m going to talk
about Latin America, because that’s what
has been my experience, and that’s what I’m most
knowledgeable about. But we have suffered. We have suffered for
a very long time– ever since the colonialism
of extractivism. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And now we’re living
through capitalism. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And so what connections
do we see there, between everything that is
economic and the environment? And it’s completely connected. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And it’s these
large corporations that go to our
countries, that just exploit our natural resources. [SPEAKING SPANISH] These major corporations,
by exploiting our natural resources, are
displacing indigenous groups, are displacing
basically everything that gets in their way. They’re contaminating
rivers, they’re taking our precious
goods, and it’s exactly this system that is causing
this climate change. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And they do it there,
and they do it here. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So when you talk
about these systems and how they’re
connected, we also have to talk about immigration. Immigration here, when we
talk about these poor people from Latin America,
from Central America, coming here, these ragamuffins
and riffraff that’s immigrating into the United States– when we look at all of
that, we’re not actually looking at what the problem
is, what the problem there is. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So we’re not looking at
the root of the problem. [SPEAKING SPANISH] A lot of people think
that immigrants come here to take our jobs. [SPEAKING SPANISH] That we’re criminals. [SPEAKING SPANISH] In 1998, Central America
suffered a hurricane that completely devastated
the region, which was called hurricane Mitch. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And that caused many
Central Americans to cross the border
into the United States. [SPEAKING SPANISH] And so as a result, we had
what is now called TPS– or temporary protective status. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So for years, these people
have lived here in the United States– both Central American
and people from Africa– under this temporary
protective status. But now that temporary
protective status is being threatened,
and now they are being threatened
that they’re going to now be stripped of the
TPS and live here illegally. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So for many Central Americans,
next year will be their last. [SPEAKING SPANISH] So when you look
at it, immigration is completely linked with
environmental justice. How is it connected
to capitalism? How is it connected
to climate change? Everything is absolutely
interconnected. Great, well this was wonderful. Thank you all for
sticking around. Thank you, all of you. That was remarkable. [APPLAUSE] I just wanted to
make one announcement of another environmental
justice talk, which is tomorrow. Just to keep the ball rolling. Go to as many EJ
talks as you can. It’s by Elizabeth
Hoover, and the title is, The River Is in Us– Achieving Environmental
Reproductive Justice in a Mohawk Community. From 4:00 to 6:00 PM,
Harvard Hall, 102. If you try to make it. Thanks everyone. [APPLAUSE]

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