By Stanley Fritz
While climate change continues to build its relevancy on the national stage and through disastrous extreme weather events that have decimated and destabilized many communities of color around this nation and globally, many believe it is an issue that should be nonexistent or irrelevant in communities of color. Whoever told you that is absolutely wrong. As more and more people of color are taking a stand and shouting, “Black lives matter,” we need to shout just as loudly at elected officials and against policies that have turned our communities into environmental waste zones. We can lift our voices to influence the solutions that will make our communities more sustainable and livable. We can do that by embracing the struggle for Environmental Justice.
For those who are new to the term, “Environmental Justice” demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias. To put it in simpler terms, it argues that 90% of the waste facilities, garbage dumps, and bus depots did not just happen to be placed in neighborhoods that are dominated by black and brown people. It is the understanding that environmental exposures and climate change has and will continue to have detrimental effects to our communities, and for this reason, communities of color need to have a seat at the table when making important decisions that can and will affect their indoor/outdoor health, quality of life and right to a safe and healthy home.
It is a fight that needs your energy, it needs your passion and it can’t be won if young leaders like us don’t take a stand. If at the end of all of the wonderful work we are doing to gain housing justice and quality education, our drinking water is tainted and our homes are filled with mold and lead, our communities and this movement will in a dangerous place. This is one of the biggest fights for justice we will ever participate in, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher. Communities of color are on the front line of an eroding climate, according to Steven Hsieh from The Nation “sixty-eight percent of African-Americans live within thirty miles of a coal-fired power plant, the zone of maximum exposure to pollutants that exacerbate an array of ailments, from heart disease, asthma, obesity and poor birth outcomes..”
That’s not all, remember Hurricane Katrina, and Sandy? Katrina decimated the lower 9th ward, the home for many of New Orleans people of color and low income. More than 8 years since the hurricane, the community is still in recovery mode with many of the people who were displaced gone for good. After Hurricane Sandy in New York, families in low income neighborhoods saw a large amount of people displaced from their homes, and those who could stay experienced a spike in mold issues. Those communities need our help, we have an opportunity to speak up and get active before another crisis comes, and if something happens despite our efforts we can be there to help people pick up the pieces and demand the equal treatment and support that communities deserve.
Environmental Justice communities need our voices now more than ever. They needs us to tell the story of Michelle Holmes, the longtime Harlem resident who lives in a mold infested Harlem apartment for 21 years, and cannot move because she does not have the money. They need our voices of the family in Ohio who can’t drink their tap water because a company began drilling and fracking for natural gas after being given a permit from state or federal officials. They need our voices and energy to help them advocate for more parks, more trees, cleaner streets and healthy homes. And if for some reason we don’t rise to the occasion for these challenges, we will all be in trouble, because injustice for anyone is an injustice for all.
Stanley Fritz is the Director of Communications for WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by assuring that people of color and/or low-income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. Email him at Stanley@Weact.org. Follow him and WeACT on Twitter @StanFritz @Weact4ej. Get at us @BlkMillennials.