Let’s Talk About Environmental (In)Justice.

Ongoing racial injustice in this country, paired with a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting communities of color and a rapidly changing climate, has contributed to a rise in awareness about the links between racism and environmental degradation – a concept known as environmental racism.

Here at TRT, we are committed to doing our part to address environmental racism and injustice through our work. As we educate ourselves, we will share resources and information with you, our community. We hope that this will provide more context for our upcoming emails that will expand on the topic of environmental justice throughout the watershed.

The California EPA (one of our generous funders) defines environmental justice as:
“A call for fairness, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, in the development of laws and regulations that affect every community’s natural surroundings, and the places people live, work, play and learn.” Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.

Throughout American history “fairness” has NOT been a reality.

Background:
Environmental justice is not a new concept. Indigenous people and tribes have been fighting against environmental injustices since the first colonizers arrived on this continent. Communities of color have been fighting against environmental racism for decades, even if it was not formally recognized as such.

In the 1960’s, Latinx and Filipino farmworkers in the Central Valley organized for their rights, which included protection from harmful pesticides. Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta were three prominent leaders of the movement, which lives on.

In 1982, “North Carolina announced a plan to move soil contaminated with PCBs from alongside 210 miles of the state’s roadsides to a landfill located in Warren County, one of only a few counties in the state with a majority black population.” The community protested by lying down on the roads that led to the landfill in order to stop the trucks from bringing in the contaminated soil. Following that, six weeks of marches and nonviolent protests drew national attention, despite their ultimate loss of the battle for their community. “The protests and legal challenges mounted by the people of Warren County to fight the landfill are considered by many to be the first major milestone in the national movement for environmental justice” (Source: NRDC).

Around the same time, Dr. Robert Bullard is credited with coining the term environmental justice. He states, “Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in rural ‘poverty pockets,’ or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastations in the nation.” This can also be linked to NIMBYism (an acronym for the phrase “not in my back yard”), which continues to this day.

The movement for environmental justice recognizes the direct link between economic, environmental, and health issues. It is a movement that focuses on the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.

We must be agents of change to stop the environmental injustices that plague our communities of color. Understanding and addressing environmental racism as a complex and systemic issue is imperative in creating a better, more just future for our communities and planet.

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Resources on Environmental Justice and Racial Equity:

Last week the New York Times shared a wonderful list of articles on Environmental Justice. Below are a few of our favorites from the New York Times list, plus other resources and articles that we found to be insightful.

Articles:

The Green Movement Is Talking About Racism? It’s About Time! “The same people and organizations we admire for protecting our wild places also have a history of being apathetic—or plain antagonistic—toward issues of race and social justice”

I’m a Black Climate Expert. Racism Derails Our Efforts to Save the Planet “Stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder”

Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism “Racial and economic inequities need to be tackled as this country seeks to recalibrate its economic and social compass in the weeks and months to come. Racism, in short, makes it impossible to live sustainably.”

“Two different realities”: Why America Needs Environmental Justice “One thing we know is that environmental enforcement does not happen the way it needs to happen in communities of color and low-income communities.”

TED Talks:

Environmental Justice: A Ted Talk by Peggy Shepard

Greening the Ghetto: A TED Talk by MacArthur-winning activist Majora Carter

Environmental Racism: A TED Talk by Van Jones

The Danger of a Single Story: A Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you would like to keep the conversation going
or share additional resources, feel free to email us at staff@tuolumne.org.

There is No Environmental Justice Without Racial Justice

Written by: Shanley Mitchell
Edited by: Lauren Barnum

There is no environmental justice without racial justice. The systems of power and privilege that destroy the environment also deprive Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) of their humanity – and too often, their lives.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Since Jan. 1, 2015, 1,252 Black individuals have been shot and killed by the police. We are outraged by the racist murders of, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Bettie Jones, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Eric Reason, Dominique Clayton, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. 

Here at the Tuolumne River Trust we stand in solidarity with Black and BIPOC people everywhere. All too often racial justice is left out of environmental action. It is no secret that communities of color are disproportionately affected by every climate crisis. Fighting for a healthy Tuolumne River is not only necessary for the health of our environment, but it is necessary for the survival of our communities who depend on the Tuolumne for clean drinking water, growing food, and safe spaces for recreation. 

Because of violent and racist acts, our friends of color often do not feel safe recreating outdoors. In fact, Ahmaud Arbery was outdoors doing what he loved, running when he was murdered by three white men simply because of the color of his skin. Enough is Enough. Safe access to the outdoors as a refuge for recreation and play should not be determined by race. Sheltering in place comes with its own set of challenges, and no one, under any circumstance, should feel unsafe to leave their house for a few hours of nature and fresh air. 

Our environment can’t survive without biodiversity, in the same way that we can’t survive or thrive without racial diversity. Our mission at TRT is to protect and restore the Tuolumne River and its watershed for present and future generations. We want the communities who benefit from the Tuolumne’s clean drinking water and world-class recreation to reflect the beautiful diversity that makes up our country. This is one reason why racial equity and decreasing social and economic barriers to river access is important to us. 

We will hold ourselves accountable as we dedicate resources toward a more intersectional approach to our work. To us, accountability means having the difficult but necessary conversations about white privilege as a majority-white team, uplifting stories told by people and communities of color, dedicating more time and financial resources to our programs for underserved communities, educating ourselves about systemic racism, continuing equitable hiring practices, and diversifying our team. Standing in solidarity is not just the right thing to do, it is our responsibility.  We will hold ourselves accountable for our shortcomings and put in the work to help create more just and inclusive movement. 

EDIT: In honor of transparency and growth, we would like to make an edit to the sentence: “In fact, Ahmaud Arbery was outdoors doing what he loved, running when he was murdered by three white men simply because of the color of his skin.” We recognize that systemic racism runs deep in our country. The wrongful murder of Black people is due to insidious systems of oppression and white supremacy that hold power over this country and us as people. It is not “simply because” of the color of someone’s skin. Simplifying this is equivalent to erasing the deep systemic racism that we must collectively face head-on. We are sorry for our oversight and derivative language. We are committed to learning alongside you, and that means admitting when we make a mistake.

Should we care about conservation during a pandemic?

Written by: Shanna Edberg 

Published by: The Hill

Now, more than ever, we need nature and the benefits it provides. COVID-19 has both revealed and exacerbated deep inequities in access to green space. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be at home, away from the frontlines, appreciate the mental and physical health boost provided by walks and nature views even more.

Those in less privileged communities find themselves in a double whammy of air pollution making the disease more severe, while lacking the green space that is so necessary to resilience, health and wellbeing.

A lot of things have changed with the pandemic and many of us are gleaning a sliver of hope from the news of cleaner airlower carbon emissions and the resilience and rebound of nature and wildlife in the face of human retreat to our homes. But one thing hasn’t changed: Even with vehicle and industrial emissions falling, the climate crisis remains as huge of a threat as ever.

Another way to protect and expand our green spaces is with the movement to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. This “30×30” initiative could take its first step with state-level bills and programs, like the ones that have been introduced in CaliforniaSouth Carolina and Hawaii, to conserve 30 percent of the state’s lands and waters by 2030. Seventy-three percent of Western voters support the national initiative, as do 82 percent of Latinos.

COVID-19 will not be the last disaster we face as a society. But we can lessen its effects, and those of future disasters, with holistic conservation policies that include pollution reduction and land and water protection and restoration, with equity and access for all.

Shanna Edberg serves as the director of conservation programs for the national nonprofit Hispanic Access Foundation. Follow her on Twitter: @shannaedberg. 

Parks for the People: Safe Routes to Recreation in Modesto

Written by: Edgar Garibay

Edited by: Lauren Barnum

Living in a safe community and being able to access family spaces such as parks are priorities for many families. Maybe you have a favorite local park or special outdoor place that holds your family’s memories like birthday parties, quinceañeras, or your annual camping trip. What do you remember about that special place? Was it clean and safe? Were there amenities like bathrooms and picnic tables for you to use? Unfortunately, that’s not the reality many of our communities face when they go to their local park. 

“When we first arrived to the neighborhood five years ago”, Noemi Baylon shares, “my family and friends told me that I was putting my family in the wolf’s mouth by living in that community.”

“That community” is Modesto’s Airport Neighborhood. This underserved community is faced with crime, loose animals, illegal dumps, and lack of access to open spaces. Despite this, leaders and youth from the Airport Neighborhood in Modesto have worked hand-in-hand with TRT to change the negative perception of this community and our shared open spaces and parks.

In other words, they have been leading a community transformation.

The grassroots community transformation commenced 10 years ago in collaborative partnerships with community leaders, TRT, and Orville Wright Elementary School. Griselda Manzo recalls the early days: meetings were organized in the homes of community members and formal presentations from community-based organizations or public agencies were conducted at Orville Wright. Through consistent planning and organizing, the first major project in the neighborhood was the construction of the Airport Neighborhood Community Center.

Building off of that success, TRT launched the Charlas Comunitarias (Community Chats) meetings, where resident leaders can collaborate with pubic agencies and TRT to develop community projects that improve safety and access to places like parks and schools. The Safe Routes to School effort resulted in road re-pavement, sewer infrastructure, installation of stop signs, and lighting in the neighborhood – major safety improvements that help parents get their kids safely to and from school. 

Now, we are focusing our efforts on safe routes to parks. Future infrastructure projects such as sidewalks, paved paths, bicycle lanes, a learning theater pavilion, and an outdoor education classroom are part of the guiding vision we are working toward to create safe routes to outdoor spaces in the community. These outdoor places are important for residents’ physical and emotional health. We’ve all felt the benefits of being outside during this new era of sheltering-in-place. 

In light of the rapidly changing circumstances caused by COVID-19, community leaders have been motivated and energized to continue their work virtually. While we practice social distancing, the leaders in the community are quickly learning how to use available technology and public data tools that inform how we continue this work. 

Thanks to the support of Safe Routes Partnership (through the initiative of the JPB Foundation) and the continued generous support from donors like you, we can continue the decade-long legacy of building safe and equitable access to our community parks together. 

 

Equitable Community Engagement in the Time of Social Distancing

Read the original blog post written by Natasha Riveron here.

While traditional community engagement activities like neighborhood walk audits are not possible during COVID-19, there are creative ways to continue equitable community engagement during the time of social distancing.

We spend a lot of time talking about what equitable community engagement looks like. (For some examples, check out these community engagement cards with arts-based activities, a factsheet about community engagement’s core role in equitable Safe Routes to Parks, a checklist for facilitating equitable engagement in the park visioning process, and a webinar about how youth can support policy change.) However, most of the best practices we usually recommend are not feasible in the time of coronavirus. For example, a community meeting with lots of face-to-face conversation, hands-on activities, and a shared meal is the last thing we should be doing right now. We imagine that many of you are asking yourselves the same question: How do we meaningfully and equitably engage communities in planning and decision-making processes in the time of social distancing?

Technologies like video conferences and online surveys are great tools, but simply moving planned content to an online platform isn’t going to be effective at engaging the folks who are already left out of traditional approaches: older adults, non-English speakers, immigrants, people living unsheltered, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income service workers, and other people who don’t have reliable access to the internet. These are the people who are continually excluded from the traditional decision-making process, and sticking with go-to methods in an online format, perpetuates the status quo. The COVID-19 pandemic offers us an opportunity to re-center equity in our work and maintain our commitment to dismantling the systems that continually disregard and oppress these groups.

This is easier said than done, but to offer some concrete suggestions for how to equitably engage community members in the time of COVID-19, we consulted our staff and our 2020 Safe Routes to Parks Activating Communities grantees. Based on those conversations, we have outlined three general themes to guide how we are thinking about engagement and contributed to a crowdsourced collection of engagement strategies that you can also share and add to.

FRAME ENGAGEMENT NOT JUST AS A CHECKBOX, BUT AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE PROCESS

We may be tempted to move projects forward by doing basic virtual engagement and then circling back later for engagement with specific populations. That is not enough if we are truly concerned about incorporating equity into these processes. Community engagement and community voice are an essential part of projects that are meant to serve the community. Consider adjusting your timeline and deliverables if you can. If that isn’t possible, focus on going above and beyond to reach out to underrepresented populations.

Throughout the process, emphasize and help community members understand the value of their experiences as important data for planning and decision-making efforts. Their stories and experiences are qualitative data that should carry weight in how we decide to move projects forward. Show that in your approach to engagement as well. We usually advise against community meetings where community members are just talked at for an hour, so why would we do that now on a digital platform?

Think about how you can share power during meetings; co-create agendas using google docs, ask community members what they want to do right now and implement what they choose, and hand over facilitation to different community members. Reach out to residents early through multiple channels to make sure they are informed about remote options for public meetings, topics that will be discussed, and how they can participate. Send any relevant preparatory materials before the meeting so people are ready to participate. This also allows people to submit questions and comments before the meeting.

BRIDGE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

Tuolumne River Trust in Modesto, California was trying to figure out how to reach community members virtually, but first needed to understand whether their community members had access to the internet at home and the technical knowledge for engaging on digital platforms. They used this survey to assess the number of people with home internet access, their level of comfort using online engagement platforms, and the tech skills they would like to develop. They also asked community members whether this still felt like an appropriate time to be working to improve park access, or whether that needed to be placed on the backburner for now. This first step meant that they knew what resources to provide to make sure that they brought as many people as possible into their ongoing work to increase safe and equitable access to parks. As a result of that survey, they are now holding meetings twice a month with a core group of community advocates. For each meeting, half of the time is focused on building technical skills and the other half is dedicated to working on park access projects.

To apply this in your community, figure out how people can and want to connect, whether it is via zoom meetings or phone trees. If you settle on a more technically challenging medium, consider doing phone calls to walk people through setting up their computer or other device for video conferencing so that they feel comfortable and ready to fully engage. For public meetings, consistently provide an adequate telephone option and ensure that comments can be shared via phone. Give ample time and opportunities for the public to submit comments before the meeting’s start time, such as via email or by leaving a voice message at a dedicated phone number. Read these comments aloud on the record during the meeting for the whole group.

Take steps to specifically accommodate people with disabilities in your virtual engagement. Check out this page from the University of Minnesota to see ways to make virtual meetings and presentations accessible to people with vision or hearing impairments.

For people who will not be able to connect via the internet, consider sticking with phone calls to build relationships, hear people’s stories, and simultaneously connect them to any resources they may need. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, advocates who are working on Safe Routes to Parks are also using this time to call older adults to check if they are feeling isolated and if they have enough food and medication. Community engagement is about relationship; showing up for people when they need help is part of an equitable process.

MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Active transportation and public space may not be top of mind for most people right now. Be sensitive to people’s needs and concerns; it may not be the time for asking them to fill out a survey. However, mobility and public space advocates can use their specific skills and resources to support communities during this time while also building relationships and momentum that support further work aligned with their advocacy goals.

For example, this time can be a great opportunity to help community members build technical and community advocacy skills that can organize and sustain mutual aid networks right now while also building skills for people to advocate for their community’s needs and desires in future planning and decision-making processes. In Flint, Michigan, Crim Fitness Foundation is holding live-stream “community conversations,” digital lunches, and teaching people how to use Zoom and other remote technologies.

This time of crisis has highlighted and exacerbated issues of access and equity that have been there all along. Now is a great time to acknowledge those interconnections. Here is a blog post where we list out pressing issues like getting people to fill out the census and supporting access to food and how active transportation advocates can be allies to those causes.

Now is the time to act on our commitment to equity, support the communities we work within the ways they need it, and not rush the process of community engagement to create Safe Routes.