Washington Post Writers Call for More Inclusive Environmentalism

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March 30, 2013;The Washington Post

While this can hardly be seen as new news, the Washington Post ran an article on the front page on March 25, restating that diversity is lacking in the mainstream environmental movement. Van Jones, a former advisor on green jobs to the Obama administration, was quoted, saying, “We essentially have a racially segregated environmental movement. We have an environmental justice movement and a mainstream movement.”   

A few days later, Lois Gibbs wrote a piece that was printed on the Washington Post opinion page. Ms. Gibbs is a 35-year veteran of grass-roots environmental activism, starting with her personal evacuation from the Love Canal area of New York. It was her discovery that the local elementary school was built on a toxic dump that led, two years later, to President Carter signing an Emergency Declaration.

In her opinion piece, she states, “In movements throughout history, the core of leadership came from a nucleus of directly affected or oppressed communities even as the cause engaged a much broader range of justice-seeking supporters. In other words, successful movements for social change—anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, and civil rights—have always been inspired, energized and led by those most directly affected. Yet these are the very groups within the environmental movement that are starved for resources.”

Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club, responded to the opinion piece, expressing thanks for “shining a spotlight on an issue the Sierra Club has identified as a key priority for 2013 and beyond: bringing diversity to the environmental movement.”

Again, this issue has been identified and documented repeatedly over the (now) decades.

Let’s hear from the environmental groups: what’s happening to move the environmental justice groups and the large environmental groups closer together?—Jeanne Allen

  • Terry Fernsler

    While the environmental organization I ran was a small one, the following applies to small and large mainstream (which mine was) environmental groups. A key step toward bringing justice and mainstream groups together is recruitment of Millenial generation participants. My organization–and many others that I observed–actively resisted this because the aging leaders of the organizations did not see an immediate return (i.e., money or individual influence with policymakers). When appealing to Millenials, we must re-frame return, and that means re-thinking organizational models. Too many environmental nonprofits are unimaginative and shun innovation, while environmental degradation continues. Kudos to the Sierra Club for joining the 21st century by democratically deciding programs and their implementation.