Darryl Fears reports in the Washington Post:
[T]he level of diversity, both in leadership and staff, of [mainstream environmental] groups . . . is more like that of the Republican Party they so often criticize for its positions on the environment than that of the multiethnic Democratic Party they have thrown their support behind. . . .
“This goes back a long way,” [Norris McDonald, president of the African American Environmentalist Association] said. “It’s why I founded the [association] in 1985. . . . [T]the African American Environmentalist Association issued a report card for 26 environmental groups based on their diversity for 2003-2004. Eighteen declined to respond to the request for the makeup of their staffs, and most of the others received poor scores.
The association hasn’t issued a report card since because it was an exercise in frustration, McDonald said. “We moved on.”
They formed scores of smaller groups in low-income communities under the “environmental justice” banner and say they address issues that big groups do not: toxins leaking from power plants, urban food deserts where grocery stores don’t exist, efforts to pave over urban green spaces where children play.
They operate on shoestring budgets. A 2001 report on the origins of the environmental justice movement found that it gets only 5 percent of the conservation funding from foundations, while mainstream environmental groups receive the rest.
“We essentially have a racially segregated environmental movement,” said Van Jones, co-founder of the nonprofit Rebuild the Dream and a former adviser on green jobs to the Obama administration. “We’re too polite to say that. Instead, we say we have an environmental justice movement and a mainstream movement.” . . .
Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University said that in 1980 all five of Houston’s landfills were in minority communities, as were six of the city’s eight incinerators. He said mainstream environmental groups he approached for help did not seem concerned. . . .
In 1990, the director of the Southwest Organizing Project, Richard Moore, issued a letter signed by some 100 community and cultural leaders saying that the big green groups lacked diversity, failed to protect minorities from pollution impacts and had histories full of “racist and exclusionary practices.”
The following year, 600 leaders of mostly minority grass-roots organizations met in Washington and laid the groundwork for the environmental justice movement. . . .
Focusing on people
“The values of the mainstream environmental movement don’t focus on the needs of people. They focus on clean air, water and climate,” said Robert Garcia, founding director and counsel for the City Project in Los Angeles.
Thirteen years ago, the City Project was formed in an effort to block then-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan from paving over 32 acres of green space near downtown for a collection of warehouses. . . . [Garcia recalled] “Some of the [mainstream environmental] groups . . . said, ‘What do parks have to do with the environment?’?”
Garcia said he had to lay out the plan’s potential impacts for them: If . . . children [of color] in those urban neighborhoods didn’t have a park, they wouldn’t see green space. Many of their parents don’t own cars. They don’t drive to the woods or beach.
Garcia and others argue that mainstream environmental groups are failing to get popular grass-roots supports for climate change and other initiatives. . . .
Phaedra Ellis, chief executive of Green for All, a San Francisco-based multicultural environment group, wondered whether the funders of mainstream groups are driving the divide.
“We’re applying for this grant, and they say don’t put in there the part about people of color and low-income. And we said, if you don’t want this in the proposal, we’re not a group you want to deal with.” . . .
Click here to read entire article in The Washington Post.
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