Environmental Justice: One Movement, Three Generations of Activists
October 24, 2002
The Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit brought three generations of the environmental justice movement together. The elders and pioneers of the movement, activists like Robin Cannon and Rose Augustine, were at the first Summit eleven years ago (in 1991) and returned for the Second Summit.The middle generation of activists, grassroots organizers like Tom Goldtooth, Richard Moore, Peggy Shepard, and Sylvia Herrera and scholars like Drs. Beverly Wright, Teresa Cordova, Robert D. Bullard, and many others, were also attending what in most cases was a second Summit. Legal scholars like Luke Cole and Eileen Gauna were also in attendance. A new and third generation of activists, young people like Che Lopez and Bouapha Toommaly, was engaged in its first Summit experience.
More than one thousand delegates and participants were in attendance during the course of the Summit, which was held in Washington, D.C. October 23-27. Grassroots activists and organizations from nearly every state in the nation were present as were delegates and participants from places as far-flung as Canada, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, India, Guatemala, and the Marshall Islands. It was truly a global and multiethnic Summit.
Plenaries, workshops, and roundtables addressed a wide range of issues facing the movement including globalization, biotechnology, sustainable agriculture and local food security, indigenous rights, land grants, and the all-important issue of growing the movement and maintaining its grassroots character and impetus in the face of professionalization. Many workshops focused on continued grassroots mobilization against environmental racism, the deliberate targeting of communities of color in the location of environmental risks and hazards.
One of the four plenary sessions involved a dialogue between grassroots environmental justice activists and the executive directors of several mainstream “Group of Ten” environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. An important theme addressed throughout the course of the gathering was the shift from the critique of environmental racism to the proactive search for sustainability with justice.
The delegates at the Summit adopted the “Principles of Working Together,” a set of guidelines for grassroots movement activists and organizations, academic scholars, and institutions. The Summit delegates also adopted a strongly worded resolution condemning the Bush administration’s “War on Terrorism” as an attack on civil liberties, social justice, and the environment.
In the end, the most significant accomplishment of the Second Summit was the presence of three generations of activists: the elders shared their wisdom and experience; the middle generation presented new perspectives and approaches to the struggle against environmental racism, and the younger generation provided a vision of the future of the movement.