by Taneasha White and LaTwyla Mathias
The recent occasion of Earth Day got us thinking about the environment, the movement to save the environment, and the state of our country in 2019. We need a new approach to environmental issues, including Earth Day, and here’s why. Growing up, we were taught in school to love the planet we all call home. Earth Day comes once a year in April–conveniently just as the flowers are beginning to bloom– to remind us that we are crappy stewards of this planet and we should try to do better. While collectively we definitely can do better, is harassing folks who are trying to stay afloat with their less-than-living-wage paying jobs into composting and changing their diets really the best approach? That pretends we are the sole cause of damage when wealthy corporations like Dominion are dumping coal ash into our rivers and corporations around the world continue to use ozone-destroying chemicals to save a dollar. The environment is important to a lot of us. We carpool when possible and make sure to rinse our soda cans and recycle. There are plenty of small things that folks can do on a regular basis to lessen their carbon footprint. What is missing from the environmental movement discussion is that it isn’t JUST up to us, especially those of us who live in targeted marginalized communities of color, to solve the problem.
On the news, we’ve consistently seen communities of color receive the brunt end of the stick when it comes to the consequences of neglecting our environment. Y’all,there are so many examples. From “Cancer Alley” in a Black and low-income neighborhood in Louisiana, to the building a dangerous pipeline through Native land, time and time again corporations have targeted communities of color with gross environmental negligence. Here in Virginia, we see Dominion targeting Union Hill, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buckingham County that was founded by freed slaves, to build new fossil fuel infrastructure. This has got to stop!
Message to Tree Huggers: Put People of Color First
The most frustrating part of the environmental movement comes from white “allies.” People of color want to save our planet just as much as anyone else, but often we see money, property, and animals are prioritized over the bodies and lives of our brothers and sisters. People of color are often in the frontline communities most impacted by environmental change. When the ocean rises and floods Norfolk, predominantly black communities are the first underwater. When corporations want to build new polluting plants, where do they look first? Low-income communities they don’t think will have the power to fight back.
We should absolutely value clean air and clean water and big, beautiful trees. But when we focus on these things instead of the people who are hurt first when they disappear, it alienates people of color like us from a movement we have a huge stake in. It will take all of us banding together to fight the corporations. We are calling on our allies to be committed to including and standing with communities of color. All of our voices are needed to save the world.
Stop Blaming Regular People for Destroying the Planet. Capitalism is the Culprit, Duh
We’re tired of regular citizens getting the blame for destroyed coral reefs and the damaged ozone layer instead of bad corporate actors that are causing the bulk of the harm. Sure, if everyone on Earth decided to stop eating meat, recycle, use cardboard straws, and carpool– we’d make an impact. But pointing the finger at each other just distracts us from banding together to hold the real culprits accountable. No more Earth Day shaming! Let’s commit to building a multi-racial movement that prioritizes the impacts on vulnerable communities so we can all get involved in holding corporations accountable.
Be A Good Steward AND VOTE
Yes, picking up trash and planting trees is good, but it’s not the whole picture and the conversation is much more nuanced. This is where Earth Day falls flat. We need an inclusive movement that both keeps the air and water clean, while also standing up for vulnerable communities. The world is changing every day and though our individual impact matters, it’s not enough to stop the Earth-shattering changes that are coming. We need all of us to come together as one movement to fix the damage that has already been done and to prevent future damage from happening. And we need substantial POLICY CHANGES. That means getting people in office who will vote for policies that will protect our Earth and the people living on it, prepare for climate change, and will support new, clean energy sources for the future. Earth Day has passed, but there is still opportunity communities in Virginia to join together in a fight for strong and healthy communities. Sign up to learn more and be citizen co-sponsor for Virginia For All of Us today! It’s going to take all of us to stop these corporations from ruining the place we call home.