WASHINGTON — Participating in a panel here yesterday at the 45th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF), Aaron Mair said: “The fight to save the environment is being transformed into a fight for environmental justice.” Mair is the first African American to be elected president of the Sierra Club.
The 45th Annual Legislative of the CBCF opened yesterday and will end Sunday morning, Sept. 20. Mair said that “years ago, the leaders of what was then called the ‘ecology’ movement acted as if it had concerns different from those of low-income communities. But today there is growing understanding that poor people disproportionately live in areas most burdened by health hazards caused by environmental damage.”
A professional epidemiologist, he described how he discovered that there was an epidemic of cancer in his own Albany, N.Y., neighborhood caused by fumes from a sewage treatment plant. He sued the State of New York and won.
Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environment and Climate Justice Program, cited the damage to the African American community of New Orleans that was caused by Hurricane Katrina to show that natural disasters hit minority and poor communities harder than they do affluent areas.
“I asked the Army Corps of Engineers why the levee supposedly protecting Plaquemines Parish collapsed more completely than other levees,” she said. “I was told that the levees were financed on the basis of the economic worth of the area each one protected. The value of people had nothing to do with it. An area with big homes gets stronger levees than an area where people live in shacks.”
Another panelist, Majora Carter, explained that “the fight for environmental sustainability is the same as the fight for a better quality of life, social justice and beneficial economic development. They cannot be separated, and the environmental movement now recognizes this fact.”
Carter had led a successful campaign to create useable parks and green spaces in her South Bronx neighborhood, an area previously plagued by air pollution from a waste dump and sewage treatment plant.
“Today,” she said, “we have a jewel called the Waterfront Park.” Building and maintaining the park has created jobs and given young people educational experiences that helped them enter college. The Park has also helped lessen the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the neighborhood because residents now have an outdoor place to exercise.
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D.-Fla., said that “the world must recognize that even climate warming disproportionately hurts poor people and is creating economic chaos worldwide.
“For example,” he said, “a drought helped bring on the war in Syria. Now the entire world is faced with addressing the crisis caused by Syrians fleeing the devastation of war.”
Also part of the legislative conference this year will be more than 70 sessions devoted to identifying what planners describe as “practical, forward-looking solutions that move us toward realizing” a “yes” answer to the question planners chose as the theme of the conference: With Liberty and Justice for All?
In addition to experts discussing the environmental movement, planners say that the conference will include “diverse individuals who have come from across the country and around the world to discuss public policies that impact the global black community.”
Conference participants will tackle immigration policy, homelessness, and police brutality. They will discuss proposals to end the school-to-prison pipeline and to improve the education of minority students and the health of black men and women.
Fourteen sessions are planned to discuss the history of the civil rights movement and today’s Black Lives Matter campaign.
There will be workshops to help develop future leaders to spearhead movements that are aimed at ending racial profiling and mass incarcerations and at defending voting rights and other gains that are now under attack.
Thirteen sessions will address “Business, Economic Development, and Wealth Creation.” They include several workshops to instruct young people in how to become successful business entrepreneurs.
Noticeably absent from the agenda is a discussion of the role of the labor movement, or a workshop in how to defend workers against measures destroying their collective bargaining rights.
In fact, the only union representatives leading workshops at the conference are from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. They will offer professional education skills training.