Twenty years have passed since President Clinton signed an executive order meant to address environmental injustice in communities of color…yet our communities continue to struggle. I say this with respect and gratitude for people like Rita Harris, Vernice Miller-Travis, Richard Moore, Charles Lee and many others who have paved the way for environmental justice (EJ) work and helped get Executive Order 12898 signed. Today, I had the honor of participating on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) panel, which included a group of strong EJ leaders discussing the Executive Order and the past and future of EJ work. I heard many of my colleagues express similar thoughts. Inspiring words were spoken during the panel discussion, such as, “remember where we come from,” “keep up the struggle,” and “together we can create the visions we need”. In short the message was: we have come a long way but we have an even longer way to go.
Most people in our communities do not know about the Executive Order, and don’t depend on it for environmental protection. Our communities depend on each other, on community organizing, to build power and fend off the continuous toxic assaults on our communities. Nonetheless, the Executive Order and the creation of NEJAC have helped foster a movement for environmental health and justice. The value of the Executive Order and NEJAC, in my opinion, is the convergence of EJ allies from North to South and East to West. There is great value in the discussions and partnerships that arise among EJ advocates in the hallways of meetings, summits, and panels such as this one. The sense that “together we can create the vision we need”, that we are not alone in this struggle, and that our allies can act as mentors, helps reenergize us to continue the fight for environmental justice. Today, I celebrate the EJ movement and hope the Order can continue to help foster this collaboration.
Although the future of EJ work will continue to be a struggle, I look forward to many more years, fighting for Environmental Justice with our brothers and sisters.