Social Justice Session: Environmental Injustice

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Madi continued the series by sharing about Environmental Justice.  


Environmental Injustice

In February, Madi presented on the topic of environmental injustice. Many people think of environmental justice as passing policies for cleaner oceans or signing the Paris Agreement. In actuality, environmental justice deals exclusively with the intersection of race, class, and public health.

Environmental injustice takes many faces:

Toxic waste sites

Lack of natural resources sovereignty

Lead poisoning

Garbage dump and incinerator siting

Occupational hazards

Air and water pollution



All of these different types of pollution and access to environmental resources are disproportionate when the majority race or socio-economic level of a community is considered. Households of color and those that are labelled as low income are more likely to live beside sources of pollution and health risks, like toxic waste sites, while also more likely to lack access to clean water, air, and land rights.

The history of environmental injustice is rooted in land access. When Europeans colonized America, they stole land from the Indigenous peoples. This land was then co-opted by wealthy white men, some of whom forced slaves to work it. Even when slavery was abolished, black Americans did not have the wealth to own land and were forced to work it again through sharecropping. When black soldiers returned from WWII a few generations later, they too were not allowed to participate in the benefits of the GI Bill (free education, access to a good home, etc.) like their fellow white soldiers were.

While the Civil Rights Movement and the Environmental Movement diverged in the 1960s, the fight for environmental justice was quickly growing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cesar Chavez and the rest of the United Farmworkers fought for fair wages and the banning of certain deadly pesticides while Memphis garbage workers, led by Dr. King, went on strike to demand safer working conditions and wages paid for hours worked. Lois Gibbs brought attention to the severe health risks of living beside toxic waste dumps in Love Canal, NY while an African-American community in Warren County, NC protested a landfill proposal marked for their backyard. Even up until today, we still see high rates of asthma in black children living in urban neighborhoods, the fight to stop the building of pipelines running through water sources of marginalized communities, and the bombing of Pagan and Tinian. The fight for environmental justice is not a chapter of American history that is about to close—in fact, it is only just beginning.

The Church has a huge role in this fight. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” We often forget that in the Creation story, we were created second. God created the rest of the earth and saw it as good. Our first task as humans was to be stewards and caretakers of the garden—and God never told us that our job was finished. We also need to “Rescue the poor and needy: deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). This is not equivalent to the paternalistic holier-than-thou tone that the Western church has often had. Rather, this requires working side by side with our neighbors who are suffering, giving them the mic so that they can be heard, and choosing to do what’s best for the health of all of our collective future generations.

If you’re interested in learning more about environmental justice, check out the writings and work of Berta Cacares, Dr. Robert Bullard, Wangari Maathai, and Winona LaDuke.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Elisabeth about ethical consumption of clothing and other items.


Above image by Lorie Shaull, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

The Struggle and Hope of Advent

art blur bright candlelight
Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

It is the end of the first week of Advent, and, as St. Stephen’s wonderful curate, Rev. Shayna Watson, reminded us last Sunday, we light the candle of Hope this week.

Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and joy. But, as one of our Corps Members, Chloe, said recently, it is also a time of facing the darkness of this season and learning to embrace it and the beauty within it, as well as the hope that comes out of it.

We wrestle with the difficult signs of our times- news reports about natural disasters and the realities of climate change, a difficult political climate, and the repercussions of a society that often does not prioritize those in need, to name just a few.

And yet, we people of faith must also find ways to have hope. As Corps Member Elisabeth said in a recent reflection, we wrestle with how to engage with the tragedies of our world, and in wrestling we come into contact with God, just as Jacob who wrestled the angel was touched by God (Genesis 32).

So, we struggle, and we also find ways to act. As author and professor Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Learning to walk in the dark is an especially valuable skill in times like these—or maybe I should say remembering how to walk in the dark, since people of faith have deep pockets of wisdom about how to live through long nights of the wilderness.”

Rev. Shayna also reminded us that, though we are overwhelmed by the problems of the world, we must take small steps. We join in evening prayer each Wednesday evening in December in solidarity with LGBTQ individuals. We are present at the anti- white supremacy rally at the Capitol that occurred on Sunday. We meet with others concerned about climate change at St. Stephen’s and the local community. We invite friends, neighbors, and church members to join with us and celebrate the season at “Cookies, Cocoa and Community” last Friday evening. And we keep the long, slow work of change through our Friday formation times and at our partner organizations: Capital Area Head Start, the Episcopal Diocese of Central PA, Beacon Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club, The Pennsylvania Utility Law Project and the Community Justice Project, and the Messiah College Office of Public Humanities. The work that each of these organizations is doing contributes to our hope, and helps us to keep going.

 

May we continue to struggle and hope throughout this Advent season.

-Micalagh Moritz, Program Director