Politics. The mere mention of the word drives many people away, and often for good reason. Politics can be messy. Politics can be frustrating. Politics can be disappointing. Politics can also be the path forward to a better tomorrow. It’s all in how you approach it. Unfortunately, so many people do not want to engage in politics that things that need to happen don’t, and important issues get co-opted, watered down and taken over by people who do not share our vision and values.
DWEJ has often been on the receiving end of comments about our entry into the policy and political arena. People ask why we don’t just stick to grassroots advocacy and help people that way. We never stopped doing grassroots work and advocacy and have committed to getting more of it in our work moving forward, but the grassroots level has limitations. At some point, if meaningful change for all Detroiters is the goal, we have to “get into the game”. Doing so in the past has produced some tremendous results, like helping to get the City of Detroit to establish the Office of Sustainability, closing down the waste incinerator, and helping to create both the Detroit Sustainability Action Agenda and the Detroit Climate Action Plan – which led to the adoption of the city’s first greenhouse gas ordinance. Whenever we can get “a seat at the table”, we can push environmental justice forward and make sure it gets taken seriously in official plans and strategies, rather than being a matter to be dealt with later.
We are talking about this now because of a few important issues facing Detroiters in the near future. First are the 2021 citywide elections. Detroiters will be voting on the offices of Mayor, City Council and many other elected positions that affect day to day life and the future of the city. Second is the redistricting plans to redraw political district maps in a more fair, representative way compared to the partisan gerrymandering that gave us the maps (and the mess) we have today.
We are also talking about it because when communities of color and/or low-income are not actively engaged or represented in the political process, they have little to no voice. Decisions get made about them rather than with or by them. When coupled with a lack of cohesive, focused political power and longtime disenfranchisement, these are the people who are without a seat at the table and no say in what happens to their neighborhoods, the health of their families, and their own futures. Instead of being included in the process from the start, they are often left only with reactive measures after decisions have been made. That is why DWEJ urges people to get involved, to take action, to call their representatives, and to be informed citizens and voters.
We’ll leave you today with this great article about the connection between politics and environmental justice, and why right now is the time to get off the sidelines, speak up and take action. We will continue to do our part. What will you do?
Read: Political Disenfranchisement is Fueling Environmental Injustice (scroll to the Environmental Justice News section of the page)
Photo Credit: Michigan State University
Published: April 12, 2021
DWEJ is proud to be hosting the Midwest premier of the acclaimed short film, “The Sacrifice Zone”. This event will be a Zoom Watch Party on Tuesday, April 20 starting at 7pm. “The Sacrifice Zone” is a story about the fight for environmental justice in Newark, NJ’s notorious Ironbound neighborhood, considered to be one of the most polluted and toxic in America. It’s a powerful story of community action, resiliency and perseverance to create a better future.
Joining us will be Maria Lopez-Nuñez of the Ironbound Community Corporation and the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Maria is featured prominently in the film and will be talking about it and her experiences leading a group of residents determined to break the cycle of poor communities of color serving as dumping grounds for our consumer society. Attendees will also be able to speak with Maria during the “After Party” Q&A session.
Kicking off the evening will be a screening of one of our own “Solar Stories of Detroit” short films. Series co-creator – and DWEJ Program Manager – Catherine Diggs will talk about the film and take questions from the audience. Joining Catherine will be Anita Sevier, Development and Alumni Relations Director from Gesu Catholic School, and a group of student alumni who led the project.
We are excite to bring you this exclusive event! We look forward to seeing you there. Don’t forget to invite your friends!
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About the “The Sacrifice Zone”: As the film begins, Covanta, the largest incinerator on the East Coast which is located in the Ironbound, has just applied to renew its permit, which includes releasing ‘acceptable’ levels of dioxin and mercury emissions. Inside Covanta, we can see what 10,000 pounds of trash actually looks like, and how the facility produces energy from waste. The sheer volume of the problem is brought into sharp focus, and the exasperation of the neighborhood is palpable.
Maria has dedicated her life to challenging the current political system and holding polluters accountable while building resistance within her community. She is the “Erin Brokovich” of the Ironbound, investing everything she has for the sake of survival. She and her colleagues aren’t just fighting for their community, they’re fighting for us all.
Throughout the film, Maria and her fellow activists lead Toxic Tours that show the harsh reality on the ground. These tours move us through the neighborhood, where we experience firsthand the proximity of so many polluters concentrated in a small area. One of the stops on the Toxic Tour, the Passaic Valley Sewage Treatment Center, processes waste from 3 million people in the NY/NJ region. Urban planner Ana Baptista explains that during Superstorm Sandy an eight-foot tidal wave washed through the open waste-water pools in front of us, carrying sewage into the waterways, rivers and local residents’ homes. Shockingly, no significant precautions have been taken since then and the neighborhood is just one major storm away from catastrophe.
Maria is an inspiration as she continues to fight for environmental justice, policing industrial polluters, holding government agencies to task, and empowering her community to take charge of its own destiny. (Credit: Talking Eyes Media)
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, we wanted to recognize the vital role that women played in creating Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. Without their efforts, passion and dedication, we might not be here today. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to: Donele Wilkins, Kathryn Savoie, Mary Hollens, Andrea Kidd-Taylor, Akua Budu-Watkins, Kari Moss, Alice Jennings, Kathryn Lynch-Underwood, Grace Lee Boggs, Mama Lila Cabbil, Elizabeth Toomer and Kathy Milberg. We owe them all a debt of gratitude!
One of our co-founders, the late Grace Lee Boggs, was recently profiled. It’s always great to see our DWEJ alumni recognized for their efforts. Grace is featured in this article on women who helped shape Detroit. https://detourdetroiter.com/5-women-who-shaped-detroit…/
You can learn more about Grace and other environmental justice leaders on our YouTube Channel
Clifford Terry, the construction lead of our Future Build enterprise, was featured in an article discussing the lack of minorities and women in the construction trades, and some of the Detroiters trying to change that. From the article:
Clifford Terry has seen his share of ups and downs in the Detroit construction industry. Clifford Terry grew up in New Jersey helping his neighborhood carpenter on weekends, before launching his own construction company in 1989. He registered his company, now Terry Group Contracting, in Detroit in 2018 and has “slowly, but surely” built his business. It hasn’t been a smooth path.
“You hear a lot of rhetoric about wanting minority participation,” Terry says. “But there’s so many hurdles in place that it’s still next to impossible.”
Read the rest of the article and Clifford’s interview on our “In the Media” page.
We are pleased to announce that our collaboration with students at Lawrence Technical University has been successfully completed. The project began in early 2020, and although COVID-19 measures prevented us from continuing in-person meetings at the Detroit Center for Design and Technology on Woodward Avenue, we shifted to online meetings and helped the students create their final products. If you haven’t already read about the project, you get caught up here.
We were excited to be able to continue our history of working with universities and students in the region, and having the campus so close allowed us to, at least early on, have a good amount of in-person interactions. DWEJ acted as the “client” for these students, who gained valuable experience discussing project and organizational needs, working out project scope and client expectations, pitching ideas and incorporating feedback, and making final presentations. In addition, staff from DWEJ provided extra education. Catherine Diggs and Sandra Turner-Handy talked to the classes about recycling in Detroit, and Catherine also arranged a visit to Recycle Here!, one of Detroit’s first drop-off recycling centers. Brad Ashburn discussed developing credibility and community buy-in for innovative projects, outreach campaigns, and how to leverage “influencers” to help create awareness around their projects.
There were ultimately three products created, two pieces of promotional materials for us (a donation card and an informational pamphlet), and a recycling pilot project. DWEJ, as the client, selected a few of each of the final promotional designs and will use them in upcoming campaigns and at public and in-person events, once they resume.
We are grateful to Lawrence Technical University, the students who participated, and class instructors Nur Saltik and Blake Almstead for coordinating and assisting with the project. The collage above shows some of the materials that we selected, as well as images from a few of the pilot projects.