Providing a Firsthand Experience
Knowledge is power, which is why DWEJ has always invested community education. Those most affected by environmental hazards need to be informed in order to stand up to the injustices they face and to “carry the torch” for real, lasting change.
Starting in the late 1990s, DWEJ organized “Toxic Tours” (eventually renamed “Environmental Justice Tours”) to bring city and suburban residents, government officials, students, and others to “problem sites”. As they crossed the city, riders saw, firsthand, manufacturing plants, brownfields, the municipal waste incinerator, Marathon’s oil refinery, the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant, Zug Island, Delray neighborhood, and many more places of concern. Along with seeing the problems up close and with their own eyes, tour participants learned about each site and the impact they have on surrounding communities and residents. The aim of the tours was to show the environmental burdens Detroit residents face every day, and the long term impacts these burdens have on health and general well being.
Voter and Candidate Education
By 2010, we knew more needed to be done because raising awareness can only accomplish so much. At the time, Detroit was close to declaring bankruptcy and the next City Council Elections were only a few years away. DWEJ and our partners in the emerging Detroit Environmental Agenda took on the task of educating candidates on environmental justice issues specific to their district. Candidates were taken on bus tours to view and discuss issues they would be asked to resolve upon taking office. We also decided to add candidate accountability into our strategy.
Holding Candidates Accountable for Environmental Justice Issues
In 2013, DWEJ and the members of the Detroit Environmental Agenda came up with the idea of publishing Voter Guides for public use. Candidates were asked about their knowledge of environmental justice issues faced by the residents living in the district they sought to represent. Voters could then read about where each candidate stood on the issues and their ideas for addressing them in their own words.
Following the success of the 2013 Voter Guide, the members of the Detroit Environmental Agenda created the 2017 Voter Guide. In that expanded guide, voters were able to see where candidates running for Mayor, City Council, and other municipal roles, stood on the issues of supporting climate resiliency, improving air quality, ensuring access to clean water, expanding curbside recycling programs, and designating areas for urban agriculture.