1999 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Tony Chenhansa <tonyc@cpeo.org>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 13:21:33 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: Dr. Robert Bullard Interview on Environmental Justice
This message originated from env.justice newsgroup at IGC.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Robert Bullard interview
Date: 06 Jul 1999 11:13:48
From: earthfirst@igc.org
Newsgroups: env.justice

Here is the full text of an interview with Dr. Robert Bullard, one of
pioneering scholars and activists in the environmental justice movement.
This is completely anti-copyright and may reproduced and distributed at

Interview With Robert Bullard
by errol schweizer
2877 words
1st draft, unspell checkt

Robert Bullard is one of the major researchers and organizers in the
environmental justice movement. This interview is anticopyright and may
reproduced and distributed at will

ES: What is the environmental justice movement?

RB: The environmental justice movement has basically redefined what
environmentalism is all about. It basically says that the environment is
everything: where we live, work, play, go to school, as well as the
physical and natural world. And so we can't separate the physical
environment from the cultural environment. We have to talk about making
sure that justice is integrated throughout all of the stuff that we do.
What the environmental justice movement is about is trying to address
of the inequities that result from human settlement, industrial facility
siting and industrial development. What we've tried to do over the last
twenty years is educate and assist groups in organizing and mobilizing,
empowering themselves to take charge of their lives, their community and
their surroundings. It's more of a concept of trying to address power
imbalances, lack of political enfranchisement, and to redirect resources
that we can create some healthy, liveable and sustainable types of

ES: How have environmental justice groups organized themselves?

RB: For the most part, a lot of the small grassroots groups operate from
bottom up model. They don't have boards of directors and large budgets
large staffs but they do operate with the idea that everyone has a role
we are all equal in this together. The environmetal justice groups are
egalitarian, most of them are led by women, and its more democratic. Not
say its perfect but it does bring out the idea that power rests in all
us and when we operate as a collective, that's when we are most powerful
and we move forward as a unit, as a body and not necessarily with a
hierarchy. But I think a lot of it is when you can have an issue that
mobilize, organize and create the catalyst that gets thousands of people
a meeting, saying this is what we want and we're not gonna back up till
get it. I think that's where the environmental justice movement is more
a grassroots movement of ordinary people who may not see themselves as
traditional environmentalists, but are just as much concerned about the
environment as someone who may be a member of the Sierra Club or the
Audubon Society.

ES: How has the environmental justice movement come into conflict with
these traditional, white environmental groups?

RB: There's been a lot of conflict and misunderstanding about what the
of some of the green groups are as it relates to environmental justice
particularly working in communities of color. And what we're saying is
its just one environment. You're talking about planet earth, where we
and if in fact we are going to have a global movement for environmental
justice, we have to understand what environment is and what the agendas
are. A lot of grassroots groups and communities of color are saying that
have to work in our communities and take care of educating and
our people before we can talk about having other people do stuff for us.
think to a large extent a lot of grassroots groups have come head-on
with a
lot of the larger groups that have not understood exactly what
environmental justice is. We are saying that environmental justice
incoporates the idea that we are just as much concerned about wetlands,
birds and wilderness areas, but we're also concerned with urban
where people live in cities, about reservations, about things that are
happening along the US-Mexican border, about children that are being
poisoned by lead in housing and kids playing outside in contaminated
plagrounds. So we have had to struggle to get these issues on the radar
a lot of the large environmental groups. We've made a lot of progress
1990 when a letter was written to them charging them with environmental
racism, elitism, looking at their staff, looking at their boards and
that we need to talk. And there's been some talking and sharing and
together along the way. We've made progress but there's still a lot of
progress that needs to be made because to a large extent the
movement, the more conservation/preservation movement, really reflects
larger society. And society is racist. And so we can't expect a lot of
organizations not to somehow be affected by that. We're not saying that
people are evil and that these organizations are setting out to do harm,
but we're saying that we have to educate ourselves and learn about each
other. We have to cross those boundaries and go on the other side of the
tracks, go to the meetings downtown and learn from each other. That's
we've been doing for the last twenty years: trying to get a handle on
we can work together in a principled way. And in 1991 we had the first
national people of color environmental leadership summit and we
17 principles of environmental justice. Basically, how can we as people
color, working class people and poor people work on agendas that at the
same time may conflict with the larger agendas of the big groups. And
we're saying is that we may not agree on 100 percent of the things but
agree on more things than we disagree on. And I think that we have to
to work on the things we are in agreement on and somehow work through
things where there are disagreements.

ES: What kind of role has race played in the siting of toxic facilities
this country?

RB: Race is still the potent factor for predicting where Locally
Land Uses (LULU's) go. A lot of people say its class, but race and class
are intertwined. Because the society is so racist and because racism
touches every institution- employment, housing, education, facility
land use decisions, you can't really extract race out of decisions that
being made by persons who are in power and the power arrangements are
unequal. When we talk about the institution of racism as it exists in
environmental policy, enforcement, land use, zoning and all those
All of that is part of the environment and we have to make sure that our
brothers and sisters who are in enviromental groups understand thatswhat
are saying. Environmental justice is not a social program, its not
affirmative actions, its about justice. and until we get justice in
environmental protection, justice in terms of enforcement of
we will not even talk abou achieving sustainable development or
sustainability issues until we talk about justice. a lot of the groups
are trying to address these issues in the absence of dealing with race
be fooling themselves. When we talk about what's happening along the
US-Mexican boarder and the colonias and the maquilas and the devastaion
that is happening along the border, the health conditions of children
workers and not understand that it's also related to our consumption
patterns, consumption behavior and who has the most money to consume the
most. And those are issues that may be unpopular when we sit in rooms
talk but I think that's how the environmental justice movement is
these issues on the table and really getting a lot of people to think
how we can start to address the disparities and the inequities and the
privileged position that some people have only because of the skin clor
that they were born in. And that's where the justice issues come into
account. Now all of the issues of environmental racism and environmental
justice don't just deal with people of color. We are just as much
with inequities in Appalachia,for example, where the whites are
dumped on because of lack of economic and political clout and lack of
having a voice to say "no" and that's environmental injustice. So we're
trying to work with groups across the political spectrums; democrats,
republicans, independents, on the reservations, in the barrios, in the
ghettos, on the border and internationally to see that we address these
issues in a comprehensive manner.

ES: Are you seeing more of a convergence between the traditional, white
environmental groups and the people of color movements?

RB: We haven't seen a total convergence; what we've seen is a better
understanding of the various sides that are there, the various elements,
the various components and priorities that are there. And for a long
historically, for example, black people in the south were not even
to visit state parks, because of Jim Crow and segregation. And somehow
were blamed for not having appreciation for state parks. I mean, it
our faults, we couldn't go to them! So we're finding as the more urban
folks get to visit parks and wilderness areas and are able to appreciate
that these are national treasures and not just treasures for people that
have money to visit them, its everybody's. We all pay taxes. And so we
seeing more and more young people being able to take field trips to see
beauty of nature. And more and more people who are in environmental
are now beginning to understand that what happens in cities also impacts
their lives. So we can't just let cities buckle under and fall into this
sinkhole. We have to talk about this convergence of urban, suburban and
rural and talk about the quality of life that exists and talk about the
issue of urban sprawl. Basically everybody is impacted by sprawl. People
who live in cities face disinvestment, in suburbs with the trees being
knocked down, chewing up farmland. So you talk about this convergence, a
lot of it is happening now, but it has to happen with the understanding
that we have to include everybody, that it has to be an inclusive
or it won't work.

ES: How can you pose these issues to people when organizing in low
and politically disenfranchised communities, especially communities with
very little open space or access to natural areas?

RB: The first line is that we have to start early. We have to educate
people that it is their right to have access to open space, green space,
parks, outdoors, as opposed to people thinking that their supposed to be
living in an area where the only park is a basketball court with no net.
have to give people this idea that it's their right to have access to
space and green space and we have to provide funds to make sure that we
them early on and take them on field trips, take them to a wilderness
a refuge, a reserve, to a park-a real park and to integrate this
information into our curriculum. In your geography course, in your
studies course, or science course make sure you integrate this into it,
have videos that you can show, but ultimately the best example that you
have is that young people visit these places and see for themselves what
nature is.
	If you talk about people of color, African americans for example,
we are land-based people. Africans are land-based people. Native
are land-based peoples. We have been pushed off land and we now find
ourselves in cities but that doesn't mean that the institutional memory
what the land was to us and how we are tied to the land and how our
existence was based on community and being tied to the land. And so I
we've gotten away from that but the reintroduction of those concepts can
achieved if we make a concerted effort at trying to do that. And some of
that is being done if you look at the environmental education curriculum
that is integrating environmental justice into it. We're trying to do
but there is a whole lot of resistance. Traditional environmental
is to basically do it by the numbers the way its been done for the last
years and thats not working. Its not working for our communities.
ES: What is the EJ perspective on the population/border debate within
Sierra Club?

RB: (Heheheheh) Well, you know... My position- and I can only speak for
myself, is that immigration is not the problem in terms of environmental
degradation. If we talk about having no borders and addressing issues of
economic justice- we can address lots of the environmental injustices
around the world. If we talk about respecting life and respecting people
and respecting communities, if we do that we can end a lot of the
international friction that results from transboundary waste trades, and
imbalances created as a result of NAFTA- people call it "ShAFTA". We can
a lot of things and I think this whole anti-immigrant wave is just
wedge that is driven between folks that are organizing and mobilizing. I
don't think it will work. This country is changing demographically and
is scaring a lot of people. The year 2050 is supposed to be the magic
when people of color will be in the majority in this ocuntry. But at one
point in time this country was people of color, it was indigenous
So when we talk about these issues, we have to put them in the context
the long term. We need to address things within US borders but at the
time we cannot export problems abroad and create problems in areas that
know do not have the capacity to handle garbage and environmental waste
the risky technologies that are being exported and the unsustainable
development policies that are being exported abroad, most of it by our
government. So I think that environmental justice folks are saying that
are going to have to work across borders and those ties are already
and it is just a matter of making sure that we strengthen those and we
expand and keep reaching out.

ES: How has the environmental justice movement attacked the mode of
production, the way that things are made, as well as the fact that
are being dumped on people.

RB: Well, as a matter of fact, there was a meeting in Detroit [recently]
clean production. And what we're saying is that clean production can be
major component in the environmental justice movement because if we are
talking about clean production, changing the way things are made and
goes into the maufacturing of products, we can save a lot of headaches
communities that are surrounded by polluting industries. So if we clean
the production and a lot of communities that are living on the
with these facilities, a lot of their problems can be solved
So EJ and clean production go hand in hand. What we are saying is that
have to make sure that as these new movements come along we integrate EJ
into it. We've done that with the clean production movement.

ES: EF! considers itself to be the radical end of the environmental
movement. What can EF!ers do to further the vison of the environmental
justice movement?

RB: Well, you know, the EJ movement is an inclusive movement. What we
saying is that everything on the spectrum as it relates to siting,
pollution, industrial contamination in communities, non-sustainable
development, non-sustainable patterns of production, I think everybody
a role in that. The EJ movement is an anti-racist movement and I don't
think you can get any more radical than fighting racism. Because when
talk about fighting racism, you make a lot of enemies because racism
permeates everything. I think Earth First! can really embrace a lot of
environmental justice principles that we have and see that there are a
of things that environmental justice groups are advocating and trying to
implement that cut cross some of the issues that you're addressing. And
not saying that you are gonna get a lot people of color inundating your
organization [sic] with membership but we can work together without
members and that's where I think the collaboration, coalitions and
onto supporting specific campaigns has really made a difference in some
the more recent campaign victories that we've had on EJ.
	The fact is that the environmental justice movement over the last
ten years has really matured onto developing policies and issue
and working on issues ranging from housing, transportation, health to
economic development, community revitalization, you name it. I think
the mere fact that we have a number of environmental justice centers
the country now that are working with communities- not organizing
communities- but working with, in support of and providing technical
assistance and training, we've been able to do some things that no
we could do 10-15 years ago and thats really making a difference when we
talk about working across disciplines and geographic, racial and
spectrums, we're the most powerful and thats when we are the strongest.

Earth First! Journal, POB 1415, Eugene, OR 97440-1415  USA
(541) 344-8004, fax 344-7688 - http://www.enviroweb.org/ef

Subscriptions are $25/year(USA), $35 1st class (US, Canada, Mexico),
$35 Surface Mail International, $45 Air Mail International

An international EF! web address is: http://www.k2net.co.uk/ef

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to
 the most amazing view." -- Edward Abbey

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