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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Letters

Letter of intent

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This comment originally posted on hcn.org.

Many environmentalists mischaracterize the intent of the letters that were written to the Group of 10 and other environmental groups (HCN, 2/01/10). They would say that people of color wanted to be included in the environmental movement and be part of their agenda. In fact, that was not the case. The EJ movement was issuing a call to environmentalists to be part of a broader global struggle for economic, social and environmental justice, and to understand and confront the multiple forms of oppression that prevent us all from realizing sustainable and healthy communities.

By ignoring this, environmental groups were taking positions that were fundamentally at odds with communities of color and indigenous communities. In several instances, the relationship of some of the Group of 10 was a bit too cozy with industry and the "beltway," to the detriment of our communities.

The SouthWest Organizing Project's letter was not a "letter of accusation" -- it was a factual account of intense struggles taking place at the time. Nor was it just a "SWOP letter" -- 100 people signed it, including tribal leaders, civil rights leaders, clergy, lawyers and scholars. It was also just one of a set of historic letters to environmental groups, beginning with a challenge from black leaders in the South to the Group of 10 over their lack of racial diversity, and concluding with a powerful indictment of the Environmental Protection Agency that created a firestorm of controversy and sparked national grassroots campaigns that forced the agency to be more responsive to communities.

The letters resonated with employees and members of environmental organizations, many of which became critical and lasting friends and allies in the movement. The EJ movement brought together historically oppressed communities across racial lines in a united effort, and gave us a glimpse of what a grassroots movement could look like that was multiracial, multicultural and international. Unfortunately, not all white activists are as willing to accept leadership by people of color, or be part of a movement that could fundamentally alter class and race relationships.

Michael Leon Guerrero

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