Just journalism, or hegemonic narrative?

An environmental justice activist responds to HCN's coverage


This letter is a response to The environment is where we live, published in the Feb. 1 issue of High Country News.

Let me begin by thanking you for doing a series on environmental justice (EJ). The successes of the EJ Movement stand undeniably. I write to correct some inaccuracies in the initial installment of your series, to add history and to attempt to understand your intentions. I assume that the possibility of contacting environmental justice folks or organizations to guest edit this series was not considered.

After reading the first article in the series "Green Justice," I felt confused and puzzled about your framing of the EJ movement, one of its national leaders, and those who have worked and continue to do work and show care and concern for the place they call home - the Mountain View community in Albuquerque's south valley. My first reaction was actually shock, followed by anger and finally I was just mystified. I was edified that you recognized the Environmental Justice Movement and the role of one its national leaders from New Mexico. Then taken aback by your questionable "Personal Problems" column, whose import to the article I still struggle to understand. Your positioning of certain organizations and individuals also confused me.

Many of the EJ struggles you write about in New Mexico are attributed to others when in reality it was local organizations that led those struggles. The SAGE council led the sacred sites fight to protect the Petroglyph National Monument Park in Albuquerque, and the Colonias Development Council's organizing efforts with a community in southern New Mexico won what is today known as the "Rhino Decision." Both these groups are affiliated with the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ) and the network supported these issues, but the smaller groups led the struggle. A significant amount of the policy work done in New Mexico has been done by the New Mexico Environmental Justice Working Group (NMEJWG) convened by SNEEJ, which includes some of the New Mexico affiliate organizations of the Network and outside technical assistants.

We Speak for Ourselves is not an old struggle to us. That struggle is over. It is a given. It is also the mantra of the EJ Movement, and no one person can lay claim to it, just as no person can lay authorship to the re-definition of the environment.  These mantras, definitions, The Principles of EJ and The Principles of Working Together* are the ethical mobility of the EJ Movement. They are its collective wisdom - the cultural capital of the Movement. A collective organic intelligence is not private property. We wonder why some people attempt to lay claim to thoughts, ideas and conceptualizations of the Movement. Even Wikipedia cannot resist calling Dr. Robert Bullard the father of EJ. I know Bob and although I haven't had a discussion about this with him, I have enough confidence in his work for the EJ Movement to know that he does not consider himself the father of EJ.

Our communities are dealing with ever growing and ever changing forces that burden them because of social (race, class, gender, social, educational, political, artistic, and cultural) and environmental inequities that persist. Examples of this are: the facts of racial prejudice, the grinding fact of poverty, the judgments of "lazy" and "don't care" that go with it. The oppression of women and children from within and without, an education system that focuses on attendance without understanding motivation, a justified negativity about the political process, culture and talent that is unappreciated, a confusing and bitter tension within all organized religions about what is and is not social justice and a dominant culture that parades as the "American Way" in violation of it's own foundation. These inequities persist precisely because they are institutionalized.

There has been progress in race relations in the US. We are in most cases safe from lynching and outright murder. However, only those who are addicted to the dominant powers would allow themselves to think that we are post-racism. The covert and institutionalized inequities are built into our system of ineffective "color-blind laws." Just ask the young males of color in the south valley of Albuquerque, who must deal with a larger police force than the rest of the city, along with police harassment.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].