I was taken aback by quotes, attributed to the director of an organization we once helped build: He is credited with describing community efforts at policy-making as "clumsy," and evaluations of movement decisions, which he was not a part of, as being problematic for the EJ Movement. I refer to the assessment that the EJ Movement made a mistake in choosing to be de-centralized. Movements are by their very nature de-centralized, sort of like the United States of America. It was a collective decision to be de-centralized. It was a well-discussed Movement decision to honor the principle of "We Speak for Ourselves." These decisions were efforts to ensure that no one person or organization would be the spokesperson for the entire movement, an attempt to support horizontal leadership rather than the same ineffective hierarchical model now revived with the rise of technocrats and consultants; who take it upon themselves to speak for others, propose to assess and negotiate for our communities without checking in and perhaps profiting from the work of others.
I was also puzzled by why the authors would make so much of the financial differences between organizations. Where would the civil rights and human rights struggles in this country and the world be if folks measured their success by their budgets? We all know that funding makes things easier, facilitates organizing, advocacy and the provision of jobs and services. This made me reflect on what the radical women of color group, "Incite," has written about in, The Revolution Will Not be Funded: The 501 (c) (3) Industrial Complex. Incite isn't doing well in funding either. Why would speaking for oneself dry up funds and who profits?
Dana Alston, now deceased, along with white allies and many others, worked with foundations to direct resources to the networks that represented many small community organizations and groups who did not have resources to be represented and be in the dialogue. The reality is that even those funding opportunities that were created by the movement have been withheld from us. For a time EJ funding created by the movement through the Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) of the EPA was for many years not available to networks. The work of SNEEJ was instrumental in changing this funding issue.
Some private foundations continue to fund environmental justice, others have redirected their funding. The historical networks have all faced funding challenges. In economic hard times our programs are the first ones to be cut, just as the poor will also bear the burden of recovery.
The question that ran over and over in my mind was why you would construct our leaders as hopeless, drunkards, nationalists, reverse-racists, taking time off, giving up hope and moving to the suburbs. I was puzzled by your motives in what could have been a positive effort by a mainstream environmental newspaper in interrogating the state of the "color line," choosing instead to include a column sub-titled "personal problems." We do not need to defend anyone, but I do wish to contribute some information.
Lauro Silva, after he was interviewed, was hospitalized and is now recovering and healing. His daughter Milagro, who has a myriad of special needs from a birth gone wrong at the hands of our health system, also became critically ill requiring hospitalization. She, too, is now at home. Her mother, Dr. Magdalena Avila, spent much time at the hospital. She is Milagro's best nurse and considers whether she may have to step back from her duties as a full-time professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM). She fears that her daughter's medical needs may come to be considered too costly for the medical system evaluating her worth.
Avila, although never mentioned in the article, has long been an EJ activist. She lived for many years in Kettleman City, Calif.. She and a community group fought a successful struggle against a proposed hazardous waste incinerator in the community, where the mostly poor residents color continue to suffer health problems as a result of contamination. We support and honor this family's focus on personal and family health needs and their work for environmental justice.