Until 1987 the fight for racial and economic justice

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Until 1987, the fight for racial and economic justice had been a story of oppressive institutions and personal prejudice. Civil rights had become a narrow competition for resources among groups – the right to take a fair firefighter’s exam, to get into medical school, to be charged the same rent as everyone else. We had moved from Martin Luther King’s sublime dream of brotherhood on the Red Hills of Georgia to sibling rivalry over scraps on a table in a courtroom. At a time when the crowds were silenced, Toxic Wastes and Race said that the rocks and stones themselves could sing of justice and of injustice. That even when “the man” wasn’t troubling our doorstep, the rough tumble of racism could as soon come at us on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we stand on.
90 Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987­2007 When we can hear the earth’s cry for justice, how much more carefully do we hear our own! The deep and clear teaching of environmental justice in 1987 as today is that these cries are one and the same. When you see a river that is polluted, you see a community that is oppressed. When you see young people incarcerated, you find their parks and yards contaminated. When the people are brown, all too often, so is the air. In short, environmental justice reminds us, in language for our times, that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere, an injustice to anything is an injustice to every thing, and every being. The UCC report helped prepare us for the times of war and economic hardship that we face today. Environmental justice made it clear that from the oil beneath the Middle East to the grape orchards of Northern California, mastery over nature is inextricably tied to mastery over people. The environmental justice movement showed once and for all that justice means not fragmentation but connection, not individualism but community, not smokestacks but ecosystems. These insights are the foundation for a road to peace, justice, and planetary prosperity. Two words, together, tell the story of our survival and of our deepest contentment: environmental justice. If we can achieve environmental justice, if we can live right with the earth and with each other, then we will have achieved the dreams of so many before us and made possible those of so many who come after. Toxic Wastes and Race and the movement it has sparked make the solution so plain: justice will not be reduced to a courtroom and a written proof. Rather, it will be prosecuted in the air and on the ground, for people and for the earth, and, as has been true since long before 1987, environmental justice will set us free. _________ Michel Gelobter is the President of Redefining Progress, the country’s leading policy institute for smart economics—policies that help people protect the environment.

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