New York City
Can Mark Hertsgaard’s “Green Goes Grassroots” [July 31/Aug. 7] dig deeper? I was surprised at his assertion that poor people and people of color are not concerned about ozone depletion, toxic gas and polluted water. In fact, the call for environmental justice is truly a movement that has sprung from the grassroots–from concerned parents of students at Marsh Fork Elementary in Sundial, West Virginia, where a massive silo, sludge dam and mountain-top coal removal refinery near the school blackens the lungs of their children; from cancer-ridden African-American families in Dickson, Tennessee, who discovered that the source of their illnesses was a landfill contaminating the family well; and from low-income residents of Fort Ord, California, who are fed up with the routine burning of Army munitions that release toxic gases. The struggles of these communities and others will be highlighted this fall when grassroots environmental groups from San Jose, California, to Newark, New Jersey, and Whitesville, West Virginia, will take a very close look at the devastating impact of toxic contamination on people of color and poor communities.
Caravans packed with grassroots activists, health researchers, environmental scientists and public policy experts will tour communities in the Northeast, the South and on the West Coast, where citizens are suffering serious health effects from toxic pollution. Organizers representing more than seventy EJ groups are collaborating in a solution-oriented campaign that will reveal just how engaged these communities are in the fight for their collective health. Readers can find out about the Environmental Justice for All Tour at ej4all.org. I must say, however, that it is surprising they didn’t learn about it in your cover story.
VIRGINIA GIORDANO National director, Environmental Justice for All Tour ’06
I write to correct two misimpressions in Mark Hertsgaard’s thoughtful story about environmentalism. First, the Sierra Club-Steelworkers Union Alliance has received more than $500,000 from foundations that look to us to be a key driver of progressive change. While I intended to make the point that this was insufficient to carry out our robust plans, I did not want to imply that we are waiting to launch our efforts. Second, we are painfully aware of the issues raised by race and class for our movement, and we are confronting these challenges and failures at the grassroots level–where it counts the most–through our growing environmental justice program, which works with local leaders to support communities of color.
Executive director, Sierra Club
A distinction needs to be made between professional and grassroots environmentalism. Citizens should support the work of some full-time activists representing their interests. The ones who get support will generally already be the leaders on the issue in the community. Professionalism is different. Professionalism describes what was a deliberately and unapologetically designed, funded and implemented strategy begun in the early 1980s by a group of large foundations loosely grouped as the EGA (Environmental Grantmakers Association). At the outset EGA’s orientation was political. The model of the DC insider was prioritized, along with newly emerging ideas of spin resulting in competition among “grantees” for things like who could promise to raise enough money to buy the biggest full-page ad. It was the era of the consultant and the pollster. There was a strong link to the Democrats, and soon the newly professionalized environmental movement became essentially an organizing branch of the party, thereby fulfilling what was probably the original intent.