Jun 14, 2010

Social Justice- progress and frustration

We sat down to discuss social justice – a group of leaders in the sustainability and environmental movement, The vast majority of the people at the table were while. The majority of those invited were not. Who came? Jenny from Sustainable Ballard, Green Fest & SCALLOPS, Elizabeth from Green Plate Special, Laura and Amber from Sustainable Seattle, Kerri from the from Washington Environmental Council and Alan from Sightline had a facilitated discussion with Carl Woestwin from Seattle Public Utilities with his colleague.

We were asked to define of Social Justice: Equity among all environmental, economic and health and safety for all people. Dignity in diversity - bringing different people to the same people with an understanding of the differences among us. Equal access to resources and opportunity.

This lead to an examination of what are we doing: 
Carl and his colleague talked about Seattle Public Utilities' goal of dismantling institutional racism through, policies, practices and procedures. Practices include training, hiring patterns, safety. For example, SPU identified a disparity in street light replacement due to a policy that streetlights were replaced based on complaints. This policy lead to neighborhoods that were comfortable with government – primarily upper and middle class- were disproportionate service, The policy was changed so bulbs were changed on a schedule. Capacity training includes a recognition that people of color and people of privilege have separate work that we can do. Lessons learned: For people of privilege: look at policies, look at what is being communicated and how the organization and individuals are communicating. 

Laura talked about Sustainable Seattle working on the platform of social justice and collaboration in its programs, and staff’s decision not to include a diversity report in S2’s indicators for its organizational performance.
Amber posed the issue of agencies often taking the approach of what can be given, when what needs to examined is what can be done from within.
Jenny is going to the US Social Forum in Detroit next week, and working with Sustainable Ballard in outreach.
Alan talked how his organization is analyzing social and economic trends and recommending and promoting fundamental policy changes with social and economic equity as part of this. He asked - how do we better connect the trends of the sustainability/environment movement so the green part is less all-white and what are specific practices we can do to take next steps.

We briefly- very briefly- went into what we need to do: Build personal connections ground up. Create a place for conversations among environmental professionals of color and those we are not where there is equal representation between both. Portland has been doing this. Evolve a language in our own organizations and between our organizations so we have a common language - a first step towards healing


Overall, the meeting was frustrating. I think we all wanted to talk more about what we are doing and what can be done. We did not stumble at a lack of language or capacity to discuss the topic, but rather did not make get very far due to lack of trusting ourselves to just lead the way in the conversation. I hope that next time, this is not the case.

A few of the resources mentioned:
UW Labor and Civil Rights webpage: http://depts.washington.edu/labhist/
SPU provided us the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Institution: http://www.ua.edu/academic/facsen/diversity/continuum.html
Book: Teaching Community: a pedagogy of hope by Bell Hooks - Check google books at http://books.google.com/books?id=S5ySGySXJAYC&dq=Teaching+Community+by+Bell+Hooks&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=nIgWTNWIF8_9nQf7tq2fDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
Film – Traces of the Trade - http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/
Organization: Minority Executive Directors coalition. http://www.medcofkc.org


  1. Sustainable Central District and Sustainable South Seattle held a similar focus group in February 2009 as part of the Race Justice and Sustainability Project. We invited community leaders and organizers with experience to clarify intersections between justice and sustainability, identify opportunities or barriers to collaboration between these two movements and plan for a community forum on this issue

    The Intersection
    The initial conversation about sustainability and justice centered on social and economic sustainability and environmental justice issues. Specific concerns included school closings, violence and policing and the need for youth opportunities and neighborhood business support as priorities to creating a sustainable community.

    Opportunities and Barriers
    Participants had different perspectives on some of the barriers and opportunities to incorporating justice issues into the sustainability movement. Some participants saw a need to tailor sustainability to the socio-economic status of the neighborhood, while others thought this approach would encourage further inequities. Participants did agree on a need for new language around sustainability that was approachable and appealed to all community members regardless of their experience with these issues. Ideas included language of respect and opportunity, religious language, specifically ‘stewardship,’ and heritage language, specifically in relation to food. Opportunities to further intersect justice and sustainability ranged from specific ideas, such as putting more cops on foot and bicycle, to giving community members ownership opportunities such as plots in community gardens, to finding issues that affect everyone to build around, such as air quality.

    This event was succeeded by a few social/ networking gatherings in partnership with UmjoaFest PEACE Center.

  2. Deric,

    Sorry it took a while for this comment to post - I forgot to check the moderation queue for a few days.

    Thank you for sharing the information. This is exactly the sort of feedback we need to get better at reaching outside the traditional enviro community.