Sunday, March 13, 2005

Michael K. Dorsey Responds

Unfortunately, Michael (like a number of you) fell victim to Haloscan's limitation of 1000 words (or is it characters) in the comments. He also emailed me his response, so I wanted to make sure the whole thing was available. Here you go:

Excellent to hear from you Jeff.

Happy and pleased to have a good discussion. That was indeed the idea of my posts to you directly and to your site...

Quickly some answers (a full post will come on this in the coming
days, possibly as early as tomorrow/Monday, no later than

JS: Is your criticism, then, that these authors present ideas that have been at the heart of the environmental justice movement without giving credit to that movement?

MKD: Yes, but...

Bitchin' about who is getting credit is passe; a profound and trite
waste of time. The concern here is about the formal and informal
institutional responses to criticism and the lack thereof--within
environmental organizations; foundations and other places of
(psuedo?)-power, e.g, Center for American Progress, etc.. The concern is also about what we can learn from the way in which the
aforementioned organizations have responded to and engaged the DOE-boys and their histories-of-disregard to and against those the have brought similar concerns to the fore.

(First, nota bene: the environmental justice movement is not "my
movement"--just as much as "mainstream, white liberal environmentalism" is your movement.)

That said, the bit about injustice and who is harmed by environmental degradation is a portion of what environmental INjustice is about (and has nothing to do with environmental justice--formally speaking). What then is environmental INjustice (and the reaction to it: environmental justice)?

(Funny--even hilarious AND SAD, when I google: "environmental
injustice ben chavis defined" --- I get my own article
( I wrote
ages ago for WRI, at the top of the heap!... but I digress...)

What then is environmental INjustice (and the reaction to it:
environmental justice)?

"racial discrimination in environmental policymaking and the
enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of people of color communities for toxic and hazardous waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in [those] communities, and the history of excluding people of color from the leadership of the environmental movement (2)."

(FULL CITATION: 2. Benjamin Chavis, "The Historical Significance and Challenges of the First National People of Color Environmental
Leadership Summit," in Proceedings of the First National People of
Color Environmental Leadership Summit (United Church of Christ
Commission for Racial Justice, Washington, D.C., 1991). )

Now there you have it. I suspect, if I may, for a guy like yourself, I think you immediately see where this is going... but for the general reader let me break it down...

Hold on, here we go...

So Chavis dropped this wit back in 1991, at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (that included people of non-color too; where I was a delegate) and while the DOE boys were (dare I hedge a guess) still wondering about what to do with life after college.

Present in DC at the Summit were Big Ten leaders: Carl Pope (Sierra
Club), Brent Blackwelder (FOE), John Adams (NRDC), and the other
majors, etc. etc. etc. Indeed they were sitting right down front for an "accountability session" between the grassroots and the
grasstops--regardless of color. It was far from a bitch session. It was an honest exchange where certain suggestions and demands were made, about to save environmentalism from the grave.

This accountability session recently reoccurred at Summit II in Oct
2002. Again the majors came for a discussion/accountability session between grassroots and the grasstops--regardless of color.

In addition Foundation heads, program officers, wealthy donors (all the primary audience of the DOE) were also present, and honed up limited funds to facilitate aspects of the event(s).

The upshot... the major players were all present... But what happened? was social justice, or other serious efforts to address/redress the complete ambit of Chavis' definition of environmental injustice put into motion, seriously--especially in terms of re-tooling the leadership of environmentalism, the obvious first place for leaders of professional environmentalism to begin to make key changes (change your house first, before change someone elses...) ?

Absolutely not. Lip service was paid, certainly. Indeed, the
aftermath of BOTH Summits marked a BACKLASH against the environmental justice movement, individuals and organizations...

A few days after Summit II, for example, some grasstop-CEOs called a phone meeting to address the "minority question". But so what... this could have easily been predicted, as they had done the same thing 11 years before. Not much else is new in the American house of institutionalized apartheid.

So what gives? (Or Along come a Few Necromancers...)

Enter stage (left-of-)center Mike and Ted's flawed, but well written piece, which pre-dates their UC Berkeley attack on the "body fetishized environmental health movement" and meaningless environmental justice movement (discussed in their own words and voice at the link I posted a few days ago).

Who cares if, in the few areas where these DOE-boys get it right, their ideas dovetail precisely with environmental justice analyses for emphasizing diversity, social justice and things that resonate with people in their daily lives--and the DOE never as much as tip a hat to environmental and indeed coming swinging against it ... ? Who cares about that? Who cares if the above grasstop-CEOs (particularly at places like NRDC, and increasingly, globally at places like WWF, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy) ignore and plot overt countermeasures against social justice, environmental justice, as well as organizations and activists who openly advocate these approaches; raise money in the name of social and environmental justice and rarely or infrequently work with affected communities (see the raging debate in the last two issues--four months--of WorldWatch magazine about specifically how WWF, CI & TNC are doing this on a global scale.) Who cares if foundations have not even thought about rudimentary correctives to foment environmental justice--like, shall we dare say, commit a paltry 15% of your budget to re-tooling and re-building the movement in the name of justice for all?

Who cares if the major players ignore the critics of color, repeatedly; cabal against them openly, and only give audience and get in a let's-clean-house-frenzy when the Ted and Mike show comes to town?

Well I think everyone should care.

I also think that people should put these factoids in their personal pipes when they seriously seek to and in good faith ponder: What part of environmentalism has long been dead AND what part is very vibrant still and has always been (a key point at Summit 1, in 1991, was: "Hello, eco-people-of-non-color, we told you this in 1971").

More to the point, people must keep front-and-center the shortcomings, problems, and grave dangers of following lone-ranger, death-experts into cul-de-sacs of bad ideas that come from their lack of experience and brazen-blind attitudes--in the spotlight at UC Berkeley and elsewhere--if we want to gain true ground in the battle against corrupt Presidents, recidivistic corporate criminals, and a rogues-gallery of eco-plunderers from far and wide.

More in a bit,


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