“We can’t breathe, whether because of a knee on our necks or dangerous particulates in the air. Industries shouldn’t be allowed to pump and dump trash into our environment without paying a tax for its true costs. And that tax money collected should be invested in cleaning up pollution in blighted Black and Brown communities until their environment is as safe and healthy as the wealthiest parts of Washington.”
– Associate Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church and Tacoma NAACP Director of Youth Programs Malando Redeemer, giving opening public comments at virtual WA EJ Task Force meeting on June 22
The fight for racial justice in Washington state and across the country is occurring on multiple fronts. Police brutality and the devastating impact of COVID-19 in Black and brown communities aren’t problems that occur in a vacuum. They are the outcomes of a system of government that was built on a foundation of racial inequality.
At Front & Centered (F&C), we know this problem acutely. It is why we were created in the first place, why we worked on identifying the social determinants of environmental health, and proposed legislation to require Washington state to incorporate them in prioritizing the application of environmental laws. Importantly, achieving racial equality is why we are co-chairing Washington’s Environmental Justice Task Force.
Here’s where you come in. I want to update you on the work we’ve done over the summer to shape the Task Force recommendations, let you know about next steps in the process, and invite you to add your voice.
First, take a look at the Task Force’s draft recommendations. Second, join us and lift up your voice. How? Mark your calendar for Friday, September 11, the final meeting of the Task Force where the recommendations will be voted on. Check the website as the date gets closer for information about how to join the virtual Zoom meeting, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get added to our listserv for notifications.
As a refresher, these recommendations will be submitted to Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington State Legislature in a report in October, providing them with a blueprint of executive and legislative actions that can be taken to achieve environmental justice (EJ) by eliminating health disparities.
To ensure the Task Force recommendations accurately reflect community needs, part of the body’s charge is to hold regional public meetings across the state to learn from community perspectives. A central part of my job has been to support the active participation of our members in these regional meetings. Accomplishing this through community listening sessions in advance of each meeting equips our members to participate effectively in this process.
Over the summer, the Task Force has held public meetings over Zoom focused in North and South Puget Sound regions. We have hosted four parallel community listening sessions over this time. If you didn’t join, I want to share with you highlights and stories from these events:
Shiloh Baptist Church, June 6
On the disproportionate impacts of pollution
“Being African American we are on the worst end of the totem pole. we have low paying jobs, healthcare (inadequate), and others and all of that impacts our community. Black women are having babies that die because they don’t have the proper resources. There was a sewage spill in commencement bay and they don’t even tell us that stuff and that affects our air and other health issues.”
Asia Pacific Cultural Center
On the use of the Environmental Health Disparities Map
“We want to share this map with the people in the communities…I used to lead Korean Women’s Association, and we did a shellfish program with the youth– who then educated elders and other community members about environmental issues. We also went out and educated state officials about what kind of messaging is helpful to our communities…I need to know more about the mapping and how to teach our people about what they need to hear based on what’s on the map. You need to let us teach you on how to reach our people.”
On the data points to track to measure progress in improving community health
“Indoor air quality in K-12 schools, and removal of lead based paint, asbestos…Money spent towards these would be worth tracking as a measurement of community health outcomes.”
On the need to enforce public safety and anti-pollution laws
“Along the Duwamish in South Park, people continue to fish regardless of signs and restrictions and consume the contaminated fish. They would like industries to stop polluting with industrial toxics because people fish the river in the community”
These quotes represent the powerful voices and insights shared by Front & Centered members. I am proud of their active engagement and interest in making an impact on these issues, amidst the most grueling circumstances.
In the coming weeks, look out for an F&C Community Report that elaborates on the full breadth of community engagement we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and what we plan for ahead. I hope to see you virtually on September 11!