New Colors Of Green


Robert Bullard, editor, Confronting Environmental Racism:
Voices from the Grassroots (South End Press, 1993).

     "The movement for environmental justice is so
important," Dr. Robert Bullard told me, "because it's not
only the fastest growing segment of environmentalism, but it
converges the movements for social and environmental justice
and peace in one multicultural, multiracial, and multi-
regional trend." The new book he has edited, Confronting
Environmental Racism, is a major contribution to
understanding why. Bullard is a political as well as
movement "insider" who served in the Clinton transition team
and in helping organize a presidential summit on
environmental racism this fall.
     Bullard's previous book, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class
and Environmental Quality, described the conditions that
spawned environmental justice activism. It documented the
criticism of environmental racism first popularized by Rev.
Benjamin Chavis (now Executive Director of the NAACP) and
Charles Lee's 1987 report, "Toxic Wastes and Race in the
U.S." The efforts of Chavis, Lee, and others bore fruit in
the 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.
Bullard's new book is one of numerous follow-up projects
from that gathering.
     Subtitled Voices from the Grassroots, Bullard's book
hands activists and researchers a microphone to explain
their issues and organizing strategies. The author told me
the contributors' views of the movement are not in lockstep,
and he selected his collaborators to reflect the diversity
of viewpoints. The vast majority of collaborators are people
of color, including Bullard, Chavis and Lee. About half are
women, which is significant because the overwhelming
membership -- but not leadership -- of grassroots
environmental groups are women. They're the ones who feel
the effects on their families the most and are the most
connected within their neighborhoods.
     One of the women writers, Cynthia Hamilton, provided
the most ideological chapter. She laid the ultimate blame
for ecological injustice on our "industrial" society, and
suggested the solution lies in totally transcending the
"modern Western worldview" and capitalism for new lifestyles
and a different standard of living. In the final analysis,
she wrote, the environmental justice movement is about
democracy. Its goal is to "democratize environmental
decision-making and empower disenfranchised people to speak
out and act for themselves," wrote Bullard. He told me that
the environmental justice movement is the only environmental
movement that deliberately addresses racism, sexism, and
     The left sees environmental justice issues as our own
issues and these communities as the people we want to
organize. But we need to bear in mind that environmental
justice builds on top of all the organizing done in poor,
working class, and people of color communities. This
movement, therefore, must also be seen as a more developed
stage of the racial justice movement. Leading activists in
grassroots environmental groups are no more likely to be
political ingenues than Rev. Chavis is. They are and have
been part of the left for a long time, but much of the left
is only coming late to recognize that -- just as the
mainstream environmental movement came late in 1990 when
Chavis and Lee's coalition and the Southwest Network for
Economic and Environmental Justice (SNEEJ) wrote scathing
letters to the "Group of 10." (See "Environmental
Inequities" in CrossRoads first issue, June 1990.) Now the
Group of 10 national environmental establishment routinely
spouts about environmental racism and touts their own
organizations' environmental justice projects as if they'd
thought of them in the first place.
     At the same time, SNEEJ sent a letter to white-led
groups who had better relationships with people of color-led
efforts than the established organizations. That letter was
to get the white-led allies to take people of color more
seriously on their own terms on environmental questions
instead of patronizing them. Bullard points out the positive
responses from Greenpeace and others. On the other hand, one
national toxics group had to be forced by its few active
people of color to set aside a budget specifically addressed
to organizing projects, training, etc. on environmental
     Many independent and left, predominantly white groups
have rallied to join and support environmental justice
organizations since they discovered them. My own experience
in a multiracial environmental justice group profiled in
Bullard's book is that use of already existing community
mechanisms -- working through churches, community centers,
door-to-door canvassing, and word of mouth -- worked well
for these groups. Organizing tactics such as a lot of
literature (particularly where a lot of affected people
didn't read English), marches, demonstrations, pickets, etc.
brought in mainly the white left.
     There appear to be limitations to the movement against
environmental racism. Its tone is largely populist, and its
demands are often limited and very local -- Not In My Back
Yard. When a victory is won by siting a hazardous waste dump
in someone else's back yard, here or abroad, what happens?
The danger of cooptation by focusing on immediate, local
demands is a complex and troubling question.
     Bullard told me that, even though immediate goals of
some of the groups were achievable, the movement was really
to overturn oppression. He felt that activists for
environmental justice aim to dismantle the educational
system that compartmentalizes environment from
transportation, housing, energy, and health care. According
to Bullard, this movement is ultimately not cooptable
because, after every victory or loss on a toxic incinerator,
the group proceeds to make demands about lead in housing,
inadequate medical attention for the most polluted
communities, and on and on to broader problems.
Enthusiastic, Bullard has a vision of a holistic movement
spurred by the vital concerns of environmental justice.
     Stephen Castor is a contributing editor of CrossRoads.

Earth Diverse!


Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of
the American Environmental Movement, (Island Press, 1993).

     Directly challenging the premise that the environmental
movement is the strict province of conservationists and the
traditional environmental organizations, Robert Gottlieb's
Forcing the Spring is both a detailed history of
environmentalism in the U.S. and a much-needed progressive
analysis of the groups and individuals who have made up the
environmental movement.
     Gottlieb challenges the very definition of
environmentalism. Not only does he include the impacts of
our society on nature -- our forests, oceans and wildlife --
but also the impacts on people -- our homes, jobs and
communities. As a result, Gottlieb's history includes not
only conservationists like John Muir, the founder of the
Sierra Club, but also public and occupational health and
labor pioneers such as Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley and
Alice Hamilton. Working out of Hull House and the Northwest
Settlement house in turn-of-the-century Chicago's working
class neighborhoods, this remarkable group of women took on
issues of tenement conditions, garbage and sewers.
     Hamilton, regarded as one of the founders of public
health in the U.S., took on issues of occupational hazards,
including phosphorus, lead and carbon monoxide poisoning.
The history of industrial pollution and its effects on
workers is carefully documented in Gottlieb's book, with
particular attention to the disproportionate impact on
people of color, what has become to be known as
"environmental racism." Gottlieb shows that people of color
are affected as workers because they have traditionally been
relegated to the most difficult and hazardous jobs. Three
striking examples are used to document this.
     At Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, hundreds of workers
died painfully from silicosis contracted while working for a
subsidiary of Union Carbide, the company that later brought
us the Bhophal, India chemical plant disaster. The Gauley
Bridge incident took place in the middle of the great
Depression, when Union Carbide recruited migrant African
American workers from the deep South to work in the tunnel
amidst high levels of silica dust. The resulting deaths,
largely ignored by the mainstream press, were documented by
the left journal New Masses in articles by Phillipa Allen
entitled "Two Thousand Dying on a Job." The workers or their
families received small settlements, based on race,
averaging less than $400 per worker.
     The efforts of the United Farm Workers to confront the
issue of pesticides in the fields is far better known. It
also resulted in one of the few alliances between the people
of color and the traditional environmental movement. The
Environmental Defense Fund joined the UFW and the California
Rural Legal Assistance organization to force the EPA to ban
DDT, a pesticide that was devastating wildlife as well as
the health of farmworkers. Although their pesticide campaign
of 1970 was partially successful, the UFW has had difficulty
in recent years gaining public recognition of the hazards of
farmworker exposure to pesticides.
     When Uranium mining on Native American land began in
the 1950s, neither the Atomic Energy Commission or corporate
giants in the nuclear industry as Kerr-McGee (infamous for
the Karen Silkwood case) warned Native Americans recruited
to work in the mines of the potential dangers of working
with radioactive materials. Again this had tragic
consequences, as miners developed lung cancer and other
industrial diseases. A few weeks after the accident at Three
Mile Island, a spill of radioactive tailings into the Rio
Puerco in northern New Mexico received scant attention from
either the media or mainstream environmental groups. The
issue of contamination of Native American land, given
emphasis and attention in Gottleib's book, remains a
peripheral concern for most of the environmental movement.
     Gottlieb also provides an in-depth history of
traditional environmental organizations as well as more
militant, alternative groups such as Earth First! and
Greenpeace. He points out the role played by corporations
and foundations in funding and shaping environmental policy.
In an ironic footnote, the Ford Foundation, which played the
major role in forming the Natural Resources Defense Council,
also funds Island Press, publishers of Forcing the Spring.
     Gottlieb, a lecturer in the Urban Planning Program at
UCLA, writes in an academic style that at times comes across
as dry and repetitive. In particular, the chapters on
traditional environmental organizations move slowly, which
is unfortunate since there is a great deal of substantive
information that will be of interest to all environmental
activists. The chapters on occupational health, race, gender
and class are obviously of more interest to Gottlieb and it
shows through in writing that is more vibrant and alive.
     Forcing the Spring is exhaustively researched,
presenting an excellent analysis of the environmental
movement and providing activists with an indispensable tool
to connect movements for social justice with movements for
environmental sanity.  Gottlieb writes with a well-thought-
out clarity that more than makes up for any shortcomings in
     Gottleib's conclusion is an articulate outline of the
direction he would like the environmental movement to take.
He urges environmentalists to change into a movement that
"leads toward an environmentalism that is democratic and
inclusive, an environmentalism of equity and social environmentalism of transformation."
     Island Press is a non-profit publishing house dealing
with environmental issues. For a catalog of current titles,
write Island Press, Box 7, Covelo, CA 95428.
     Carl Anderson is an Oakland, California activist who
writes on environmental issues for News for a People's