Clinging activism sometimes takes one step backward to propel two steps forward. It has produced awareness among urban and rural minority populations, including the elderly on fixed incomes.
These groups are all aware that environmental justice (EJ) is the dominant civil rights issue of the 21st century.
In South Florida, many spokespersons have emerged, and the movement seamlessly couples EJ and conservation – clean water, air, habitat, green space and global warming – with the $22.8 billion Everglades Restoration projects.
For the next 30 years or more, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) will re-plumb the Everglades.
According to official records, “to do this, the CERP will capture most of the fresh water that now flows unused to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and deliver it when and where it is needed most.”
The EJ and therefore civil rights issue here is how and why this is being done without urban and rural minority populations, as a collective, being represented as stakeholders?
Those at the decision-making tables as stakeholders are: Indian tribes, agricultural interests, utilities and elite environmentalists whose interests do not include people (yet). The CERP extends through 16 counties from Orange County south to Monroe County.
A coalition has emerged to sponsor a free EJ conference on Saturday, June 20, at the Broward County Main Library Auditorium, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The sponsoring entities are: Green Leaf, Inc.,/and the South Florida Community Partners; Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning; the Broward County Libraries Division, Department of Outreach Services; the Wilderness Society; and the South Florida Times.
Preeminent EJ sociologist Robert Bullard, Ph.D. is often called the father of EJ. He is the author of 12 books, including Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality.
Bullard is slated to speak at the conference, schedule permitting. Broward County’s own Frank and Audrey Peterman, now national EJ/conservation/green leaders operating from Atlanta, Ga., where Frank is regional director of the Wilderness Society and Audrey serves on a National Parks Service committee, will convene the conference.
Coordinators call the event “a mobilizing conference about EJ, conservation and ‘We the People.’ ”
Attendees will hear Cynthia Laramore, a black EJ/conservation activist virtually shut down in Belle Glade for trying to tell the world that Lake Okeechobee is a sick body of water. Communities like hers around Lake O get their drinking water from the lake. All manner of health problems, including kidney stones and gall bladder illnesses, meander throughout those populations.
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers are expected to participate and respond to EJ issues raised by scholars and activists concerning the CERP.
Now that federal funds are in the pipeline through Stimulus Act funding, Everglades restoration managers (SFWMD and the Army Corps) should no longer be able to side step federal laws and placate minorities.
Members of the South Florida congressional delegation have been asked to attend the conference, which will include representatives of participating community-based organizations from the tri-county area. Presidential Executive
Order 12898, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 “requires environmental justice for minority and low-income populations, including Indian tribes.”
Has such taken place with respect to CERP? Congress needs to know the truth.
Former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek has been asked to attend and speak about the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2000. Through workshops in Meek’s Miami office, language was crafted to include a section on community outreach and education in the bill.
At no gathering of any kind where EJ/conservation is discussed can the issue of urban apartheid not be addressed.
Lest we forget, the Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator and Landfill in Fort Lauderdale, where toxic waste spewed through the air and seeped into the ground from 1954 to 1978, is still taking lives, according to neighborhood survivors.
Leola McCoy, the long-time leader of the Wingate EJ struggle, died last August at age 70, four years after her husband’s death from prostate cancer.
McCoy’s daughter, Deatra McCoy, a paralegal, has picked up the mantle, and recently formed a group she calls “Lee’s Justice,” in honor of her mother, whose nickname was Lee.
Deatra’s testimony will be heard at the conference.