Clear Call for Diversity as Earth Day Approaches

Several articles have emerged recently from different sources, all calling out the same issue: old guard environmentalism is missing out on the ideas, spirit and power of the grassroots and communities of color. Or, as Brentin Mock’s eloquent story in Colorlines professes in its headline, “Mainstream Green is Still Too White.”

From the Latino Daily News Taco to the Washington Post, recent political failures on the part of the environmental movement are being blamed on mainstream groups lacking racial and ethnic diversity on their staffs, philosophically separating “the environment” from the people who live, work and play in it, and prioritizing board room deals over on the ground mobilization.

Nicholas Lemann’s recent piece in The New Yorker, “When the Earth Moved: What happened to the Environmental Movement?” compares the first Earth Day, April 22nd 1970, to its 21st Century counterparts. While the original Earth Day was grassroots-driven and billed as a “teach-in,” subsequent Earth Days have been much better funded and advertised. And yet, the passion is missing – the broad base of the movement is divided.

“Even as the environmental movement has become an established presence in Washington,” Lemann writes, “it has become less able to win legislative victories. It has concentrated on the inside game, at the expense of efforts at broad-based organizing.”

For News Taco, Jose Gonzalez writes, “Investing in the environment means investing in the communities that will benefit from and provide support for environmental/conservation issues in the future – a demographically diverse future.”

Read Talia Buford’s similarly-themed Politico story, “Greens Confront Their Own Need for Diversity” here.

Overbrook’s Council for 16,000 initiative is addressing this disconnect, working on building inclusion, equity and alignment between grassroots and people of color-led groups and the mainstream greens, in the interest of refreshing and bolstering the movement overall. Kim Wasserman, recent Goldman Environmental Prize winner and Director of LVEJO (Little Village Environmental Justice) in Chicago, was one of over one hundred people from across the movement who spoke with foundation staff about the Council initiative.

In reference to LVEJO’s efforts and the closing of dirty-energy power plants in the community, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it best: “What I did was just put my foot down on the accelerator at the right moment,” he says. “But the credit goes to all the people that want to make sure their government was able to add the volume to their voice."

In their public announcement of Wasserman's achievement, LVEJO summarized the spirit that perhaps all the articles referenced above are trying to highlight as successful strategy  going forward: inclusion and equity fuel the movement!

"Kim won the Goldman Environmental Prize, but none of the work that led to it would have been possible without our community, our volunteers, our organizers, our funders, our family, our friends, and all of those who supported this incredible campaign. Thank you and onward!"

Watch the LVEJO video here.