The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, toured parts of the United States in December of 2017. His findings are detailed from visits to California (Los Angeles and San Francisco), Alabama (Lowndes County and Montgomery), Georgia (Atlanta), Puerto Rico
(San Juan, Guayama and Salinas), West Virginia (Charleston) and Washington, D.C.
While the final report was published on June 1st, it will be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council on the Summer Solstice, June 21st. CEE’s Catherine Coleman Flowers will be in attendance in Geneva, Switzerland for the presentation and to contribute to a panel along with Mr. Alston and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign and Kairos Center.
Jeremy Slevin authored a partial analysis of the report on Talk Poverty.
The conclusions are damning. “The United States already leads the developed world in income and wealth inequality, and it is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal,” the report concludes. “High child and youth poverty rates perpetuate the intergenerational transmission of poverty very effectively, and ensure that the American dream is rapidly becoming the American illusion.”
The panel presentation moderated by at the Geneva Graduate Institute on June 26th, 9 – 10:30 am EST can be viewed via Live Stream.
Catherine Coleman Flowers is CEE’s Director of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement. She is the founder of ACRE, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise and the Rural Development Manager for EJI, the Equal Justice Initiative.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In Alabama’s Black Belt, along the road from Selma to Montgomery where civil rights activists fought for voting rights, there’s a glaring problem that’s all too often overlooked — a lack of working sewer systems.
The Alabama Department of Public Health estimates 40 to 90 percent of homes have either inadequate or no septic system. And half of the septic systems that have been installed aren’t working properly.
Many homes here rely on straight PVC pipes that carry waste from houses to open pits and trenches that often overflow during heavy rains, bringing sewage into people’s yards where children play.
The situation isn’t much better in towns connected to relatively functioning sewer systems. Heavy rains and floodings, which seem to be intensifying because of climate change, overwhelm weak sewer systems, forcing sewage to back up in people’s homes, and contaminating drinking water.
The problem has real effects on people’s health. A 2017 report in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene found that among 55 adults surveyed, 34.5 percent tested positive for hookworms, which thrive in areas of extreme poverty with poor sanitation. Hookworms are not deadly, but they can impede physical and cognitive development in children, and expose victims to intestinal illnesses.
I have worked on these issues for years and seen firsthand how devastating they are for residents.
Pamela Rush, a disabled mother of two children, aged 9 and 15, desperately wants to leave her mobile home in an unincorporated part of Lowndes County because she believes her family’s health is in jeopardy.
I recently visited her home, which reeked of mold and mildew. A PVC pipe carried sewage away from the house, but wasn’t nearly long enough to stop sewage from ending up in her yard. Sewage was visible just inches from the home.
Ms. Rush constantly worries that the pipe will clog and sewage will back up into her home. But she worries even more about her 9-year-old daughter, who sleeps with her, and must use a ventilation device, commonly used for sleep apnea, so she’ll get enough oxygen.
Ms. Rush doesn’t know what impact her living conditions are having on her daughter. But on a monthly income of $958, there’s no way she can afford to leave, or fix the waste disposal problems. She feels trapped.
Catherine is the Director of Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement and is a significant voice in the landscape of Environmental Justice in the United States. Don’t miss her during On Water & Faith: Ministry in a Time of Climate Change, at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Thursday, May 31st, she will be in dialogue with Former Vice President Al Gore for our Public Evening Program, Climate, Water and Justice: Our Changing Planet & a Moral Call to Action. Catherine will also join an panel on Water and Justice: The Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change and offer a Skills Training /Workshop focused on Engaging Local Communities.
On March 27th, I was one of thirteen defendants who went to court in the West Roxbury district of Boston to answer charges related to our arrests for civil disobedience against a fossil fuel (fracked gas) pipeline in that neighborhood. The prosecution reduced our criminal charges to civil infractions, a disappointment in the sense that we wanted to present a full “necessity defense” at a jury trial. Then something extraordinary happened: the judge allowed each defendant to address her directly.
We spoke successively in a way that argued and reinforced all the usual elements of the necessity defense:
(1) we reasonably believed we were acting to prevent imminent harm
(2) the harm we sought to avert was greater than the harm done by illegal action
(3) we reasonably anticipated that our action would avert the harm and
(4) there were no remaining legal alternatives.
In the end, the judge found us all “not responsible” (the civil infraction version of “not guilty”) by reason of necessity. This felt like a moment of moral clarity about where we are in the climate movement and I was honored to be a part of it. Respect and gratitude go to The Climate Disobedience Center and to the residents of the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston who led this fight.
Here is a great piece in Commonwealth magazine giving the background and context of this moment. The particular action that I was part evoked the connection between the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels and the deaths of those who die of climate impacts, specifically those who were buried in trench-like mass graves that had been dug in anticipation of the extreme heat wave in Pakistan that year. Rev Mariama White-Hammond, Rabbi Shoshana Friedman and Tim DeChristopher were among those that delivered eulogies and made prayers that day before a group of us laid down in that pipeline trench. I want to note that my participation grew out of conversations with both Mariama and Tim (as well as, with Rev. Margaret Bullitt- Jonas) at the Center for Earth Ethics ministers training in 2015, just a few weeks before the action. Finally, I want to note that local residents like Mary Boyle had worked very hard building the movement in opposition to this particular dangerous high-pressure fracked gas pipeline, which also brought the imminent danger of explosion into their dense neighborhood. They were acting to protect their neighbors, and they also made a powerful case for the protection of all life on Earth.
The Center for Earth Ethics is proud to be at home here at Union Theological Seminary in New York City which convenes amazing conversations about our world.
Watch this riveting dialogue with award-winning journalist and best-selling author Naomi Klein and Union visiting professor Michelle Alexander about the current crises of our time and why we must connect the dots between the intersecting issues of white supremacy, rape culture, climate chaos and wealth hoarding. How do we move from strategic alliances and coalition building to a true political synthesis that not only connects these oppressions and injustices but maps a positive and healing future for all people and the planet? The Spirit of Justice aims to amplify the voices of modern-day revolutionaries—artists, activists, scholars, healers, teachers and more—who are committed to moving forward in new ways with a keen understanding of the political history and moral dilemmas which brought us to this moment in time.
“We don’t practice con-sci-ence, we practice consciousness, because the former is a state of mind that slices reality into pieces,” says Tiokasin Ghosthorse.
Dear Friends, Thanks to so many who joined us for this event. Here, where we exist in a shared consciousness with the water, the fire, our ancestors and with each other. We sit in presence. We experience together. “We don’t try to explain mystery, we live in the mystery.”
The Center for Earth Ethics is honored to continue our partnership with Author, Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Founder, Host and Executive Producer of First Voices Radio) exploring perspectives which reach deep into the heart of an emerging consciousness that is both ancient and new. We are called home until we understand, “Mother Earth misses us.”
Aliou Cissé Niang, New Testament faculty at Union Theological Seminary, offered reflections beautifully weaving in indigenous perspective from his native Senegal, West Africa.
Close to three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, many Puerto Ricans are struggling for survival and fighting to remain, reclaim, and rebuild. Many of their struggles are related to a climate crisis fueled by a legacy of colonization and extraction. As the crisis continues unfolding, #OurPowerPRnyc is a community-led initiative working to build a Puerto Rico recovery designed by Puerto Ricans. Learn More.
Beyond GDP: Lessons from Indigenous Cultures and Faith Traditions, SU 190 – KA1
Presented by The Center for Earth Ethics & Karenna Gore Friday, February 2, 1:00 – 6:00 pm; Saturday, February 3, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Course Description: This class will focus on the flaws of current economic measurements such as Gross Domestic Product and the ways in which Indigenous cultures — along with voices from faith communities— are contributing to alternative ways of measuring the success and well-being of a society. Topics to be covered include the UN Sustainable Development Agenda, the impact of colonization on the bio-cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples, the conflict at Standing Rock, the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, and the role of religion in development policy.
I don’t believe that there is a single person on this planet who isn’t aware of the climate system’s change. I fully include so called climate deniers in this as well because even they have to go outside and wonder why they can leave their homes, on many a winter day, in nothing more that a light jacket. Most are aware that something is just not right, that the coming days will bring forth even more uncertainty in weather patterns. For a majority of the world, however, this uncertainty is something they are already living with every day-this is the reality of the most vulnerable in our society: the poor For it is the capitalist project which has brought us to this crisis, and it is through its exploitative and violent nature human suffering has increased alongside Mother Earth’s ecological degradation.
The course went by the name, Beyond GDP: Lessons from Indigenous Cultures and Faith Traditions. Prior to attending the class, participants were sent a short reading list which included excerpts from “Laudato Si”, an article from the acclaimed scholar and activist Vandana Shiva, and a beautiful collection of articles and testimonials written from the perspective of Indigenous people advocating for their rights, as well as sharing the great Original Wisdom which still guides them today.
With around 30 participants, the class was a great mixture of students, religious leaders, professors, activists, farmers and herbalists, and lawyers. We were also blessed and honored by the presence of members from the Ramapough Lenape Nation- Chief Dwaine Perry and Owl Smith. Upon opening the class with a ritual presenting the four elements, C.E.E. Director, Karenna Gore, invited us all to introduce ourselves and ask that we share our names, a product which we depend on most, as well as, something within greater creation which we feel most connected to. It was incredibly powerful to witness the palpable feelings of joy and wonder we all associated with our non-human family.
Just as powerful, were the presentations. Karenna started the discussion by bringing forth the idea that capitalism and our globalized obsession with the gross national product index is greatly failing us all. The next presenter was economist and professor Bipasha Chatterjee who was able to pass on to us a great deal of information about how our global economic system works. For me, however, the most inspiring part of her presentation had to do with introducing us to the many alternatives uses of measuring value. My favorite definitely had to be the Gross Happiness Index used in Bhutan. Dr. Chatterjee explained that with this new system, Bhutan may be one of the poorer nations of the world monetarily, but it was also the happiest country in the world.
Ken Kitatani gave the following presentation, in which he introduced the UN Sustainable Development Goals emphasizing how the global community is coming together to create a better future. We were asked to take into consideration the people who might feel excluded by such an agenda-particularly indigenous communities who have no interest in developing within the capitalistic confines which very much inform the SDGs.
Dr. Geraldine Patrick Encina offered the final presentation of the day, bringing to the forefront Indigenous People of the Americas and the wisdom of original peoples, highlighting their cosmology, traditional way of life, and deeply rooted connection with all of creation. It was moving to hear her reflecting on the to groups of people she is connected to, the Mapuche of Chile, and the Otomi of Mexico. It was wonderful to hear about these tribes both maintaining their traditions, as well as, the challenge they have had in having to reclaim and relearn customs and practices which had been lost upon the “first contact”.
On day two, Roberto “Mukaro” Borrero was the first to present, and spoke about Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Being a member of the Taino Tribal Nation, Dr. Borrero brought forth the perspective of Indigenous people who continue to resist settler colonialism, and its predatory ways. One highlight of this presentation, I believe, was the time taken to talk about the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the struggles they endured against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That moment, Dr. Borrero argued, could serve as the perfect reason Indigenous people are so in need of their rights. What happened at Standing Rock was not only about a building a pipeline, it was about protecting the water and land which, to the Standing Rock Sioux, was sacred and worth protecting at all costs. To add, Standing Rock was a moment in which, twenty-first century Americans had to grapple with the reality of what it means to disregard and dehumanize Indigenous Peoples. Granting rights to indigenous people is not only a matter of symbolism, it is necessary in order to save lives.
Next, Catherine Flowers gave a presentation on what was happening in her community in Lowndes County, Alabama. She talked about the terrible sewage conditions so many residents are dealing with in addition to other ecological crises affecting the health of residents there. Into this conversation, Catherine also challenged the participants to think about what other factors, beyond capitalism, might have caused this reality for the people of Lowndes County. Racism was also an incredibly powerful force in this oppression which allowed politicians and public servants to ignore the demands for help by the people of Lowndes County, and other similar communities dealing with public health crises. The G.D.P. index does not help these people, and worse, it requires, and only benefits from, their continued suffering.
The last presentation was given by Adam and Shaily Gupta Barnes. Sharing reflections about their time in the Peace Corps, the two talked about the rural farming community they worked with in Niger, West Africa, and the sustainable farming being practiced despite such vicinity to the desert. Additionally, the two presented on the work they are engaged with in the Poor People’s Campaign. Led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the movement was highlighted as a moral revival for America. An opportunity to this nation to reflect upon ourselves, especially after the 2016 election, and commit ourselves to a way of being less focused on greed and power, and more focused on the Revolutionary Love Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was so passionate about.
It was a jam packed two days, with so much to take away and reflect upon. For myself, the biggest take away was the realization that we must divorce ourselves from capitalism as well as the greed and over consumption that comes with it. We must be willing to recognize the rights of Indigenous people, and more importantly, we must be willing to learn their earth centered practices we have forgotten as we have attempted to perfect civilization. With scientists constantly reminding us of how dire everything is, I am very appreciative of this class for making me be self reflective on the ways in which I am complacent within this system. The urgency is very real, and I am so very grateful for the space this class opened up for us to become aware of solutions which have already been working on a small scale, and must be adopted – for the fate of all of creation.
Dear Friends! The first perennials are breaking through their shells deep beneath the snow blanketed earth. We, too, are emerging and taking up the work we will carry for seasons ahead. There are rhythms and cycles to the natural world. It is to this intelligence we must take heed, to find the sustainable solutions for our planet.
Enjoy these updates from our team and please join us for coming events
focusing on the issues that matter most.
~ The Center for Earth Ethics Team ~
Original Caretakers Continues Weaving Indigenous Wisdom In and Out of the Classroom
The Center for Earth Ethics invites you to join us for a discussion on understanding non-verbal thinking in the anthropocentric age.Our talk will be shaped by the voices of Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Cheyenne River Lakota), founder, host, and executive producer of “First Voices Radio”, Mindahi Bastida Muñoz (Otomi) Director of the Original Caretakers Program at the Center for Earth Ethics and Geraldine Patrick Encina (Mapuche descent), Scholar in Residence at the Center for Earth Ethics.
Catching Up with Original Caretakers Fellows…
Resident Herbalist, Poppy Jones, shares on the CEE Blog about his travels through Asia this winter visiting Thailand, China and Japan, ‘traversing throughout city and mountain terrain, observing climate conditions of rain and drought’. Throughout, he opened dialogue with park rangers, farmers, students and Buddhist monks on the effects of Climate Change in their lives and work. First stop: Thailand.
An INTERVIEW with Lyla June Johnston on the power of music and poetry in a life of prayer. (CHICAGO ‘N BEYOND for NO DEPRESSION)
“Music is a powerful launchpad for bringing joy, inspiration, hope, education and unification to the oppressed …we are trying to generate a new genre of Indigenous music that inspires the youth.” (Photo by Priscilla Peña)
… and Environmental Justice & Civic Engagement (EJCE)
CEE’s Director of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement, Catherine Coleman Flowers, reflects on the vote in Alabama.
The recent election in Alabama reminded the world and the nation about the power of the vote. Being from Lowndes County, Alabama, I am ever reminded of the importance of exercising one’s franchise. When I was a child, I watched my parents fight for that right. My father also reminded us that the five years, four months and seventeen days he served in the United States Army fighting tyranny was to ensure that we never took it for granted. So, at the age of eighteen, I exercised my civic duty to register to vote. The first presidential election I voted in was 1976. I cast my vote for a peanut farmer from Georgia. Later I too joined the military because of my respect for democracy. I have participated in every election henceforth.
Like my parents before me, I have made voting a family tradition. Before she was old enough to vote, my daughter Taylor and I would go to the polls together. I wanted to instill in her the importance of that privilege that my parents instilled in me. On December 12, 2017, she and I droveto the polls along with my twenty-two-month-old grandson. We cast our vote with the moral conviction that we had to speak for women, the environment and seven generations to come. We were determined to show that Democracy was alive and well. My cousin Perman Rush Hardy (see article below), a former sharecropper was doing likewise in Lowndes County. Her hard work on election day getting out the vote exemplifies what my parents taught me many years ago. Thank you to Perman and so many others that cast their vote, encouraged others to vote and took their families to the polls to vote. Because of you, Democracy is alive and well.
About the Author: Catherine Coleman Flowers (on left, pictured here with her daughter and grandson), is an Environmental Justice leader for Alabamians without basic needs met. She is a fierce advocate and part of a loving family.
If you live in Lowndes County and are of voting age, it’s a safe bet that Perman Hardy has spoken with you about voting at some point in the past 25 years.
As one of the thousands of sharecroppers who worked white men’s land in Lowndes County over the years, 59-year-old Hardy recalls picking cotton after school growing up. She eventually finished her education, bought her own home, and had a successful career as a home health nurse.
But the past two-and-a-half decades, Hardy has dedicated much of her free time to another pursuit: trying to ensure that every single person in Lowndes County shows up to the polls for every election in Alabama. A native of the unincorporated community of Collirene, she has done about as much as one person possibly could to boost turnout in the impoverished, majority-black county with a population of just 10,458 people…