Category: Environmental Justice

Va NAACP, 28 Members of the General Assembly, CEE File Amicus Brief: Union Hill “deserves our protection and our respect”

See below for the amicus brief filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. According to the brief:

“Amici curiae are 28 members of the Virginia General Assembly, the legislative body for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the longest continuous law-making body in the world; Virginia State Conference NAACP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons; and the Center for Earth Ethics, a national civic organization working on environmental justice and civic engagement. Together the 28 members of the General Assembly represent over two million Virginians.”

General Assembly members signing on to the brief – all Democrats, not surprisingly – are: Delegate Dawn Adams (D-68th), Delegate Lashrecse Aird (D-63rd), Delegate Hala Alaya (D-51st), Delegate John Bell (D-87th), Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-2nd), Delegate Lee Carter (D-50th), Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-21st), Delegate Karrie Delaney (D-67th), Delegate Wendy Gooditis (D-10th), Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-31st), Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47th), Delegate Chris Hurst  (D-12th), Delegate Jay Jones (D-89th), Delegate Mark Keam (D-35th), Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38th), Delegate Paul Krizek (D-44th), Delegate Mark Levine  (D-45th), Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), Delegate Kenneth R. Plum (D-36th), Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-11th), Delegate Marcus Simon (D-53rd), Delegate Kathy Tran  (D-42nd), Delegate Cheryl Turpin (D-85th), Delegate Debra Rodman (D-73rd), Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (D-86th), Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd), Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25th) and Senator Lionell Spruill (D-5th).

Here’s a key excerpt from the conclusion (bolding added by me for emphasis):

For the African-American community of Union Hill, the marker of belonging is both life and death: the place where the first generation of free people came to life, and where now their ancestors rest in the ground. Union Hill is a unique, living, breathing community where the American history of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction resides both in the cemeteries of former slaves and the memory of their descendants. It deserves our protection and our respect. For the above reasons, amici respectfully ask the Court to vacate and remand the permit order for further consideration.

Full article and complete brief here…

On Food & Faith: 2019 Ministry in the Time of Climate Change Highlights; Beyond Religion; and More…

Dear Friends,

What a weekend!  We had 150 faith leaders, activists, farmers, academics, and community leaders from around the Midwest (coasts too!) come together at Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO) to learn how our food systems and land use impacts and is impacted by climate change. There are so many highlights to share and here are two. One was touring Seminary Hill Farms at MTSO and seeing veggies harvested for dinner the next day. Another were the presentations from Dr. Rattan Lal and Mr. Al Gore who spoke of the massive challenges in front of us but also the opportunities for hope and change. Yes it will be hard but we left the training feeling more prepared, with a renewed sense of community, and ready to act. A special thanks to all of the speakers and participants at the training.  And of course, thank you to our partners the Climate Reality Project, the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation at Ohio State University, and MTSO.

Please enjoy our photo album of the event including several highlights from our speakers.

Andrew Schwartz, CEE Deputy Director 


CEE Team Members at MTSO left to right:  Karenna Gore, Peggy Cusack,
Andrew Schwartz, Mindahi Bastida, and Genie Cooper.

Original Caretakers Upcoming Events

Image result for pulitzer center beyond religion

Image result for mary evelyn tucker

CEE’s Original Caretakers Program Director, Mindahi Bastida Munoz, will participate in a panel discussion on Religion and the Environment with Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Kalyanee Mam and Marianne Comfort. The panel will be moderated by Mary Evelyn Tucker, Co-Director, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University. For the full conference schedule , visit the Pulitzer Center website.  Beyond Religion will take place June 8-9 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.


Environmental Justice: The Accidental Environmentalist

CEE’s Catherine Coleman Flowers at the MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL – Telluride, CO showing of THE ACCIDENTAL ENVIRONMENTALIST: Catherine Flowers.  
Watch this Documentary Short


Eco-Ministry & Sustainability and Global Affairs

CEE’s Director, Karenna Gore on today’s panel “Focus on Faith: Planting and Nurturing the Seed of Climate Responsibility” Civil Society Briefing at the UN in New York City.

CEE Travels to Virginia to Say No to Pipelines

Most content originally published by ARTivism Virginia and Virginians for Justice!

On May, 17, 2019 Virginians and allies from the region walked with Union Hill to demand environmental justice and a stop to the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley fracked gas pipelines. They were joined by William Barber III and Karenna Gore of the Center for Earth Ethics. Returning to the route across the Robert E. Lee Bridge into Richmond traveled by civil rights advocates 51 years ago during Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic Poor People’s Campaign march to Washington D.C., hundreds called for an end to environmental racism and new fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens our ability to protect our homes, our water, and our children’s future.

“We’re not here by accident. Every single one of us is here for a reason. We are all gathered together for a reason. We hold these truths to be self-evident. We will treat each other with equal dignity and justice. We will make democratic self-government work. And we will live responsibly on this planet – it’s a sacred place.” – CEE Director Karenna Gore.

 

“This struggle is going to have global significance…

1968, Dr. King, in true prophetic form declared that we have in our lifetime an opportunity to avoid a natural disaster of grand design and to create a new spirit of economic and social harmony.  An opportunity to write a luminous moral chapter in American history – if we only choose.” – William Barber III

 

 

Jessica Sims of Sierra Club Virginia Chapter led the collaboration of dozens of Virginia environmental and grassroots organizations, including the Virginia Poor People’s Campaign. Musical support was provided by the SUN SiNG Collective of ARTivism Virginia.

Hand in hand, ART and ACTIVISM stoke our imaginations and remind us of our creative, beautiful, renewing, and resilient capacity for change. 

 

Featured here is singer, BJ Brown and speakers Queen Shabazz, Genesis Chapman, Karenna Gore, William Barber II, and Marie Gillespie. Other speakers for this event included: Beth Roach, Pastor Paul Wilson, Evelyn Dent, Lakshmi Fjord, Richard Walker, Andrew Tyler, Swami Dayananda, John Laury, Andrea Miller, Travis Williams and Chad Oba. Other ARTivists included All the Saints Theater, Lilly Bechtel, Tom Burkett, Tom Elliott, Kay Ferguson, Gabe Gavin, DeRon Lark, Jameson Price, Mara Eve Robbins, Graham Smith-White, Laney Sullivan, Siva Stephen Fiske and Joshua Vana.

Many Thanks to ARTivism Virginia – for capturing Walk with Me:

Also:  Video From May 17th March from Chesapeake Climate Action Network

In the News: Faith Leaders March in Protest of the ACP, ABC News 8

Yes Virginia, We Can Stop Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines.  Here’s how.

***

“To the River” No Pipeline Anthem written by Joshua Vana, arranged, performed by the SUN SiNG collective . “To the River” was recorded and filmed along the MVP & ACP fracked gas pipeline routes in areas of devastation using the Sun Bus and videographer, Sarah Hazlegrove.

***

Herring, Stand with Appalachia: No Mountain Valley Pipeline

May 18th, activists and Artivists also gathered in Leesburg, VA, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s hometown, to ask Herring to stay on the side of the people and clean water.

“We request that Mark Herring
1) halt work on Mountain Valley Pipeline,
2) pursue his lawsuit against MVP to its fullest and refuse to settle the case for petty fines,
3) and affirm the state’s authority to revoke the 401 water quality certification that it granted.”

Speakers included Del. Sam Rasoul, Del. Chris Hurst, Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Professor Emily Hammond, George Washington Law.
The event included music by Rachel Eddy and the SUN SiNG Collective, including  Joshua Vana, Bj Brown, and Graham Smith-White.  And also featured CEE’s Karenna Gore, and Rev. Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus.

Video From May 18th, 2019 – Herring, Stand with Appalachia: No Mountain Valley Pipeline

In the News: Pipeline Protest Comes to Herring’s Hometown

#NoMorePipelines #NoMVP #NoACP#WeAreAllUnionHill

CEE Spring / Summer Update

WORKING TOGETHER TO CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME:

Dear Friends,In Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis wrote, “It is essential to show special care for Indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”

Inspired, the Center for Earth Ethics partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Network and Forum 21 to host an intimate dialogue between Indigenous leaders and a representative from the Vatican. Read more…

The CEE Team


ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE & CIVIC ENGAGEMENT:

On May 17 and 18, Virginians from all across the state will unite in common cause to oppose unjust and unneeded fracked-gas pipelines anywhere in the Commonwealth, and to stand in solidarity for environmental justice and the climate.

On Friday, May 17, continuing the work of bringing people together for good, William Joseph Barber III, Co-chair of the N.C. Poor People’s Campaign Ecological Justice Committee, Karenna Gore (Center for Earth Ethics) and Pastor Paul Wilson (Union Grove Baptist Church) will join local leaders to march across the Robert E. Lee Bridge where 51 years ago, almost to the day, civil rights activists marched during Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice. We’ll end at the Oregon Hill Overlook for a concert and rally.  May 18th events will happen in Leesburg.  More information…

Join us for this important event! #noMVP #noACP


ORIGINAL CARETAKERS EVENTS DURING EARTH WEEK:

Indigenous leaders from around the world gathered at the United Nations Headquarters and at events throughout New York City during Earth Week.


Delegates from the Mapuche Nation and Likanantay brought awareness to Human Rights Violations at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues


ECO-MINISTRY UPCOMING EVENTS:

Special Evening Event
Wednesday, May 22, 7 pm

An Evening with Karenna Gore
Director, Center for Earth Ethics, Union Theological Seminary

The intersection of religion and the environment reflects on faith and love for the earth.
A reception follows.  

Throughout the Easter season, St. Bart’s is excited to present a variety of programs focusing on stewardship of the earth.  Other Upcoming Events in the series include: May 19th, Keep it Local: Addressing Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in Climate Justice with Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director, Uprose; and June 2nd, In the Garden: St. Bart’s and The Rooftop of the Waldorf-Astoria with Leslie Day, naturalist and author of Honeybee Hotel.

Rural Poverty in California: Is the American Dream Drying Up in California’s Central Valley?

Change is not an easy thing to do especially when only one person is doing it. In Central California, that person’s name was Nettie Morrison who by strength of will,  a good amount of political acumen, and a community ready for new life, was able to bring change and hope to a forgotten part of California’s Central Valley. In October 2018, CEE Senior Fellow Catherine Coleman Flowers and CEE Deputy Director Andrew Schwartz visited Allensworth to bear witness to the life and work of Morrison, and to see firsthand a city plagued by environmental mismanagement, systemic racism and classism, and now climate change. The trip to Allensworth is part of CEE’s mission to stand with frontline communities who are forced to fight against the dual burden of social and environmental injustice. 

You can read Andrew‘s reflection here


Capital & Main: Published on March 7, 2019 by

Love and energy aren’t always enough to provide what Allensworth, a historic African-American town, needs most: clean water, accessible to all.


Editor’s Note: This story marks the launch of an ongoing series about poverty in California’s heartland. From farming valleys to foothill communities, “the other California” makes ends meet in a time of adversity. Climate-changed weather patterns have contributed to catastrophic droughts and fires, while dwindling job opportunities are depopulating long-established towns. In the months ahead, we will profile the lives of rural Californians and examine the economic conditions that shape their futures. We will also weigh proposed solutions to the challenges they face, as well as programs that are helping to improve the present.

Co-published by The Guardian

One day in 1979, Nettie Morrison, then 44 and living near Bakersfield, California, announced she was moving — to a tiny rural town called Allensworth, 40 miles north. Hardly anyone had even heard of it, and those who had thought she was crazy. “People said, ‘Why would you want to move out there?’” recalls her daughter, Denise Kadara, who was already married by then. “‘There’s nothing for you up there.’ But she knew it was a historically black town and wanted to be a part of it.”


Removing arsenic costs money, and money is something a small, rural water system never has.


Colonel Allen Allensworth, a former slave who rose to become a Union officer during the Civil War, had founded the eponymous town in 1908, when he bought up 2,700 acres of alkali flats to establish a black utopia in a part of the San Joaquin Valley known as the Tulare Basin. By 1913, some 1,200 people from across the country had responded to Allensworth’s call — sent out via newspaper advertisements — to build the “Tuskegee of the West.” Back then, abundant clear water flowed from artesian wells, enough to drink and to irrigate crops of alfalfa, sugar beets and corn, along with feed for livestock.

But when Morrison arrived, all that remained of Allensworth’s vision was a nostalgic new state park, established in 1976 to commemorate the fallen town, and a tumbledown village of mostly Latino migrant workers and a few African-American families, grinding out a spare existence on the now-parched land. They cooked, when they could afford it, with expensive propane brought in by the tank. If they had toilets to flush, the sewage went into faulty septic systems; many of them used outhouses instead. Their wells were determined to be contaminated with arsenic, at levels too high for human consumption. A remedial treatment system never proved quite adequate: Residents still drove miles to fill tanks with clean water from other jurisdictions.

Morrison went to work and did what she could for Allensworth. Recruiting her five grown children as helpers — “we were there every weekend,” remembers Kadara — she founded a nonprofit, Friends of Allensworth, and saw that food and other necessities were distributed to the neediest residents. In 2007, Morrison mobilized opposition to two corporate dairy farms planned near the town, which would have compounded the threats to Allensworth’s air and water — her work insured that cattle had to be at least 2.5 miles outside of town. She also organized events at the state park, to teach people about the town’s — and by extension, the nation’s — history. “All the activities that take place there,” her daughter says, “Nettie Morrison established every single one of them.”

Read On…

 

Love the Water… World Water Day is Every Day

Protecting clean water is one of the most important ways you can have a positive effect in your environment. In honor of World Water Day, we share Steps to Build Community and Congregation around Water.

 

Where is your water? Find your watershed.

Knowing where your Water comes from is the first step.  Your Watershed is an area of land where rainfall, snowmelt, and other precipitation falls on the land and flows downstream into a lake, river, or stream ultimately becoming the source of the water you drink.

Use these on-line resources to identify your water source(s):

Watershed Map

Topographical Map/ Watersheds

 

Learn your Water History

Has there been a history of positive life affirming activity in your water ways including crafts, creativity, trade and settlements?  Are your lakes man-made or natural?  Where are the Sites Sacred to the Indigenous Peoples’ of the land? 

Who’s Land Am I On?

 

Walk the Path of your Water

Walking Water – Pilgrimage of your own Water Resources. This can begin as simply as taking a trip to a local lake, pond, ocean beach, stream, spring or well. Bring offerings, prayers, water songs or just your heart-felt intentions to make a new relationship with the Water. This can grow into a full Pilgrimage of walking the water from source to tap. You may seek out guides or indigenous allies to assist you in getting the best understanding of your watershed. Allow this to be a time to foster commitment to protecting these water resources for your family, your community and for the generations to come.

WalkingWater.org

 

What’s in Your Water?

Testing your water. Including identifying areas along the Path of your Water that may be polluted or contaminated in some way. Is there a history of dumping industrial pollutants in that same water or nearby land? 

CEE’s Catherine Flowers recommends contacting the Environmental Science or Biology department at your local college or university.

Wild Virginia hosts one-day trainings for volunteers to learn how to properly conduct water quality monitoring on streams in Virginia.  WildVirginia.org

 

Water Liturgies

Introducing water as a topic in your faith based and community activities. Study the use of water in ritual, understanding the sacredness of water in your tradition and familiarizing yourself with the traditions of others. If appropriate, host a Laudato si’ study group. Create opportunities to share how We are all made out of Water. Water is Life. Understanding that protecting access to clean water is a sacred human right and an issue that concerns us all.

Center for Earth Ethics Water Liturgies

 

Being a Water Protector

Being a Water Protector can take many forms: ceremony, community clean up projects, organizing water walks, working with others to protect your water from legislation that allows polluters to poison the water.  It centers around sharing with others the importance of water, that all life is sacred, and that Water is Life.  This can include Water Atlases; Fountains; Community Clean Up projects; deepening research on Water Catchment Systems, and other water topics for use, conservation and protection, etc. Educators from across the country are developing Water centered curriculum for students of all ages.

If you are looking for other ways to take action, here are three: R.O.A.R.: Religious Organizations Along the River, Riverkeeper and Civil Disobedience Training – On the Frontlines of Water Protection – taking the next step.

 

Water and Art

Water themed events that bridge art, spirituality and activism can inspire changes in policy for local communities and beyond.  You can curate art exhibits, concerts, and other performances with the theme of water. Make public murals to bring more awareness to water issues, engage indigenous voices in the process.  Passionate Waters offers up a beautiful model for raising awareness and resources about Water through Art.  We can successfully bring people together across sectors with our common goal for a better quality of life made stronger through our shared connection to Spirit.  

Participate in Global Water Dance Day with groups in 120 countries around the world.  They are offering a free webinar on World Water Day, March 22nd 2019 and this year’s Global Water Dances event is on June 15th.

 

Making Water a thing of Beauty and Reference for All

Now that you know your watershed, treat your community to an artist rendered custom Watershed Map to display that will inspire others to join you in building community and congregation around Water.

Watershed Maps for your Community

 

Women and Water

Women around the world have protected, tended and loved the Waters of Mother Earth for generations.  It is a sacred responsibility and honor that many have forgotten.  From an indigenous perspective, it is a vital role that women play ensuring humanity can and does live in harmony with the natural world.  Women everywhere are invited to restore their innate connection with the Water.

Keep your own daily practices or walks with water. Lead the building of congregation or community around the sacredness of Water where you are.  From daily mindfulness rituals to thank the water when you drink it, to organizing events to connect your community to it’s water source.  No effort is too great or too small.  Remember you are Water and Water is Life.  Keep the Waters Clean, keep the Waters Pure, keep the Waters Available for All, and let the Waters run free.  Share this knowledge of and appreciation of water with others.

Participate in events and groups with others:

Grandmother Josephine Mandamin inspired all of us to treat the water with the love and kindness and respect it deserves.  Though she has moved on, her Women and Water Coming Together Symposium conference will go on.  To learn more about her life, her life’s work and the upcoming conference visit: Spirit of the Water.org

More than three decades ago, two courageous women saw a need and took a risk that has shaped the feminist religious movement. Mary E. Hunt and Diann L. Neu gathered thirteen women from various faith backgrounds and created a place where women’s religious needs could be met and women’s creativity nurtured. WATER was born. We promote empowerment, justice, peace, and systemic change. Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

Women of the Water is collecting stories from women who Love the Water.  Tell us why you Love the Water, what Water related issues are you most passionate about, and what are your visions for clean and healthy water going forward?  What events are you doing for World Water Day and beyond?

 

Other Ways to Celebrate Water and International Days for Collective Water Education

International Day of Rivers, March 14 

UN World Water Day, March 22

World Oceans Day, June 8

World Water Week, September

Catherine Flowers Gives Testimony to House Committee on Water Resources and Environment

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Help Communities Modernize Water Infrastructure and Address Affordability Challenges

Excellent testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment by at 31:30 mark on this link.

We must confront inequities in wastewater treatment+ invest in sustainable solutions for those most in need.

LiveStream from 10 am, Thursday, March 7th

Witnesses:

Mayor David A. Condon, City of Spokane, Washington, on behalf of the United States Conference of Mayors

Mr. John Mokszycki, Water and Sewer Superintendent, Town of Greenport, New York, on behalf of the National Rural Water Association

Ms. Catherine Flowers, Rural Development Manager, The Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama

Ms. Maureen Taylor, State Chairperson, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit, Michigan

Mr. Andrew Kricun, P.E., BCEE, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Camden, New Jersey, on behalf of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies

Professor Jill Heaps, Assistant Professor of Law, Vermont Law School, Burlington, Vermont

CEE Update: Water, Women and Planting Seeds of Change

IN LOVING MEMORY

We ⁦at the Center for Earth Ethics and Union Theological Seminary were honored to know Grandmother Josephine and give thanks for her life and teaching.

Reciprocity, Responsibilities, Hope

“We’ve known for a long time that water is alive. Water can hear you. Water can sense what you are saying and what you are feeling… Give it respect and it can come alive. Like anything. Like a person who is sick… if you give them love, take care of them, they’ll come alive. They’ll feel better. It’s the same with our mother, the earth, and the water. 
Give it love.” 
Grandmother Josephine Mandamin Remembered
by Water Docs Films and the trailer for The Water Journey

ORIGINAL CARETAKERS

Marrying Indigenous Wisdom & Scientific Knowledge:
Reimagining the Human Place in Nature

A very special evening with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer in conversation with Geraldine Ann Patrick Encina, Scholar in Residence for Union’s Center for Earth Ethics and Union Theological Seminary faculty member John Thatamanil.

 

Reflection by Geraldine Patrick Ensina and Complete Program Video

 


The Gathering of Indigenous Spiritual Elders of South America and the Abya Yala

CEE’s Original Caretakers Program Director, Mindahi Bastida, will travel to Colombia to participate in this sharing between indigenous thought leaders and tradition keepers of Central and South America.

The Gathering of Indigenous Spiritual Elders of South America and the Abya Yala, will be an expression of dialogue and reciprocity to heal Mother Earth for present and for future generations. It promises meaningful discussions, as well as the development of pragmatic action plans.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Earth Ethics, ICCS – International Center for Cultural Studies, and The Fountain.


ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE / CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Catherine Flowers to Testify for Congressional Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment

“The Clean Water State Revolving Fund: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Help Communities Modernize Water Infrastructure and Address Affordability Challenges”

LiveStream March 7th, 10 am EST


A Moral Call to Action on the Climate Crisis – Atlanta, GA

Thursday, March 14th
7:00 PM, Doors Open at 6:15 PM

Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA
In the tradition of the mass meetings of the Civil Rights Movement, Former Vice President Al Gore, Bishop William J. Barber II, and CEE Director Karenna Gore will join Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock and other local faith leaders to gather inspiration from religious texts, and bear witness to the injustice of the climate crisis. The mass meeting takes place alongside a three-day environmental justice and climate activist training with taking place March 14th-16th. CEE’s Catherine Coleman Flowers also to join!  Learn More

ECO-MINISTRY

Annual Ministers Training May 30 – June 1

Application deadline is March 29, 2019. Applicants will be notified of decisions by April 30, 2019. Click here to submit an application.


 

You can support Grandmother Josephine’s vision
Women & Water Coming Together Symposium 
August 4-8, 2019
www.spiritofthewater.org

 

Reducing Waste Webinar

In Matthew 7:5 Jesus warns his followers to remove the beam from their eyes before speaking to the speck of dust in someone else’s eye.

As we look at the causes of climate change it’s easy to point out who the big polluters are and how they need to change. There is no doubt that fossil fuels emissions need to draw down to zero and that our friends in agriculture, tech, and manufacturing need to clean up how they do business. That much is obvious. What can be less obvious, though, is how our own lives and the institutions we frequent contribute to the problem. Are we making the changes we need to see in order to prevent climate change? I for one can say that I’m trying but there’s a lot of work left to do.

In this webinar, the Climate Reality Project and Center for Earth Ethics teamed up with Rev. Kate Mosely from Zero Waste Church to talk about reducing waste in our faith communities and the things we can do as individuals to lessen our overall footprint. You can find good tips on how to start a similar project in your own faith house too!

Allensworth

Not many people know where Allensworth, CA is. Of all the people I asked in Fresno only one had heard of it. Allensworth is a small town about 30 miles north of Bakersfield that according to the last census is home to 471 people. The town leadership says its closer to 800 because of seasonal farm workers but the census didn’t bother or care to count them.

There are two Allensworths. The first can be found in Colonel Allensworth State Park, which memorializes the town founded in 1908 by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a black man. It was founded as the Tuskegee of the West and meant to be a town for African Americans run by and for African Americans.  By 1910, it was being heralded across the country as an improbable success. It had a functional school, general stores, a church, and all the other indications of a thriving community. Many of the men in the town were employed by the railroad company while others worked the verdant fields in the otherwise dry desert brown Tulare County Its success was apparently too much to bear for the white farmers in surrounding towns, though. That the rail line was diverted and irrigation water refused was no accident. Both went to service and advance white owned farms nearby. Problems were further exacerbated when elevated levels of arsenic were found in the water in the 1960s. More and more residents moved away and the town fell into disrepair. In 1976 it became a California State Park making the town and its residents a part of history.

Barely a few miles up the road from the park exists modern-day Allensworth. You would be forgiven if upon arrival you thought the town and its 800 residents had been forgotten to history as well. The homes are primarily single or doublewide trailers planted haphazardly on sun-hardened lots. There are holes where walls and roofs should be and barely an AC unit in sight to help manage the 115-degree heat in the summer. “This isn’t supposed to exist in America” many of us say. It’s dusty and uncomfortable.

A group of us came to Allensworth on an environmental justice tour to learn the history of Allensworth and to see where things stand now. It’s not great. We gathered at the elementary school to hear from local advocates and university researchers to be told the myriad problems that trouble the town. The arsenic is still in the water and so too are elecvated levels of lead and chromium II. Residents haven’t been able to drink their water for years yet they are still charged for it. There aren’t many jobs in Allensworth and the ones that are there don’t pay well. Many don’t have working septic systems and rely on outhouses to do their business. There’s no natural gas either so it’s not uncommon to see folks cooking their meals outside over wood or coal fires. Propane is the fuel of choice for those who can afford it.

Professors, researchers and non-profit leaders enumerated the problems in Allensworth to our small group including solutions that they hoped to install. The problem was that there was no money for the solutions. One researcher told us that with $10k they could fund potentially revolutionary research that would extract arsenic from the water supply, which would have far-reaching application for communities around the world.

$10k.

San Francisco is barely 4 hours away from Allensworth. In one of the world’s richest cities, 10k could be dropped at a bar on a Tuesday night without second thought. In Allensworth 10k is an impossible amount of money. The annual per capita income is $8,413. Median household income is $29,091. A venture capitalist could sneeze and solve half of the town’s troubles.

American history is a tired record of repeated injustices perpetuated towards non-white people. When Allensworth was founded it was 97% black. Now it’s 97% Latino which may or may not account for migrant laborers. The much maligned, alleged job-stealing Latino workers are certainly not living high off the hog. The mishmash of dirt and paved roads that make up the town betray as much. Parts of Allensworth look like a shantytown. There are a few houses that demonstrate wealth is to be found in Allensworth but their relative opulence makes the surrounding poverty so much more pronounced and painful. It’s a reminder that wealth can and should be possible in a place like this but due to systems beyond the control of the community it simply isn’t.

According to a 2016 report, the Central Valley generates more than $21 billion in revenue (though Chinese growers are biting into these profits), which obviously doesn’t make it back to the communities of farmers who harvest the crop. There are more than a handful of farm owners who see the lion share of the profits and have encouraged short-term investments from Wall Street types who want to cash in on the dividends almonds supply.

Problem is that almonds demand incredible amounts of water to produce. For instance, it takes an entire gallon of water to produce a single almond. That’s a shocking amount of water anywhere and is especially shocking in bone-dry Tulare County. It was reported by the SF Weekly one farmer in particular, Stewart Resnick, used more than 400,000 acre-feet of water to grow his mixture of almonds, pistachios, citrus, and other crop which represented two thirds the annual consumption of Los Angeles.  

Despite all the water pumped into Tulare and its surrounding counties there is still little for the farm workers who live there. In a small community owned plot, locals have an experimental community garden in the works. Among other things, the garden grows leafy vegetables, watermelons, and okra. All crops are grown above ground to avoid contamination from the arsenic rich soil. Problem is that there aren’t good reliable water sources for homes and even less for their gardens. Large plastic water cisterns were given to the community to help irrigate their crops yet they aren’t wholly functional and making them so presents another obstacle in a queue of already too many.

Like every environmental justices issue, Allensworth is the product of choice. The choice systems and the individuals who create those systems to preferentializes the rich at the expense of the poor; that are willing to utilize racist policies to disembowel a community because of their skin color. Systems that make land and water management decisions that create short-term economic gains that jeopardize the land and community alike. That refuse to pay a living wage, provide benefits, or social services and then wonder why the people struggle.

If things don’t change, the Central Valley’s farming days are numbered. If it weren’t for extensive and expensive irrigation infrastructure nothing would be able to grow. The sources of that water, the Sierra Nevadas, with its ancient Sequoias and water tables, no longer see the same rainfall as they once did. Nor is the snowpack as voluminous or long lasting as it once was. At some point the water there will dry up and so too will the Central Valley. For those outside the Valley it will be a sad footnote along with so many others. But for those in the Valley and the Valley itself it is the end of a story and a reminder of the devastating results of the hubris of men. The soil is rich there and the growing season is abnormally long but both these can be wiped away by shortsighted greed and a fundamental ignorance of what eco-systems need in order to be healthy.

Residents call Allensworth “the town that refuses to die.” Despite the exhausting number of problems the town faces its residents remain proud and hopeful. Some wonder why the residents don’t just pack up and move. But to where? The poverty that haunts Allensworth isn’t dissimilar to the hourly wage-worker in Fresno, Bakersfield, or San Francisco. Nor would their departure signal a change to the environmental degradation in the Central Valley. No problem has ever been solved by running away from it. There are solutions to be had that empower communities and allow them to be self-sustaining but that would require systemic changes that gives more money and power back to the workers, and implementing ecologically minded practices that do no exhaust the land or the people who work it. They are changes that need to be made and fast otherwise the problems will grow to a magnitude we as a society are unable to address.