After a two-year hiatus, the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum convened in-person last month in the heart of our nation’s capital to reconnect, recharge, and rejoice!
The EJ Forum held its 2022 convening in Washington, D.C. this past September. The eventful week was a celebration of our collective power. We rejoiced in coming together once again, reconnected to opportunities to serve one another and our communities, and recharged our spirits after keeping the permitting reform bill from being attached to a continuing resolution to fund the federal government. When we act together, we win!
The Environmental Justice Leadership Forum (EJ Forum) amplifies our collective power to ensure that policymakers are held accountable for achieving environmental justice in the frontline communities they serve. Our annual convening is an opportunity to align priorities, celebrate successes, and pour into one another so that members can stay energized in their pursuit of environmental justice. This year we met in Washington, D.C. after a two-year hiatus from in-person gatherings.
It was delightful to join together and break bread once again. The opening dinner was hosted at Busboys and Poets. In this space intentionally created for the intersection of art, culture, and politics, attendees laughed, danced, and celebrated the week ahead.
Our first full day began with an invocation from Dr. Mildred McLain of the Harambee House in Savannah, GA. She called upon all of the ancestors to armor and anchor the EJ Forum throughout the week in preparation to fight against injustice, including Senator Machin’s Permitting Reform Dirty Side Deal.
“We are so grateful for this gathering,” spoke Dr. McLain, “for we represent millions of people who are, at this moment, suffering from the impacts of white supremacy, environmental racism, and downright ugliness.”
And ugliness was indeed afoot. Right around the corner at the U.S. Capitol, Congress was hard at work trying to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government running as they negotiated the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Package. Per a deal struck with Democratic Leadership, the Continuing Resolution included Senator Manchin’s bill Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. Manchin agreed to vote in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act provided that there be a fast-tracking of his permitting reform bill, which would allow the Mountain Valley Pipeline project to move forward without community input or judicial recourse. With a keen ear towards these conversations on the Hill, the convening continued.
Throughout the day, the EJ Forum heard from community leaders and organizers about the work being done in Austin, South Bronx, Houston, and internationally to ensure communities are protected from further exploitation. In between sessions, Naadiya Hutchinson, Gov. Affairs Manager for WE ACT’s Federal Policy Office, galvanized members to take action against the Dirty Side Deal. The EJ Forum set up phone banks, emailed representatives, and started a social media storm in order to ensure EJ voices were heard.
Roundtables with the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council brought members face-to-face with the agencies tasked with carrying out the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative. Representatives from the EPA, DOI, DOE, CEQ, OMB, and FERC heard from EJ Forum members about the top concerns in their communities, what Justice40 means for them, and best practices for working together.
The day ended with a “real talk” panel discussion from the Environmental Protection Agency on the best way to advocate for frontline communities to correct the environmental injustices committed against them. During this panel discussion, we challenged the EPA and other agencies to re-examine their grantmaking processes. Federal grant applications can be 200 pages long, and nonprofits are already at capacity in carrying out their missions. As one member pointed out, “We need access to capacity-building funds to hire and train dedicated grant writers” who can quickly act on these opportunities.
Amid the head nods and murmurs of agreement, Hutchinson called out, “WE DID IT!” At 4 pm on Sept. 27th, Sen. Manchin announced that he asked Majority Leader Schumer to remove the permitting reform language from the Continuing Resolution. All of the hours we spent calling, emailing, and posting paid off to deliver a major win for WE ACT and the EJ Forum. That night marked a giant step towards achieving Environmental Justice for All. It was further proof that when we act together, we win!
Day Two of the convening took the EJ Forum to the nation’s Capitol for Lobby Day where we met with legislators to thank them for their work on the Environmental Justice for All Act and support against the permitting reform deal.
The EJ Forum met with congresspeople from across the country including Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and more to share stories from the frontlines of environmental injustice. We talked about managing the health struggles that come from exposure to toxic water, the generational trauma of polluted air, and the good work being done to support frontline communities through it all. We explained the impact of the passage of the Environmental Justice for All Act and encouraged legislators to keep up the good fight. Lobby Day was an incredible way for the EJ Forum to come together and advocate for our communities.
The EJ Forum carried that spirit of collective power back to the Viceroy for the second half of the day to talk about amplifying our political power. We galvanized for the 2022 midterm elections with resources for pursuing elected office as well as tips for holding electeds accountable. Marquita Bradshaw encouraged the EJ Forum to take full advantage of this current political climate where “we have an opportunity to not only level the playing field but to make it one where everyone can compete.” Cliff Walker from Seeker Strategies explained what was at stake this year and the support available for folks ready to take that next step in community leadership. After such a full day, The EJ Forum relaxed that evening with a special celebration of Peggy Shepard’s birthday!
The last day of the convening brought it all together with an introduction to WE ACT’s Justice40rward campaign to ensure the benefits promised through Biden’s Justice40 Initiative actually reach frontline communities. WE ACT is dedicated to building the tools that the EJ Forum needs to understand the initiative, connect with funding opportunities, and stop further harm to our communities from environmental injustice. The WE ACT Federal Policy office also presented their work to improve air, water, and soil quality as well as push forward clean energy directives at the legislative level.
Lastly, WE ACT also announced its partnership with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at TSU to host the first-ever Climate Justice Pavilion at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt. The pavilion is an immersive storytelling platform for frontline communities suffering the brunt of the consequences of climate change. Great things are happening to support the frontline communities that the EJ Forum represents.
Collective power moves mountains!
The EJ Forum is thrilled to take on this momentum as WE ACT kicks off the Justice40rward Community Tours. The tour will bring together policymakers, organizers, and citizens to continue the conversation and get real help to communities overburdened by the consequences of environmental injustices.
Thanks to the capacity-building support of donors, Justice40 grants, and partnerships, WE ACT for Environmental Justice is able to provide logistics grants to EJ Forum members hosting the tours. 2023 will see even more in-person hands-on events to connect communities to federal opportunities.
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