A wee bit of my latest paper.
The Simpsons television show has been touted as having covered every important topic encountered by people. Environmental Racism and the location of Locally Undesirable Land Uses is a topic addressed in “Two Cars In Every Garage And Three Eyes On Every Fish”.
In this episode, Bart and Lisa catch the now infamous three eyed fish, Blinky, in a polluted stream near the nuclear power plant. In response to the negative publicity, the nefarious Nuclear Power Plant owner, Mr. Burns, decides to run for governor and improve his image by having dinner with a “common family”. The family he chooses is the Simpsons. Lisa and Marge Simpson, outraged at the environmental atrocities committed by the power plant, object to this dinner, but are told by Homer Simpson that he needs to agree in order to keep his job. They are even told by the public relations people that they will be given questions to ask rather than being allowed to ask their own. During the dinner, which is being broadcast on live TV, Marge responds to this gag order by serving to Mr. Burns the three eyed fish his power plant’s dumping has created. Mr. Burn’s spits the first bite of fish across the dinner table, resulting in sensationally negative headlines the next morning.
This episode is a perfect example of the alternative methods of advocacy found most effective when representing victims of environmental injustice. The problems faced by minorities in our culture are incredibly difficult to separate and conquer. Does addressing the placement of hazardous waste facilities solve the disparity in criminal charges between whites and minorities? Does a focus on limiting government ability to intentionally place these unattractive land uses in minority communities help increase the effectiveness of their political voice? Do settlements for past tort wrongs keep these community members from facing housing discrimination preventing them from leaving these afflicted neighborhoods?
In reality the reason environmental racism is such a problem is that it stems from a history of discrimination and disparate treatment and curing one symptom will not eradicate the disease. For this reason traditional advocacy methods are ineffective in effectuating change in these cases. The successful litigation of a constructive eviction claim, while providing damages for the victim, does little to increase public awareness of environmental racism or educate community members on how to demand livable conditions from the next slum lord to come along. The goal of an environmental justice advocate is to educate community members and the public, increase the power of the movement, and address the root of the problem, and not the symptoms.
The Simpson’s episode referenced above exhibits the type of non-traditional, awareness building activity that environmental justice advocacy should embrace. How does one advocate address the root of a systemic world-wide epidemic of race-based decision making? Here are some of my ideas -- First, look to the characteristics shared by these communities and determine how to employ non-traditional and traditional advocacy methods to eradicate or ameliorate these issues.
1. Availability of cheap land. What types of advocacy can address this particular piece of the problem? Perhaps an examination of the threatened community for equally threatened animals or land protected by environmental laws. If the community can put an end to a proposed development by declaring their neighborhood the “habitat” of an endangered species under the ESA then the root of the problem, available cheap land, is no longer there.
2. Lack of opposition. Oppose the proposed site. Encourage the community to contact civil rights organizations and environmental groups to write letters and campaign against the placement of the LULU. Urge communities to band together and find other groups or organizations that will assist in advocating against this project. Contact the media, spread the word of the proposed project to other communities and the world at large. Sponsor races as fundraisers, be vocal.
3. Inability to walk with their feet. Educate the members of the community in their rights against discrimination, help them develop their own strategies for dealing with housing discrimination. Urge them to fight these battles and provide support for them when they do.
4. Poverty. Education and empowerment is the limit to the advocates ability to cure poverty.