Rarely do people get the opportunity to participate in historic events. But each of the 300 African, Latino, Native, and Asian-American delegates from all 50 states who gathered for the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in late October must have left with a sense that the atmosphere in which environmental issues are debated and resolved is changed for good. And for the better.
Joined by delegates from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 25-27 meeting in Washington, D.C., set in motion a process of redefining environmental issues in their own terms. People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world; and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times.
For people of color, the environment is woven into an overall framework and understanding of social, racial, and economic justice. The definitions that emerge from the environmental justice movement led by people of color are deeply rooted in culture and spirituality, and encompass all aspects of daily life--where we live, work, and play.
This broad understanding of the environment is a context within which to address a variety of questions about militarism and defense, religious freedom and cultural survival, energy and sustainable development, transportation and housing, land and sovereignty rights, self-determination, and employment.