You cannot separate environment from empowerment," said Rev. Jesse Jackson during a national tour of minority communities with environmental problems this past spring. Organized by the National Rainbow Coalition, the Earth Day 1990 Organizing Committee, and local grassroots organizations, the tour represented a significant development during the months leading up to the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.
As the 1990s begin, it is becoming clearer and clearer that concerns around the environment will be a national and international agenda item for the decade. And critical to the health of the environmental movement is the role of minorities in helping to shape the agenda.
Minority activists looked to Earth Day for the opportunity to begin building a new type of environmental movement that is truly inclusive of the concerns and the contributions of racial minorities and poor people. However, in commemorating Earth Day, grassroots minority organizations were not necessarily giving their wholehearted endorsement of the environmental movement.
According to Richard Moore, of the Southwest Organizing Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, environmental issues are a matter of survival for their communities. "We have been involved in environmental struggles for many years," says Moore, "and we have not needed the environmental movement to tell us these problems have existed."
Moreover, their work around these issues is a logical outgrowth of their movements for social empowerment. And, as Moore explained, "Until the environmental movement is prepared to discuss the question of race and class, there will never be minorities in large numbers involved."