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USSF Organizing Profile: Environmental action through environmental justice

By Rebecca Burns, for the USSF Writers Network

World leaders are now meeting to discuss the issue of climate change in Copenhagen, and thousands of climate activists are mobilizing to press governments for more concrete action to curb global warming. Many experts are already predicting that the high-level talks will stall, but local environmental groups are continuing to pursue change through community empowerment.

East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), an anchor organization for the 2010 US Social Forum, works to enact policy, promote education, and build coalitions to combat the environmental issues impacting Detroit’s citizens. They work with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Centro Obrero de Detroit, Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice, and many unaffiliated individuals to coordinate the Detroit Local Organizing Committee (DLOC) for the USSF.

Rocio Valerio, the Air Quality Coordinator for EMEAC, is also a member of the Immigration committee of the DLOC. Valerio is working to connect the environmental degradation and immigration patterns in Detroit that both stem from the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement. She and other organizers emphasize the importance of supporting “black-brown alliances,” particularly in areas such as south Detroit, where freeway, factory, and diesel pollution are worst and where the African American and Latino communities are physically divided by the river.

Linking these issues and building these alliances is part of creating what Valerio calls a “holistic movement” for the forum. “It’s not enough to carry a campaign that will just change policy and preserve the environment,” she says. “It’s about changing the culture and providing opportunities; not just taking and using people. Knowing the challenges that the people we work with face, how do we then provide opportunities that go beyond being part of a program?”

EMEAC is also working to ensure that the forum itself is environmentally sustainable, includes projects that provide models for what a green economy could look like, and has a positive impact on the city of Detroit. “We want to transform Detroit and to transform people into community organizers,” Valerio says. “For Detroiters, the forum is a 5-day event; our commitment is to the movement itself.”