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From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement

Luke W. Cole
Sheila R. Foster
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    From the Ground Up
    Book Description:

    When Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994, the phenomenon of environmental racism--the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards, particularly toxic waste dumps and polluting factories, on people of color and low-income communities--gained unprecedented recognition. Behind the President's signature, however, lies a remarkable tale of grassroots activism and political mobilization. Today, thousands of activists in hundreds of locales are fighting for their children, their communities, their quality of life, and their health. From the Ground Up critically examines one of the fastest growing social movements in the United States, the movement for environmental justice. Tracing the movement's roots, Luke Cole and Sheila Foster combine long-time activism with powerful storytelling to provide gripping case studies of communities across the U.S--towns like Kettleman City, California; Chester, Pennsylvania; and Dilkon, Arizona--and their struggles against corporate polluters. The authors effectively use social, economic and legal analysis to illustrate the historical and contemporary causes for environmental racism. Environmental justice struggles, they demonstrate, transform individuals, communities, institutions and even the nation as a whole.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7229-4
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE: We Speak for Ourselves: The Struggle of Kettleman City
    (pp. 1-9)
    (pp. 10-18)

    Environmental hazards are inequitably distributed in the United States, with poor people and people of color bearing a greater share of pollution than richer people and white people. This intuitive idea—think for a moment about the most polluted parts of your region—has been borne out by dozens of studies completed over the past two decades.¹ The disparate impact documented in studies has given birth to the term “environmental racism.” When President Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994, the phenomenon of environmental racism gained unprecedented recognition.² Fueling this recognition is a remarkable rise in grassroots...

  6. ONE A History of the Environmental Justice Movement
    (pp. 19-33)

    The determination and persistence of residents in communities like Kettleman City is firmly rooted in past social justice movements in the United States. Many of the techniques employed by groups like El Pueblo in Kettleman City did not, of course, originate in those struggles. Coalition building, mastery of technical language, development of technical expertise, direct action, litigation, and direct participatory democracy have all been used in various social reform movements for decades. Nevertheless, as applied to environmental struggles in poor communities and communities of color, these techniques are helping to redefine both ecological awareness and the meaning of the “environment”...

  7. TWO The Political Economy of Environmental Racism: Chester Residents Concerned for Quality of Life
    (pp. 34-53)

    The story of Chester, Pennsylvania, is in many ways a classic case of environmental racism: it is emblematic of the social, political, and economic forces that shape the disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards in poor communities of color. Chester also illustrates the extraordinary grassroots activism that has arisen in response to environmental racism. It is the tale of an otherwise disenfranchised community’s political will and energy, its persistent organizing, and the long odds faced by low-income people and people of color who are fighting for environmental justice.

    Located along the Delaware River, approximately fifteen miles southwest of Philadelphia, Chester is...

  8. THREE Environmental Racism: Beyond the Distributive Paradigm
    (pp. 54-79)

    The pattern of siting a disproportionate number of waste facilities in places like Chester, established empirically by national and regional studies, has provided substance to claims of environmental racism. But, as the Chester case study illustrates, the empirical studies and their important conclusions are part of a much larger picture. Chester is not unique as magnet for toxic waste facilities; it shares a social, political, and economic history with other communities that are experiencing a proliferation of unwanted toxic waste sites. Like them, it is a former industrial town now populated by low-income people of color after the flight of...

  9. FOUR Buttonwillow: Resistance and Disillusion in Rural California
    (pp. 80-102)

    It was a hot summer afternoon in Buttonwillow, California, when someone knocked on Rosa Solorio-Garcia’s front door to tell her that her friend and babysitter, Juanita Fernandez, had fainted in a neighbor’s front yard. Rosa, worried because Juanita was pregnant, rushed out the door. By the time she got to the sidewalk, Juanita was coming down the street screaming. “She came into the house screaming, and I really didn’t know what was going on,” recalls Rosa. “It was hard to calm her down. I finally calmed her down, and she told me that the doctor said her baby had anencephaly”—...

  10. FIVE Processes of Struggle: Grassroots Resistance and the Structure of Environmental Decision Making
    (pp. 103-133)

    Grassroots struggles for environmental justice do not take place in a vacuum. Such struggles exist in the context of, and are shaped by, environmental laws that greatly influence both the process and the outcomes of siting disputes. The activism of community groups like the Padres in Buttonwillow often begins as a reaction to the impact of increasing numbers of polluting facilities on the community residents’ health and quality of life. However, their activism quickly becomes a struggle over the legitimacy of decision-making processes, the exclusion from and the marginalization of disaffected residents during those processes, and the structural forces that...

  11. SIX In Defense of Mother Earth: The Indigenous Environmental Network
    (pp. 134-150)

    The Indigenous Environmental Network, an international coalition of more than forty grassroots Indian environmental justice groups based in Bemidji, Minnesota, began in a humble spot: Lori Goodman’s kitchen table in Dilkon, a small, isolated Navajo town of 285 people in northeast Arizona. It was around that table that Goodman and other activists first strategized on how to beat a toxic waste incinerator proposed for their community—a struggle that would lead them to initiate the broad-based effort focused on Native American environmental issues that evolved into the network.

    It sounded like a great idea to Tribal officials on the Navajo...

  12. SEVEN Transformative Politics
    (pp. 151-166)

    The emergence of environmental justice networks such as the Indigenous Environmental Network represents a transformation of national environmental advocacy. Such networks reflect a move from the centralized, top-down approach taken by traditional environmental groups to a decentralized, geographically scattered but highly organized and mutually self-conscious approach—in other words, from a pyramid to a web in terms of organizational structure. Because of this transformation, it is possible to operate an effective national organization out of Bemidji, Minnesota, a locale far from the “power centers” of New York and Washington, D.C., where other environmental groups have located.

    The changes in advocacy...

  13. APPENDIX An Annotated Bibliography of Studies and Articles That Document and Describe the Disproportionate Impact of Environmental Hazards by Race and Income
    (pp. 167-184)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 185-230)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 231-243)
    (pp. 244-244)