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Youth Energize Environmental Justice Movement

On October 26th we came to Washington D.C with the determination to be heard. We knew that it was time for us as individuals to take a stand for what we believed in. We wanted the adults to see us as environmental activists capable of achieving goals, not just as youth who causes trouble.

As youths, we felt that society has a negative perception of us. It places stereotypes on us based on our race, class, gender, sexuality, and age. Our voices and concerns are often not heard by decision-makers that affect our society. We attended the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (Summit II) in Washington D.C because we believe that we have a unique and diverse perspective that can enhance the environmental justice movement.

We here at the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP), held our seventh annual youth summit in preparation for Summit II on July of 2002. As a result of that youth summit we were able to gather new principals of environmental justice, which were oriented around youth. Over three hundred youth from around the northeast area attended the youth summit. We felt that if we were going to bring these principals to Washington it should be from all the youth not just REEP.

One hundred and fifty youths attended Summit II in October and together we formed a youth caucus. Along with introducing the principles set by working groups of the youth caucus, I will explain the method we used to come up with these principles and an evaluation of that process. We shared our experiences of positive and negative collaboration. We wanted to use the negative experiences as lessons for how not to collaborate with each other, as well as the positive experiences as a good foundation for collaboration. We also began by telling stories, like the one told by Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. These stories were the foundation for the Youth Principles of Collaboration.

We would meet everyday to discuss the different issues of environmental injustice that the youth were facing in their prospective communities. We also came up with different ways and means by which we were going to present these issues to the decision-makers. As youth we considered ourselves to be future activists of the environmental justice movement, as a result our voices needed to be heard.

After days of planning the entire youth caucus decided it was time to present these ideas in front of the decision-makers. We were not going to ask to be heard because we knew what the adults would say. We were going to demand that our voices be heard. We gathered in front of the conference hall as youths eager to present our ideas. The adults at that time were having a meeting, discussing the new principles of environmental Justice. We marched demanding to be heard. I knew that the adults thought we were being disruptive during this outburst, but this time we did what we did for a good cause. This was the only way that we were going to be heard. We presented our principles and to our amazement they listened.

After all was said and done I was particularly moved by a specific portion of Summit II. To see how the youth joined together from all different parts of the states and came to a common ground was touching. After the Second National People of Color Leadership Summit I can truly say that I learned a lot. I learned the importance of working together and taking a stand for what you believe in. I also learned skills that will enable me to network with other groups and continue the fight for environmental justice. After all we are the future and it is up to us to keep the movement going.

Abigail Austrie is a youth leader at REEP.

Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE) is a nonprofit, environmental justice organization located in Roxbury, Boston's largest community of color. ACE's mission is to build the power of lower income communities and communities of color to eradicate environmental racism and achieve environmental justice. Abigail is part of ACE's youth leadership development program, the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. For more information about ACE and REEP, contact Jodi Sugerman-Brozan at ACE at (617) 442-3343 x23 or jodi@ace-ej.org or go to their web page at www.ace-ej.org.

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"The term "equity" was a government creation pushed onto the EJ movement by the Environmental Protection Agency. SWOP doesn't want "equal opportunity pollution." We want to reshape the whole table. We want a fundamental reordering of our priorities and commitments, and that starts with corporate and government accountability to the community. We want justice."
--ColorLines, Vol. 3, No. 2
Southwest Organizing Project "Organizing in the 21st Century"

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