MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Richard Smith, environmental education instructor at the University of South Australia, sent me an email that read, "Hope you're well and packing the jim jams for Oz!"

Not positively sure what jim jams were, I wrote back, "Yes I do have jammies on the list."

Richard responded, "great to hear you're coming!!! - and to talk to someone who understands important things. I once asked a student about to go on a field trip if they'd packed their jim jams - and they said they didn't like chocolate (Tim Tam chockie biscuits in Oz). And to know they're jammies in NM."

These series of emails marked the beginning of my trip to Australia -- a 19.5 hour flight from Albuquerque to Adelaide, South Australia -- for the biennial conference of the Australian Association for Environmental Education held on September 28-October 2, 2004. I was invited to present a paper from my research that focuses on women (Chicana) activists for the environment. The five-day conference entitled Creating Ethical Communities Now: Footprints, Pathways, and Possibilities was sponsored by Australia's Department of Environment and Heritage. Partners of the conference included Asia-Pacific Network for International Education and Values Education, Global Education Centre, and Urban Ecology Australia.

The conference was attended by students and faculty of universities, K-12 school teachers, teacher education programs, environmental organizations, government affiliates of environment and conservation departments, and local sustainable education programs, to name a few. The audience was diverse, and keynote presenters ranged in areas of focus as well. Rolk Jucker of the University of Wales-Swansea kicked off the conference when he questioned in his address, "Can universities be models of ethical and sustainable communities?" Jucker's book, Our Common Illiteracy: Education as if the earth and people really mattered, was referred to throughout the days of the conference. While I had not read the book, I was curious about Jucker's thesis, and proceeded to learn after his presentation "that despite thirty years of educating about the environment and education for sustainability, earth literate leaders are not emerging as potential guides to assist in transitions to sustainable societies." This statement caught my attention and my immediate thought was "I wonder if you are considering the work of women in community based efforts and who defines earth literacy more broadly?"

My research focuses on women's lives, knowledge, and histories of environmental activism. Through this research, I discovered that many activists in their struggles to protect their communities from pollution impacts, environmental degradation, economic development, and health disparities, must face dealing with local and federal authorities policing such activities. While the policing of activists is not new, the USA Patriot Act 2001, and its expanded version rooted in the Intelligence Authorization Act 2004, are making it increasingly difficult for citizens to have the right to assembly and social protest in the United States. The basis of these acts also relates to the Global Intelligence Working Group created by John Ashcroft in the fall of 2002. Ashcroft outlined directives for local agencies to help collect and analyze information that results in police infiltration. Police can now collect criminal intelligence and increase surveillance on citizens. The outcome: 1) FBI does not have to demonstrate probable cause or appear before a judge; 2) A National Security Letter comes along with a gag order; and 3) Businesses can't inform their clients that records are surrendered to the FBI. For more information please refer to Media Democracy In Action: Censored 2005, Project Censored Top 25 Censored Stories by Peter Phillips and Project Censored.

Since women participants in my study had all been conditionally intimidated, threatened, experienced violence, and/or at times arrested in their efforts as environmental activists/organizers, this highlights a concern of repercussions as "protectors of mother earth." The stakes are high and I often wonder what it takes for a person who puts herself on the line, all in the name of protecting the environment. This was among the questions I postulated for audience members who attended my presentation, "Chicanas in Action: Threats to a nation's security or sustainers of grassroots environmentalism."

To explain this further, I point to efforts of women worldwide. In Kenya, Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement (GBM) and now Assistant Minister for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife is a perfect example. Maathai has been a campaigner for environment, civil, and women's rights. Despite years of harassment, beatings, and jailing by the Kenyan Government, she was elected to Parliament in 2002. Her transition from activist to legislator has been remarkable. Since 1977, the GBM has helped rural women plant nearly 30 million trees across Kenya to improve soil, provide fruit, fuel, and shade. Now as a member of government, Maathai has had to adjust, since the public is used to hearing her speak out, organize, or protest in the protection of forests. When inaugurated, she realized that the persons who once had once been her jailers, were now her bodyguards. Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, Maathai is the first person to receive the award for efforts related to the environment. You can't help to think, "What other achievements could have been realized, had she not spent so much time and energy dealing with government policing?"

My point is, there are leaders who are making strides in the transition to more sustainable societies. Many of whom are ordinary women carrying out extraordinary achievements as community based sustainers of environmentalism, and who continue to be hopeful about opportunities to make change happen.

The conference offered a variety of presentations, provided organic food, and acted as a gathering place to meet many Australians who were warm and very accommodating. I did not travel the farthest to get to the conference as there were presenters from Guatemala. Australians pushed my thinking about environmental education. The conference was productive and it linked local issues to national ones, though one critique was that indigenous Australian perspectives were greatly missing. Overall, I was able to add to national and international dialogue in environmental education that demonstrates, "there are lessons gained and contributions made by women activists for the environment."

I ended my stay in Adelaide with a visit to the Warrawong Earth Sanctuary where conference organizers arranged an evening walk among kangaroo, platypus, and koalas. By the way, for those of you who don't know what Oz refers to, it is Australia slang and an alteration of Aus(tralian).

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". . . [I]t should be noted that the SEP [Springstead Estates Project] is, at best, in a conceptual stage and that it is totally speculative as to which, if any, aquifer would supply the SEP with water should the housing development ever be built."

— NRC Judge Thomas Moore
October 22, 2004

"Apparently the Government in Washington doesn't care about the health, safety and well-being of the 4,000 people who will be living in the Springstead community within five to ten years. This ruling is another example of how the NRC consistently ignores our communities' concerns about new uranium mining and why the Navajo Nation must step into this fight to protect our people."

— Johnny Livingston, President
Church Rock Chapter

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