Feminist theory tells us that research and application must be intentional and considerate of the lived experience of those involved. It is important to understand that the environmental justice movement has intersections just like any other movement. For example, environmental injustices happen to the differently abled, women, indigenous communities, low-income communities, and in communities of color. In most cities, power plants and oil refineries are in the lower-income side of town. In turn, working class families experience the backlash of poor regulation, including polluted water and air. We then must look at health care equality and accessibility. In most cases, Native American reservations deal with problems associated with toxic water and water including asthma and bronchitis.Maribel Hermosillo, Earth Day 2013: 3 Important Reasons Environmental Justice is a Feminist Issue
Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex. The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.
Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
Homelessness is a big problem for so many people, in part because in many places, housing is really expensive and/or impossible to find. There are many other reasons as to why people experience homelessness and there are many cities that have been trying different solutions to get people off the streets.
Tent cities exist in many places – Seattle, Portland OR, San Francisco, and more have these mini cities of tents where people experiencing homelessness have come to live. In Portland, OR, Dignity Village has existed on city land for years as a transitional place for people looking for more permanent homes and a similar camp called Right 2 Dream Too has been fighting for the right to exist.
And many places have criminalized homelessness through several ordinances. Homeless people can’t sit on sidewalks in many US cities like San Francisco; many other cities jail those experiencing homelessness. Those same tent cities mentioned before have been repeatedly banned or broken up but doing that doesn’t solve anything. Nor does criminalizing people experiencing homeless.
But there are a couple cities that are actually trying the radical notion of providing people with housing when they are experiencing homelessness. Utah’s chronic homeless rate dropped 91% after the state started their own housing first initiative. Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada from the above video is another example of a city using the housing first solution to homelessness.
When we talk about environmental justice, organizations like Greenpeace or protests like #sHellNo might come to mind. Or at least that’s what comes to my mind. But with these conversations, we also need to be talking about environmental racism (which is the placement of marginalized communities, especially communities of color, in proximity to environmentally hazardous places or effects).
Right now, there are an estimated 18.9 million vacant homes in the US and roughly 3.5 US residents (including a large population of children and youth) have been homeless for a significant period of time. Put those two things together and there are far more vacant homes than people experiencing homelessness in the US. There are so many ways to prevent homelessness before it even happens, including stopping evictions as Mark D. Levine and Mary Brosnahan wrote about:
The sky-high pace of evictions is exacerbated by our profoundly unequal judicial system. Unlike those in criminal cases, New Yorkers in housing court have no right to counsel. The result: Only 10 percent of New York City tenants who appear in court have attorneys to help protect their rights. In stark contrast, close to 100 percent of landlords do. It’s hard to overstate just how badly this skews the results of eviction proceedings in favor of owners. Randomized studies have shown that those few tenants who do have attorneys are 80 percent less likely to be evicted as those representing themselves. Landlords know this, too — and will sometimes simply drop their case as soon as they realize a tenant is represented.
Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up.
Linda Darling-Hammond in Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education
The thing about class privilege is that it’s a significantly easy thing to not notice if you have it. Noticing it though can be just as easy – this privilege means you can have extra guacamole on your burrito without thinking about the cost, you don’t have to worry about having enough for rent each month, you can have a couple of drinks at happy hour without checking your bank balance or breaking your budget, you easily can fix your car if something happens. Carmen Rios wrote about even more behaviors that come along with class privilege, including being able to call in sick for work or being well rested.
In South Africa, there have been demonstrations and protests by university students about the proposed increase of 10.5% to student fees, which would disproportionately impact poor (and usually black) students. The protests began last week at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and the photos coming out of the protests are incredibly powerful. Buzzfeed News wrote about what you need to know about this issue, saying in particular that:
The issue, student leaders say, is higher education is currently available for only the children of the wealthy and is out of reach for the majority of South Africa’s black population.
Classism within the US is particularly interesting in the way in which we as a society tend to blame people in poverty and lower income brackets for their struggles rather than realizing how the cycle of poverty works and how institutionally speaking, class mobility can be really difficult.
The American Dream and the myth of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps are ridiculous because they assume that every individual within the US is given the same amount or access to resources and that hard work is what will save us all. It has happened where people have pulled themselves out of poverty – that I will not doubt. But to expect every last person to follow suit and be able to do the same without offering support systems and resources is ridiculous. John Swansburg wrote about the myth of the self made man and some of the research from the Pew Economic Mobility Project:
When the Pew Economic Mobility Project conducted a survey in 2009—hardly a high point in the history of American capitalism—39 percent of respondents said they believed it was “common” for people born into poverty to become rich, and 71 percent said that personal attributes like hard work and drive, not the circumstances of a person’s birth, are the key determinants of success. Yet Pew’s own research has demonstrated that it is exceedingly rare for Americans to go from rags to riches, and that more modest movement from the bottom of the economic ladder isn’t common either. In fact, economic mobility is greater in Canada, Denmark, and France than it is in the United States.
The New York Times did a series about why class matters and looked at the ways in which where you are financially can impact things like health, education, and marriage. (The reporters involved on this series also published a book regarding this issue, highlighting that social class remains a powerful force in the US.) Because the thing is that class does matter within the US (whether or not we as a society are will to admit that).
And there are so many myths about both people on welfare and those living at or below the poverty line. Ally Boguhn wrote about how everything we’re led to believe about people on welfare is based on lies and how stereotypes and assumptions about these programs and people using them are really meant to stigmatize. Anna Gibson wrote about how classism and the myths that go with welfare programs work against black women and how stereotypes only help to shape the oppression of marginalized black women. Lastly (for now), Benjamin Irwin wrote about 20 fact based things that those in poverty do every day that the rich never have to worry about.
It’s so important to recognize the ways in which institutions and systems work against so many people within the US and how there are so many that still advocate and perpetuate myths against those in poverty (Fox News is so good at that). The cycle of poverty can be hard to break and picking up yourself by your bootstraps is significantly more difficult than many like to believe.
I am personally fully supportive for programs that help people struggling to make things work. We as a society are particularly horrid at caring for those in need and I definitely think we should be doing more to help others.