Quita Sullivan is staff attorney for Alternatives for Community & Environment, where she also directs a pro bono network of professionals to assist communities with environmental justice issues. She is a member of the Montaukett Tribe of Long Island, N.Y. and a fellow of theEnvironmental Leadership Program.

Monday, 14 Oct 2002


It seems a little odd to start a journal that is mostly about work on a holiday, but then, it’s probably appropriate considering the holiday. For many people in this country, today is Columbus Day. For me, it is the start of Indigenous Peoples Week. For my seven-year-old son, today is Invasion Day. His politics are clear and simple. They invaded our country and they were wrong. He has no solutions to this issue. He just knows what the issue is.

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Quita, son Padraig, and mother-in-law Anne, out on the town yesterday.

Holiday or not, I still have things I need to accomplish for work. I have a packed week ahead of me. Next week is the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. Our entire office is traveling to Washington, D.C., for this event. We’ve been planning this for some time and it will all come to a head this week. So far, there are at least 40 individuals riding in the bus we’ve chartered to take us there. Logistics need to be finalized, the Northeast Environmental Justice Network’s newsletter needs to be finished, and I have a workshop to put together.

I’m not responsible for the logistics, but the last two are definitely my headache. I’m still not sure we should publish a newsletter right before the summit if I cannot get enough articles from most of the states that make up NEJN. I’ll give it a shot though. I have until Thursday to get it finished. By the end of today, I should have distilled the various newspaper articles faxed to me from Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation in Albany and written a couple of articles.

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The workshop is what is really worrying me this morning. I am responsible for a workshop on community-based lawyering and I cannot seem to get in touch with the people I had hoped would participate. By tonight I intend to have a description of the workshop and a list of possible participants. I ‘d like to get these to the summit’s workshop coordinator by Wednesday, at the latest.

One of the goals of this workshop is to discuss better methods for working with communities facing environmental racism in legal struggles. There is a real disconnect between the lawyers who work on an issue with a community and those who have to live with it every day. At ACE, we have been working toward a set of operating principles to ensure that those most affected are the most empowered — that community people become their own advocates and the lawyer takes a secondary, if not tertiary, role. In other words, the community is the expert on its own experience, not the professional.

This is a hard concept for many trained professionals, especially lawyers, to grasp, because they are not trained to think this way at all. As holders of specialized knowledge, we lawyers sometimes think we have all the answers. As director of a pro bono network of professionals for environmental justice, this is an issue I face all the time. How do I convince other professionals that they are a resource to the struggle, not the saviors of it?

Not all of my work today involves the summit. I have a motion that I need to file with the Middlesex Superior Court sometime this week, preferably tomorrow. That means I need to get the final draft to another attorney to provide a second set of eyes. This has been a very complicated case and this motion will essentially end my involvement in it. It’s difficult for me to end this case, not because I don’t want to get out — I do, it’s really time for me to go — but because it has come to a point where two individuals are stalling a community decision. The group originally decided together to file an appeal; the majority of the group wants to settle, and now two members are holding out. I sympathize with those two, and I understand that after years of struggle they are reluctant to give up the fight. Still, ACE assistance is limited to groups in lower-income communities and communities of color, not individuals.

That’s enough for a day off, isn’t it? Write an article, write up a description of a workshop for a national summit, email a final draft of the motion — and celebrate the beginning of Indigenous Peoples Week with my family. Mondays are my husband’s only day off, so at least we can celebrate together. And oh yeah, I forgot to mention that my mother-in-law is visiting …

Tuesday, 15 Oct 2002


Today, I made it into the office at 8:30 a.m. This gave me a few minutes to attempt to schedule my day, including making some time to write this piece for Grist. Usually when I get in I play a CD to get me in the right mood, but I can’t think of one I want to listen to this morning. I often smudge sage when I get into the office, but there have been complaints lately, so I’ll save it for when I get really stressed. Because I am in early, I have enough time to sync my Palm Pilot before my first meeting of the day — a staff meeting in half an hour.

There are some really nice things about working at ACE. We are a real family in many ways. We eat lunch together every day, which forces people to stop working and de-stress for at least a little while. We sometimes talk about work but often the topics range from new babies (ACE has two and one on the way) to politics to the latest episode of Will and Grace. I’m always left out of those last conversations, because I’ve never seen a single episode. My TV viewing is dictated by my seven-year-old son, Padraig. Otherwise, I never remember to turn the thing on.

This family atmosphere extends to our staff meetings. Our regularly scheduled Tuesday morning meeting usually consists of a calendar check — what’s going on this week for everyone? — and a discussion of important staff issues. We rotate bringing breakfast for the entire staff, which calls for some creativity because we now have two vegetarians and a vegan on staff. I’m learning a lot about vegan cooking in this process. I don’t think I’ll ever be vegan, but I love a cooking challenge. My turn’s not until November. That’s a good thing.

Today’s staff discussion was about the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, of course. Although we’ve been planning to go for a long time, there is still a lot of work to be done internally — assignments, scheduling, all of those things. The environmental justice networks coordinator and I have to do our final scheduling for the bus and hotel. Hopefully, this will be accomplished by the end of the day. It looks like four out of the 10 ACE staff will be pretty busy for most of the summit. No one is saying the word “sniper” too loudly, but I think we’ll be spending a lot of time in the hotel. Because we are taking our youth interns with us, we also need to arrange for parental permission forms and school credit. They’ve been looking forward to this since their annual youth summit last July. They and other youth from the Northeast worked on the draft of a document of youth environmental justice principles. It was a lot of work and we’re very proud of what they did. I can’t wait to see them shine at the summit.

My own summit responsibilities are really adding up. I have to email the description of the workshop, which is still only half written despite my best efforts yesterday. Today is also the beginning of layout day for me on the Northeast Environmental Justice Network newsletter. The articles are done, but once I get them into the newsletter template, I’ll have a better idea of what I’ll still need to do to have a complete newsletter. I’m still hoping for more articles to arrive from Connecticut. They should be a reasonable length and it won’t take much to type them in. So far we are still on schedule. Not bad.

Tuesdays are my short days. I usually leave around 4 p.m. to take Padraig to his guitar lesson. It’s only a 16-mile trip, but it takes 40 minutes in the late afternoon. Lately, the school bus has arrived a half-hour to 40 minutes late, so today I’m going to pick Padraig up from school. This means we’ll get to the lesson on time, but it also means I have to leave work an hour early. That will cut my day short by an hour. What can you do? Today also includes Padraig’s once-a-week treat: a trip to either Burger King or McDonald’s. My mother-in-law, who is in town for a visit, will probably come with us. She has been recovering from three days of walking her feet off and taking public transit; I didn’t realize before she got here how little we rely on our car. She’s doing pretty well for a 75-year old with a replacement knee visiting Boston for the first time.

Wednesday, 16 Oct 2002


Some days just don’t turn out as planned. This morning’s meeting of the steering committee of our pro bono environmental justice assistance network was cancelled because so many people called or emailed at the last minute to say they would not be able to make it. I rushed out of the house to be here by 8:15 and get ready for the meeting, so I was a little irritated, but I can roll with it. It’s an opportunity to get other things done this morning.

Yesterday’s mantra was: “We will not panic, we will not panic.” In the middle of the day, we got word that all of the rooms at the hotel where we wanted to stay for the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit were booked. That was a problem, since we need rooms for approximately 18 people. We researched other housing options, but Plan A was to get in touch with the summit office and let them deal with it.

Happily, by this morning the situation had worked itself out. Apparently, this has been a recurring problem. When our environmental justice networks coordinator called the summit office, the response was, “Not again!” Some reservations clerks apparently have been telling people that there are no rooms. Solution? Get a manager on the phone. There are rooms available and ours will get booked today.

We finally did a headcount of the people who we think will be on the bus to the summit with us. According to Greyhound, the bus holds 45-47 people comfortably. What that really means is unclear. It’s approximately a 10-hour drive to D.C., so comfortable is important. Our count so far: 45 people. That does not include the six or so that haven’t made up their minds and it assumes that when we stop in Hartford, the only additional people to get on will be the 11 that we’re expecting. In other words, there is no margin for error. So now we have to decide whether we will rent another bus, rent a van and have one of us drive it, or squish everyone onto one bus. No one wants to drive the van, so we may just have to squish. “We will not panic, we will not panic.”

On a positive note, people have started to confirm that they are interested in participating in the workshop I’m planning. I need to finalize the list of participants by the end of this week, if possible. Now comes the hard part, which is designing a workshop around my topic: “Community-Led/Community Based EJ Legal Strategies.” I have a number of ideas. I hope to include ACE’s Operating Principles for working with community groups as well. I think the idea of the pro bono assistance network would be useful to other communities as well. See? No reason to panic.

In family news, my mother-in-law is off today to Minnesota to visit her relatives there, on her way back to Seattle. I think she had a good time, in spite of the windy, rainy weather and all the walking. I know she’s been amused by this journal.

Let’s hope tomorrow’s mantra will be, “I’m glad I didn’t panic.”

Thursday, 17 Oct 2002


Today I have several tasks I have to finish or I will suddenly be behind in my work plan for the week. My schedule already includes meetings of our legal and technical assistance team, a check-in on progress for the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which is being held next week, and a monthly meeting with our executive director — aka a sanity check for me.

Today is also the day I had planned to finish the Northeast Environmental Justice Network Newsletter. I didn’t get a chance to work on it yesterday as I had hoped, but I think I just might finish it today. I’m still waiting on one article but mostly I just have to deal with layout, copy editing, pagination, and picture placement. If I don’t get it done today, I may miss the copying run. We still haven’t decided how many copies we need. If there are going to be 1,000 people at the summit, do we need newsletters for all of them? Probably not, but what would be a good number? I guess this is a decision that can wait until the summit check-in this afternoon.

I also need to call various members of NEJN to get their input on several issues. We need nominees for the portion of the summit that will honor the women of the environmental justice movement. Many of the strongest, most persistent, most vocal, and most consistent environmental justice activists have been women — and many of those have been grandmothers. We also need to discuss how we will check-in with each other as a network during the summit. That’s going to be something. We are bringing about 60 people from the New England subregion of NEJN. Add the people from the other two subregions and this could be quite a task.

One of the odd roles that I play at ACE is that of computer geek. I have no training in systems work, but I do have lots of hands-on experience. Too much for my taste, actually: When I left my previous position, I promised myself that I would never do this stuff again. Of course, these things have a way of getting out and now I do most of the computer work around here. Mostly it’s little things: Somebody can’t print to the printer in her office; someone else’s email is being detoured to our executive director; still another person needs her entire machine replaced. Most of these issues will have to wait until after lunch, but I better schedule some time for them or they will get lost in the shuffle.

A few minutes ago, I received a call from a community that’s concerned about odors from the paper recycling process and other potential environmental and health impacts of a nearby paper mill. Unfortunately, the community members want us to attend a meeting they’re holding with representatives from the paper mill — at 7:00 tonight. This is something that we will have to discuss at the legal and technical assistance meeting. We want someone to attend, but is it possible to get anyone there with this late notice? If our other attorney can’t attend, can I get a babysitter? Maybe I can take my son, Padraig, with me. He’s pretty good when we go to meetings. He will get his homework done and then play with his Gameboy, which actually belongs to me. If there is one thing I have learned about going to nighttime meetings with your child in tow, it’s that you better have something to keep the child entertained. Still, it would be better if someone else could go instead of me.

The good news is that one of the groups that had planned to go with us to the summit on the bus will be taking a different bus. Our bus total is now 33. That will be much more comfortable than the squish.

Friday, 18 Oct 2002


Well, I didn’t get as much done on the newsletter yesterday as I’d hoped. I have to confess that I fell asleep while cuddling with my son, Padraig. I try to store up these moments. After all, it won’t be long before he says, “Cuddling? Yeechh!” I did wake up around 11:00 p.m. and worked until my husband, Mark, came home at 1:00 a.m. That’s a pretty good arrangement — take a nap, do some work, talk to my husband, and still get six hours of sleep.

Somehow, either because I planned for delays or because I didn’t read my calendar right, I do have today to finish the newsletter. Originally, I thought we had to get it (and the other materials we’ll need for the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit) to the copier last night in order to take them with us on Tuesday. Somewhere in the middle of yesterday, I realized this wasn’t true. If we get our materials to the copier today, we will still get the copies by the end of the day Monday. I’ll just pretend it was good planning. And, as of this moment, I am 90 percent done.

The logistics saga continued to have its ups and downs yesterday. The bus went from comfy to crowded again, as we lost a few people (some because of fears about the sniper and others because they decided they didn’t want to get into Washington, D.C., at 2:30 Wednesday morning) but gained some others. We also spent a bit of time shifting people around between rooms. This involved putting names and preferences on sticky notes and physically shifting people around until we had arrangements that we thought people could live with. This was complicated, because the hotel has two options for each room: a king-sized bed and a cot or two full-sized beds. We’re planning to put three people per room. Some people will probably bring sleeping bags. I’m sure the interns will. Teenagers get kind of weird about sharing rooms, let alone beds. And teenage boys? Forget it. Still, I’m sure it will all work out.

I intend to spend the rest of the day calling people and putting together my workshop for the summit. I still haven’t been able to contact everyone I want to participate but I’m pretty sure that all of them will be attending the summit. Maybe if I just corral them when I get there, I’ll actually have a workshop.

Things are pretty quiet at the moment. It’s lunchtime. Yesterday’s lunch topics ranged from a brief discussion of a community group that called us for help to swimming to quantum physics.

I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend in preparation for the madness that will be next week. Aside from the usual weekend chores, I only have three things on my agenda. First we have an early Saturday morning work shift out at the community-supported organic farm (Good Earth CSA) we belong to. Second, we have a Sunday afternoon visit to the circus. What did I forget? Oh yes. Third, I have to finish up the workshop for the summit.

Whew. The week’s almost over — and I never did panic. Well, not much, anyway.