Our Poverty & the Environment series comes to an end, but our concern doesn’t
There’s something a little odd about ending a series on the subject of poverty — as we at Grist are officially doing today — when the issue itself will stubbornly continue to exist.
That might seem, at first, like a laughable sentence. Of course poverty will persist — when hasn’t it? — and of course our series must end. (Not so coverage of the issues, though. Publishing Poverty & the Environment was as much an act of masonry as of journalism, and we hope we have built a strong foundation for ongoing coverage in the future.)
But I’m going to suggest that this shouldn’t be an absurd sentiment — that the goal of our journalism should be to end economic and environmental injustices. As Marcus Keyes said in our article on poultry farming, these are not “just” environmental issues or human-rights issues. They are also moral issues — moral outrages — and to take their existence for granted is to neglect a code of honor that should be common to humanity.
And yet, we as a society have largely stopped believing that we can end vast systemic injustices, such as the cruelly disproportionate environmental burdens borne by the poor. (Or such as homelessness, or AIDS, or any other pervasive social ailment.) That failure of conviction inevitably leads to a failure of action — or, at best, to band-aid solutions and stop-gap substitutes. But these issues do not call for half measures; they call on us to create a vision of how, in five or 15 or 50 years, our problems will be lesser and our society greater.
How does that kind of change happen? It happens both externally and internally — that is, from interacting with others who cause us to experience (in a phrase I love best at its most literal) a change of heart. It happens individually and collectively. It happens slowly — “the arc of history is long,” noted Martin Luther King Jr. — and then, sometimes, abruptly — “but it bends toward justice,” he concluded. In other words, as much as politics is public and pragmatic, it is also personal and alchemical; your turning point will depend equally on turns of fate and your turn of mind.
I’m a writer and editor, and as such my truck is with words, so I am compelled to point out that this relationship to politics is not unlike the one we have to reading. The words that move me might not be the words that move you, but for each of us there will be some phrase or fragment that reaches out across the gap: from external to internal, collective to individual, stuck to struck; from our own familiar issues to the needs and fates of others.
In putting together this series, as in all our work, we at Grist sought what moved us — emotionally, politically — and what we thought might move our readers. (To say nothing of our website traffic.) In that spirit, I’d like to mark the series’ end by offering up some of my own favorite moments from it: the words and thoughts and facts that clicked inside my own admittedly idiosyncratic head. I encourage all of you to follow suit by posting your own favorite fragments. And I thank all of you for partaking: the word means (here’s the editor in me again) to be involved, but also — crucially — to take one another’s part.
“People are an important part of an ecosystem. If they are poor and unhealthy, then the ecosystem is poor and unhealthy.” — Oliver Bernstein, “Walking the Line“
“Today, children in L.A. — 80 percent of whom are black, Latino, or Asian/Pacific Islander — breathe more air toxins in the first two months of life than is recommended in a lifetime.” — Francisca Porchas, “Fit to Be Ride“
“You need to begin to look for allies beyond the environmental community to get you to 51 percent in any policymaking realm, because, after all, you’re not going to succeed in your policy agenda until you get to 51 percent.” — Sheryll Cashin, “Integrate Expectations“
“Barbara Lott-Holland, a black woman, is going on the bus telling black people that they should not buy cars because small island states are being overwhelmed by global warming. Barbara is up on the bus saying to people, ‘Black people gotta give up their cars.’ They say, ‘Give up my car? I don’t got a car! It’s the white man who’s got a car! How come the white man gets everything and now, just when I’m about to buy a car, you’re telling me global warming? Who the hell cares?’ And Barbara’s saying, ‘Well, the reality is, we have always been the moral conscience of this country.'” — Eric Mann, “Movement Shakers“
“Shame on us who don’t listen, who put ourselves in a cocoon and say, oh, you know ‘those people.'” — Marlene Grossman, “L.A. Story“
“It’s not just the landfill, it’s not just the incinerator, it’s not just the garbage dump, it’s not just the crisscrossing freeway and highway, and the bus barns that dump all that stuff in these neighborhoods — it’s all that combined. Even if each particular facility is in compliance, there are no regulations that take into account this saturation. It may be legal, but it is immoral. Just like slavery was legal, but slavery has always been immoral.” — Robert Bullard, “Justice in Time“