Max Weintraub is the executive director of the Environmental Justice and Health Union and a fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.

Monday, 7 Oct 2002

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

What the heck was I thinking? Starting a nonprofit when funding is down, focusing on poor and minority communities when I am from neither, trying to bring people together who have not cooperated well in the past … A set-up for failure, right? Yet, here I am, three days from the launch date of the Environmental Justice and Health Union, a brand-new nonprofit oganization, and at this point it’s clear that we’ll actually get off the ground.

Let me back up a bit. After spending many years trying to understand the relationship between environmentalism and civil rights, I decided, over a decade ago, to take action. I invited African-American environmental activists and scientists to speak at an elementary school in a low-income, African-American community. The children loved it. The questions they asked, though, proved that their perception of the environment differed greatly from mine. To those children, the environment consisted of their immediate surroundings, rather than some distant animals and forests. One speaker, lecturing about the nascent environmental justice movement, helped me understand a new way to see the relationship between people and the environment.

Based on that experience, I decided to become an ally to the environmental justice movement. I gained expertise in environmental toxins. I worked with community groups around the country that fought environmental disease. I came to see that environmental justice activists and environmental health professionals, sometimes separated by training, race, policy, and class, often have difficulty working together to develop the best solutions for communities. I decided to found the Environmental Justice and Health Union to overcome those barriers and help people work together to eliminate environmental disease in poor, minority communities, an important step toward a broader vision of environmentalism.

Of course, I could not take that step alone. I invited several activists and professionals to serve on an advisory board and help keep the Environmental Justice and Health Union true to its mission. They will also guide the development of the EJHU Catalyst, our monthly newsletter.

The first goal of the Environmental Justice and Health Union is to increase awareness of the problems of environmental justice. Surprisingly, data on disparities in environmental disease by race and class has been compiled in few places. The Environmental Justice and Health Union will serve as a clearinghouse for such information.

Today, I have been working with a web designer and programmer to fine-tune our website. The site includes more than 20 pages (and more than 100 links) with information for environmental health professionals and environmental justice activists on disparities data, training, law and policy, and research. By tomorrow afternoon, the EJHU website will be live at www.ejhu.org. I can’t wait!