What Earth Day means to Minneapolis this year.

Authors: Karen Monahan

Karen Monahan is a Minnesota Environmental Justice Sierra Club Organizer and Green For All Academy Fellow 

As Earth Day 2010 approaches, you may be thinking – do environmental issues affect my everyday life? Or are they just something that people get worked up about once a year?

Even if you don’t get excited about saving polar bears or planting trees, environmental issues affect almost every aspect of our lives, from what we eat, our health, housing, education, jobs, and more.

Take for example coal power plants. They are often put in communities of color or low-income communities. Folks who live by these coal plants suffer from various health affects, asthma being one. African Americans have the highest rates of asthma, followed by the Latino and Native American communities. Many of these people who suffer from asthma don’t have healthcare to treat the illness.

It costs about 15,000 dollars out-of-pocket to treat asthma annually, including lost wages. Asthma is the number one reason students miss school (link that to test scores and drop out rates).

Coal plants are only one illustration of how environmental justice issues are about race, class, health, education, jobs, the criminal justice system, etc. You can’t talk about one without the other.

What is one solution to all of these injustices?

A good green job! Because improving our environment will take a lot of man- and woman-power. For example, energy from the sun and the wind is cleaner than energy from coal plants, and would require hundreds of thousands of new jobs for America. Green jobs can fight pollution and poverty at the same time, if they pay family sustaining wages and provide training and hiring for all of our communities.

How can we accomplish all of this? By working together, but not just with communities the environmental movement is comfortable with. We have to reach beyond the folks who have traditionally been excited about Earth Day.

The North Star chapter of the Sierra Club and the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP have realized this. We know we must begin to build trust and work together to make and sustain the change we wish to see. That is why the two groups are coming together to support each other in the green movement.

On April 22nd, the two groups are hosting an event at the Minneapolis Urban League: “Celebrating Green Heroes of Color on the 40th Earth Day.” The event is being held in conjunction with Earth Day on Every Block, an initiative from Green The Block intended to bring awareness, education, and action to communities across the country this Earth Day.

Our event will feature a panel of community leaders discussing issues our communities are facing, and offering opportunities for folks to plug in. They will discuss environmental issues that affect our everyday lives, such as access to healthy foods, transit, green jobs, toxic chemicals, and much more. We will have demonstrations on how to build and maintain a garden box, along with recipes on how to make safe cleaning products. We will also have entertainment from Climate Change Crew, a group of high school students from the Twin Cities. This group of talented, inspiring young folks won Green For All’s Dream Reborn art contest for the rap they created on green jobs and the environmental movement. They are representing their generation and creating the change they wish to see in this world. I personally have worked with the Climate Change Crew and feel refreshed and inspired every time I am around them.

Together, we will celebrate our green heroes, those who have made their mark on the green movement. Robert Bullard, Majora Carter, Winona Laduke, Van Jones, Keith Ellison and others will be honored, and we’ll distribute information about the work they have done.

This 40th Earth Day will be an event to remember here in Minneapolis. We are changing business as usual, we are reaching out to groups we may have never worked with (who we may even have previously viewed as an obstacle to our work). This movement is not just about changing and expanding energy or food production. It is about a shift in consciousness; it’s about looking at our brothers and sisters and seeing ourselves. It doesn’t matter the color of their skin or the size of their pocket book. It’s also about honoring mother earth, understanding we don’t own or dominate her, we are a part of her. When we begin to live our lives as if we were all connected to each other and the earth, liberation and healing can finally occur.

We can begin to change our hearts and minds and follow what Dr. King so eloquently said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Dr. King also said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love.” If we begin to live our lives based on those two principles, we can begin to create a nation whose values are built on justice and love.

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