October 27, 2016This article was written by Rebecca Caladiao
Jacqueline Patterson on inequality, health, and environmental justice
Associated Students (AS) welcomed guest speaker, Jacqueline Patterson, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Director of Environmental and Climate Justice, to discuss the many issues facing our global society, the US’s lack of progress in creating sustainable communities, and possibilities of resistance and hope. The activist and educator spoke about how low-income households of color are faced not only with economic disparities, but environmental and health crises as well.
Patterson’s presentation, “Upholding the Beloved Community,” h i g h l i g h t e d that anyone of any age can be a catalyst for change. She presented many examples of how the policymakers in charge of pursuing social and environmental changes have only furthered systematic disparagement of communities of color. These communities are hardest hit by high-paying land and air-polluting industries. Oil refineries and coal smoke-stacks, for example, are built in low income areas and around schools, increasing health problems and mortality rates leads to the increase of health-related casualties.
Patterson said 68% of coal-refined power plants are built and run near communities of color. Businesses often get away with poisoning and polluting air and water because the communities’ representatives allow their minority constituents to face higher rates of deadly illnesses.
It is no coincidence, Patterson pointed out, that children and families in these communities facing health issues are the same families found in food deserts. These food deserts leave community members either starving or obese due to inaccessible healthy options.
Corporate agriculture has been killing land and water resources with the repeated use of chemicals, she said. “The Land of Plenty” perpetuating the mythological narrative of the American Dream amounts to a shattered dream where food is wasted by the ton and children go without the nutrition they need.
Resources and labor are being exploited for the benefit and monetary gains of the wealthy. In San Bernardino, noise pollution is filtered and allotted based on property values. Patterson, who has written about communities and disasters, noticed the government’s failure to fortify the lives of lower-income families during Hurricane Katrina; 1,800 people died due to the failure to mobilize resources and get people out of the city.
Despite the many ecologically irresponsible choices that value money over lives, Patterson said she believes there is still hope. She showed examples of communities making necessary changes, even if it means bypassing governmental entities. The Young Earth’s Ventriloquists bring awareness and fight against those profiting from pollution.
She encouraged students to vote, to be informed, support causes that share people’s interests and values, and strive to heal America socially, and environmentally. “All the efforts, no matter how small, will add up to something. I have hope. We’re getting there.”