Southwest network fights pollution
by Joe Navarro
ALBUQUERQUE, NM.- Activists gathered here from throughout the Southwest to form a network to fight for environmental issues that affect low-income and minority communities.
The April 7-8 conference, organized by the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), drew over 60 Chicanos, American Indians, and African Americans from New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. All came from communities and reservations polluted by toxic industries, either privately owned or government-operated.
Setting the tone in her opening statement, Jeanne Gauna, co-director of SWOP, stated, “Environment is an issue of social and racial justice.”
This gathering was organized partly due to the lack of support from “traditional” environmental organizations who call themselves the “Group of 10.” These groups, who raise multi-million dollar budgets (even receiving money from polluters such as Dow Chemical and Exxon), channel very little money into low-income and minority communities.
“This conference is being accused by the environmental groups as being divisive. There is no hidden agenda. There is a call for unity,” said SWOP co-director Richard Moore.
Moore pointed out that organizations like SWOP identify themselves as fighting for economic and social justice, and do not call themselves environmentalists, yet they have been fighting for environmental issues. SWOP, for example, has been fighting toxic pollution in Chicano neighborhoods of Albuquerque, but has also done voter registration drives and taken up other issues of social justice. Many traditional environmental groups tend to focus on endangered species, national parks and preserves, animals,. and plants, and not on low-income or minority communities.
Father Luis Pena from San Jose parish in Albuquerque stated that “doing this (toxic pollution) to the heart of the community does something to people’s self-esteem and spiritual well being. We want our self-esteem and self-respect in a just kind of way.”
The conference ended with enthusiastic agreement to maintain a network with the SWOP at its lead. The Statement of Unity declared: “We are a multi-national, multicultural network whose focus is to address the fact that communities of color, as well as economically oppressed communities, suffer disproportionately from toxic contamination. We are deliberately targeted through genocide of indigenous people, racism, sexism, and lack of economic and social justice.”