Mothering Justice is Environmental Justice

May 30, 2018 / By Marnese Jackson, NAACP's Environmental & Climate Justice Program, Regional Organizer for Midwest and Plain States

 marnese-familyAs I think of how disrespectful people are to Mother Earth and how we are interdependent on each other, I also think of how we are stewards of her. As people, we have a personal responsibility to take care of her.   When people ask me how I got into the work of Environmental and Climate Justice, especially people of European descent, it’s perplexing because I am not for sure if people are confused by what Environmental Justice means or the fact Environmental Injustice impacts people of color, especially women of color with children.


Low to Moderate income families especially struggle.  Single mothers find it hard to maintain Utility bills – they must dance between bills and doctor visits. Families that are fortunate enough to have a PTO or HMO are able to escape this particular struggle, which is a real blessing in the case of single-parent households.


To go back, when I ride down I-75 and/or Schaefer Ave in Southwest Detroit to visit my family, I forever remember the grotesque smell of Southwest Detroit and the Plants in the River Rouge, Detroit and Dearborn corridor to visit my grandmother. The familiar smells of the pollutants impacting the air as well as the average person’s pocketbook hit me in the face as an adult and are a constant reminder as to why I chose Environmental and Climate Justice as a career. I am grateful to know what I do about Energy Justice, Utility Justice and the Social Responsibilities that are so often neglected to the peril of communities of color daily.


Studies show that 71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards as compared to 56% of the overall population. Nearly 70% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, which in 2016 generated 30% of the United States’ electricity. The health conditions associated with exposure to toxins emitted from these plants disproportionately impact African Americans.


I have always been an activist for people, however, it hit home back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. As a member of student organizations at EMU, I decided that we need to contribute to helping “Our People” – My family – since FEMA and our government wasn’t showing up. We hosted a Hurricane Katrina showcase fundraiser for the victims of the impact. As I remember though as a student I had a hard time keeping up with paying my DTE bill, I have always maintained a job, however, my roommate and I struggled with the gas and light bill. So we decided to enroll in the Budget Wise program and after six months of paying at a discount we ended up having to make a balloon payment which served to negate the benefit of the program which makes them useless in the long run to the people that so desperately need assistance. Never again!


Mothering Justice is Utility Justice 


After I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2006, I did two years of AmeriCorps Service. Then I got hired as a Weatherization Program Coordinator at the local community action agency. I proceeded to take a position as an Energy Service Outreach Specialist at Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. As a single mother, I have always tried to maintain my bills, especially the basic bills. Until I was faced with making a wage of 40,000 which I had to pay Rent, Car Note, Insurance, Child Care, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and of course food. The life of working poor is real. The low- moderate income is truly being hit the hardest.


One day, I was at work at I received a call that DTE cut off lights and heat at my house and this was in the middle of winter. Please remember, I am working and the DTE bill was starting to get out of hand I didn’t want to enroll in the Budget Wise program as a result of my college experience of paying a huge bill during the summer. I decided to try to maintain the costly bill.  When I received the call, I instantly used my resources, tapped into a resilient mindset and ask for assistance from the Community Organization that I was working for at the time. Luckily, they had Thaw funds available to get my heat and electricity paid off.


Mothering Justice is Energy Justice


During Summer 2013, I started to notice this horrible smell coming from the Water Filtration system, in the City that I resided in. My neighborhood was pretty diverse and the city is pretty diverse. In my opinion, Pontiac is a microcosm of the Flint and Detroit Demographic. During this time, my daughter London started to develop breathing problems, so I traveled consistently to the doctor. London has prescribed Albuterol and breathing machine as a result of breathing in pollutants coming from the water filtration plant. She was three at the time and my son Dawson was about 8 months. I would have to give London a breathing treatment nightly and after she came in from playing.  The doctor said she would grow out of it or she would develop asthma. So, in tandem, I was campaigning for a City Council seat and expressed my concerns at the Water Filtration Plant and the horrible smell that was seeping into the back of my neighborhood. Me and husband at the time decided to move to the surrounding suburbs in 2014. We noticed that Dawson needed a breathing treatment as well.


Mothering Justice is Utility Justice. We spent a lot of time in Detroit near the River at the beautiful Riverwalk. Unfortunately, London and Dawson always needed a breathing treatment when we left. By the way, I do not have asthma or Bronchitis nor do anyone in my immediate family. I do not smoke anything and my home has had an energy audit.


The funny thing is the Water Department was outsourced to the county during the 3rd Emergency Manager regime, during this time the water rates increased to 6.2 percent. Pontiac Water Rates Increase and Pontiac Water Outsourced and Pontiac Aging system increase water rates.


It’s finally 2018 and now I have gotten used to making sure London and Dawson take a treatment prior to leaving the house when the seasonal allergies happen or the common cold happens. Since I have been notified that they both have asthma, I have to be prepared. Please tell me how my children got Asthma and why I have to take off from work and they have to miss school? What happens to women and or men like me who may not be fortunate enough to take off from work to take care of their kids or afford a breathing machine.


This is why Mothering Justice is Energy and Utility Justice because I should be able to dictate where my Energy comes from. I should not have to bare the emotional, psychological, economic cost of having to pay high utility rates as my children endure respiratory issues because of the polluting toxic companies like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy place their power plants in communities of color.


All in all, Environmental Justice is Energy Justice. Energy Justice is Utility Justice. Utility Justice is Housing Justice and all of this is Racial Justice. To respect mother earth, we need to take care of her like she takes care of us with her rich resources of water and air. I am calling out to the energy companies worldwide to respect the people and be active in their social responsibility to the people and to the earth.I am also calling out to the people who are most affected by environmental and social injustices that we face on a daily basis and feel that we have no other choice to tell you that we do. Clean Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency are what is needed in communities of color specifically. People who are affected should understand that energy equality is not enough. While the idea of Environmental and or Energy Equity is on the rise, however, Energy Liberation is the thought process communities should demand from the power company and create a healthy environment for our children.


Together we can make it happen… however… only together can we make it happen.


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