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Toxic Politics: Race, Place, and Representation

Fri, September 1, 10:00 to 11:30am, Parc 55, Balboa


Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) activists throughout the United States, especially in the South, have sought redress for the poisoning of their communities. The movement waxes and wanes according to the level of devastation wrought by the latest environmental disaster, such as the lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, and the ability of movement activists to mobilize support for EJM issues. The focus of this project is grounded in a research puzzle, the resolution of which is dependent on a number of factors. This paper is the exploration of one of those factors: differing political contexts in urban environmental justice locations. In what context are activists more likely to persuade local, state, or national representatives to take up their cause and propose policies that address the problem? How do activists establish credibility as representatives of aggrieved communities in such environments? Work on the EJM has been centered on highly localized cases that describe the source of the toxins and strategies that activists use to correct damage done to the community and to prevent any further damage. This project seeks to contribute a broader view of the sites of environmental injustices throughout the United States by contrasting political contexts. For example: Is the urban area experiencing economic crises? Is it run by a combination of city and county representatives or just city representatives? Other questions focus on the organization of governing bodies. This paper is part of a larger project utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding how political contexts, grassroots activism, and economic pro-growth policies affect struggles for environmental equity. Note to REP Section Chair: While the EJM includes activists in predominantly White communities, the majority of activists are African American, Latinx, and First Nations people. This paper will reference the salience of race.