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MLK Day 2014: Service for Justice and Human Rights

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On Monday January 20, Americans from diverse backgrounds and communities will celebrate the life and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought for justice and dedicated his life to ending racism and all forms of discrimination, including transportation racism and environmental racism. In 1968, Dr. King was on an environmental justice mission for Memphis striking sanitation workers. He was cut down by an assassin's bullet before he could complete his mission. Today, we still must confront environmental injustice that threatens the lives of millions of African-Americans and other people of color who have the wrong complexion for protection.   Yet, Dr. King's legacy lives on and the struggle for environmental justice continues.

This February 11, 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of the historic Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1994.  In celebrating the momentous signing, several dozen environmental justice groups and coalitions from around the country are planning special commemoration events and activities on February 11th and throughout the year.  They decided to use 2014 to highlight and celebrate their victories, take stock of where the Environmental Justice Movement is and where it is headed. In addition to the 1994 EJ Executive Order, 2004 also has special significance for racial justice and civil rights, including the 60th anniversary of the landmark Board vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision (May 17, 1954) and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.

The coalition members will use these historical anniversaries in 2004 to sharpen their environmental, economic, health, and racial justice message with the ultimate goal of getting their priority issues back on the national policy agenda;   strengthen environmental justice infrastructure for movement-building in cross-cutting issues; sharpen environmental justice issues, focus and priorities to better facilitate funding of the movement going forward; support cross-disciplinary, multi-sector collaboratives and partnerships, and intergenerational leadership development and training; and enhance and modernize communication, messaging, and information sharing (clear, concise and coherent). In addition, they will be using a number of ethnic heritage months to lift up their environmental justice message, including Black History Month (February), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 -- October 15), National American Indian Heritage Month (November).  They will also plan a more robust EJ-focused Earth Month (April).

No doubt there will be a lot of energy and attention devoted to these anniversaries and events. Many of the coalition leaders represent communities located on the fenceline with polluting industries and on the front-line of health-threatening chemical assault. Community leaders want to make sure their voices are heard and messages crafted in a way that garner appeal across the intergenerational divide and create momentum for national movement-building.  Their mantra, "2014 is the Year of Justice."   

 

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Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)
 

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