For the rest of my life, I will remember waking up last Tuesday, May 26th, and watching the video of the killing of George Floyd. Those long, harrowing minutes. Eight minutes and 46 seconds with a police officer’s knee on his neck. Other officers on his back. Or just standing by, watching.
I was sickened. And outraged. We publicly stated our outrage and grief as an organization immediately. But we know that we have more work to do. We are committed to doing the work to keep showing up, using our voices, and being the best allies we can be to the Black community. Moms Clean Air Force stands with the Black Lives Matter movement against injustice, brutality, and racism.
Over the last week we have had many painful, uncomfortable, and necessary conversations, as white and Black colleagues, about our work fighting air and climate pollution, and its intersection with the racism in our country that has been built into our institutions.
We have been writing about — and protesting — the ruthless, unrelenting rollbacks coming out of Trump’s EPA over the last years, and the hyper-charged speed with which they’re coming out now, under the cover of COVID. Rollbacks that relax rules against air pollution and climate pollution.
We have written and testified about how these air pollution protections are being relaxed even as a pulmonary disease is targeting communities already sickened with pollution. We have pointed out, over and over again, that COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color, people of low income.
We have written and testified about how, after fifty years of progress, in fits and starts, we are sliding backwards, precipitously, in our fight to clean up our air and water.
But we have never said explicitly what we are saying now: this is a racist agenda. We are now a country that is — with the oversight of the Senate committee that is upholding this radical and racist deregulatory agenda — allowing our Environmental Protection Agency to increase air pollution everywhere, but especially in communities of color and low-income communities.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown into stark relief what so many have already been living: we are a country that has accepted the existence of sacrifice zones, places where people of color die younger, or lose their babies, born prematurely, because of air, water and chemical pollution. We have been tricked — or lulled, or fooled ourselves — into thinking this is inevitable if we want to live in a modern civilization. Never mind how barbaric that is.
It is built into the system. We have accepted the idea that highways can amputate poorer neighborhoods. We’ve been ok with redlined districts trapping communities inside so that they bear the brunt of suffering for us all.
We have accepted that Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, and low income people will live near chemical storage facilities, plastic “cracker” plants and fracking sites – a new study covering over ten years and 3 million births found pregnant women in California who lived near active oil and gas wells were 40% more likely to give birth to low birthweight babies.
For God’s sake, we have a place in the United States, on the Gulf Coast, covered with chemical plants, referred to casually — for decades now — as Cancer Alley, because children there die of higher incidences of childhood leukemia. And this is apparently okay. This is allowed to stand.
This is shameful. It is institutionalized racism. Racism built into the ways we live. Racism that will take hard focused work to overcome.
We’re taking on that work where it starts — in ourselves. My white colleagues and I know that there is always work to be done to tear down the racism that exists in our communities, our families, and even in ourselves. We are following the leadership of Black women. We’re stepping back to learn what we don’t know — listening, watching, reading. We are using our platforms and our voices to amplify critical voices in the fight for Black lives.
We know it is not enough to be not racist, so we are committed to doing the work to be anti-racist, and to help our members do the same. We’ll be reaching out to you soon with resources on how you can start or continue important — often uncomfortable — conversations about race with your children and family.
In this country, we are watching the living breath being taken from Black people, over and over again — in so many different ways.
We must acknowledge this fact: We do not all breathe the same air.
Until we do we will not be able to live in a just, fair society.
Main Image: Paintings by Damien Cifelli