Eugene, nationally recognized as a bike city, a community near nature and a place where we value sustainability, would not normally attract attention around environmental human rights and justice issues. Which is why for one day, Beyond Toxics and Centro LatinoAmericano invited city and agency officials, students and community leaders on an environmental justice bus tour to West Eugene where we got the opportunity to see how families live through the lens of “environmental justice”.
To achieve justice, we need to help major decision makers in our community face some of the injustices that unfortunately exists so uncomfortably close to home. To achieve justice, we need to challenge the current structures in place so that other people and certain communities also gain access to political attention and social resources that may not normally be readily available. Unveiling the hidden discomforts that exists in our society, forces both believers and nonbelievers of environmental injustices to take a second look and determine the action needed.
The truth is that communities, specifically low-income communities, live in areas that are in critical need of public health improvements due to their disproportionate exposures to toxics such as polluted air and contaminated ground water. If we don’t watch out for the health of our children AND acknowledge that communities are disproportionately affected by poverty, then who will? Let us continue to move forward and not resign ourselves to stagnancy and a calcified system- regardless of the privileges you have access to.
As Winona LaDuke put it, “Take responsibility for history. Recognize that sometimes things take a long time to change.” So, what is the lesson for us in Eugene? Don’t be weary of fighting for what is just in Eugene. You never know how many lives you may save or change by your actions in the long run.