By Patrick GeansSpecial to the Michigan Citizen DETROIT — A grassroots-based Detroit People’s Movement Assembly (PMA), which aims to solicit community input around the Detroit Works Project and other initiatives aimed at shaping visions of the city’s future, will be held April 28 from 4-8 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church on the city’s east side.
A coalition of local activists affiliated with some of Detroit’s leading community groups and individual citizens concerned with the lack of democratic processes being employed to determine the city’s future are the convenors.
“The goals of the PMA are to bring people together to discuss social problems, come up with creative solutions and make commitments for working together,” said William Copeland, Stand Up Speak Out Program Coordinator with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC).
“The Detroit PMA is a space to discuss rightsizing and other challenges Detroiters face on democratic and community governance and to come up with grassroots visions and solutions. We are using the PMA process to bridge differences of individual organizations and to stay connected with national and international allies.”
DETROIT -- The East Michigan Environmental Action Council held a community debriefing on January 5 at Hannan House to report out to the local Detroit environmental activist community on the EMEAC delegation's activities at the United Nations' 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) Climate Change Conference that took place in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 to December 10.
EMEAC Executive Director Diana Copeland and Associate Director Ahmina Maxey, who comprised the Detroit delegation to the Cancun conference, facilitated a discussion at the debriefing with representatives from the state and local Sierra Clubs, National Environmental Justice Office, Zero Waste Detroit, The Ecology Center, Great Lakes Detroit Bioneers, Boggs Center, Food Justice Task Force, Black Community Food Security Network, People's Water Board, Green/Blue Alliance, United Auto Workers and others. At the debriefing the delegation detailed their organizing efforts and discussed a range of topics of interest to local community members that came up at the conference like the U.S. Government's deceptively titled Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) plan and their collaboration with the Grassroots Global Justice delegation.
"I think it went really well as far as organizing," Copeland said. "I'm not happy with the outcome of COP 16, but in terms of our organizing I felt like it was well worth our time. I think that things went very well and we were able to assess some things and have a stronger relationship and I am very glad that we did it.
After the EMEAC team gave an account of their activities at the conference, they then engaged the representatives in attendance in a dialogue about how local groups can come together to be more effective in taking on environmental challenges in the Detroit Metro area. By the end of the debriefing, all parties in attendance agreed that Detroit is uniquely situated on the domestic landscape to become a hub of environmental activism in the U.S. and that time for greater collaboration between the various environmental groups is needed now more than ever.
"Coming out of the (U.S.) Social Forum was a good place to start," Copeland said. "We are very rooted in Detroit. Doing the social forum and being the anchor organization really helped with organizing. We deal with pieces of all these different movements, all these different networks, all these different organizations that were coming to Detroit. We had to look at what was our relationship to them. It opened up a lot of opportunities and a lot of questions.
"During the forum we had a lot of conversations because people were interested in what was our position on climate justice and hearing about the incinerator issue. Of course, that led to how our struggles around environmental justice and the incinerator issues locally connect to the national struggles around environmental justice. We then connect that to the global struggles because it is all related.
"It's very easy to get caught up in what's happening in your own community that you lose focus of what's happening that you are not focused on what are the solutions and what are the tools being developed outside of your own organization that can actually help you in your struggle. The main goal was to understand and learn about those tools that were available to possibly put pressure to help win local victories. We also want to find out who are our allies nationally that can also help -- not only in providing models but in putting pressure on either the city council or the state government in helping to implement federal regulations that will help to create a better environment in the city of Detroit. That was the big goal."
Coming out of the COP, both Copeland and Maxey agreed that another primary benefit was the organizing and strategy tools they learned while working with delegations from all around the world. The delegation learned tips on how to create mobile media hubs and small informational brochures called zines like the No-REDD Reader.
"We went there with Grassroots Global Justice. That was about 25 people from different communities across the country," Maxey said. "There were two people from Appalacia. There were two people from L.A. There were people from New York. There were people from New Jersey. Also, the IndigenousEnvironmental Network (IEN) was there. They have a presence at every single COP. We were all kind of there side by side.
"A lot of the work we were doing was supporting I.E.N. They were really doing a lot of the organizing around REDD," Maxey said. "There was like all 40 of us. We strategized everyday about the conference. We had an inisde strategy for those who were going in there. We wanted to pay attention and push hard and ask hard questions. We wanted to push other NGOs to jump on the REDD Bandwagon and push the other way."
The REDD program essentially seeks to commoditize forested areas in developing nations through a new form of carbon trading. Many environmental groups are opposing the plan on the basis that not only does it fail to honor the basic human and land rights of indigenous populations in those countries, but it also fails to effectively reduce greenhouse emissions or protect the forests. In fact, REDD will only allow polluting industries a way to avoid emission reduction through cheap REDD offsets while actually increasing pollution.
"In addition to the inside strategy, there were also people who were there to elevate the issue," Maxey said. "There was media circulating throughout the whole thing. There were people there who held demonstrations, actions and protests within the space. Then, there was a tiny area where they allowed people to hold signs and protests, so that’s where we did it.
"There was also the outside strategy. That was the one that we were involved in. Our job was elevating the issue with the media from the outside. That was easier because we had a lot of freedom. Sometimes, it was in downtown Cancun and other times it was way far away. There was a really strong police presence. It was almost like a police state. It was crazy."
In addition to on the ground activist tools and strategies, Copeland also emphasized the importance learning more about educational, legal and fundraising tools they were exposed to in Cancun.
"When we talk about tools, I'm not only talking about policy tools but there were several different types of things. There are also these charters like the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. If you know these documents, they can be used in your own community. If the community knows this, then they can hold corporations accountable.
"The other tool out of many of these COP Conferences is that if they do pass this REDD there are funds accessible to the community. They need to know how do you get access to them because too often the money is only going to the organization that (funders) pick to dole out and feed it to instead of directing it to the community. If we know that that is coming down the pike and we can let the community know about it, that's a significant tool. We did that with the Digital Justice Collective and the Hot Mesh Network. They went after the federal stimulus money for the broadband grant because many people didn't know that that was available for community groups.
"There are the policy tools, the charter tools and the funding tools. Then there are the organizing tools. What we are learning from the outside of the U.N. space is how are our communities coming together to meet their own demands. Not only are there techniques around doing banner drops that can get a lot of attention. That was a good example of that when during the Air Quality March; they dropped a big banner next to the incinerator to let people know what was happening there. We can use art or use banners to point a finger at a community burden. That's a tool."
From this experience and others in 2010 like hosting the U.S. Social Forum, EMEAC plans to move forward in concert with all their partners in hopes of making Detroit a focal point of the environmental justice movement.
"This was the first time that Ahmina and I had participated in anything that large as far as a national or global issue," Copeland said. "We really just needed to understand the lay of the land and bring that back to our organization in terms of our strategy going into these types of global events.
"Coming off of the social forum, we connected back up with Grassroots Global Justice and Gaia and other different groups that we had worked with during the forum. We wanted to make sure that we had solidified that connection to make sure that wasn't just a one time thing and that we were actually building something. It was a next step from the social forum into this climate justice space to really shore up those relationships and understand that you all helped us out so much, and we built so much through the social forum. This is going to continue. This is going to lead to other victories and bigger and better things like a better climate."
DETROIT -- The staff of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council held their first quarterly Emerging Issues Conversation on January 21 at the EMEAC Offices. Members of each EMEAC program and collaboration: Greener Schools, Stand Up Speak Out, Remedia and the Detroit Food Justice Task Force engaged in a four hour intensive where the organization discussed its formation and foundation upon the principles of environmental justice.
“I think we need to get out to the public what our beliefs are,” said EMEAC Executive Director Diana Copeland. “Even though we are in flux, we still want to let people know what we stand for. That's one thing to be able to say this is what we believe, and this is where we are coming from, but also I think there is a responsibility to be out in the environmental dialogue and the whole global discourse about environmental justice.”
Over the past year or so the EMEAC affiliated staff and programs have more than doubled. Meanwhile, the organization has come to the forefront of the local environmental justice activist community by helping to host events like the United States Social Forum in June of 2010. In addition to EMEAC’s three core programs, the organization has deepened its long-standing relationships in the justice movement through collaborations with other social and environmental justice organizations in Detroit by taking part in the formation of the Detroit Food Justice Task Force and the Digital Justice Coalition. EMEAC closed out 2010 with a community debriefing around its participation in the United Nations World Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico, and EMEAC is kicking off 2011 by joining with the Senegalese Association of Michigan to send a delegation of 10 activists to the World Social Forum beginning February 6 in Dakar, Senegal.
“The organization has grown by leaps and bounds of the past year. We went from being a six person staff to what is soon to be a 15 person staff,” said EMEAC Associate Director Lottie Spady. “I think we were all having trouble figuring out how all these different pieces fit together -- not only understanding exactly what each person does but knowing each other on a personal level.
“In theory everybody agrees with the environmental justice principles, but it gives them an opportunity to work with folks who are doing environmental justice work. It works for a better collaboration between all the programs to be able to see ways we can fit together and work together. It's about how all of our work can really support one another.”
During the Emerging Issues Conversation, staff members first unpacked where "Environmental Justice" came from, where it is now and where it is going by attempting to answer questions around understanding the history of environmental justice. The staff also focused on understanding the people associated with different movements and how to delve deeper to increase that understanding. In looking at the existing timelines of the environmental justice movement, there is a need to critically analyze the current narrative that has shaped this movement and a need for community to tell its own stories. Through a collective defining session, members broke into small groups and created their own visions of environmental justice. They examined what EJ is and is not, and looked at the steps for achieving those visions. After synthesizing these collective definitions, the next step is to assess how EMEAC's work and mission reflect this shared vision.
In one exercise, staff members engaged in a speed-dating type dialogue where they shared personal examples of environmental justice experiences.
“It was like you had all of these amazing people in the city that you didn't know about,” Copeland said. “Now, you are so aligned and you are ready for the next big thing to build on together. Just like the social forum one of the things that came out of it was it put the whole city in a big shaker. I think that was what it felt like. We have this group that is coming together and after the big shake you feel like, 'This is why we are together.' You realize that everybody is working toward the same goal.
“Building that community gives us a better understanding of what environmental justice is. It's important to start having those conversations and I would hope that different groups and different people will find each other. I think it was a good introduction conversation. People just need to know where we are coming from and who we are working with.”
Following the meeting the group elected to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss future emerging issues with an option to meet monthly or bi-monthly should the need arise. Future meetings will focus on issues such as the connections between environmental justice and other justice movements, eco-feminism, and right sizing. The goal is to strengthen the organization's work and contribution to the environmental justice movement by expanding EMEAC’s activist tool kit, creating informational zines, and authoring individual blogs for the various programs.
“I think it will help everybody,” said EMEAC Associate Director Ahima Maxey. “We are all at the point where for a long time we have all been on the same plane, but as we grow bigger, we now need to articulate EJ principles to the community. Of course, we get it but we need to make sure that everyone coming in will see that this is what we are all about. We have naturally kind of progressed from this place where we all started.”
“Because there are such a convergence of issues happening right now in Detroit around right sizing, around large-scale urban agriculture, around just questioning the influx of foundation dollars that come in to support the city and looking at our experience with having hosted the U.S. Social Forum, that whole experience of figuring out how to come together and collaborate has really made us on the forefront of all these issues,” Spady added. “It's put EMEAC in the public eye. There have been a number of instances where the organization is working not only to shape the local narrative pertaining to issues around Detroit, but on a national and international level.
“The more we are put in the public eye the more it is important that we as an organization really understand the stance of EMEAC. We want to make sure that the values that we talk about are evident in the way that we conduct ourselves. It's about putting out an reminder to all of the organizations that we work with of the principles that we are supposed to be working in support of.”