Brandon Kawalec, outreach coordinator for Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, works with Julie Powers, the groups executive director, to identify various animals living in the Red Cedar River in East Lansing. The assessment is part of the ongoing monitoring of the health of the watershed.
Environment: Only Way To Win Is By Working Together
Julie Powers: Executive Director, Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council
Originally printed 7/17/2014 (Issue 2229 - Between The Lines News)
1 How does the environmental movement impact the LGBT equality movement and vice versa?
Just two decades ago, both environmentalists and equality activists were seen as extremists - fighting for things that today are seen as obvious: climate change, carbon footprint, marriage equality, workplace protections for LGBT people. Today, we're still fighting and, while we are moving closer to marriage equality and acceptable environmental protections, the work isn't done. So in that regard, we're all working to make the world better - our world.
I'd also say that the environmental movement impacts everyone. Everyone wants to breathe clean air, drink clean water, live in cities that are vibrant, have a voice in community planning, ensure that our children are protected from unsafe playgrounds and/or exposure to chemicals that are hazardous. It's also true that a larger percentage of the LGBT community (especially the transgender community) have lower incomes and more health issues that can be directly attributed to environmental factors. For example, communities with high asthma rates are generally lower income and experience significant health issues, loss of work, poor school attendance, increased hospitalization rates and so forth.
The equality movement has impacted the environmental movement as well - there are a lot of shared lessons about community engagement that have been learned and integrated into how we approach policy development. For example, many communities have successfully passed Human Rights Ordinances with support from the business community. The environmental community has done much the same thing with the passage of the Complete Streets ordinances (and now state law). Business leaders see having a vibrant and diverse pool of potential employees as an important part of their growth plan - as much as they see having connected transportation systems for all transit mode users.
2 Why is the environmental movement something the LGBT equality movement should care about as an aspect of its equality movement?
Every movement is about having your voice heard - being at the table where decisions are made. Environmentalists, like LGBT activists, are marginalized and left out of many big decisions and so we've had to get creative, creating networks and using the media (social, traditional) as a way to get our perspectives heard. We have much to learn from one another and the only way to "win" on our issues it to do it together. When unlikely partners band together to address an issue, you tend to get a lot of attention - from the media, from elected officials and from regular citizens. Why WOULDN'T the environmental community work with the LGBT community to find a common space for us to achieve a great goal is my question?
3 Why did you get involved in environmental activism and leadership?
I've worked and/or volunteered in nearly every progressive movement, from LGBT to reproductive choice to affordable housing, because these movements reflect my personal values which are informed by my family, my faith and my experiences. Why be an environmental leader? They needed me. I'm loud, I'm proud and I don't back down from a fight. My goal is to connect people with their passion, movements with resources and issues with the media - it's like a massive game of "connect the dots" in my head sometimes.
4 What are the three big take aways about the environmental movement you want the LGBT community to know and understand?
One, we need your voice in environmental protection and planning. You are wanted and welcome at the table but sometimes you have to shout to be heard over the big voices in the room.
Two, we're all connected on this planet. Every drop of water on this Earth is what has always been here and always will be here. It's basically dinosaur pee. So protect it like it's gold - don't pour your leftover paint or motor oil or diet Coke down the storm drain. That goes directly into our rivers and then we end up drinking it.
Three, the environmental movement is fragmented by geography, area of interest, level of interest - just like the LGBT movement. You don't have to be the perfect environmentalist to get involved or to work on an issue. A lot of people are passionate about recycling or making sure communities are walkable/bikeable or that our air is safe to breathe. Pick the thing(s) that you care about and look at it from an environmental lens.
5 For those who are unfamiliar with your agency, please tell us who you are and what you do. Feel free to highlight any recent wins you have had.
The Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council is part of a statewide network of environmental advocacy organizations that work to translate your environmental concern into action. Our focus areas are land use, water quality, green transportation and sustainability - issues that apply to every Michiganian.
We've successfully passed the state's first Complete Streets ordinance, which requires that when roads are built and/or rebuilt, municipalities have to take into consideration the needs of both vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists. The City of Lansing's ordinance has spurred a statewide (and now national) movement, and the State of Michigan adopted a Complete Streets law in 2011. The City of Lansing also passed a landmark bike parking ordinance that we crafted which requires bicycle parking in much of the city, and we worked on a snow and ice removal ordinance to ensure that people who use sidewalks can have safe passage during cold weather months. (In the 10 years prior to the ordinance, 10 people were killed or injured because they were forced to walk in the street as property owners failed to remove snow and ice. Since the ordinance was passed, ZERO people have been killed or injured. #winning)
We're also the watchdogs of the Mid-Michigan waterways. When our local utility had an industrial accident, spilling 800+ gallons of hydraulic fluid into the Grand River in 2013, we were on the scene and served as the media spokesperson for the event. Just recently, we brought an illegal dumping issue to the attention of the media (after a year of being ignored by the city) and now there's a criminal investigation. We just recently completed a four year walkablity audit of the City of Lansing (732 miles of sidewalk analyzed) and that data is being used to develop a priority repair/replacement program. The same program is now being implemented in Williamston and likely East Lansing. Walkable neighborhoods are a top priority when homebuyers are ranking properties - better sidewalks/connectivity = increased property values and perceived safety.
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