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The godmother of the environmental justice movement speaks out

Thirty-five years ago, on Martin Luther King Day, Peggy Shepard was arrested when her organization, WE ACT, stopped traffic to protest sewage pollution that was plaguing Harlem. It ws one of the first initiatives to call the placing of an abundance of toxic industry in minority communities what it is: environmental racism.

Since then, Peggy has devoted her life to battling exactly that — and stopping low-income communities from becoming what she calls “sacrifice zones”: areas where children and adults alike suffer from disproportionately high rates of disease due to pollution.

This is the second of our two-part look at environmental justice, awareness of which is an essential part of being a sustainability leader.

Show episode notes

02:25 – Peggy talks about her ambitions and early career

03:59 – On being a speechwriter for Jesse Jackson… and learning about the inequities that were abundant

04:39 – A new sewage treatment plant presents a new opportunity… before turning “dark”.

06:27 – The discovery that data was essential to driving change, and the beginning of community engagement

07:33 – The realization that the sewage treatment plant was driving a surge in local asthma cases.

09:04 – How balconies became a surprising key to victory

10:25 – Peggy’s realization how ubiquitous (and “invisible”) environmental justice issues are.

11:14 – How essential it is to have the right people in the room… and what you can do about it.

12:44 – The “quiet victory” of having committed people show up.

13:04 – The birth of WE ACT and it’s long string of victories.

14:14 – Getting the community engaged in fighting yet another bus depot from being built.

14:43 – The moment of the “birth” of the environmental justice movement.

15:20 – How data is a powerful new tool for the fight.

17:14 – There’s more work for WE ACT because there’s more demand… yet funding and staffing remain low.

18:47 – Peggy’s advice to the Biden administration on EJ and green jobs.

20:04 – What we all can do, in any job that we hold, to uphold environmental justice.

21:09 – Peggy’s advice for the next generation: be fluid about what your job may be.

22:15 – Peggy’s personal Board of Directors


Want to learn more about Peggy, WE ACT, and environmental justice?  Follow these links:

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