Poverty and environmental pollution, coupled with modern policing, severely affect BIPOC in serious ways. In Seattle, protestors have repeatedly called on the city to defund the police and invest in community resources. BIPOC have been fighting for their right to live, in knowledge that in the battle against climate disaster and racial injustice the value of community is priceless.
The city of Seattle and King County have continually and intentionally been disinvesting from neighborhoods that house the highest proportion of BIPOC in a model example of systemic racism. Not only do predominantly BIPOC neighborhoods have the least access to resources like healthy food stores, efficient public transportation, and open green spaces, but they are most at risk of experiencing damaging effects from environmental pollution. With Seattle being a major port city with a high traffic airport and highways, air and noise pollution is also a huge issue for neighborhoods in close proximity to these pollution sites.
The Southeast Seattle neighborhood of Beacon Hill is a diverse community predominantly comprising immigrants — with over half the residents being Asian or Pacific Islander. It is no coincidence that this neighborhood disproportionately experiences the negative consequences of a rapidly developing city.
It is no coincidence that this neighborhood disproportionately experiences the negative consequences of a rapidly developing city.
Major arterial roadways run crosswise through the neighborhood and highways flank either side of the hill. During peak periods of air travel, a SEATAC bound plane will directly pass over Beacon Hill within 3000 feet every 3 minutes. Beacon Hill Council Chair Maria Batayola and her constituents drew nearly 300 suggestions to plot out a community action plan for mitigating the noise pollution and worser carbon emissions.
Further south into the Seattle neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park is the multinational Ardagh Group’s glass foundry —the biggest industrial soot producer in the Puget Sound region. These two neighborhoods are in an area that is home to some of the largest Latinx communities in Seattle and is also an area with one of the highest rates of asthma hospitalization in King County.
The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition — a non-profit coalition of environmentalists, neighborhood groups, local businesses, and the Duwamish Indian Tribe — spearheaded a study that found that the area nearest to the glass foundry had the worst environmental and public health characteristics out of 10 zip codes in Seattle. The area also notably housed residents of smaller incomes and was primarily BIPOC.
The findings of this study gave rise to the coalition’s designation by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Technical Advisory Group, entitling the community to greater impact in the federal Superfund program cleanup. When locals are officially designated as Technical Advisory Groups they directly review cleanup plans to ensure they are up to community standards.
Successful community endeavors for environmental justice like Batayola’s community action plan and the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition’s Superfund Cleanup are examples of how a well connected community can make significant impacts. These groups made their stand against polluting corporate entities by demanding intervention from local governance. Residents of these neighborhoods pay their taxes and are still not receiving their share of basic services that ensure quality of life — strength in community can be profound in addressing these issues.
In the latter half of September this year, King County executive Dow Constantine will submit the biennial budget proposal to King County Council, who will then determine how to allocate an $11 billion budget for the next two years. How this budget is allocated is potentially an opportunity for local governance to make lasting reparations and sustainable investments in Seattle’s frontline communities, while also divesting from SPD.
Within that $11 billion budget, 86% of the money is dedicated funds reserved for specific services that cannot be reallocated. The only flexible part of the budget is the remaining 14%, known as the general fund. Of the general fund over 75% is spent on policing, while only 5% is spent on health and human services.
King County’s history of over-policing and underfunding BIPOC neighborhoods is evident in the inequitable distribution of environmental degradation and violent police killings of Black people. This new budget proposal is a prime chance for reallocation of funds, so that investment in community building is prioritized.
Community building is essential to environmental activism as individuals and groups grow political power in solidarity. Fostering a healthy community makes for a healthy environment, as people are able to move away from individualism and create lasting stewardship of the land.
“[A healthy community has] shared access to healthy food and clean water, access to housing and financial stability, trust and relationships with your neighbors, and the ability to live without fear of scarcity so that people can be their full selves,” Chloe Yeo said. Yeo is a local environmental activist and outreach team lead of the Seattle Sunrise Hub.
As communities develop and build networks of solidarity, institutionalized harms like pollution and poverty can be abated. King County legislators have the power to make these impacts in BIPOC communities — all with a reallocation of funds — and can alter the local government’s longstanding history of disinvestment and neglect.
“As we collectively move away from rugged individualism, which has harmed our environment so much, recognizing our relationships to the land and relationships to one another can [reduce] our dependence on corporations, which are immensely wasteful and exploitative of the environment,” Yeo said.
When people are able to rely on the community for basic needs and services, they are better equipped to focus on raising their quality of life. For most people, activism remains outside of their regular jobs and responsibilities, but with the collective power of a healthy community, pressing issues of environmental and racial justice can be achieved. .
“In order to meet the scale and breadth of the climate crisis we need our solutions to be just as widespread,” Yeo said.
One of those solutions is transforming our societal values to build meaningful relationships with each other, and there is no better place to start that than in our communities.
Last updated 9/12/20
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