The Center for New Community sponsored its second Biking Beyond Bigotry Tour through Oregon last week. A total of 10 activists, artists, students, and environmentalists biked together over 130 miles to learn more about environmental issues and the intersections of race and reproductive justice. The tour began in Portland, Oregon, and ended in Eugene at The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (ELAW) at the University of Oregon.
Bikers attended many panels during the conference, including a panel discussion on “Population and the Environmental Movement: Time to Talk About It.” According to that panel’s description, the intended purpose behind it was to discuss “the importance and strategic relevance of bringing population issues back into our work, as well as recognizing the depth of the issue and its connection to social justice and the struggle for reproductive rights.”
Panelists included Amy Harwood from the Center for Biological Diversity’s Human Overpopulation campaign including the Endangered Species Condoms project; Laurie Mazur, Director of the Population Justice Project and editor of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & The Environmental Challenge (Island Press, 2009); Kim Lovell, National Conservation Organizer with the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program; and Lisa Hymas, senior editor at environmental news site Grist.org, which she co-founded in 1999.
Bikers and activists, including Nia Robinson who was previous executive director of Environmental Justice & Climate Change Initiative and Jesse Sanes, participated in asking questions about ways population debates have been used historically to attack the bodies of women of color.
The Center and the bikers also held a “brown bag lunch” discussion at the Multicultural Center that was founded, sustained, and developed by student activists of diverse backgrounds and cultures to fill the needs of students of color and other marginalized students. The debate covered population rhetoric, how the environmental justice is old, per se, and addressed how Philip Cafaro and other Tanton Network organizations like Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) have attempted to co-op environmental rhetoric.
The panel centered on reproductive justice, calling out how women of color continued to be blamed for environmental destruction. This racism must be stopped if people who care about reproductive health and the environment are to unite–a conversation we hope can help continue to move forward. For example, Nia Robinson raised the question that if a white woman talks about the link between population and environmental degradation, and uses mainly visuals of pregnant women in Bangladesh and Somalia, there can be real danger present in the implications of how one’s message might be perceived.
Furthermore, while the solutions may be heavily contested, these deeply emotional debates are essential for provoking real environmental discussions that will include analyses that will propel reproductive justice forward.
“Environmental degradation is not a biological problem, it is a political and social one,” said Sanes. We need to continue to fight and to stand up against bigotry. Whether on our bicycles or at conferences like ELAW, we must continue to address the role that race plays in environmental discussions, and how we can build real coalitions toward a sustainable future.