Here in South Carolina and across the South, our communities are going through a period of transition. Now, we must make sure that this transition will be just and will be equitable.
That's why this week, a new coalition of dozens of community organizations will come together to launch a ten-state Justice First Tour beginning in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 12 and then heading to Charlotte, North Carolina on April 14. The Justice First Tour is bringing together groups working on all kinds of social issues to build solidarity for justice across the American South.
In Raleigh, more than a dozen organizations will gather to lift up not only the concerns facing the community, but also the solutions that are emerging to advance justice. We are calling for climate justice, forest protection, and a just transition to 100% clean energy for all in our communities.
Our organizations choose to view each other through this common justice lens, to support each other, and build a common platform on which people across the South can stand together.
The Justice First Tour builds on the work already happening in states across the South, including my very own of South Carolina.
On February 13, twenty-four organizations from all four cardinal points of South Carolina gathered at the South Carolina State House. We did so because it is time for us to create a new economy, infrastructure, and energy that causes us to have better communities, healthier communities, more jobs, and more businesses.
Young leaders like Brandon Galloway, the Environmental Action Club President at South Carolina State University, raised their voice because "right now is the time for us to take action and to encourage and inspire others."
Leaders like Rosalyn Watson with the South Carolina Chapter of the NAACP Environmental Justice Committee spoke out because "we have to go with clean energy and...work together as one unit to make certain to our political people pass laws that are for everyone."
Leaders like Omar Muhammad with the Low Country Alliance for Model Communities recognize that "It is important that laws that are passed protect the health and the environment of communities, particularly vulnerable communities." This is especially true in communities across South Carolina, including Charleston, where according to Letitia Carpenter, a College of Charleston student and intern with Low Country Alliance for Model Communities, "there are 113 industrial sites in North Charleston alone. This is a disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards that the people live in these communities are facing. A lot more than more affluent and higher income, white individuals are facing in other parts of Charleston."
To quote Rev. Michael Malcom with South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, "As a person of faith, we must ask the moral question of: how long? How long must we sit idly by as corporate interests set policies that do harm? How long must we endure this cycle of poverty that is driven by greed?"
We don't need to have corporations force the costs of their profits onto the backs on people when we can have clean and renewable energy, life giving energy that comes from the sun and wind. This is what democracy looks like and this is why our organizations were gathered together on February 13.
For the last 25 years, the late Rev. and State Representative Joseph H. Neal introduced the Environmental Bill of Rights, and every year it has been defeated. Our coalition was honored to stand with Wilma Neal Garren, the late Reverend's sister, who challenged us all to "let this be a rallying call to everyone, we need clean air and clean water to pass onto the generations that will come behind us." We'll be bringing Rev. Neal's Environmental Bill of Rights with us on the Justice First tour, to encourage local organizations to advance these goals in their communities.
This is what the Justice First tour is all about. This is the people saying that we need an Environmental Bill of Rights because all of us have a right to clean air, clean land, and clean water. This is the people saying it's time to free up our communities so that we can have solar in rural areas that have suffered decades of persistent poverty.
This is what democracy looks like. The work to advance justice first across our region continues.
To get involved or learn more about the Justice First Tour, including when an event might be hosted in your community, visit https://justicefirsttour.wordpress.com/tour-dates or www.facebook.com/climatejusticefirst.