About this Issue

Editing this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment with the analytical framework of imperialism has been a fascinating task. To do the theme justice, we decided to gather a set of introductory articles that define and frame imperialism as a challenge to environmental justice.

In this introductory section, U.C. Berkeley Professor R.A. Walker defines imperialism first as a “geographic term: the power of one place over another.” An author of several articles about Bay Area development, Walker describes how elite “command over space and place” has characterized urban development throughout the United States, and particularly in San Francisco and the East Bay. Tom B. K. Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network provides readers with an historical overview of colonialism’s impact on Indigenous populations and explains how exploitation of Indigenous land and resources continues today. To close this section, a Q&A with Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, articulates why anti-imperialism has long been a part of the Center’s mission and what organizers can do now to further the global justice movement.

The middle “Impacts, Local and Global” section examines the scope of the problem the environmental justice community faces. It’s divided into subsections: “Environment and Economy,” which delves into issues ranging from economic development policy to global trade rules that harm the poor and threaten our environments; “Food and Agriculture,” with articles about genetic engineering, food dumping and biopiracy; “Water Services,” which reports on water privatization’s impact on poor communities in the United States and in South Africa; and “Health, Labor, Human Rights” with pieces about dwindling health care and labor protections. This section includes a revealing report from labor journalist and photographer David Bacon about developments in Iraq.

In the final section, a variety of articles depict global justice organizing efforts and alternative models. Highlights include dispatches from participants in the most recent World Social Forum in Mumbai, India; a report on Latin American and Caribbean resistance to the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, plus alternative agreements; and a proposal for how global trade can promote gender equity. Though this section could not possibly cover all of the alternatives being proposed worldwide by global justice advocates, it offers refreshing ideas about sustainable energy, agriculture, trade and development. As always, the issue ends with a listing of organizations, Web sites and books to consult for further information.

The bottom line for all of these articles is that they include an analysis of how the issues affect the poor and people of color across the globe. Many of the organizing and coalition-building strategies described herein are lead by people of color who are often among the first and most affected by inequitable local and global policies.

Ziba Kashef
Editor, RPE

Volume 11, 2004

From the Director's Desk

What does the topic of “imperialism” have to do with environmental and social justice?

This historical and political term is again a subject of debate in large part because of the war in Iraq. Anti-war organizers have used it to critique U.S. government administration of Iraq’s territory, and military and political systems. But as an analytical term, imperialism is also useful to examine broader issues, such as corporate-driven globalization. The “free trade” agreements being devised by wealthy nations and investors allow for foreign control of not just trade, but of environmental regulation; farming and agricultural policy; water extraction and delivery systems; health care; education; and other public services in poor and developing nations across the globe.

As University of California-Berkeley Geography Professor R.A. Walker says in his article, the imperialism of centuries past did not just pertain to territorial control, but also to “domination of trade, taxation of people, land takeovers, and extraction of natural resource wealth.” That is what we are witnessing unfold worldwide as corporate-driven globalization continues to spread. Several contributors to this issue of RPE argue that these trends—from lopsided trade agreements to privatization of public services and resources—pose real threats to environmental and social equity.

Low-income people and people of color in the United States and abroad are suffering as a result. Globally, a growing number of people live on less than $2 a day. In the United States, the gap between rich and poor is as great as it has been in a century. The world’s natural resources are being ravaged. Increasingly, decisions that affect us all are made by a privileged few.

In response, environmental justice advocates are working to generate alternative visions for global trade and development policy. Because the poor and people of color are most affected, it’s critical that they provide leadership in the global justice community. EJ and other social justice organizers cannot afford to not be involved in decision-making that affects our communities both here and abroad. That’s one of the goals of this RPE issue—to offer examples of effective global justice organizing and to articulate ideas for creating a more equitable and sustainable global economic system.

Other news:

  • As we mark our 15th year at Urban Habitat (UH), we are proud to announce that we have reached the goal of attaining 501 (c ) (3) status. This development, which makes UH an independent nonprofit, is an exciting milestone.
  • UH’s Leadership Institute (LI) has developed a new innovative tool, a cartoon book, to educate Bay Area community leaders about the history behind inequity in the region. In addition to the LI’s ongoing series of training workshops, the cartoon book helps organizers use a regional framework to challenge inequitable policies.
  • The Social Equity Caucus, a regional coalition convened by UH, is developing a Transportation Justice campaign. The campaign’s goals are: to examine the impact that diesel pollution has on low-income communities in the Bay Area; and to determine how to hold accountable those decision-makers who create transportation policy that affects those communities.
  • RPE recently hosted a focus group to solicit feedback about the journal. Stay tuned for improvements, including the use of processed chlorine-free paper and soy-based ink, in this and future issues.

Finally, we’d like to take this opportunity to thank one of RPE’s co-founders and longtime editors, Luke Cole, for his leadership over the years. Though Luke and the Center for Race, Poverty & Environment will no longer be co-publishing the journal with Urban Habitat, he will continue to serve as an advisor to the journal. At UH, we are honored to continue producing RPE in the spirit in which it was founded by Luke Cole and Carl Anthony nearly 15 years ago. Thanks, Luke!

In solidarity,

Juliet Ellis
Executive Director