From Across the Nation, Communities Fighting Environmental Injustice Will Gather at Rutgers-Newark

Christian Rodriguez of the Ironbound Community Corporation

Researchers, students and activists from communities bearing the greatest burdens of climate change due to long histories of environmental racism will convene at Rutgers-Newark beginning October 25. They will explore collective projects that combat the climate crisis, including its impact on neighborhoods in Newark.

The two-day event, called "Communities Joining Forces,” will include an attendee bus tour of contaminated properties in the Ironbound section of the city, including the former Diamond Alkali chemical plant, one of the largest Superfund sites in the U.S, which manufactured Agent Orange in the Ironbound from 1951 to1969. The Ironbound is also home to the largest incinerator in the New York area and more than 200 “brownfields,’’ or polluted sites. 

The tour will be led by The Ironbound Community Corporation, a neighborhood advocacy group that has fought against pollution in the Ironbound for decades. The tour is available to the press on October 25 and to the public by appointment only. 

Held at Express Newark, “Communities Joining Forces’’  is sponsored by the Humanities Action Lab at Rutgers-Newark, which in 2019 began a multi-media storytelling project called “Climates of Inequality,” featuring collaborations in more than 23 cities around the world. 

Working with local residents and grassroots groups, college and university students documented the environmental struggles of lower-income communities of color, which are disproportionately home to federal Superfund sites, in addition to air and noise pollution–all of which contribute to, and are exacerbated by, the climate crisis.

“These communities have valuable knowledge and experience to bring to the table to solve these problems, so we’re investing in deep partnerships between environmental justice leaders and minority-serving institutions to engage in local storytelling and create lasting strategies around these issues,’’ said Liz Sevcenko, founding  director of the Humanities Action Lab. “It’s about the local projects and the big picture agenda.’’

Both “Climates of Inequality” and the Rutgers-Newark event emphasizes community strategies for protection, reclamation, and tactics to fight the placement of hazardous sites or practices in marginalized neighborhoods.

“Climates of Inequality” has traveled to more than a dozen communities and is scheduled to travel to at least seven  more. From New York to Mexico City, more than 500 people participated in creating it. In addition to stories and images from Newark’s Ironbound section, it examines environmental injustice  in other regions, including  South Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, which affects many Native and Black communities, causing high cancer rates, devaluation of property, and displacement of neighborhoods.

Participants at the Rutgers-Newark event hail from areas ranging from Merced, California, to Magaguez, Puerto Rico.

According to Sevcenko, the rest of the world should draw lessons from communities that have long coped with flooding and other extreme weather resulting from climate change and pollutants. 

“In the stories students and environmental justice leaders shared from each community, people can learn how the histories of the hardest hit communities may hold the key to confronting the climate crisis and inform strategies for enacting policy change,” she said.