Environmental catastrophe affects everyone, yet the green movement is mostly white. What can be done to bring minorities into the fold?
Question: What can be done to involve African-Americans more in the green movement?
Ben Jealous: As a kid, the first group I ever paid dues to was a group called SEEK. That was a bunch of green activists on the college and high school campuses; actually I set up one of their first high school chapters. And there's always been I think in the black middle class a lot of folks who have been active in the green movement in this country. For working people, you've got to make it worth their while; you've got to connect at the kitchen table as using ways that are very explicit. So, you'll see folks, you know, in Whirl, Mississippi, where a plant that used to produce some horrible toxin has exploded getting very involved in that local issue because it's about life and death, it's about their children's health, they get it, they understand it.
Katrina helped, and Haiti has helped to make that case in a more general basis to working class folks, but what really I think has the best opportunity to get working class black people involved in the green movement is connecting it to the opportunity for jobs, connecting it to their children's health in very explicit ways, very high rates of respiratory disease in the black community that come from very local environmental contamination. And there's a real sense that changes in the global economy is passing our neighborhoods and communities by. And so, yeah, I have great hope that the green jobs movement in this country will pull in generations of black people who have stood by the sidelines in that battle because no one has ever made the connection for them about how this actually would make their lives better.
Recorded March 10th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen