REPORT: People of the Global Majority ONE Summit
The days leading up to the deadline to declare my college major were anxiety producing. I was hesitant to choose the Environmental Studies (ES) track even though I knew I would be content studying public health, food deserts and ecology for my remaining time at Bates. I struggled to make it official because I am not like most ES majors I’ve met. I didn’t grow up hiking, skiing or surfing; I am not white. While these feelings did not stop me from pursuing the major, I continued to feel insecure about being a fraud in this field of study.
In my short time at Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF) however, my confidence as an ES major has grown as I began to challenge my initial feelings of alienation. Recently, I attended the People of the Global Majority (PGM) ONE Summit to learn how people of color can lead the racial inclusion movement in the environmental sector. According to a study done by Green 2.0 in 2014, people of color make up 36% of the United States’ population but comprise less than 12% of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations studied. People of color represent over a third of the nation’s population, but they are underrepresented in our field. While this stat is concerning, the summit helped me realize that people of color are needed in this movement.
The mainstream Environmental Movement is often perceived as a white cause and our idols are people like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. Yet, far too often, people of color that have made equally as important strides such as the Black Panthers, the Food Justice advocates of the 60’s, or Ron Finley, the modern guerrilla gardener, have not been recognized for their work. It is imperative to appreciate their impacts because people of color often feel the weight of environmental issues the most, yet their voices have historically been sidelined.
To elevate the voices of suppressed groups, transformative work is critical in our organizations, businesses, and personal lives. At CLF, our work around equity, inclusion, and diversity seeks to broaden the conservation community so that it more accurately reflects the diversity of the nation. We have this goal because we believe it is the right thing to do, and also because we believe that without it we cannot be successful in our mission of protecting public lands–specifically America’s National Conservation Lands. To do this, CLF has implemented certain practices, and is beginning to share what we learn about those efforts with our Friends Grassroots Network, in order to become a more inclusive community, reflective of America’s population.
The work that CLF is doing has made me excited to continue in the environmental field. Here I have been able to do my part to protect treasured national monuments threatened by an unlawful review period. Many of our monuments are at risk of being reduced as Secretary Zinke wants to undo their protections. However, these monuments are imperative to many underserved communities that have consistently been denied access to land. For example, the San Gabriel Mountains provide 70% of the open space in the Los Angeles area. For people that cannot commute further to enjoy untouched land, this space is vital to their well-being. Additionally, many of our monuments are significant to Native American tribes, if we want to protect their history and culture we must keep these treasures intact. For example, the Carrizo Plain is home to the Painted Rock, a ceremonial area for the Chumash people, and the Mojave Trails National Monument holds historically important Native American trading routes. Our history of taking land away from Native people is horrendous and well-documented, yet once again their voices have been silenced during this review process as Secretary Zinke continues to ignore them.
Conservation work is important to me because I believe that land should be accessible to everyone. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with an organization that gives a platform to underrepresented groups, and I look forward to the day when our collective efforts pay off in the form of a diverse community of conservation advocates who are even more successful in protecting land to the benefit of all Americans, and future generations.
Yeymi Rivas is interning with the Conservation Lands Foundation this summer as part of the Bates College Purposeful Work Program. She is in her junior year at Bates College majoring in Environmental Studies.