So often, we, in the environmental justice movement are bombarded with immense challenges and often heartbreaking losses from corporations that seem undefeatable, legislators that don’t seem to make decisions with the people’s best interest in mind and legal systems that are unbearably slow.  And no matter how hard we work on one issue, there’s always that other one that seems to slip past us.

We know we’ve got a difficult task ahead of us, and no one will argue that this isn’t tough work.  But, here’s the thing, we need to celebrate our victories along the way or else we’ll all end up feeling defeated, and essentially will be defeated.

Every year, The Goldman family hosts a ceremony for the annual Goldman Prize recipients.  Many of us pull out our best outfits and dust off those dress shoes to go celebrate six grassroots leaders that have made significant and widely beneficial changes within their community.  We’re reminded change is possible and rejoice in their presence and maybe even secretly hope that shaking their hands will give us a little more patience and strength in our own challenges for grassroots change.

However, since the Goldman Prize is only awarded to six individuals from around the world, once a year, we’d like to outline a few more victories to give us all a little more patience and strength in our fight for environmental justice.

  1. New York: Tonawanda Coke was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    Image from the Buffalo Record

When nearby residents started collecting samples with GCM’s Bucket Brigade, sample results revealed startling high levels of benzene, levels that were 75 times higher than acceptable health standards, in the surrounding air.  The EPA and local legislators took notice and began their own investigation and in March 2013, after a long and complex trial, a guilty verdict was reached by the jury!

     2.    India: Sterlite Copper Plant ordered closed after gas leak.

On March 28, 2013 nearly 5,000 people marched to the Sterlite Copper Plant in protest of a toxic gas leak that occurred five days before.  Two days later, “officials from 10 governmental departments arrived by the vanload”.  Hours later, the plant had been shut down and the electricity connection to the copper plant had been disconnected.

     3.    Little Village, Chicago, Illinois: 2 Coal Fired Plants to shut down

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Although this is a victory honored with the Goldman Prize it still deserves much mention here.  A Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution.  After a ten year grassroots battle, residents earned support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the owners announced the shutdown of the Crawford and Fisk coal burning plants.

     4.     Installation of air monitors along the fenceline of dangerous oil refineries

Many residents living in environmental justice communities believe,rightfully so, that they at least have the Right to Know what’s in the air that they are breathing.  That will allow them to make informed decisions for their health and the health of their families.  As fair as that sounds, residents are often faced with strong opposition from their industrial neighbors on this very subject.  So when oil refineries start footing the bill to install air monitors on their fenceline, we need to chalk that up as a win! 

In 2004, monitors at an oil refinery in Rodeo, CA were upgraded to include a real-time, public internet feed.  In May 2012, the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana agreed to install air monitors along their fenceline and rumor has it that Chevron in Richmond, CA is working with the City to install similar equipment at their refinery.

      5.     An estimated 40,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate Rally in February 2013.

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Anyone who’s ever done any kind of movement organizing knows just how hard it is to get 40,000 people to stand together in solidarity for something, and anyone who’s spent a February in D.C knows how unbearably cold it can be.  So let’s recognize how big of a win this is!  Our message about how dirty tar sands oil is has

reached the masses.  It was only a few years ago, people thought I was collecting signatures on a petition against Tarzan.  This past February, those 5,000 signatures collected were distributed to the White House in connection with one of the largest climate justice rallies in US history.

All of these victories have help people breathe easier, created less pollution in the air, less asthma and an opportunity for people to actually have their inherit right of living with clean air.  Although, we can only list out these five at the moment (we need to get back to turning our work in CA’s Central Valley into something that will make this list!) there are many more!  Have one that we missed?  Feel free to tell us about it below!  We share our challenges, we need to remember to share the victories as well.

Hopefully, these big victories will remind us- “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”