The prospect of an economic revival based on green jobs is especially important to communities of color, since the bleak labor market is taking a harsh toll on black and other minority workers.
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, called the January numbers “about as bad as imaginable,” and noted that blacks and Hispanics have been hit hardest by the downturn, with black male unemployment up almost 6 percentage points to 14.1 percent since 2008.
Though the green movement historically has been predominantly white, environmental crises increasingly threaten communities of color, in the form of pollution, poor nutrition, and punishing energy costs. After addressing the packed hall, Jackson—the first African-American EPA head—outlined plans to combine the efforts of the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Energy, along with the newly created Office of Urban Policy to bridge the cultural and economic divide that has stifled green activism in minority communities: “We have plans in a broader sense to make sure that communities of color and the environmental justice community feel part of the environmental protection movement,” she told The Root, “and understand the connection not only for their health but for the economy.”
Van Jones, president of Green For All, an environmental justice coalition, urged the mixed-race audience toward a new activism—“not in the thin political arena, but in the thick guts of the economy.” The green jobs movement, he said, can build “a green economy that Dr. King would be proud of.”
Kari Fulton, an organizer with Campus Climate Challenge who works with students of color, concurred: “There are groups looking at it from a sustainable business perspective … not just working for the man, but being the man,” she said.
Dayo Olopade is a Washington reporter for The Root.