Poverty is a deeply rooted issue that affects countless individuals and communities around the world. In Kenya, it is no different. Despite its natural beauty and richness, Kenya faces significant challenges when it comes to poverty, particularly among vulnerable communities.
The high living standards brought by the new government of Kenya make the poverty issue more pressing. Everything is doubled. Tax is doubled, food is doubled, oil is doubled, women’s products price is now double the initial price.
One issue arising from poverty is limited access to basic necessities such as food, clean water, and health care. According to a United Nations Development Program report, approximately 36% of Kenyans live below the national poverty line. This means that millions of people struggle to afford even one meal a day, leading to malnutrition and adverse health conditions. Additionally, a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities further intensifies the spread of diseases, resulting in a higher mortality rate.
Another consequence of poverty is the limited educational opportunities available to children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Before the current government, a normal student at the university level was paying approximately 38 thousand Kenyan Shilling per year. Today the student pays 122 thousand Kenyan Shillings per year. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school due to financial constraints, resulting in a significant number of young individuals being deprived of basic education. The lack of education perpetuates the cycle of poverty, as individuals without the necessary skills and knowledge struggle to find stable employment opportunities.
The impact of poverty is also evident in the housing conditions experienced by vulnerable communities in Kenya. Slums and informal settlements are common in urban areas, where individuals live in makeshift shelters with little to no access to basic amenities. Unsanitary living conditions in these areas increase health risks and disease vulnerability.
These challenges are not insurmountable, however. It’s important to note that while these issues persist, there are numerous organizations, both local and international working alongside the government of Kenya to tackle these issues and improve the overall well-being of the Kenyan people. Efforts such as community-based programs, microfinance initiatives, and educational campaigns have shown promising results in uplifting vulnerable communities and breaking the cycle of poverty.
To bring about lasting change, it is crucial for individuals, governments, and organizations to come together and address the root causes of poverty in Kenya. This includes investing in sustainable agriculture practices, promoting entrepreneurship and job creation, improving access to quality education, and providing support for health care and social welfare systems.
In conclusion, poverty remains a critical issue in Kenyan society, affecting vulnerable communities in various aspects of their lives. By understanding the impact of poverty and actively working towards its eradication, we can create a brighter future for all Kenyans.
Since 2014 and the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has been steadily rising, with hundreds of millions being threatened by malnutrition and hunger. In 2020, above 30% of the global population was found to be moderately or severely food insecure. Food insecurity affects different populations in distinct ways, and in order to understand this more clearly, we examine Ecuador. Here, historical contexts have unique influences on food insecurity, but also, this nation exemplifies the reality that low-income nations face when combatting hunger.
Facts and figures of food insecurity in Ecuador
Hunger is an issue that is widespread globally and within Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, researchers Akram Hernández-Vásquez, Fabriccio J. Visconti-Lopez, and Rodrigo Vargas-Fernández found that the region has the second-highest figures for food insecurity globally. The region is also predicted to be the fastest-growing in food insecurity rates.
Ecuador is just one example of why food insecurity manifests and in which populations. The country is ranked second in the region for chronic child malnutrition: 23% of children under five and 27% of children lack access to proper nutrition.
According to the Global Food Banking Network, an international non-profit focused on alleviating hunger, 900,000 tons of food are wasted or lost yearly in Ecuador. This is an alarming statistic considering that 33% of the population experienced food insecurity between 2018 and 2020 一 a threefold increase since 2014-2016.
Economic conditions have only been heightened in the pandemic, leading to widespread protests across the nation by indigenous people demanding equitable access to education, healthcare, and jobs. In sum, indigenous people cannot afford to get by, exacerbating existing food insecurity.
Maria Isabel Humagingan, a 42-year-old Indigenous Quichua from Sumbawa in Cotopaxi province described why she was protesting to Aljazeera reporter Kimberley Brown.
“For fertilizer, for example, it used to be worth $15 or up to $20, now it costs up to $50 or $40. Sometimes we lost everything [the whole crop]. So we no longer harvest anything.”
During a time when global inflation is rising, it is the poorest people who are at the most risk. Even those who used to live on subsistence farming are vulnerable. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) found that Ecuador’s food insecurity had risen from 20.7% to 36.8% in one year during the pandemic, and it is apparent that indigenous peoples are the most at risk during this time.
This is not to mention the fact that during a time when global hunger is growing, there is a disproportionate impact on women. Ultimately, food insecurity, while complex and layered, is a mirror of the prejudices and inequalities of society. In order to better understand why and who is impacted, we first need to understand two components: is food available (production and imports), is the food adequate (nutritious), and is food accessible (affordability)?
Factors behind food insecurity in Ecuador and beyond
Ecuador has a long history of environmental racism, and for the sake of brevity, we will be focusing on the practices of Texaco/Chevron and its impact on soil fertility.
“minority group neighborhoods—populated primarily by people of color and members of low-socioeconomic backgrounds—… burdened with disproportionate numbers of hazards including toxic waste facilities, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution and foul odors that lower the quality of life.”
From 1964 to 1990, Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) drilled oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Over 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater were dumped in water sources and unlined open pits left to seep into the soil and devastate clean water sources for people and agriculture. Additionally, 17 million gallons of crude oil were spilled in the disaster now known as “Amazon Chernobyl.” Ecuadorians, a good majority of which were indigenous peoples displaced from their land due to environmental destruction, levied a suit against Chevron which was won in February 2011.
During the judicial process, 916 unlined and abandoned pits of crude oil were found. The human rights implications of this historic case and horrifying disregard for human and environmental safety are lengthy, in order to learn more read this blog by Kala Bhattar.
With this brief background in mind, it is clear to see how this would impact agricultural production, particularly in rural areas where indigenous persons live. Moreover, Afro-Ecuadorians, while only making up 7.2% of the population, are 40% of those living in poverty in the entire country. Most Afro-Ecuadorians live in the province of Esmeraldas, one of the poorest in the country, where most people live off agriculture and “85% of people live below the poverty line.”
UN experts have found that this population is the most vulnerable to environmental racism, suffering from systematic contamination of water supplies and intimidation.
As people suffer through the impacts of a ravaged environment, they must continue to rely on subsistence farming without aid. When crops fail to provide enough economically and for individual families, many go without in this impoverished region.
Global warming is leading to changes in weather patterns that have a serious impact on agricultural production 一, particularly in low-income countries that rely on seasonal rains, temperature, and other factors.
Specifically, Ecuador has suffered from a lack of water, specifically irrigation water, landslides, droughts, and heavy rains. The last two aforementioned climate impacts are particularly salient issues as it has impacted seed development by not allowing them to germinate or produce.
In all, the consequences of climate change are having disproportionate effects on low-income states globally in spite of the that they have historically contributed very little to greenhouse emissions. The worst impacts are on nations surrounding the equator and countries with relatively hot climates 一 both of which tend to be low-income countries.
Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, food prices have been rising. Ukraine is a leading wheat producer globally. It is the seventh-largest producer of wheat, supplies 16% of the world’s corn, and 40% of the world’s sunflower oil. In the summer of 2022, 22 million tons of grain were stranded in Ukrainian ports, causing mostly low-income countries to feel the growing threat of food insecurity.
Additionally, Ukraine supplied 40% of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) wheat supply. The immediate impact of this is clear in the 45% increase in wheat prices in Africa alone, while any country that receives aid from WFP (which Ecuador has since 1964) is threatened directly by the situation.
There has long been a precedent in the international human rights framework for the right to food, beginning with the first declaration (unanimously accepted) in 1948. In Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the right to an adequate standard of living is guaranteed to everyone with the express mention of food. Fast forward 20 years later, and once more, Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) reiterates (almost identically) the right to food.
The ICESCR actually expounds further on a state’s responsibility to free everyone from hunger, specifically outlining that either individually or through international cooperation specific programs should be developed to address food insecurity and hunger. Moreover, the covenant addresses that food-importing and food-exporting countries should both be reviewed for problems that would impact the equitable distribution of food globally. Lastly, agrarian systems should be reformed to address nutrition and achieve maximum utilization and efficient use of agricultural resources.
In 1999, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights convened to review the progress to end hunger. General Comment 12 reiterated the obligation of states to fulfill the aforementioned responsibilities. Most crucially, however, was the specific mention that states must immediately address issues of discrimination that plague food insecurity. In the case of Ecuador, it is clear that this remains a salient issue.
Most recently, in 2015, during a historic UN summit, world leaders adopted 17 objectives to be achieved by 2030. Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the second objective is to create a “Zero Hunger” world by 2030.
Conclusion: Fighting Food Insecurity
According to the World Food Program, 60% of the world’s hungry live in areas afflicted by conflict. There is no simple way to end a conflict, but it is crucial that all states remember their commitments to the SDGs and ICESCR. This means that states need to step in to provide nutritious food when a home state will not or cannot. Just like Red Cross, journalists, and other humanitarian organizations are protected by international humanitarian law from being targeted in conflict, so too should persons ensuring food access to people. Moreover, countries should address the factors that contribute to food insecurity such as environmental racism and climate change.
There is no one solution for this issue since there is no single cause. However, by refusing to accept these conditions, learning more about the causes and conditions of food insecurity, and demanding more, we can begin to bring about a world that truly is free from hunger.
Reading has always been one of my passions. It’s a unique entryway to view the world through another person’s eyes. Scientific research has shown that the more someone reads, the more empathetic and understanding that person is. It is these skills and values that reside at the core of human rights. To recognize the inherent dignity of every person, we must first be able to critically reflect on our own lives, positions, and privileges and grasp that our realities are not everyone’s.
To bring about a more caring, empathetic world, we need to learn to look beyond ourselves. Below are some authors whose pioneering work does just that.
Having been compared to greats in the genre like Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. Le Guin, Jemisin is one of the rare authors whose work has won not only the Hugo Science Fiction Writing Award but also the Nebula Award.
Only 25 books have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and Jemisin’s third novel in her Broken Earth trilogies is one.
Moreover, she is the first author in history to receive three consecutive Hugo Awards for every book within her critically acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy. The series is set in a broken world, literally, with a plot full of betrayals, murder, and a mother’s unbroken determination to save her daughter.
If you’re someone who loves science fiction, you need to read Jemisin’s works 一 one series in particular.
Ibram X. Kendi
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is a name you should become familiar with if you’re interested in antiracist scholarship. As the author of 13 books for adults and children, he is one of the world’s leading historians and antiracist researchers.
Dr. Kendi is an Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, teaching at prestigious institutions like Boston University and American University. He is also the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research in the United States, while also being a contributor to The Atlantic and CBS News.
He authored the book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest person in history to receive the award.
Alongside this book, he also published the internationally renowned How to Be an Antiracist. He has worked alongside other authors to make both critical works accessible to teenage and children audiences. As of 2021, he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Award.
Learn more about Dr. Kendi’s transformative research and start your own education into antiracism by checking out his site.
Saeed Jones is an award-winning poet and non-fiction writer. His poetry has won the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award, as well as, a Lambda Literary Award.
His memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, won the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Non-fiction. It is a poignant true story of Jones’ coming-of-age in a rural Texas community as a gay, black man.
Jones’s work is a sincere and heartbreaking presentation of the realities that Queer individuals reconcile with as they grow into their gender and sexual identities. Not to mention the added stigmas racial and ethnic minorities face.
If you’ve been wanting to break into the poetry scene or buff up on your memoir and/or Queer writing, you can find more of Saeed Jones’ work here.
The work of Nicole Dennis-Benn has been compared to the pioneering and lyrical works of Toni Morrison. Her debut novel, Here Comes the Sun, was named the New York Time Book of the Year in 2016. Moreover, it earned the Lambda Literary Award for its portrayal Queer individuals.
Similarly, her second novel, Patsy, also received the Lambda Literary Award in 2020 and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice.
Nicole-Benn has taught at several writing programs at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU, and more. She is a recipient of the National Foundation for the Arts Grant and has published essays and shorter works in numerous esteemed publications 一 many of which have been nominated for or won awards as well.
She is the founder of the Stuyvesant Writing Workshop and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two sons and wife.
Being born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, her two novels are set in her home country. If you are someone looking to expand their reading beyond the borders of the U.S., check out the writings of Nicole Dennis-Ben.
Robert Jones, Jr.
Formerly known as “Son of Baldwin,” Jones’ debut novel, The Prophets, came into immediate acclaim. The novel focuses on the love story of two enslaved men during the 19th century and their struggle to retain this small facet of themselves as another enslaved man begins preaching to garner favor with their enslaver.
His work, while fiction, contains lines of text that read like poetry and demand to be reread over and over as one processes both the cruelty and beauty of his prose.
The novel won the 2022 Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. The Prophets has been translated into at least 12 different languages.
Jones has published in the celebrated anthologies Four Hundred Souls and The 1619 Project. He is currently working on his next book.
For those who are fans of young adult literature, Angie Thomas has become an established name in the genre. Her work has hit the big screen, and though The Hate U Give does not explicitly mention organizations like Black Lives Matter, due to the timing of the movie’s release, it does feature BLM-esque organizations. It is important though that this work not be conflated with the actual people of BLM.
Thomas was born and raised in Jacksonville, Mississippi, and attended Belhaven University where she received her BFA in creative writing. In fact, her New York Times bestselling novel, The Hate U Give, began as her senior project in college.
She has since published five works with two being made into major motion films. If you enjoy young adult literature, check out some of Angie Thomas’ works here.
Michelle Alexander is more than just a renowned author, she is also a civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar.
Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, helped transform the national dialogue surrounding the imprisonment of Black Americans. It was published in 2010 and has spent over 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Her haunting and true words from her book pierced through veils of dismissal on the ever-worsening problem of racial policing in the United States:
“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
She has worked both in academia and the public and private sectors, engaging in civil rights litigation and even serving as the Director for the Racial Justice Project in Northern California.
Her work and her writing have had profound impacts on our legal systems and continue to urge for reform. Check out her work alongside that of Isabel Wilkerson to learn about racial caste systems in the United States.
His book Stand!-Raising My Fist For Justice won the 2023 YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award and a Coretta Scott King Award Author Honor. His other work, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, received a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers. In 2022, he became a National Book Award finalist for his graphic novel Victory.
After he published I Am Every Good Thing, he was nominated once again for a Kirkus Review, making him the first author to ever win the prize for his 12th release.
Before becoming a successful author, Barnes was the first Black creative copywriter hired by the greeting cards giant, Hallmark.
If you’re looking for more novels to diversify your library or classroom, check out Derrick Barnes’ work here.
I want to mention Jonathan Rosa’s work, Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad, because of its profound impact on our understanding of how language influences our perception of other racial groups.
Dr. Rosa is a Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at Standford University whose work focuses on how colonial structures have influenced the construction of racial minorities, resulting not only in institutional inequities but also in linguistic stigmatization.
It is an undeniable fact that we judge a person’s intellect and ability on their written and spoken skills. However, this is never an accurate portrayal of a person’s capability. Jonathan Rosa thoroughly researches this by conducting over 24 months of ethnographic work in a highly segregated Chicago high school. Dr. Rosa unveils how the experiences of young Latinxes are inextricably complicated by racial identity and an imposed view of “proper” speech.
If you are someone who is interested in languages and how we come to understand the world and people through our abilities of speech, you should read this work and challenge ingrained assumptions of racialized speech you may not have even realized you had.
Isabel Wilkerson is an acclaimed author of non-fiction that weds poetic narrative with the harsh realities of marginalized communities. Her first work, The Warmth of Other Suns, focuses on the real stories of three people during the Great Migration.
In order to complete her investigative work, she interviewed over 1,200 people and dedicated 15 years to detail the journey of the 6 million people who emigrated from the Jim Crow-oppressed South.
She is the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for her piece on a fourth-grader from Chicago’s southside and two stories reporting on floods in 1993.
She continues to work in journalism for the New York Times and has taught at several prestigious institutions. Her most recent work, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, once more displays her incredible talent for incisive research and profound scrutiny of the systems of oppression that plague the United States, Nazi Germany, India, and many more societies.
If you are someone who enjoys historical narratives, Wilkerson’s works are masterful pieces of extensive research alongside bittersweet anecdotes of people living through systemic discrimination.
If you liked this book list, check out this list of foundational Black authors here.
To learn more about book bans and their threat to human rights, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.”
Human rights are dependent on the environment, and we can address many environmental rights issues to bring about a better world for all those who live on this green and blue planet that we call home. In this sense, environmental rights ARE human rights, and taking a human rights approach to address these environmental rights can close the gaps of inequality between the Global North and the Global South countries. I am dedicating a series to deep dive into this human rights approach to environmental rights. We began this series by focusing on how issues around food and water can be addressed with a human rights approach. This blog will focus on air, another essential need for all living things, and how issues surrounding access to clean water can be addressed with a human rights approach.
The Right to Clean Air and the Consequences of Air Pollution
Like food and water, the air is another resource that humans and other creatures cannot live without. In fact, the Earth’s atmosphere, along with the water found here, is a special phenomenon that enables the Earth to support life. The atmosphere acts as a barrier between the organisms on Earth and the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, that when consumed in large quantities, can lead to cancer and death. Even the water that exists on Earth depends on the atmospheric pressures, and the layers of the atmosphere allow for warmth to heat up our planet so that life can exist comfortably. While the atmosphere is life-giving, any minute changes to the atmosphere can have drastic impacts on all living creatures on Earth, including humans.
Layers of the Atmosphere
There are many layers of our atmosphere, which are characterized based on their atmospheric temperatures. The four main layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere, in order. Further out is the exosphere, and the outermost layer is the magnetosphere. Understanding the different layers of our atmosphere, and the crucial roles they play to protect life on Earth can help us better appreciate the planet on which we live. The Troposphere is the layer closest to the surface, in which we exist. This is the layer that produces much of our weather patterns and contains 75% of all the atmosphere’s air. The temperatures in this layer grow colder the farther they are from the Earth’s surface, with temperatures varying based on the weather patterns.
The Stratosphere is the next layer, which exists above the troposphere, is 22 miles long and contains the most important element of our atmosphere, the Ozone Layer. The Ozone Layer is the layer within the stratosphere that absorbs the sun’s heat and radiation, filtering the harmful rays to make them safe for consumption by all living beings. In this layer, the air is colder closer to the troposphere, and the air is warmer as it increases in height, a consequence of the sun’s UV rays and their warming effect. In the 1980s, scientists realized that some of the chemicals we were using in refrigerators and in hair sprays (chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs), were causing the Ozone Layer to develop a large opening over Antarctica, exposing all the Earth’s organisms to the harmful UV rays of the sun. There was a global effort to end the use of these chemicals, and the Earth’s Ozone Layer is in the process of healing today. This healing process will take years, as a new UN study predicts that it will take another 43 years for the Ozone Hole to fully heal.
Next is the Mesosphere, which is where all the gases exist in a mixture rather than in specific layers. About 22 miles long, this layer is where the meteors and other objects from space burn up, a phenomenon we are familiar with as “shooting stars.” Above the mesosphere is the thermosphere, which captures much of the X-ray radiation from the sun, and the temperatures in this layer rise with height. This layer exists alongside the ionosphere, where the electrons from the layer’s atoms and molecules are transformed into positive charges due to the sun’s solar radiation. This layer is about 319 miles long, with temperatures reaching as high as 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermosphere is the layer in which the International Space Station is positioned, and the ionosphere allows radio waves to be reflected and absorbed, allowing us to make use of those radio waves to broadcast around the world.
Beyond the thermosphere is the exosphere, a layer that is 6,200 miles long, and considered to be the Earth’s outermost layer. Home to many gases such as hydrogen and helium, the exosphere does not have any oxygen to breathe. This is the layer that contains the satellites which enable us to use tools like GPS, weather monitoring systems, and other communication networks. As with all the other planets in our solar system, Earth has an outer shell, called the magnetosphere that is responsible for creating a magnetic field around the planet that interacts with the Earth’s iron core and is responsible for protecting our planet from solar flares, cosmic rays, and the impacts of solar winds. Scientists at NASA who study the magnetosphere’s complexity propose that Earth has the strongest magnetosphere than any of the other planets in our solar system and that this magnetic field is largely responsible for making the Earth habitable.
Greenhouse gases, air pollution, and global warming
There are many gases that are present in our atmosphere. These gases include Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrogen, and others. While these are gases that are naturally present in the atmosphere, an excessive amount of these gases can cause a greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. The sun warms up the Earth’s surface during the day, and as the sun goes down and cools the Earth’s surface, this heat is released back into the atmosphere. Yet, the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere trap some of that heat in the atmosphere. This function is actually required for the possibility of life to be sustainable on Earth. Without this effect, the Earth would drop to unbearable temperatures as soon as the sun goes down. Unfortunately, when more and more of these gases are present in the atmosphere, it traps more and more heat on the Earth’s surface. This is exacerbated by the activities of humans, especially following the Industrial Revolution, as the amount of these greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere is increasing by the year.
Sources of Air Pollution and Their Health Impacts
Anthropogenic (caused by humans) Source
There are many human activities that cause air pollution, trapping greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. While I will not be able to list them all here, I have comprised a list that includes a few anthropogenic activities that cause air pollution, as well as a few natural occurrences that add to this issue. Some human activities that cause air pollution include various things like transportation, residential use, waste management, and more. Many industries add to the air pollution through the complex processes they use when converting raw materials into usable items to be sold. These processes not only release chemicals from the materials used but also release various gases from the burning of fossil fuels that is converted into energy and heat to be used during these processes. Various forms of transportation can also cause air pollution, from driving gas cars to flying jets. We regularly use large trucks to transport our goods across states, use large cargo ships to transport goods across oceans, and use airplanes to transport goods and people across the globe. All these vehicles release greenhouse gases, including its biggest polluter, Carbon dioxide (CO2), and Nitrogen oxide (NOx), both of which can be harmful to humans in large quantities. In fact, Nitrogen Oxides can cause respiratory issues, and damage the lungs.
Another source of air pollution comes from our personal use and commercial uses. For one, our personal use of motor vehicles adds to this issue, as well as our burning of coal, wood, or other sources of energy conversion that provide us with heat. We also release chemicals into the air with the cleaning products we use, the hair sprays and perfumes we use, and even in the cigarettes that are smoked by many people. In fact, smoking tobacco releases ten times more emissions than what comes out of a diesel engine. Smoking tobacco releases what is known as Particulate Matter (PM), which is made up of minuscule amounts of dust, smoke, soot, or other particles in the air, and is one of the most harmful pollutants to humans. Their microscopic size allows them easy access to our lungs, and sometimes even into our bloodstreams, flaring up respiratory issues, and eye irritation, and could even lead to lung cancer.
Not surprisingly, another source of air pollution comes from our waste management practices, whether it be storing waste in landfills, or waste incineration to convert the trash into energy. Many of us simply use trash pick-up services without thinking too deeply about what happens to the trash we throw away. Much of our trash ends up in landfills, which are most likely to be located in impoverished areas, and near communities of color. These landfills are dumping sites for waste products, and although there are regulations and standards of waste disposal, much of the waste that ends up in landfills contain both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. These landfills not only produce stringent odors but also release greenhouse gases from these piles. Some of the waste that does not end up in landfills will be sent to be incinerated and converted into energy.
While this is better than storing waste in landfills, (as it is being recycled to be used as energy), the process of incinerating the trash releases further toxins and pollutants into the air, adding to the problem, even as it provides a solution. The United States parcels much of its trash to China to be incinerated there, and this is an example of environmental racism. This transaction of waste generated by the exceeding consumer culture in America was being transferred to China to deal with the consequences of eliminating the waste for us. We do not think about these instances, because our problems are shipped away across the oceans for others, who are less fortunate, to deal with it. Only recently has China stopped buying our waste, and as a result, this has caused a global issue of waste disposal.
There are also many natural sources of air pollution, such as dust, forest fires, volcanoes, and more. I include agriculture in the natural sources even though it is a mixture of both anthropogenic and natural sources of air pollution. Cows, pigs, and other livestock release greenhouse gases, such as CO2, Methane, and Ammonia, through their bodily wastes. Heavy machinery, such as tractors and other farm equipment emit greenhouse gases from their exhausts. The use of pesticides and herbicides further releases toxic chemicals into the air.
Similarly, other natural sources of air pollution include natural disasters, such as volcanoes, forest fires, and tornadoes. When volcanoes erupt, they endanger the surrounding communities of living organisms with the hot-flowing magma. They also release toxins into the air, including volcanic smog and oxides that can cause acid rain. Forest fires also release pollutants into the air. When
You would not think that flooding impacts air quality, but this natural disaster also pollutes the air. Flooding unearths many creatures buried deep in the soil. Along with this, however, flooding causes molding of furniture, buildings, and homes. Many types of molds are harmful to humans, as they can cause respiratory issues such as asthma. These respiratory illnesses due to this natural disaster, as well as all the other anthropogenic sources of air pollution, have been amplified due to the recent pandemic. Coronavirus, a respiratory illness, has exacerbated the impacts of these conditions.
On the other end, severe droughts also can lead to an increase in air pollution. Droughts can lead to soil erosion, which can kick up dust into the surrounding air, increasing the PM amounts in the air. Droughts also dry up surrounding lakes and waterways on which dams are built to sustain the energy needs of local communities nearby. Without the functioning dams, people will likely burn more wood, coal, and charcoal for energy use, further adding to the air pollution. This air pollution can even impact the formation of clouds, and as a result, limit the precipitation coming from the clouds, leading to more droughts. This is a vicious cycle of drier and hotter weather leading to more of the same.
Apart from their cyclical nature, droughts can also lead to forest fires. When temperatures are hot and the land is very dry, this is the perfect environment for wildfires to thrive in. Trees catch on fire due to the surrounding conditions, and when these wooded areas are burning, it has an amplified effect of burning wood at home. This natural disaster releases toxic gases, and large amounts of PM, and the smoke can be very harmful for inhalation. Many areas like California, which suffer from wildfires almost every year, are evacuated during these disasters, as the smoky air is not safe to breathe in. This disaster is capable of uprooting entire communities, and the more it spreads, the more trees it takes with it. These trees, which absorbed much of the CO2 in the area are destroyed, further releasing larger amounts of the gas into the atmosphere.
Finally, there is a phenomenon known as ocean acidification, that further exacerbates the issue of global warming and air pollution. The ocean absorbs much of the CO2 in the air, and through a complex chemical reaction due to the mixing of this gas with the seawater, the ocean itself becomes more acidic and the levels of carbonate ions found in the ocean decrease. These carbonate ions are an important element for the survival of coral reefs and other structures in the marine ecosystem. This phenomenon also heats up the ocean, further leading to the melting of ice sheets that support arctic wildlife and provide fresh water to the surrounding communities. Instead, these sheets are melting into the ocean, mixing with the saltwater, as a result, becoming unavailable as a source of drinking water. Along with this issue, the changes in the atmosphere, temperature, and environment lead to phenomena such as coral bleaching, which is when coral reefs are naturally bleached white, and become more vulnerable to diseases and death. Many species in the marine ecosystem rely on corals for food and shelter, and even we as humans rely on corals for our medicine and as protection from erosion. As there are increasingly large amounts of CO2 present in the atmosphere.
Human Rights Approach to Air
Humans may not have control over natural disasters, but we do have control over our own actions and the impact they have on our surrounding communities and environment. There are some ways in which we can take a human rights approach to redesign our infrastructure and our society to reflect environmentally conscious lifestyles. Big industries, power plants, and sewage plants need a lot of energy to function, and this energy can be harnessed through renewable sources of energy instead of the current status quo of using fossil fuels. In recent years, solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, and wave energy are just some sources of renewable energy. A renewable source requires that it be both sustainable and self-sufficient, and while some of these sources of energy still have a bit of an environmental impact, it is not nearly as much as fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases do. Using solar energy, for example, requires solar panels that use lithium batteries which have to be mined for, but using solar energy eliminates greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use, reducing air pollutants in the atmosphere, and as a result, improving the air quality. These renewable sources of energy are already available to us; governments need to step in and implement these infrastructures across the board.
When it comes to air pollution from personal use and commercial use, there are a number of ways to eliminate, or at least limit the number of pollutants being released into the air. As with large industries, solar panels can also be installed for use in homes and commercial buildings. Solar energy is abundant, as there is no limitation to the sun’s energy, and as such, provides a free source of electricity and heating that people in impoverished areas could benefit from, financially, as well as the health benefits they can provide. Instead of using harmful chemicals to clean with, we can make use of natural materials, (such as white vinegar) to clean with. Beauty products and hair products can be made with natural materials like rose water instead of harmful chemicals that are not healthy for us to inhale, and unhealthy to be applied on our skin.
Another anthropogenic source of air pollution, transportation, can also be addressed with new technology. Hybrid cars have been on the market for decades now, which switch back and forth between fuel and electricity to run the vehicle. Newer models are available today that are fully electric vehicles, and as such, run solely on electricity rather than fossil fuels. This prevents the emission of toxic gasses into the atmosphere that is released from traditional car exhausts. The EPA reports that even accounting for the electricity required to charge the electric vehicles, and the manufacturing stages, EVs have lower emissions of greenhouse gases than gasoline and diesel vehicles. We as a society need to transition from these gasoline and diesel vehicles to using electric-powered vehicles for our transportation needs. Also, designing trains and buses that use electric power to run, and constructing the necessary infrastructure to be used broadly can also address the transportation shortages that many people in rural areas and the outskirts of urban areas face.
Finally, we can change some of our habits of waste disposal to be more conscious of our practices. We can be mindful of the waste that we are disposing of, by composting food wastes and recycling cardboard, metals, and plastics properly. We can demand more regulations on single-use plastics, and demand that companies find creative solutions for single-use utensils and tableware. For example, there have been historical practices in many parts of the world that have incorporated single-use tableware with an environmentally conscious framework by making use of leaves to create plates, bowls, and cups, and using coconut shells as scooping spoons. These products are organic, and as such, will be biodegradable, instead of plastics, which are very difficult to break down naturally. We also need to think of innovative ways to transform trash into usable energy without adding more pollutants into the atmosphere.
If we cut down our activities in these areas, it will reflect on the severity of our natural disasters, and as such, have an indirect impact on reducing the air pollution caused by these natural sources.
In the upcoming blogs, we will focus on how infrastructure, the economy, our healthcare system, and even our technologies are impacted by the environment, and as such, impact our human rights as a whole.
** Some information in this blog was obtained from reputable news sources who reported on evidence obtained from public records requests. Narratives constructed from this have been presented as such and are still under investigation, please take this into consideration.**
This blog is a follow-up on the ongoing protests against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, otherwise known as Cop City.
To learn about what Cop City is, its historical background, and efforts to end this mega-development project from destroying Atlanta’s last major urban forest, read my article here. In the meantime, the Atlanta City Council approved the funding for the Atlanta Public Safety Center, i.e. “Cop City” in early June 2023. What is described below are the developments since my last post.
Since March, the movement to stop Cop City and relationships with law enforcers have only become more contentious. Construction in the South River Forest has begun, while the efforts to stop it have only become more fervid.
Autopsy revelations and public record reports
Environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran (they/them), was lethally shot 13 times on January 18th, 2023. The altercation between state troopers and protesters began simply over the forced removal of activists from the site soon to be developed into the nation’s largest police training facility. Instead of peaceful dialogues or dispersions, the incident ended in the tragic killing of Manuel Teran.
Much speculation surrounds this event given the lack of body-cam footage as state troopers do not usually wear body cams. Given the presence of multiple other agencies, however, such as the DeKalb County police departments, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and possibly the FBI, the lack of footage is concerning in and of itself.
In whatever case, Teran’s family has released the conclusions of an independent autopsy they had done. Based on the location of bullet wounds, the report hypothesized that Tortuguita was more than likely in a cross-legged seated position, with their hands raised in the air. Tortuguita suffered from multiple gunshot wounds, but most tellingly, they had several exit wounds through their palms.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) released a statement on Friday, March 10th stating that the initial autopsy was conducted by the DeKalb Medical Examiners Office and that the GBI would not be communicating more at present due to concerns over the ongoing investigation. The state has still not released its own autopsy report over two months after Tortuguita’s death.
In spite of this, incident reports have become available (alongside the independent autopsy) and state that, in contradiction to widespread claims that police acted in “self-defense,” just the opposite is true.
These new records were obtained by The Guardian through a public records request with the Georgia Department of Public Safety 一 previously unreleased in the wake of international outrage calling for answers and accountability. The written narratives are not to be totally trusted, memory is a fragile thing often more subject to our imagination than we would like to believe. With this in mind though, a tentative sequence of events can be gleaned from the multiple officers’ reports on the day of Teran’s killing.
The following is the sequence of events gleaned from reports accessed by The Guardian.
Before the police raid, officers and SWAT teams were briefed on the ‘domestic terrorists’ trespassing in the forest beforehand, with claims that demonstrators might possess rifles, pistols, explosive devices, or Molotov cocktails. It was stated that the Defend the Atlanta Forest group had national contacts and widespread solidarity. Additionally, officers were warned about the possibility of booby traps and tripwires. Lastly, officers were warned some protesters may throw fecal matter or urine, and since, quote, “it was known that some trespassers carried STDs” this may lead to infection for the city personnel. (It should be noted this is not how STD transmission works.)
Three search teams of officers were deployed into the forest. The second team, consisting of SWAT, were the ones who encountered the large encampment where Teran resided. They approached their tent from behind and noted movement inside, the tent flap was closed. This is where some accounts start to contradict slightly in their order of events, however, the main components remain the same.
Officers ordered Manual Teran to exit their tent or they would be arrested for trespassing, to which they responded, “No, I want you to leave.”
At this point, Teran either opened the flap slightly, surveyed, and then re-closed the entrance, or asked what they were being arrested for without opening their tent flap beforehand. In either case, Teran opened and closed their tent flap at one point to which one officer wrote that this was “resisting orders.”
Then there was an order to fire a pepper ball gun into the tent and chaos ensued.
After hearing cracking sounds inside, officers began firing into the tent.
One officer called out they had been hit and medics rushed to provide immediate medical attention. The same was not given to Teran.
After opening their tent with a ballistic shield and a diversionary device was deployed, officers found Teran with multiple gunshot wounds, “unquestionably deceased.”
Coinciding these written accounts with body cam footage of officers in other parts of the forest, at 9:01 am four shots were heard followed by a flurry that lasted approximately 11 seconds. At 9:02 am officers heard on the radio that one was injured.
Body cam footage caught the discussions of police a few minutes after the incident and caught one asking, “Did they shoot their own man?”
Tortuguita is the first environmental activist to be killed by the police in America.
Protests of destruction over Cop City construction
As construction began on the proposed Cop City site in the Weelaunee Forest, attempts to remove protesters have a renewed fervor. Two ‘clearing out’ raids to remove protesters from the forest have been conducted by police since construction began, the first of which resulted in the death of an activist.
Nearly two months later, Cop City has come under the scrutiny of international attention, and feelings surrounding the issue have only intensified. In the first week of March, protesters planned to hold a “week of action” wherein a coalition of people from various social justice networks would come together over the growing concerns to stop Cop City.
These included Atlanta-area residents, organizations such as the Community Movement Builders and Black Voters Matter, and a local rabbi. The week was to include a music festival, a Shabbat, and a “know your rights” workshop.
However, during the music festival, certain protesters entered the construction site and set fire to construction equipment. The events escalated further to include throwing bricks at officers. In the end, 35 people were detained.
This too has become massively contentious as 23 of the 35 detained were at the Weelaunee Forest Festival 一 located over a mile away. On March 5th, an hour after the events at the construction site, police arrived at the festival and began arresting people, especially those with out-of-state IDs. These individuals have been charged with domestic terrorism (a sentence that can carry up to 35 years) for ‘vandalism’ and ‘arson’ of the site over a mile from the concerts.
On March 23rd, a judge denied bond to 8 out of 10 defendants. Only two were granted bond at $25,000 and with numerous other conditions. One was a law student who had been at a food truck in the area when arrested. They were almost forced to withdraw from school before finally being granted a bond and being ordered to wear an ankle monitor. Another person was denied bond because they live in New York as the sole caretaker of her aging uncle with dementia. She was denied bond because the judge deemed her a “flight risk.”
These arrests of people attending the music festival have been called indiscriminate because of a lack of evidence from the police and little to no case from the prosecution. Micah Herskind commented:
“During these bond hearings, it was clear that the prosecution has not yet put together any case. They are using these fallbacks. You know, one of the examples that they gave was that people were wearing black and that that was evident of playing on the team, of being on the side of the protest. And so, you know, the charges are all really shaky. There’s really no legitimate evidence that’s been put forward.”
Intake paperwork of arrested individuals also noted mud on people’s clothes as probable cause for being at the construction site despite the music festival being hosted in the South River/Weelaunee Forest.
Tensions have only been rising, and with it, the threat of violence, in whatever form be it legal or physical, has become apparent on both sides of this contentious issue.
The creation of labels and narratives impacts on social justice movements
Since protesters are being labeled as domestic terrorists, we need to understand the implications of this language, or better yet, where it originated from.
In an email from April 2022, the Atlanta police and fire department described the movement to save the Weelaunee Forest as a group of “eco-terrorists” in correspondence with the FBI over unspecified investigations.
This would not be the first instance of the FBI insinuating violent behaviors in those with environmental concerns.
The Stop Cop City movement gained international attention after the killing of Tortuguita Teran, however, support had already crossed state borders in the U.S. as demonstrators spread their message on social media.
On July 18th, 2022, a Twitter account named “Chicago Against Cop City” began posting information on the campaign to resist the construction over 700 miles away. Additionally, a post on the same day promoted a speaking event at a local bookstore on Chicago’s West side. This was one of several events that activists held over the year, and across the country, to educate people on the plan to construct Cop City and raise awareness surrounding the issue.
According to research conducted by Grist, it took less than two weeks for the FBI to flag the account and begin tracking posts on the account, including other Chicago activist groups, and events. Grist also obtained FBI records through a Freedom of Information Act request which they have made publicly available. This first document focuses on the “potential criminal activity” of groups resisting the development of the Obama Presidential Library, Tiger Woods golf course, and Chicago Police Training Center that would destroy over 2,000 trees (page one).
It goes on to claim that Chicago Against Cop City is a “spin-off” of the Defend the Atlanta Forest group (page 3), however, according to a spokesperson for Rising Tide Chicago they do not know who created the Chicago Against Cop City Twitter account and claim that it “doesn’t appear to be a formal group.”
Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works as a fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice in the Liberty and National Security Program, reviewed the documents and stated that the FBI had made several misleading statements meant to create a narrative. While it is true that some violent and destructive events in Atlanta have occurred, no evidence was given in this dossier to support any direct connection with either organization in Atlanta or Chicago. Moreover, the Chicago Police Training Center did not require the clearing of forested land, and most controversy in the last couple of years on the issue focus on the cost of construction being $170 million.
In the second document, on page 15 the Defend the Atlanta Forest group (DTAF) is called “a very violent group” and noted that Chicago has several projects of a similar nature (threatening environmental spaces against public wishes). This report then claimed that “DTAF members came to Chicago to provide training to like-minded individuals.”
While these documents have an emphasis on Chicago, the first document I mentioned also includes photos of similar accounts in Minnesota (page 12).
According to Adam Federman, one unnamed activist who had traveled to Chicago in July 2022 had only given “informational slideshow presentations” that had no training and merely focused on raising awareness about the issue.
None of the “evidence” collected by the FBI has shown any encouragement of violent tactics.
In the end, the dossier that was created by the FBI on August 16th, 2022 is important for several reasons. One, the FBI is clearly monitoring actions that are protected by the U.S. Constitution and as human rights, which include freedom of speech and assembly. These rights are clearly laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Preambles 18, 19, and 20.
Moreover, the usage of the labels “Anarchist Violent Extremists (AVE) and Environmental Violent Extremists (EVE)” set the tone for how these groups and their concerns are approached by law enforcement (page 4). This has been made clear in the case of Tortuguita Teran when teams that entered the forest that morning were informed about the alleged “violent nature” of the DTAF activists.
Changing dynamics of protests: Resisting assaults on social justice attempts
It is clear that the issue over the destruction of the South River forest is one that extends beyond Atlanta. Groups in Chicago have contested the destruction of Jackson Park on the South side and other green spaces. Also, concerns over police militarization are not just in Atlanta but extend hundreds of miles away in the United States. This very reason has prompted resonation with abolitionists and environmental activists alike.
More and more police training facilities are being built across the country and some are estimated to cost around $120 million to $150 million in construction. Two have been proposed in both Pittsburgh and Chicago despite public outcry.
However, in the face of this coalition building across specific issues and geography, new and more frightening narratives are being written to undermine the efforts of these groups. This is not to say that violence and destruction are answers but to emphatically denounce strategies that seek to end civil rights and social justice movements with arbitrary arrests, exaggerated charges, and monitoring of activist groups.
The use of social media is a revolutionary tool for activists since it has the power to succinctly and quickly reach a broad audience 一 a crucial step in sustaining a thriving movement. This, alongside workshop events on rights and training on peaceful civil disobedience (this latter one not being mentioned as occurring in the Chicago or Atlanta groups), are tactics that are protected and signal a thriving political culture. This shows that a nation has strong democratic values as people seek to not only engage with their local and national governments but also do so with the equality of all people.
Instead of monitoring with suspicion and animosity, we should celebrate the diversity of people who have come together to raise their voices in support of their goals. There is hope here. What may look like tensions, anger, divisions, and even hate, also shows us the passion of so many people of different backgrounds and social causes being engaged. It shows us that there are those who will not accept a lack of representation, lack of community, or lack of safe environment. It shows us that, if only the channels of communication would open, there are people screaming, chanting, and singing for the opportunity to work for a future for us all. There are people who are fighting in the forest for more than just the space, but for a future.
After a public meeting that stretched 14h and in which many people spoke out against the project, Atlanta City Council approved “Cop City” in a vote of 11-4 on June 6, 2023. The Council agreed to provide $31m in public funds for the center’s construction and approved a provision that requires the city to pay $1.2m a year over 30 years ($36m total) for using the facility. The rest of the $90m project is to be funded by private donations to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the non-profit responsible for planning and building the center. Atlanta organizers unveiled a plan to stop “Cop City” at the ballot box.
If you want to learn more about activism or the organizations mentioned in this article, check out the links below. Also, if this is an issue you feel connected to, please contact your local, state, or federal representative to express your concerns directly. Urge your representatives to reach out and begin talks with any activist groups because we all have a part and voice to play in securing our rights and ensuring the best, most equitable community.
The Implications of Selective Activism on Human Rights by Danah Dib
The City in the Forest Soon to be Cop City by Alex Yates
Remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we Celebrate Human Rights Day by Chadra Pittman
Parallels of Democratic Turmoil: Looking at Riots in the U.S. and Brazil by Alex Yates
Juneteenth has been historically celebrated by many Americans since the late 1860s, yet it is only recently that it has become mainstream. Today we focus on why that is, what Juneteenth celebrates, and how we can do a better job incorporating this holiday into our lives. Although it has been around for so long, Juneteenth was only recognized as a federal holiday on June 19th, 2021, following the summer protests of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the brutality experienced by George Floyd at the hands of the law enforcement system. June 19th, or Juneteenth as it is known widely by those who have celebrated it since its founding, is the day we commemorate the abolition of slavery in America, freeing enslaved African Americans through the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.
History of Juneteenth, The Emancipation Proclamation, and The Thirteenth Amendment
The Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars that Americans have ever fought, and it lasted four long years. The war was between the Union, which was made up of much of the northern states above the Mason-Dixon Line, and anyone below that line seceded from the main country and swore loyalty to the Confederacy. The Mason-Dixon line, which was passed in 1861, was designed to be a compromise that allowed Southern states to continue to use slave labor in the South in their fields and farms, while the Northern states were moving to abolish slavery within their boundaries. While the North depended on their seaports and industries, the South primarily produced the cash crops like cotton, rice, and indigo, that were being shipped across the oceans and transported by railroads across the lands. There were a few border states in the middle that did not want to give up slavery in their states. Lincoln, recognizing that he needed those states in the Union to have a chance to win the Civil War, permitted them to continue to use slavery while being a part of the Union.
In an attempt to change the course of the Civil War and keep the nation from breaking into two parts, President Abraham Lincoln wanted to weaken the Confederate forces so the Union forces could be victorious. This, he assumed, could be done by targeting the Confederacy’s economy and economic infrastructure, which at that time, was primarily dependent on slave labor. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 as an executive order, freeing all the enslaved individuals in all Confederate states that did not yield to the Union troops. With the passage of this document, the South could no longer rely on unpaid labor, leaving them in financial turmoil and giving them no other option but to surrender to the Union troops. The document is largely believed to have abolished slavery entirely in America, but the reality is that this was a political move during a war by the President to ensure that the Southern economy would be devastated. This proclamation did not include the border states which were already part of the Union but were employing slavery in their states. This meant that the enslaved individuals in those border states continued to be enslaved. This proclamation also excluded those who lived in the southern states which had already surrendered to the Union, meaning that those who did not rebel against the Union were allowed to continue to use slavery as their economic system. What the Proclamation did, however, was transform the morality and cause for fighting the Civil War. The Civil War began over the question of whether slavery should exist or not, with the Vice President of the Confederacy delivering a speech declaring the sole purpose of secession to be the disagreement on slavery between the Union and the Confederacy. However, to President Lincoln, being victorious meant keeping the nation intact, and the abolition of slavery was an aftermath. Once the Proclamation was passed, many Americans were convinced that the war was being fought for the abolition of slavery in its entirety in the United States. The Proclamation even gave way for newly freed African Americans to join the Union army and help liberate their brothers and sisters in the Confederate states.
While the Union’s victory was generally a good thing for the progress of America toward equality among all people as it was first outlined in the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation was not the document to achieve this goal. Although it changed the trajectory of the Civil War, transforming the initial cause to keep the nation united, into a moral cause of abolishing slavery, it was not until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed that slavery was truly abolished in all the states of the nation. This Amendment, which had followed the proper channels of the Legislative branch, was passed right after the Civil War ended, and right before the rebellious states were admitted back into the Union. On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was officially ratified into the Constitution of the United States. Along with the Thirteenth Amendment, the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to all formerly enslaved individuals, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage rights to African American men, altogether addressed the Civil War’s conflicts, providing a final Constitutional solution to the issue of slavery in America.
So, where does the term “Juneteenth” come from? Although the Emancipation Proclamation had passed in 1863 and the Thirteenth Amendment had passed in 1864, it was not until two months after the Civil War had ended, that many of the enslaved individuals in most Southern states had been made aware of their free status. On June 19th, 1865, two thousand Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the freedom of all who were enslaved there, and the newly freed African Americans coined the term “Juneteenth” to commemorate the day they received independence and could be truly free.
The Continued Struggle for Freedom and Equality
The end of the Civil War, the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, were supposed to be the official end to slavery in America, but many scholars have pointed out that slavery only transformed into a modified system. These scholars highlight issues with the wording of the Thirteenth Amendment, which states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The amendment abolished slavery in all instances, except as a punishment for crimes, and the Reconstruction Era, which followed the end of the Civil War, took advantage of the loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment. In the 1890s, legalized segregation became the new normal. The South had faced a lot of loss, both to its infrastructure as a result of the war, as well as its economy (primarily held up by slavery), due to the freeing of their enslaved laborers. Additionally, many white southerners also were not ready to accept the newly freed African Americans, who they did not view as equals.
The infamous Jim Crow laws were proposed as a solution to all of the White Southerners’ problems with the outcome of the war. These laws were made to criminalize as many newly freed individuals as possible, to re-enslave them in the prison systems, and force them to help rebuild the nation, as they had once done under slavery following the Revolutionary War. The Jim Crow laws criminalized such things as being unemployed, not bowing to white people while walking on the streets, drinking from a “Whites Only” water fountain, and many other harmless, everyday actions that displeased any white residents of the area. Many times, lies were told about African Americans simply to land them in prisons and put them to work. These laws were designed to be a criminalization of blackness.
This was also the time when Convict Leasing systems began, where imprisoned individuals would be leased to businesses and the state to work as laborers for whatever positions they needed to be filled. This could be working on farmlands, working with heavy machinery, or even in coal mines. Our own Sloss Furnaces, the famous Steel and Iron plant that transformed Birmingham from a small town into the large city it is today, made use of Convict Leasing as well. To read more about the history of the prison systems in America and in Birmingham, as well as details about the convict leasing programs, click here.
The exception in the Thirteenth Amendment has today led America to have the highest rate of mass incarceration in the world and has given way to the Prison Industrial Complex. America houses only about 5% of the world’s population, yet the mass incarceration rate is so large that 20% of the world’s prison population is made up of Americans alone. This is not only unjust, costly, and inefficient, it also shares its roots in the racist history of America’s founding. Many of those who end up in prison are disproportionately people of color, which speaks to the systemic racism present within our institutions. What’s worse, many of the people held in local jails have not even been charged with any crimes. They are awaiting their trial, too poor to post the high bail amounts. Still, others have lived out sentences for crimes they have never committed. This atrocious list goes on and on with injustices, yet a simple solution is to cut down on our incarceration rates. One reason why this is more than an issue of criminality can be determined by looking at the Angola Prison in Louisiana, a plantation farm that operates as a state penitentiary, with their prisoners in chains (like enslaved individuals of the past), officers on horseback (like overseers on the plantations), and the farmland that they are expected to till, harvest and package food for the rest of the community. Until white supremacy and racist ideology continue to exist in America, so too will these unjust forms of oppression, clouded by the legal cover provided to them by the justice system.
These facts are bleak but necessary for everyone to understand, so as to be conscious of the continued struggle for true equality in this country for African Americans, and others who have dealt with oppression throughout the history of this nation. Many people think that slavery died following the Civil War, or that it was “more than 200 years ago, so what can we do about it?” Yet, the reality remains that slavery never died, but only transformed into a modern, industrialized version of the same system, which now incorporates a wider umbrella of people to oppress. Juneteenth is not only a celebration of the resistance, courage, and triumphs over oppression by people of our past, but also a day to come together and address the new forms of oppression we face in society today. It is a continuation of the legacy of freedom, equality, and justice started by those before us.
Importance of Juneteenth
Juneteenth was officially recognized as a holiday in Texas, which was the first state to do so in 1979. It has recently been recognized as a federal holiday since 2021 after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the shared history of African Americans, but also the progress towards peace, freedom, equality, and justice. Fredrick Douglass, a famous orator, author, and abolitionist, in 1852, had famously asked his audience in a speech he delivered on July 4th, what Independence Day meant for those who were enslaved in America. Juneteenth is the true Independence Day for many people who recognize the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers, who fought the Revolutionary War for “freedom” while enslaving African Americans and stealing lands from the Native Americans. Juneteenth is a time for the rejuvenation of culture among a group of people whose cultures were stolen from them, and all that they were left behind with are their shared ancestry and shared histories. This day is a day to instill a sense of community despite those hardships and losses. Juneteenth is also a time to reflect on the past, rejoice in the resilience and solidarity of those who fought for this freedom, and discuss current events and how to best approach them moving forward. Juneteenth is a day to learn from the past, live gratefully in the present, and prepare for the future.
How Is It Celebrated and Who Can Celebrate It?
There are many ways to celebrate Juneteenth. Many cities hold parades and festivals, with local black-owned businesses and food trucks as vendors for the event. These events might include prominent guest speakers and workshops on various topics each year, based on the community’s needs and wants. Others celebrate the holiday by holding potlucks, family gatherings, and backyard barbecues for a more intimate celebration with family and friends. If you want to celebrate Juneteenth but are not comfortable engaging in community activities, there are many things you can do in the comforts of your home, or with friends and family members as well to honor this day. For one, you could learn about the history of Juneteenth. If you are reading this article, then good job, you are already celebrating it!
You can educate yourself about the history of slavery, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and any other topic that you might not be too sure about as it pertains to Juneteenth and why it is important to celebrate it. You can do this by going to a museum near you, like the Legacy Museum in Huntsville, which is a great historical walkthrough from the times of slavery to mass incarceration today, or the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which focuses on a detailed history of the Civil Rights movement that took place in the heart of Birmingham. You can watch a documentary about these topics, including “The 13th” on Netflix, which takes a deep dive into the loophole of the Thirteenth Amendment that gave rise to the mass incarceration crisis we face today. You can listen to a podcast, like “Deliberate Indifference“, a podcast by Mary Scott Hodgins that focuses on the local Birmingham history of policing and provides details about convict leasing practices in Alabama. You could read literature written by Black authors, whether they be informational, like “Medical Apartheid” by Harriet A. Washington, or fictional like the short story, “Recitatif” by Tony Morrison. You could support Black-owned businesses, locally or online, such as buying your books from a Black-owned bookstore or going out to eat at a Black-owned restaurant. You could educate others about the importance of Juneteenth, including your friends, family members, and even co-workers. As an ally, you can maybe pick up a shift for your Black friend who may want to celebrate Juneteenth with their family, or if you are someone in a supervisory position, you could give a Black co-worker the day off to celebrate Juneteenth. Encourage and empower your Black friends, family members, or co-workers, to feel comfortable to share their opinions and voice their concerns. You could even volunteer at any local Juneteenth event to help make the events successful!
Local Juneteenth Celebrations to Attend
There are many local events that you can attend to celebrate Juneteenth in Birmingham, Alabama. Here are a few that might be of interest:
Juneteenth: The Cookout, hosted by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on June 17, from 10 am-4 pm. There will be food trucks, live entertainment, a children’s village, tournaments, food competitions, genealogy workshops, and even a free tour of the museum!
Juneteenth Social is hosted by the UAB Black Alumni network at the Southern Kitchen Roof Top Bar on June 17th from 7 pm to 11 pm. Tickets are $25 each, and the proceeds go to the Kappa Delta Omega Psi Phi memorial scholarship for incoming African American Male students.
Second Annual Juneteenth Freedom Celebration, hosted by The Lifting As We Climb Foundation on June 18th, from 2 pm-9 pm at the Arlington Historic House in Birmingham. There will be food, fun, education, entertainment, and fireworks, and the tickets start at $20 for early bird tickets and $25 for general admissions. Bring small tents and lawn chairs, and be ready to eat from the food trucks on site.
Juneteenth in the Magic City 2023, hosted by Simone’s Kitchen ATL, on June 18, from 4 pm-10 pm at the Club M Compound. There will be food trucks, vendors, live bands, fireworks, African dances, and various other entertainment. Tickets start at $15 for Early Bird tickets and $20 for general admissions.
Juneteenth Pop Up Art Exhibit, hosted by Studio 2500 on June 16, at 6 pm for all the artistic, creative folks. Admissions start at $10 per person, children under 13 are free, and tickets can be purchased online at their website. They will have food, music, and an open mic, so bring lawn chairs and your own beverages, and take in the creations of our fellow Birmingham local artists and performers.
Juneteenth Open Mic is a virtual event being held on June 19th to highlight musicians, poets, hip-hop artists, and other Black artists who would like to participate. If you are a local artist and you would like to increase your followers, this is the event for you. If you just want to show up virtually to support local artists, you can do that to buy going to their website and purchasing tickets to vote. Tickets start at $10, whether you are performing, a part of the audience, or even a vendor. Again, this is a virtual event, so all you need is your laptop and internet!
However you choose to spend the day, make sure to be conscious of what Juneteenth represents to you and to those around you, and together we can actively, and intentionally work to make our world a better place for future generations!
Human rights are dependent on the environment, and we can address many environmental rights issues to bring about a better world for all those who live on this green and blue planet that we call home. In this sense, environmental rights ARE human rights, and taking a human rights approach to addressing these environmental rights can close the gaps of inequality between the Global North and the Global South countries. I am dedicating a series to deep dive into this human rights approach to environmental rights. We began this series by focusing on how issues around food can be addressed with a human rights approach. This blog will focus on water, another essential need for all living things, and how issues surrounding access to clean water can be addressed with a human rights approach.
Uses of Water
Similar to food, water is also another resource necessary for all living creatures, including humans. Organisms need water to survive and function, even in the driest places on Earth. Humans need water for survival, not just to quench our thirst, but also to cook our food, and clean ourselves and our spaces. To maintain this modern civilization we live in, humans also require water for various industrial purposes, including watering the crops we consume, providing water for the livestock that we make use of, hygienic purposes, and even washing the clothes we wear. In fact, water is required for industrial use as well, including in the clothing and textile industries, mining industries, the process of oil drilling, and many more. Not having access to clean water can cause illnesses, rashes, and even death, both to humans and the organisms that live in areas with unclean water.
Although this planet is made up largely of water, it is a natural resource that is limited. Its limitations come from the fact that 97% of the water found on Earth is contained in the oceans, which are made up of salt water. Saltwater is unsafe for consumption because our kidneys are not capable of filtering all the salt out of the water, and as a result, drinking it can have the opposite effect you want to achieve, including dehydration and eventual death. Only 3% of the water found on Earth is freshwater and safe for consumption. This 3%, therefore, is what is used for all of our personal, industrial, and agricultural needs, and this same 3% also has to be shared with the many creatures we live alongside on this planet. Even still, much of that 3% of fresh water is also frozen in the form of ice caps and glaciers or contained in the atmosphere and soils. So, in reality, we only have about 0.5% of the Earth’s water source for all of our needs and those of our fellow Earth dwellers.
Consequences of Using Unclean Water
The current way we treat our water supplies and our environment can have drastic impacts on our lives, the lives of other organisms, as well as the future of this planet. We have seen what happened in Flint Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi, and the struggles the individuals in those places are going through just to be able to have clean drinking water. For those who are not familiar with these incidents, from 2014 to around 2016, residents in Flint, Michigan were consuming water that was polluted with lead. This occurred due to the negligence and carelessness of the local government, which failed to treat and test the river water. The Flint River, which was the major source of drinking water, was polluted due to the high industrial usage along its coasts and was also polluted by agricultural usage, sewage from the waste plants, and even pollutants from the nearby landfills. This incident caused health issues among the residents, and incredible levels of lead were found in consumers, including the city’s children. Something similar occurred in Jackson, Mississippi, and this issue is ongoing even today. The issues of busted pipes during cold-winter days, and the leakage of sewage among other things, were listed as the cause of the Jackson water crisis. In both these cities, many of the residents are people of color, and this has larger racial implications for the issues of access to clean and fresh water (which will be covered in later parts of this series).
Average Water Consumption
All this does not even include the wasteful nature of water consumption that we in the Western nations have normalized. To put things into perspective, for each minute we spend showering, we are using 2.5 gallons of water. So, for a 10-minute shower, that is 25 gallons of water that are used. Each time we flush the toilet, we use 1.6 gallons of water, with older toilets taking as much as 3.5 gallons a flush (or even 5-7 gallons a flush for toilets made before 1985). When washing clothes in the washer, Americans use over 40 gallons of water per load. Washing dishes by hand uses another 20 gallons of water per load while washing dishes in an efficient dishwasher uses around 4 gallons. This does not include the water that is used to water the lawn, household plants, or other uses like cooking food and cleaning the house.
Negligent Water Practices – Sewage Systems, Bottled Water, and Environmental Water Disasters
Our waterways are not only impacted by chemical leaks and our water consumption but also by the way we process our human wastes and that of our livestock. Agricultural runoffs happen when sediments containing chemicals, bacteria, and manure runoff into the nearby waterways from heavy rains and flooding, causing an increase of nitrogen and phosphorous in the waters. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the waters can be very harmful to marine life because these elements cause an increase in algae growth, a process known as eutrophication. This may not seem so bad, but too many algae in the water can block the sunlight and oxygen from reaching the organisms on the bottom layer of the water. This in turn leads to hypoxia, a condition where the oxygen levels in the water decrease and can cause the death of many marine organisms. Similar to agricultural runoffs, human sewage also has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, and any leaks from sewage treatment facilities and other industrial factories that use similar chemicals can further threaten marine biology. For more information about water insecurity in America and how the sewage system exacerbates this issue, click here.
Another wasteful practice we engage in as humans are our production and consumption of bottled water. For one, the process used to make single-use plastic water bottles releases over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year. Additionally, the process uses 17 million barrels of oil to meet the consumer demands for these plastic bottles. After consumption, the water bottles are rarely recycled, resulting in the addition of 38 billion water bottles to landfills. 10% of all discarded plastics end up in the ocean, a threat to aquatic life. Furthermore, consuming water from plastic bottles comes with its own health consequences, including the bioaccumulation of microplastics in our systems. Many companies also use a type of plastic (#7) that contains bisphenol A (BPA), which has many health concerns associated with them, including diabetes, heart conditions, developmental issues, and fertility issues, and can even lead to cancer. This type of plastic is actually banned in many nations around the world but is still allowed in the US.
In addition to all these issues, the water bottle industry is also a perpetrator of human rights violations, with Aquafina, Dasani, and Nestle, being the largest water bottling companies in the world. Bottling companies transform a free, naturally available resource, into a profit-making commodity. In the process, they are actually harming the water sources in the locations in which their manufacturing and bottling occur, forcing the people that live in those areas to consume bottled water, not as a choice, but as the only source of clean water available to them. For those who cannot afford water bottles, water insecurity becomes a daily reality from which they cannot escape. The insidious part of this issue is the fact that many of these bottling factories exist outside of Western nations, in countries such as India, Fiji, and other underdeveloped nations in which the residents cannot (or do not have the resources) to fight back against these corporations, an approach that can only be characterized as environmental racism. For those factories that do exist within Western nations, they are predominantly located near neighborhoods of color. The CEO of Nestlé faced backlash in 2013 for announcing that water is not a human right, but a product to be privatized and sold. This privatization of water denies these local communities the right to use the resource for their own residential, industrial, and infrastructural use, and further exacerbates their conditions of poverty and water insecurity.
Anthropogenic (caused by humans) activities have caused many of our ecosystem services to be polluted, including our water sources. We as humans have allowed many chemicals to leak into the waterways, sewage, and other waste products to run off into the streams and have done a poor job taking care of our groundwater, aqueducts, and aquafers. There has been recent news of chemicals from the train derailment in Ohio entering the waterways and causing local residents to become sick. Last year, there was a story about the US military leaking jet fuel, contaminating the waterways in Hawaii. Much of the nuclear waste we produce gets stored in containers underground, and these containers cannot hold radioactive waste for too long. At times the contents seep out, polluting the groundwater. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers that serves much of Central America, has been threatened by the installment of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is an oil pipeline, that if it bursts, can pollute the entire aquifer, contaminating the water used by people across eight states. These are just some of many incidents in that we as humanity have failed to protect our naturally occurring ecosystem services, which, if we had to recreate, would cost us trillions and trillions of dollars.
Water is a Human Right
Along with food, water is also listed as a human right in Article 25 of the UDHR. Although water is considered a renewable resource, it is a limited one. The reason water is considered a renewable resource is because of the water cycle, which is the various steps of a cycle the water goes through, (evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and runoff) that recycle the water that we use. Evaporation happens from the major bodies of water, when the heat transforms the liquid water into a gaseous form. Transpiration happens in forests and plants, when water moves through the plant into the atmosphere, to move nutrients and cool the parts of the plants that are exposed to the sun. Condensation occurs when the water evaporated into the air ends up filling up the clouds, changing the water vapors into a liquid form again. Precipitation is what comes next when the collected vapors fall back onto the ground, such as rain, snow, or ice. This precipitation is dispersed in many ways, from the waterways to the land. Finally, runoff refers to the water flow on the surface level, below the surface level, or even into the depths of the Earth. Simply put, runoff is water that has not been soaked into the soil. Yet, while on paper, water seems to be a renewable resource, in practice, water is polluted in many ways. Due to the current human lifestyles, clean water has become a limited resource, and our continued negligence on this subject will only exacerbate this issue.
The Threat of Water Wars and Water as a Human Right
Climate change is impacting everyone around the world, but disproportionately. The Global North benefits from an abundance of resources while the Global South, in many ways due to the history of imperialism, suffers the consequences of the Global North’s actions. Many people in the Global South face water insecurity on a daily basis, and this will only get worse as the Earth continues to warm up. By 2030, many countries in the warmest parts of the world will be uninhabitable. Apart from this, due to the rising temperatures, many of the bodies of water on Earth are drying up, further exacerbating the water issues already present. There are already feuds between China and India over the Brahmaputra River, one of the largest rivers in Asia.
One way to personally address this issue is to be mindful of our water usage. Yet, this alone will not be enough to address this problem on such a large scale. Countries around the world have to come together and find creative solutions to ensure that clean water is made accessible to everyone equally. This can be done through strategies that incorporate green infrastructure. In doing so, the strategies used to address these issues need to be inclusive of everyone, including being respectful of Native Americans and their many uses of water. Additionally, access to clean water does not just mean the ability to have clean water but it should also be affordable, regardless of where you live. In fact, water is one of those essential needs for every human being, and as a result, should be free, or nearly free to everyone. Finally, everyone should be educated on the various uses of water, and the need to maintain its cleanliness.
There is a common misconception among people that environmental rights are necessary, but they have nothing to do with human rights. Some consider environmental rights as something that is another genre of human rights, not recognizing that without the environment, we as humans seize to exist. Human rights are dependent on the environment, and we can address many environmental rights issues to bring about a better world for all those who live on this green and blue planet that we call home. In this sense, environmental rights ARE human rights, and taking a human rights approach to addressing these environmental rights can close the gaps of inequality between the Global North and the Global South countries. I am dedicating a series to deep dive into this human rights approach to environmental rights, starting with how food, water, and air, the essential needs for all living things, can be transformed with a human rights approach to address some of the most egregious practices in these fields.
Food insecurity, food shortages, and healthy food consumption in general
The issue of food insecurity is widespread in many nations worldwide, and it has only increased due to the supply-chain issues that were experienced during the pandemic. While many of the nations that face food insecurity are from the Global South, it is just as prevalent in America, one of the richest nations in the world. For more on food insecurity in America, check out this blog.
One way to address this issue with a human rights approach would be to encourage the cultivation of community gardens locally to avoid supply chain issues. This would alleviate the issue of transporting the necessary products to and from places (reducing the carbon emissions in the process), provide jobs to local community members, and even cut down costs for the produce. Furthermore, members in charge of taking care of the community gardens would be trained on how to avoid the use of harmful pesticides that are known to cause health issues in humans. These chemicals are not only harmful to humans, but they are also causing bees and other pollinators to go extinct. These pollinators are largely responsible for producing crops around the world, and without them, we would have to engineer mechanical pollinators or manually perform the pollination process, both of which would cost a lot of time, energy, and money.
Alternate forms of Agriculture – Hydroponics
For those communities that do not have rich soil, they can use the technology of greenhouses and other indoor cultivation technology to meet their needs. In fact, there are three types of indoor farming that are currently common in the agricultural industry – aquaponics, aeroponics, and hydroponics. Hydroponics eliminates the need for rich soils by making use of water and a mixture of liquid nutrients to supplement the plants’ needs as they grow. This technique can be used for everyday households and industrial-level agriculture, and it has quite a lot of benefits for the environment as well. For one, it uses less water than traditional agricultural practices, and it does not require soil, so it is not impacted by conditions of soil erosion. It also yields greater produce and eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides which in turn make the crops safer for consumption and reduces the risk of health issues as a result. Also, plants can grow almost twice as fast as the ones that are grown in soil.
Alternate forms of Agriculture – Aeroponics
Another indoor cultivation system is Aeroponics. Aeroponics uses water and a mixture of liquid nutrients like hydroponics, but in this technique, the roots are suspended in the air and are misted on a timer to keep them from drying out. This requires a lot of technical precision and uses a lot of energy. While it is a technique that utilizes a lot of energy, according to NASA, it also reduces the use of water (similar to hydroponics) by 98%, and pesticide use by 100%, and still maximizes the yields these crops produce. Additionally, plants grown using this technique have added health benefits, as they absorb more minerals and vitamins. Some setbacks to this method are the fact that this technique needs experts who can monitor the plants and the pH levels of the air. This method is also vulnerable to electrical shortages and requires a lot of advanced technologies to perform successfully, and yield crops. As a result, it is very expensive to initially set it up.
Alternate forms of Agriculture – Aquaponics
Finally, Aquaponics is another indoor cultivation technique that has become popular today. Similar to hydroponics, aquaponics also has a reservoir where the plants are stored, yet in aquaponics, the reservoir also contains fish. Instead of using a mixture of liquid nutrients, the fishes provide those nutrients naturally to the plants. This may sound a bit strange, but the ammonia that is released by the fishes (particularly their feces) gets converted into nitrates which provide nutrition for the plants. One thing to be careful of when using this method is to constantly check on the ammonia levels, because really high levels of ammonia will actually end up killing the fish. Other than that, the whole process takes about 6 months for the plants and fishes to form their own ecosystem that can operate without much maintenance or monitoring. There are also many benefits to using this system, including the fact that you are able to cultivate plants and fish, two food sources instead of one. Due to the fact that the water is recycled through natural processes, this method does not waste any water, and there is no need for chemicals to upkeep the plants either. The fishes provide all the nutrients that the plants need, so there is no need to top off any liquid nutrients like in the other two methods, saving a lot of money in the long run. This method is great for the environment, and because it has its own ecosystem, it is also sustainable on its own. Of course, with this method, in the winter, the reservoir needs to be kept warm, so that the water and all the fish and plants do not die off from the cold. It also requires the monitoring of pH levels like the aeroponics method does, and since this method uses fish, it requires that you know how to take care of the fish for the greatest success.
These are just some ways to address the need for better food-producing systems, as well as the elimination of harmful chemicals within our produce. As an added bonus, these systems use less water than traditional farming techniques, produce greater yields, and are healthier for consumption, all while taking up less space than farming on a field.
Wasteful Practices – GMOs and Food Waste
Additionally, a wasteful practice that the current agricultural companies invest in is the selling of genetically modified seeds known as “terminator seeds“. These are seeds that are genetically modified to yield crops for only a single generation. This means that the seed cannot reproduce again, and the farmers have to continue to buy new seeds every year. This is an attempt by Big Agricultural companies like Monsanto to increase their profit margins. This greedy practice on the part of Monsanto and other Agricultural companies, replace the natural, sustainable regrowth of crops to ensure that the farmers have to continue to purchase new seeds from the companies instead of using the seeds that are yielded with their crop. This practice is egregious, and addressing this is yet another way to ensure that we promote the natural functions of our environment.
Food waste is another major issue that we face in today’s society. As discussed above, food insecurity is an issue that impacts over 34 million Americans today. Hence, it is unfortunate to find out how much food is wasted in this nation, whether it is unused food, crops left unharvested due to price drops or abundance of crops in the market, or even supply chain issues. Residential consumers in homes and those in restaurants and other stores that sell produce may not be able to sell all the products they have available, especially if the produce does not appear to be picture-perfect. Farmers may not harvest many of their crops if there is an abundance of the crop they have grown in the market that season, wasting the produce that was grown but never made it to the market. As we saw during the pandemic, supply chain issues can cause a lot of food waste as well. Many farmers had to waste their crop yields as they had no way to transport these products to the local grocery stores. Many industries halted during the pandemic, making the products they produced go to waste. Every year, 40% of the food available to Americans ends up being wasted. This is painfully wasteful, especially when we consider how many people across the world, including children, go hungry every day.
Conditions in Meat and Dairy Farms
For those who are meat eaters, having a few local farms provide the meat you consume (with regulations of course) can ensure that your meat is not contaminated and that the livestock was treated in ethical ways. Currently, the meat industry produces in bulk, and their practices are cruel and inhumane toward their livestock. Chickens and pigs are forcibly held in cages barely enough for them to stand in, and they live their lives inside these cages stacked on top of each other to save space. This means that they are urinating and defecating on top of each other, which is not only unsanitary and inhumane, but it can also cause the animals to develop diseases and illnesses. Additionally, cows that are not raised on grazing land are usually held in large factory farms, where they are used as dairy cows until they can no longer produce milk, in which case, they are sent to be slaughtered for meat. Certain practices used today, like genetically modifying cows to produce more milk outside of their normal milk-production periods, can lead to an increase in health risks for these animals as well.
These practices are cruel and inhumane, and they are also very bad for the environment. Not only do these farm animals add to the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere, but their wastes are also polluting the nearby waterways, making the water unsafe for the locals who live near these factory farms. All this cruelty and unsanitary conditions also carry over when these animals are slaughtered and distributed for mass consumption by companies like Tyson. During the pandemic, there were many reports about the unsafe and unsanitary conditions for the workers inside these meat distribution companies, and stories went viral of contaminated meat with fingernails and other disturbing elements found inside the meat packages. Many of the workers within these meat packaging factories actually lost their lives due to the companies’ negligence regarding their workers’ safety during the pandemic.
Food is a Human Right
Food is a necessity for all human beings, regardless of who you are, or where you live. The type of cuisine you prefer may vary from region to region, from culture to culture, and from one environment to the next, but the fact still remains that every human being needs to eat to survive. By definition, food is a human right, and this is indicated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under Article 25. Though this article does not specify this detail, it should be the right to healthy and nutritious food, rather than the generalized term food. This minor change in language would ensure that higher regulations are maintained on food and agricultural industries and eliminate harmful chemicals and ingredients within our food sources. There is an unequal distribution of food just like there is an unequal distribution of wealth and wages across the world. These food shortages can be addressed using these various techniques of indoor farming and community gardens, while safer produce can be cultivated by avoiding the use of pesticides and herbicides. Livestock can be treated more humanely instead of being stuffed in factory farms, and there needs to be a shift from a mindset of profit to a mindset of proficiency within these food industries.
This is one blog out of a series of blogs that will focus on how environmental rights are human rights. The next installation of this series will focus on how water is a human right, and how issues surrounding access to clean water can be addressed with a human rights approach.
In May 2020, I sat at the dinner table with my family breaking our fast for Ramadan as we heard our home country was still facing many hardships. Being Palestinian, I am constantly surrounded by news notifications and Instagram posts explaining the horrors of many lives, but for some reason, that night, I felt a different wave of emotions as I saw my friends post about their families and neighbors’ villages being bombed, indicating that my family’s village was under attack. Three years later, the feeling still lingers, echoing the struggles faced by my ancestors since Al-Nakba in 1948. Every year during Ramadan, which is the holy month for millions of Muslims around the world, I reflect on the safety of our homes midst of breaking our fasts while millions in Palestine struggle to protect themselves under Israeli occupation, not just in Ramadan, but since the first Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. The Palestinian struggle has persisted through generations, yet it continues to be brushed off by many influential international figures.
The images and events that took place in Al-Aqsa shocked the United Nations and many nations around the world. Turkey is among the few countries to come out and condemn Israel’s actions. The Arab League has urged the UN Security Council to intervene and stop the hate crimes, while other countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar have expressed their support for Palestine.
Amnesty International has documented the experiences faced by Palestinians during these attacks. Shadi, a 17-year-old, stated: “Twice I tried to raise my head, and both times [the police] beat me with the butt of their guns on my head […] you are not allowed to raise your head. I was hurting all over my body from the beatings and the bruises… what I went through does not even compare to the beatings others faced.”
The Palestinian Struggle
The Palestinian struggle has existed since 1948, with conditions deteriorating over time. Palestinians continue to live under an apartheid regime. Amnesty International noted through its past investigations that the Israeli forces enforce systems of oppression, domination, and control against Palestinians. Despite some portraying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a “two-sided” issue or a “religious war,” it requires the two sides to be on equal stance, for it is an equal fight. In reality, this is a one-sided conflict, where Israel possesses the weapons and Palestinians to live under its occupation. Since the Gulf War, Israel has implemented economic and political sanctions that are evident to this day. These sanctions include road blockades to prevent Palestinians from entering Israeli territories, controlled city borders, and different governmental statuses based on ethnicity. There is no explanation or justification that could be presented for the mistreatment of Palestinians. Along with Amnesty International, many countries and activists have called for the condemnation of Israel and for the International Community to take action to address the situation.
There have been efforts to enact peace plans and promote a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, these talks often leave out the most critical voice, that of the Palestinians. The latter is impossible to achieve if Israel is not held accountable and faced with consequences for its actions in international courts. Peace cannot be reached as long as Palestinians continue to face disposition and displacement and live under constant control and occupation.
Human Rights Violations
There are numerous documented human rights violations committed by Israel, among which are:
Unlawful attacks and killings. Israel is also accused of many unlawful attacks and killings of Palestinians, whether through storming Al-Aqsa to attacks on the Gaza Strip.
The Right to truth, justice, and reparations. The Israeli government continues to be noncooperative with investigations by the international courts.
Freedom of movement. There are over 170 permanent checkpoints and roadblocks within Palestine, impeding the Palestinians’ ability to travel freely throughout the country. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced since the start of the war, with the number continuing to grow with forced evictions and demolitions of homes and villages.
Freedom of association and expression. Many Palestinians are denied the right to express their views and protest their attackers freely.
The Gaza Strip is known as the largest open-air prison in the world. Home to more than two million Palestinians, with the Gaza Strip being the Israeli authorities’ main point of attack and destruction. Israel completely controls the Gaza Strip by imposing an airtight blockade on land, sea, and air. Those who live in that region are rarely able to leave unless it’s an “exceptional humanitarian case, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases,”—which are rarely granted. Surrounding the Gaza Strip, Israel constructed an electric fence and a concrete wall to prevent entry and escape. In 2001, Israel boomed and demolished the only airport in the Gaza Strip, further isolating the region. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza limit access to clean water, electricity, aid, and humanitarian and medical care. It is a modern-day prison camp that goes unnoticed in the mainstream media.
What can you do
The Palestinian struggle is a humanitarian issue that requires a much deeper dive beyond the scope of this post. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked and constantly neglected in mainstream media. The most vital thing one can do is to educate themselves, advocate, and be aware of the struggles happening across the world. Speak to your Palestinian peers, read publications, and listen to the news.
**The content of the mentioned works below deals with racial, sexual, and gendered themes that may be difficult for some readers. Consider carefully before reading.**
Contested conversations and debates around literature, even books bans, are nothing new. Unfortunately, we find ourselves during a time when pushes for literary censuring are on the rise, with fervent calls to remove books with references to enslavement, sex, gender, or Queer people. In light of this, I wanted to present a list of only a few Black authors, some of which are women, Queer, or both, so that we can remember and learn from them, and never let anyone take their lessons from us.
A founding member of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois is one of the foremost Black scholars of his era. He was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to challenge notions by abolitionist Frederick Douglas and contemporary intellectual Booker T. Washington in his numerous writings and actions. Instead of promoting the ideology that Black people should integrate into White society or compromise rights to make small gains, DuBois loudly proclaimed Black pride.
In his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Dubois coined the now-famous term “double consciousness.” He discussed the irreconcilable double existence Black people lived through in America as both American and Black. Since then, the term has become a theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of unequal realities and structures.
He attended the founding convention for the United Nations in 1944 and was a leader in the Pan-Africanism movement, organizing a series of Pan-African Congress meetings throughout the world.
He passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 27, 1963, after moving to Ghana and acquiring citizenship there.
Writing between 1953 and 2011, a mix of standalone novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction books, James Baldwin is considered a quintessential American writer. As the grandson of an enslaved person, Baldwin’s work reconciled with the experience of being a Black man in White America. Born in 1924 in Harlem, New York, he was the oldest of nine kids and spent most of his time in libraries.
He spent three years in his stepfather’s profession as a preacher before moving to Greenwich Village and pursuing writing. Even though most of his work was embroiled in experiences of anger and disillusionment, Baldwin always advocated love and brotherhood.
After passing from stomach cancer at the age of 63 in 1987, Baldwin became known as one of the most vocal and prominent voices for equality. He is considered an essential, and enriching, part of the American literary canon.
Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Eaton, Georgia. Her parents were sharecroppers and after a childhood incident that left her blind in one eye, Walker’s mother considered her more suited for writing than chores. This talent landed her a scholarship to Spelman College, whereafter she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and earned a BA in Literature.
After graduating, she moved to Mississippi to join the Civil Rights Movement and married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal; becoming the first interracial marriage in the state.
Walker is hailed for her rediscovery of author Zora Neale Hurston and her foundational role for Black women authors.
She published her first book of poetry in 1968, Once, and her first novel in 1970, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Her most acclaimed work came in 1982, The Color Purple, wherein she explores gender, sexuality, and race. She continues to publish to this day and is widely regarded for her insightful portrayal of Black American life and culture.
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Though living in a semi-integrated area, Morrison experienced the cruel reality of racism. At two years old, their landlord set their apartment on fire with them inside when her family could not afford rent.
She turned her attention to reading and eventually attend the historically black institution, Howard College. There she was exposed to colorism and witnessed firsthand how racial hierarchies extended to skin pigmentation within the Black community.
Working within academia throughout the North and South, Morrison eventually settled in an editing career. Though she worked for publishing companies, she did not publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), until she was 39 years old. However, after (and like) this first work, each of her subsequent novels earned critical acclaim and several awards. In 1987, she released her most-known work, Beloved, which is based on the true story of an enslaved woman. The novel was on the Bestseller list for 25 weeks and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and has also been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.
As an internationally renowned author, Morrison has left a litany of insightful works from novels to plays and children’s stories. She passed away in 2019.
Ralph Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the grandson of enslaved people. He only ever published one book during his lifetime, Invisible Man (1952), yet this book gained him national acclaim. After his death on April 16, 1994, his second novel, Juneteenth, was published in 1999.
Originally, Ellison had had dreams of becoming a professional musician and had enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute to do just that. However, after traveling to New York City during his senior year to earn funds for his final year, he met Richard Wright (author of the polemic novel Native Son). This, coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, prompted Ellison to embark on his writing career.
He wrote for the New York Federal Writer’s Program, an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration. After the outbreak of WWII, Ellison joined the U.S. Merchant Marine as a cook and began planning for what would become his infamous novel, Invisible Man.
When it debuted, it was on the Bestseller’s List for 16 weeks and won the National Book Award. Forty years later, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Saul Bellow, stated, “This book holds its own among the best novels of the century.”
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, U.S. She is a world-renowned author and one of the first students of the father of anthropology (Franz Boas).
She was the daughter of enslaved parents. At a young age, her family relocated to Eatonville, Florida where her father became the town’s first mayor, in what was the first all-Black incorporated town in the state.
Hurston earned her Associate’s from Howard College before she won a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. As a student in New York City, she met fellow writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and joined what is remembered as the Harlem Renaissance 一 a black cultural movement of arts, music, and literature.
She began publishing short stories as early as 1920, though was largely ignored by white mainstream literary circles (though she gained a large Black readership). In 1935, she published her debut novel, Mules and Men, and between 1934 and 1939 wrote three more works. Her most acclaimed novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) which incorporated her research and literary talents to focus on the life of Janie Crawford, a Black woman whose journey of self-discovery and identity takes her to many places.
She is a pioneering figure of modern anthropology and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica to study African diasporas. Moreover, she chronicled many Black folktales and dialects which she subsequently incorporated into her own writings. While this drew criticism from some contemporary figures, her work celebrated Black language and culture unabashedly.
Zora Neale Hurston passed away on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Zora Neale Hurston was long an unsung literary figure but after her rediscovery by author Alice Walker, her works have once returned to print.
Regarded as one of the founders of Black writing, particularly for Black women authors, Alice Walker has said:
“Her work had a sense of Black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings and that was crucial to me as a writer.”
She grew up in a segregated community in the American South which eventually informed her writing. She published her first work, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), while still an undergraduate at Standford University.
Her pseudonym was fashioned after her great-grandmother’s name in order to honor female legacies and she chose all lowercase letters because she wanted people to focus on the content of her books over her.
hooks was a progressive thinker and scholar whose work engaged with the intricate relationships of race, class, and gender as situated in systems of structural oppression and violence. She educated people on intersectionality well before it became a common word now (essentially pioneering the ideology itself).
She passed away on December 15, 2021, in Berea, Kentucky. You can find a selection of her works here.
Angela Davis was born January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama in a neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill” for the numerous bombings committed by the domestic terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan. She is a philosopher, activist, and former Black Panther and political prisoner who was wrongly accused of participating in the killing of a prison guard after becoming involved in the Soledad Brothers campaign. After that, Davis went into hiding and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List, making her the third woman to ever be placed on the list.
An international movement to “Free Angela” led to songs from artists like Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones. On June 4th, 1972, she was found not guilty of all charges.
Angela Davis continues her legacy to this day, giving speeches and continuing to write new works that discuss intersectionality, racial disparities and structural violence, and abolition, among a few topics. Her latest book was published in 2022 with her partner, Gina Dent, alongside Erica R. Meiners and Beth E. Richie titled: Abolition. Feminism. Now.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She writes across several mediums as a memoirist, poet, author, playwright, and essayist. Her work explores themes such as economic conditions, race, and sexual oppression. She is also renowned for her unique and visionary autobiographical writing styles.
Angelou did not live with her parents full-time during her childhood as a result of divorce and other factors. When she returned from her grandmother’s care to live with her mother at the age of seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was jailed, and upon his release, was killed. Believing that she had somehow had a part in the death of this man, Angelou became mute for the following 6 years of her life.
Angelou displayed her literary talents from a young age but did not become a professional writer until much later in life, around when she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in 1959. She was also a prominent activist in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the North Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1969, she wrote one of her most famous works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was an autobiography of her early life, exploring her experiences with sexual abuse. Many schools sought to ban this book as a result of these depictions, but numerous sexual abuse survivors have credited her work as telling their stories.
While she has earned numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, for her writing she was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2000) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010).
Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a long and fruitful career. You can find a list of her complete works here.
James Cone is a highly influential figure who founded Black liberation theology, alongside, being an outspoken proponent of justice for the oppressed in society. He is known as one of the most widely regarded theologians in America, teaching at the Union Theological Seminary for 50 years and influencing generations of scholars. One such student is currently a senator for the state of Georgia, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected in 2020 as the state’s first Black senator.
Born August 5, 1938, in Arkansas, he grew up during intense racial segregation during the 40s and 50s. Living under the threat of lynching revealed to Cone the immense spiritual and moral depth of Black people, especially as Cone’s own parents taught love over hate when confronted by racial injustice and threats. As a result of his personal experiences and figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Cone developed Black liberation theology to challenge the white hegemony of Christian teachings and understanding.
Black liberation theology is informed by six sources which can be summarized as the black experience (slavery, segregation, and lynchings), black culture and revelation, and tradition and scriptural interpretation. He is best known for his political and influential books, Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), and God of the Oppressed (1975).
He passed on April 28, 2018, at the age of 79. His latest memoir was written just prior to his passing and is titled: Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.
Octavia Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. She is an author of mostly science fiction novels in future settings, often incorporating unique powers. Her numerous works are known for their synthesis of science fiction, mysticism, mythology, and Black American spiritualism.
Not only was Butler the first Black woman to receive wide acclaim in this genre of fiction, but she was also the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award. She has also won several other awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locust awards.
In 1975, she published her first novel Patternmaster, which was quickly followed by Mind of My Mind and Survivor: This series is about humanity’s evolution into three separate genetic groups.
Her best-known work, Kindred, was published in 1975 and continues to be taught in high schools, universities, and community reading programs to this day. (There was even a recent television adaption on Hulu.)
Much like other Black women authors on this list, Butler’s work extends beyond race and explores the dynamics of sex and gender, challenging traditional gender roles in works like Bloodchild and Wild Seed. Octavia Butler passed away on February 24, 2006, in Seattle, Washington, but not before securing her legacy in her numerous works.
To learn more about book bans, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.”
If you liked this book list, check out the list of contemporary Black authors here.
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