By: Judith Eppele, Community Organizing Intern

Growing up in a household with divorced parents, I quickly realized how important communication was for creating and sustaining strong relationships. This notion is the backbone of CHEJ, of which I’ve experienced firsthand through my time as an intern. Since I’m a community organizing intern specifically, I’ve found that having good communication with the different community groups we work with is incredibly important. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that maintaining this good communication is one of the most important parts of organizing. Though I haven’t been with CHEJ for that long–I’m coming up on my three month mark soon–I’ve been able to see this in action through helping out with the Unequal Response Unequal Protection campaign.

If you haven’t checked it out already, Unequal Response Unequal Protection is all about developing a framework to conduct health investigations for toxic chemicals. But the root of this campaign is the emphasis of it being community-driven. This is seen in the Operating Principles of the campaign, wherein the community leaders are involved throughout the entirety of the process in order to create the most effective and personalized response possible. When I first read this, I was a bit surprised, but in the best way possible. I’m an Environmental Science and Management major and so have taken some environmental policy classes, though usually there is more of an emphasis on what the government should/shouldn’t do or has/hasn’t done in respect to making change happen, as opposed to the role of community members and grassroots level organizing. I’d really only seen community members having the ability to be involved in policy making processes through a public comment period, though this doesn’t guarantee that the comments will actually be taken into consideration as the policy moves forward. On top of this, the public comment period is usually pretty short, sometimes being only 30 days long! This never sat right with me, as shouldn’t it be clear to policy makers to have solid communication with the community members that live in the area that they’re trying to enact a policy in? Aren’t they who you’re trying to help? That’s why I found Unequal Response Unequal Protection so refreshing, as there is that prioritization of solid communication between community members, scientists, and activists in order to make the best chemical contamination response possible. In doing so, everyone can submit their comments, questions, and concerns at any time throughout the process and feel confident that they’ll be heard and respected.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge supporter of good and extensive communication. Without it, people and their experiences wouldn’t be accurately represented in decision-making processes, which could cause more problems than what was already there in the first place–and who wants that? While Unequal Response Unequal Protection and CHEJ in general are making waves in promoting communication, it’s definitely lacking in the greater world of policy making. While amending this may not be easy, it’s not impossible. Taking full advantage of any public comment period, setting up meetings with local policymakers, and reaching out to people outside of your community group in order to gain additional points of views on your issue are a few ways that you can take a stand in supporting the importance of communication. After all, many hands make light work, and the fight against toxic chemicals needs as many of these hands as possible.

Photo Credit: Liquid Planner