Working with Religious Groups for Environmental Justice
For the past ten years, the Cape Cod and Islands Group has worked with congregations on the coast of Massachusetts to promote environmental justice. Attention has focused on energy issues, water, wastewater, and food issues. The emphasis is on reaching low-income people, racial and ethnic minority groups, and the elderly.
What does the group do? For energy, it has co-sponsored three regional conferences about energy and organized religion, energy use, and the needs of low-income people. Support is provided for community programs that include fuel assistance and conservation services for renters. The Cape Cod and Islands Group supports organic community gardening and local food pantries.
Fishing is important in many religious traditions and it's especially important on Cape Cod. Working with community and religious groups, local Sierra Club volunteers have developed saltwater fishing expeditions as fundraisers to help support community food pantries and community gardens. This was the fourth year for our fundraising expedition. Free tickets are distributed so that a variety of people can join the expedition.
Why fishing? Like community gardening, fishing is a popular outdoors activity for all sorts of people. On Cape Cod, it's part of our culture. When local Sierra Club people talk about environmental justice and local food production, we include fishing and shellfishing in the discussion because we're concerned about the ocean's future.
Working with religious groups, our Sierra Club group has been able to develop the environment justice concept and we've made it clear in our area that the Sierra Club supports environmental justice. Our resources are limited and we've never had more than four to six people active with this continuing work, although some projects -- like community gardening -- have had as many as 100 volunteers involved. This is a model for Sierra Club groups that want to work with religious organizations to promote environmental justice.
Major factors in our success have been our commitment to environmental justice, the ability to work with a variety of religious groups, the willingness to try new strategies, and the continuing support of some hard-working volunteers.
Explaining environmental justice continues to be a challenge. Working with different religious organizations is also a challenge. It's important to put old prejudices aside and listen to local leaders. Keep in mind that "all politics is local." What's appropriate and helpful in one region may not be useful and appropriate in another region. What's appropriate and helpful in one region may not be useful and appropriate in another region. Fishing and gardening are part of our Cape Cod tradition, some environmentalists don't fish and some don't garden. If diversity is your goal, look around and note the outdoors activities that are popular in your community. Look for the places where you can find common ground with your neighbors.
Rev. Bob Murphy has been active with the Sierra Club for over forty years. He received a Special Service Award from the national Sierra Club on September 23rd. Bob is the Unitarian Universalist minister in Falmouth, Massachusetts.