Community Environmental Justice Featured

Activating for Environmental Justice

Pictured is Jasen Vest (far right) with some Sierra Club members during Metropolitan Congregation United’s 2022 Air Quality Bridge Rally . The rally was moved online to keep attendees safe in the sweltering heat. Vest was an Environmental Studies Impact intern during the summer of 2022. He shares his experience working at MCU below.

While I did not focus on any one task or project during my time with Metropolitan Congregations United, I feel the array of activities I was involved in is emblematic of the dense workload associated with community organization, particularly around environmental justice issues. While with MCU, I was involved in numerous activities on a weekly basis: canvassing and phone banking 6 hours a week for a petition against illegal dumping, helping create slideshow presentations about removing lead from school drinking water, creating content for MCU’s websites, raising awareness for and helping organize MCU’s Air Quality Bridge Rally.  (This year’s MCU’s Air Quality Bridge Rally was held virtually, here is an article about MCU’s 2021 Air Quality Bridge Rally) 

Two overarching skills that I employed repeatedly throughout this diverse workload were communication and organization. Working with MCU involved meeting a great number of new contacts in various different fields which required the development of skills in listening comprehension, as well as compartmentalization in order to accurately recall what information is pertinent to which contacts. Additionally, a great deal of work happens synchronously in either virtual or in-person meeting spaces; thus, keeping track of all my weekly meetings, and establishing times that worked for all involved often proved very meticulous. My Outlook Calendar has certainly never been so populated as it had been those few months. However, the benefits of this degree of communication were very observable. Community organizing of any kind is ultimately about establishing relationships of mutual trust, respect, and benefit. A large part of crafting such intimate relationships is connecting with individuals on a one-on-one level.   

Due to the history of environmental neglect in the city, especially in predominantly Black and Brown communities, establishing trust in any organization promising to bring about change can be difficult and is often met with warranted skepticism. However, MCU’s approach of intimate, patient, and clear communication with citizens is a great method for demonstrating that MCU is an invested collaborator with local community members who only want to see improvements in the lives of their fellow citizens.   

Learn more about the Environmental Studies Impact internship here.