Two Boats Heading Down One Stream: Environmental Justice and Consumer Resistance
In the 1980s, an issue emerged which exposed the correlation between racism, poverty, and environmental threats in the United States. This issue known as environmental injustice suggests that ethnic minorities and the poor communities are targets for toxic industries. The consistent lack of governmental representation and lack of political clout caused these targeted communities to take leadership in the environmental justice movement through grassroots organizations. During the rise of environmental justice movements, there was a market revolution. Technological advancements, such as portable phones, faster cable, laptops, etc., were becoming more accessible to the public. These new resources of communication encouraged market forces to advertise and promote their products and/or services more expansively. This growing capacity for advertisement in the United States led to habits of overconsumption in American society. Soon the “nation of opportunity” became infamously known as “the nation of gluttony.” This perception created animosity in the United States, and anti-consumption sentiments spread. Market rebellion soon followed. Mainstream forms of consumer resistance are continuing to develop, however the foundation of consumer resistance lies in the minority communities of the United States. The simultaneous emergence of both the environmental justice movement and consumer resistance is no coincidence. Both movements have similar traits; they share the same actors, purpose, and resistance tactics. In my analysis I will demonstrate the leading forces in both movements, which consist of ethnic minorities and low-income level communities. I will then address the shared purposes of both movements. I will examine the similar incentives in participating in these movements, as well as the psychological/social concepts of voluntarism and civic participation. The final correlative factor that I identify between the environmental justice movement and consumer resistance is the tactics of resistance, such as, grassroots protests, boycotting, and product purchasing commitments. This analysis will determine that consumer resistance is a function of the environmental justice movement. Actors
Women and ethnic minorities, such as, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans, are the dominant leaders and actors in the environmental justice movement and in consumer resistance. Mexican Americans and Native Americans have deep knowledge of ecology and respect for natural resources that originate in the moral foundations of their cultures and identities. African Americans and Women share the resentment of industries to target them and construct them in terms of their roles in society. These sentiments are addressed in their acts of consumer resistance and environmental justice movements. The importance in sustaining the environment and natural resources is apparent in Native American’s traditional ecological knowledge. The significance of nature in Native American culture is shown in their spiritual beliefs and pagan religion. Many tribes idolized animals by emulating them through warrior garments, physical markings, tribal chants, and dances. They also relied on plant life in their medicinal practices. N. Scott Momaday of the Kiowa Tribe summates the ethics of Native American tribes by stating, "We humans must come again to a moral comprehension of the earth and air. We must live according to the principle of a land ethic. The alternative is that we shall not live at all” (Churchill 1983, 47). Native Americans are ideal leaders in environmental justice movements and consumer resistance due to their strong views of sustainable resource management and their personal conflicts over land ownership and property rights. Native American communities are arguably the most susceptible to having their land taken by...
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