The Importance of Equity in the Conservation Voters Movement

By Antonio Maestas, Manager of Equity and Organizational Effectiveness

CVNM’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is unprecedented in the national Conservation Voter Movement, which is a unique network of 30 state organizations and one federal organization that closely collaborate and share expertise and resources in order to effect positive change at all levels of government. Our commitment to equity extends to structural and institutional changes tha¬t allow us to critically interrogate our embodiment of white supremacy culture and systemic inequity. Our work encompasses this institutional commitment in tandem with our interpersonal and intrapersonal unpacking of our buy-in to dominant culture practices. It is critical that we in the Conservation Voter Movement understand that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities are at the forefront of creating environmentally just communities and begin to support the efforts of BIPOC communities in confronting our climate crisis. 

The Environmental Justice Movement began in the 1980s in Warren County, North Carolina, when a predominantly Black and African-American community became the site of a toxic landfill. The movement surged across the nation as communities of color began to recognize the similarities of toxic site locations in their communities. It still holds true today that BIPOC communities are disproportionately burdened by these practices, ranging from heavy industrial manufacturing to mining and oil refining. 

This, unfortunately, is a very common occurrence here in New Mexico. Our Indigenous communities have historically been impacted by dangerous mining practices, oil refining and extraction, among countless other environmental malpractices. Our Latinx, Raza and Black communities are the sites of poisonous heavy industrial practices that diminish the quality of life and threaten the health of our communities. It is a fact that these occurrences disproportionately impact communities of color and are less prevalent or non-existent in white and more affluent communities. These disparities solidify the utmost importance of engaging in a meaningful and authentic diversity, equity and inclusion process throughout the conservation movement. 

We cannot adequately address the issue of climate change until we fully deconstruct the underlying economic, racial, and gender inequities that drive this crisis. It is without a doubt that protecting public lands and outdoor spaces from environmental harm is important, but it is equally critical to ensure that we fight for environmental justice for children, families and workers in BIPOC communities. We cannot fight for climate justice until we advocate for an intersectional environmental justice approach that allows for BIPOC communities to engage in meaningful decision-making processes. 

In order to adequately allow these processes to exist, we must first become comfortable in challenging our own complacency in systemic inequity and white supremacy culture. We must change the narrative of expectation that BIPOC communities should trust us and rather adopt the commitment to making ourselves trustworthy accomplices in the fight for equity and justice. In this spirit of moving from a place of allyship, to become an active accomplice, is why we at CVNM are engaging in the interrogation of our complacency in systemic inequity coupled with our implementation of tangible systemic and institutional changes. 

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