“The pollution of the Anacostia River reflects colonialism ad conquest: nationalism, militarism, empire, racism, inequality, and urban renewal.” –Brett Williams, A River Runs Through Us
When I first got to college I thought I had to choose between studying people and social justice or studying the environment. However, after a year or two, I realized I could do both. Political ecology, soil depletion, gentrification, food insecurity, climate change, and a myriad of other ideas and topics all relate back to environmental justice. I do not have a set career path or job in mind, but I do know I want to work in this field.
The quote above is from one of my favorite academic articles. I read it in a class titled “Global Cities, Justice, and the Environment.” It was without a doubt one of my favorite classes because it related the local to the global. By studying environmental justice issues around us, my professor guided us into understanding other and more broad topics of environmental justice. A River Runs Through Us, was actually written by a professor from my school, American University. It details the history of the Anacostia River, and how it has helped shape the relationship between people and the environment in the area. From indigenous people arriving 10,000 years ago to modern day, the article details how views, attitudes, and relationships have transformed.
I’m reminded of this article because of a recent meeting I attended with ECC. The DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) hosted a meeting about the health of the Anacostia River. In short, it has long been known that the river is unhealthy and polluted from its long history with people. It is recommended to neither swim nor eat the fish in the water, however, a recent study of the river has shown that surface water is actually not harmful to people and the fish are not as toxic to mammals and birds as once believed. It is the sediment that is unhealthy and toxic. There are plans and ideas on how to address it, but we must now assess risk differently when it comes to the Anacostia. This is game changer and redefines how people are able to interact with the water. This report is another, unwritten section of A River Runs Through Us. It’s is an opportunity for the river to take on a positive role in people’s lives. Although the exact findings and results still need to be explained further, it is hopeful for what is to come.
Although this post is a bit longer than usual, I still feel myself being cut off. I could go on for hours about environmental justice and political ecology. What I shared from this meeting is just the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more I want to delve deeper in to. I’m witnessing the river change before my eyes and I’m watching years of injustice slowly be stripped away. It’s a powerful feeling and almost surreal. DOEE wants the river to be swimmable in one year. I do not know if that is possible, but if something like that were possible, it would be one of the greatest environmental justice feats I have seen thus far in my life. The Anacostia River has been neglected for far too long (like many of our other water ways) but there is hope for a better future. The EJ movement may have started in Warren County, NC in the 70’s, but it’s not over. I promise myself and those affected by environmental justice issues I will fight to make the environment and the outdoors a more equitable space.
Well, I’ve made you listen to this long enough, but I’d love to chat with you about this topic a whole lot more. Hopefully, we can! Until next time!!
Williams, Brett. “A River Runs Through Us”. American Anthropologist 103.2 (2001): 409-431. 10 Jul. 2017.