Dear MountainTrue members – a letter on race and equity

Dear MountainTrue Members and Supporters

Julie Mayfield & Bob Wagner

Like many organizations, we have begun taking a hard look at the role MountainTrue should play in the new national dialogue on race and equity. To be clear, equity has been a focus for us for several years now, mostly in terms of training and awareness for our board and staff, but the death of George Floyd and the ensuing outcry for racial justice has pushed us to ask what else we can and should do.

You might ask, why should MountainTrue do anything? We are an environmental advocacy organization, not a social or racial justice organization, right? Sure, it would make sense for us to work on environmental issues that impact communities of color, but why should we go beyond that? Shouldn’t we let other groups that are focused on racial issues fight this fight?

These are good and understandable questions. And we have answers to them – answers that we will be rolling out to you over the next few months. For now, the short answer to those questions is this: the fight for racial justice and equity is not separate from the fight for a clean and healthy environment. Indeed, racial discrimination and the environment have been linked for decades through the disproportionate placement of polluting industries, highways, and other harmful developments in and through communities of color; through urban renewal that destroyed black communities, often for city parks and green space; through the de facto exclusion of people of color from our national parks and forests because they don’t feel safe; through the willingness of regulators to overlook harm to communities of color that they would never accept for white communities (think Flint, Michigan). And these are only a few examples.

We have come to understand that, as a successful, influential organization, we have a role to play in dismantling the institutional and structural systems in our country that perpetuate racism and discrimination. We can no longer ignore the fact that our work exists within a much larger, complex system that sees some people as less important and expendable. Fighting for a clean environment and truly healthy communities demands that we no longer accept that framework, and fighting that framework means addressing racial discrimination outside of the narrow confines of traditional environmental advocacy.

Critical to the work of dismantling systemic racism is first understanding how each of us individually and how MountainTrue as an organization have benefitted from systemic racism – our staff is largely made up of privileged, well-educated, white people and our funding comes from foundations, businesses, and individuals that have accumulated wealth within a system of discrimination and, sometimes, at the direct expense of people of color. That is not to say these are bad people or businesses or foundations. They, like all of us, exist within a system of discrimination that has been created over centuries. It is long past time for that system to end, and our job now is to understand exactly the role we should play in breaking that system and advancing equity.

We invite you to join us in this journey. As mentioned above, we will be publishing a series of articles that discuss environmentalism and environmental advocacy in the context of race. We will also be scheduling virtual, small group discussions with us and our staff for those who want to dive in more and ask questions. We realize this will be a new conversation for many of you, and, while it may be uncomfortable, we hope you will remain open and engage with us on this critical topic.

Bob and Julie