Public Lab Research note

Youth-led Environmental Justice Organizing during COVID-19

by amocorro , DuwamishCleanup | November 23, 2020 21:16 23 Nov 21:16 | #25097 | #25097


**Introduction text and photo are courtesy of Duwamish Valley Youth Corps; a Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition program**

In response to requests by the community of the Duwamish Valley in Seattle, WA the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group (DRCC/TAG) developed the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC) as a youth engagement program focusing on environmental justice and job skills. The circumstances in the Duwamish Valley have produced a vacuum of engagement opportunities for the youth, and DVYC is intent on filling that vacuum. The Valley is geographically isolated, bounded by interstate highways, the Duwamish River, and poorly served by public transportation. Most of our youth are children of color, most are members of low-income households and attend low-income schools, and many are immigrants and/or non-native English speakers. Finally, the Duwamish Valley itself is lacking in engagement opportunities---there are few job opportunities (besides which, many community members are undocumented and not eligible for legal employment), few entertainment venues, and a dearth of funding/programming at our Community Center. Attending college seems unattainable to many youth.

These variables produce a subset of our community with untapped potential. The DVYC is designed to address all these needs.

[Prior to COVID-19] The high-school aged youth meet three times per week---twice for lessons about environmental degradation, environmental justice, and their role in these concepts as they relate to the Valley. They also meet twice per week for outdoor work---tree planting, neighborhood cleanups, restoration and maintenance work, invasive weed identification, rain garden construction, air quality projects, green wall construction and implantation, etc. Youth leaders are mentored by community partners and local businesses.

Our main concern:


**This Issue Brief was posted by Public Lab staff at the request of a Duwamish Valley resident; the content was shared through an interview**

Organizing community members around environmental injustices and public health concerns in the Greater Duwamish Valley continue despite COVID-19 realities - with emphasis on engaging community members in the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown in Seattle.

These communities face high air pollution burden - due to their proximity to industrial factories including Boeing field (closest), and many others across the river - paper, metal, glass, cement factories etc. On top of it the community is beneath the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport flight path contributing to the air quality and frequent noise pollution.

Many communities members, including elementary age youth, face high asthma rates. Community members are triggered by witnessing frequent asthma attacks in their community - both in public and within their immediate households.

We are looking for other environmental justice organizing models from across the country - with emphasis on youth leadership and organizing strategies we can model after during the pandemic.

Obstacles and supporting information:

During the pandemic, how can we help community know about these on-going air quality issues? With COVID-19 we have had to cancel a lot of in-person events at the community center, tabling at festivals along the river, and outreach in out local Seattle schools due to the shift to 100% remote learning environments. Not everyone in our community has reliable access to technology and WiFi for schoolwork or every day needs.

Typically throughout the year, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) helps facilitate gatherings and provide materials for community members to clean, evaluate safety, and to mitigate community air quality. There is a focus on teaching community members how to safely remove and identify mold, or contact someone that can, distribute HEPA filter fans, and educational fliers about steps that can be taken by families and community residents to monitor their inside air quality.

The filters we give out need to be replaced every (3) three months depending on how frequently they are used. It's easy for community members to physically see the air quality pollutants built up in the filter itself when conducting these filter replacements. We make sure these used filters are adequately disposed and replaced with new filters. With the pandemic, we've had to cancel may of these in-person events and instead do limited in-person delivery for these educational kits and home air quality materials.

Earlier this summer we also received news from the City of Seattle that the West Seattle Bridge is closed. This has created a reroute of commuting traffic and transit through our neighborhoods. Creating more traffic congestion. Many commuters must now go through Georgetown and South Park due to the bridge closure. The bridge is in desperate need of repair, and the deadline for its completion is over a year out. We are worried about this increasing commuter traffic and air pollutants on top of our already long list of concerns.

Who is engaged in this concern?

Duwamish Valley Youth Corps and Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition.

What are the initial questions?

Before COVID-19 we held a series of Youth Forums (typically 30-50+ middle school to high school age participants) gathering in-person, so they learn more about these community concerns and draft action items. As youth leaders we would take our learnings back home and to our respective neighborhoods.

DRCC staff have had to pivot to on the ground, door-to-door knocking, distribution of informational fliers and some basic necessities to start monitoring "at home" air quality (i.e. fans and starter kits). Our youth organizing has been greatly limited during this time.

Do you know of any youth-led environmental justice programs happening across the country that we can model after? How are they blending at home learning, leadership capacity building, with online organizing? How are they addressing the inequities within their community that may have unequal access to technology and WiFi, so that all youth leaders can still contribute to these critical conversations? Thank you!


@amocorro has marked @DuwamishCleanup as a co-author.

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