This morning, a conversation with my daughter, Hanna, helped me connect a bunch of dots in my life.
We were talking about how Kerry Washington is such a brilliant role model – she’s the first African American woman in over 20 years to play a lead role in a TV series, she is smart and beautiful, and she gave one of the most inspiring speeches at the 2012 Democratic convention (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/kerry-washington-dnc-speech_n_1862985.html). When she talks about the most important three words in the U.S. Constitution – “We The People…” – she inspires all of us to engage in civic society, because even though it may be tough to find time in our busy lives to go to a meeting or volunteer on a campaign, if we don’t others will set the agenda for us. We have a duty to uphold our rights and that means getting involved. For Hanna, a sixteen year old with her future ahead of her, public figures like Ms. Washington make it safe to speak our minds and do something about the problems that bother us. For me, a woman who has spent her career trying to knit together justice, community and environment, it’s a relief to know that activism is continuing into the next generation.
So, to the “dots.”
I came to NRDC just about a year ago after spending four years working for the President, doing what I could to bring sustainability to communities across the country. Though we often talk about sustainability as a balancing act between the “three ‘E’s” – Environment, Economy and Equity – I feel strongly that social justice, fairness, and inclusivity are left behind by most advocates and practitioners. Too often, the dialogue about buildings, neighborhoods and the globe focuses on improved environmental outcomes and superior economic performance (which are indeed very important), but leaves out people. Who benefits from interventions that a sustainability strategy promotes? How can everyone be part of a resilient future? The program I was able to lead, Sustainable Housing and Communities (http://www.sustainablecommunities.gov/), intentionally placed perhaps more emphasis on equity for the simple fact that we thought it was important to bring balance to this work. After visiting virtually every part of this country, from the distressed, but excitingly vital, urban neighborhoods of Miami to the windswept tribal lands of Northern Montana, I was even more firmly committed to ensuring that sustainability improves everyone’s lives.
This week, NRDC announced that Rhea Suh will succeed Frances Beinecke as the next President of the world’s most impactful environmental organization (http://www.nrdc.org/media/2014/140917a.asp). Rhea embodies the qualities that we need from a future-focused leader. She’s young, she’s a mom, she comes from a Korean family that sought to retain its culture while getting ahead in America, and she has dedicated herself to public service in philanthropy, politics and government. Her efforts at the Department of Interior to engage youth in conservation initiatives, diversify the Department’s workforce, and speak up for the small business owners hurt by environmental disasters like the BP oil spill, show that she understands that when we talk about the importance of defending and protecting the environment, we’re talking about “for all.”
Now, Climate Week is upon us. The People’s Climate March (http://peoplesclimate.org/march/) is expected to draw over 100,000 people from all walks of life to support an ambitious global agreement to dramatically reduce global warming pollution. NRDCs team is working furiously to make it easy to participate and easy to have an impact. But what really got me excited, was the media coverage this event is garnering. The lead stories are about Indigenous Tribes, immigrant communities, union leaders, and religious groups massing in force for this once-in-a-generation gathering. It’s not the usual suspects or professional talking heads; it’s real people with everyday concerns. This is a big re-boot for the environmental movement.
Talking with Hanna about someone she admires helped connect the dots together for me. My greatest hope is that we can turn this country around through the power of people. I know in my gut that there is a tremendous alignment between the hopes we all have for our health and well-being, the road to prosperity and opportunity, and the strategies that make the places we live, work and raise our families as environmentally sensitive as possible. That’s why I’m at NRDC. I’m intrinsically an optimist; an optimist with a passion for action.
Shelley Poticha is the Director of Urban Solutions at NRDC