Strategies for success in the environmental justice movement
This dissertation examines 60 case studies of communities in the United States that have fought against incinerators, toxic wastes, polluting industries, nuclear waste sites, and other locally unwanted land uses. These are cases of “environmental injustice”: neighborhoods where people suffer disproportionately high rates of exposure to environmental hazards. Many of these people are impoverished and marginalized from the political process; many are racial or ethnic minorities, such as African Americans, Latinos, and indigenous peoples. They have battled some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, as well as their local, state, and federal governments. Yet in many cases, they have succeeded.
This research seeks to understand the conditions and circumstances under which grassroots activists are most likely to succeed or fail in their struggles for environmental justice. Applying both a quantitative and qualitative analysis for dozens of variables, it concludes that positive media attention, political alliances, and strategies of direct action are among the factors that have proven most successful for the 60 communities. By contrast, legal strategies—especially civil rights complaints alleging racial discrimination—have largely been unsuccessful.
Yet, even when citizens manage to stop a locally unwanted land use, they often continue to live in areas that are disproportionately polluted and toxic. Therefore this dissertation proposes a new theory of proactive social change: Transformative Action Theory. This new theory builds upon the ideas of nonviolent social change scholars and practitioners, such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet it emphasizes the constructive aspect of their philosophy. Rather than focusing on their efforts to stop violence and injustice, Transformative Action Theory develops the little-known ideas of Gandhi and King to promote a new vision for rebuilding and revitalizing society.
Minority & ethnic groups;
Area planning & development
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0999: Urban planning
0999: Area planning & development