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A Healthy Democracy is Essential for Environmental Justice
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A Healthy Democracy is Essential for Environmental Justice

We are not only fighting for voting rights but for our lives. Whether it’s the Freedom to Vote ActOder the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement ActOur leaders have been rightly focusing on state laws that aim to roll back recent gains in accessing the ballot box. Unrealized is the importance of a healthy democracy for healthy communities, people, and wildlife.

States are allowed to limit who can vote in our elections. This perpetuates inequalities that have put communities of color and low income communities at greater risk for devastating health conditions like asthma, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, lead poisoning, and other toxic substances, such as PFAS.

For example, there are more than 100,000 Americans living in the U.S. Every year, someone diesAir pollution in Black and Latinx communities suffering a disproportionateThese deaths are more than those caused gun violence. Black Americans are far more likelyThey are more likely than their White counterparts to live near or adjacent to oil and gas wells or other industrial facilities that release deadly carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, into the environment.

These and other sources are only adding to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemics disproportionate impactFrontline and fenceline communities. We can’t even breathe when we say “I cant breath”.

These environmental injustices result from a political system which has made it more difficult or even illegal for Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities to vote.

Systematic Exclusion of Democracy

Since the end of Reconstruction, Black people and other people of colour have been systematically excluded form our democracy. Either by the insidious Jim Crow laws or horrific lynchings or other terrorist acts against Black Americans, Today, efforts to determine election results from predominantly Black communities and communities are changing, but the methods, discrimination, and exclusions have remained constant for generations.

We have witnessed brief instances when lawmakers rallied behind reforms, from Amendment 15 to the 1965 Voting rights Act, only to see later leaders retrench and reverse this progress. In the interim decision-makers in our fragile democracy have turned a blind o f how their decisions have left the leastrepresentedBlack, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian American communities exposed to climate and pollution.

This problem must be addressed by passing the Freedom to Vote Act as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement. Act. A healthy democracy is vital to ensure that people and wildlife both thrive.

Environmental Justice, Conservation Are Linked

Although wildlife conservation and environmental justice seem to be incompatible, they complement each other. When people have clean air and clean water, so does wildlife.

We make communities more resilient to natural disasters and climate change. This makes wildlife that we share safer. When we make sure hunters, anglers (hikers, and other outdoor recreationists) have safe access to the outdoors we inspire and empower future generations of wildlife advocates.

Only by strengthening democracy and ensuring everyone has equal access to the ballot box, can we create lasting victories for wildlife and people alike.

It is vital that all citizens have the right to vote and take part in democracy. This will help lift up communities and ensure that everyone is included in decisions, from Congress to city councils. There are many opportunities, including the opportunity to ensure that a 21st-century Civilian Climate Corps and other clean and manufacturing jobs programs invests in the communities most in need.

It’s true that the past is prologue. Unless our leaders have the courage to find a way forward with the Freedom to Vote Act (John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act), we will never address environmental and health disparities that keep a significant portion of our fellow Americans out of success.

This article does NOT necessarily reflect the opinions of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., publisher of Bloomberg Law, Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Mustafa Santiago Ali (Ph.D., is vice president for Environmental Justice, Climate and Community Revitalization, National Wildlife Federation. He was an assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice for over two decades.

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