What's Right Isn't Always Polite

If you ask my father he would probably tell you that being an advocate was a natural progression for me. I come from a long line of strong-willed, passionate and oftentimes opinionated humans. Surely advocacy is ingrained in my genes. Even as a young child I was appalled at inequality. The unfair treatment of others for ANY REASON AT ALL is inexcusable. Needless to say, acts of discrimination and inequality never made sense to me. Social injustices, civil rights violations, gross negligence in industry or misuse of power – these actions still do not make sense.

I always knew I wanted to work for the lesser served, to give a voice to those who do not have one or who have not yet found the courage to speak their truth, I always knew I wanted to make a difference. I began doing advocacy work in the social justice sector in my late twenties. By pure luck I nailed an interview with a statewide child advocacy organization. Through hard work I progressed from an entry-level administrative position to becoming the state director.

Advocacy work is not easy. Granted, when one is advocating for non-violence the message can seem easier to understand than to accomplish. Abuse is wrong. Do not harm another being – human or animal. Simple, right? Not always. Try talking about your work in a casual setting and watch the mood change. Most people don’t want to hear about the dregs of society, the ones who abuse children, who sexually assault someone or torture animals. They especially don’t want to hear that the alleged offender was a person in a position of power. Knowledge is power and not only do we have to talk about social injustices, even when it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable, but we have to talk about action and solutions in order to make progress. Sometimes we even have to change our behavior.

Now I assure you, talking about the environment can be met with as much uneasiness, or even the occasional eye-roll. There is stigma attached to environmentalism. However, to me the message is as simple and as clear as any others in the advocacy field: Do no harm. We all have to live on this sphere. And this place, this rock we live on, is not able to care for itself – that is our job. One would think that this is the least we could do as a show of gratitude for the gifts of clean water, clean air, rich soil and sources of sustenance we have enjoyed for so long.

In my opinion, environmental work is an important issue on the social justice spectrum. To ignore the connection between the health of the environment and the health of the public, the health of the entire human populace, is a gross misuse of our intelligence as a species. Did you know that 769 million people do not have access to safe drinking water? More than 840,000 people die each year from preventable, water-related diseases due to this fact. Access to safe drinking water is not just a problem in underdeveloped or developing countries. It’s also a first-world problem that affects over nine million people each year.

We are very fortunate in this country to have laws protecting our drinking water supply. The Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) both provide a framework for what can and cannot go into the ground and the water, thereby setting a standard for what is considered safe, clean water. Why is this important? 

Eventually everything on the ground ends up in a waterway, which has potential to affect the ecosystem and its inhabitants or those who use water to survive. Our current drinking water system here in the United States is designed to filter out many contaminants but certainly cannot keep us safe from all of them; particularly when it comes to industrial practices. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes these accidents are a result of gross negligence and an unwillingness to follow environmental laws and best practices in an effort to save corporate dollars. For many of us here on the Gulf Coast, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster comes to mind when reading about water quality. For many in Charleston, West Virginia it’s the 2014 tank farm spill of a coal-processing chemical onto the banks of Elk River just a mile from their drinking water intake. These are not isolated incidents. Chemical spills happen all the time yet many of these accidents are underreported. Oftentimes the lasting effects on the ecosystem and human populace are minimized by people in power in an effort to continue production.

We have a responsibility not only to ourselves, and our community but to the world-at-large to do our part, everyday, to make the world a better place. That goes beyond just being a kind person, this responsibility encompasses the impact we make (positive or negative) on the environment. This also means holding others accountable, individuals and businesses alike, to be good stewards of the environment.

At some point in life most people begin to wonder about their legacy. Are you living a life that is noteworthy? Are you doing something for the greater good, something that people will continue to talk about or teach about after you are gone? Do you even care about such things? What drives you?

For me, doing environmental work has the potential to leave such a legacy. Sure you can (and should) do your part to recycle or reuse what you have already to minimize any negative impacts that consumption has on the environment – that’s all great! But why not do more? Why not lead by example? Be active, be an advocate, make your voice heard. 

- JJ Moody,
Grants & Education Coordinator