I am Janiece Watts, the environmental justice organizer at NOC. I have been at NOC since January 2016, and have been working in the field of environmental policy and advocacy since I began college in 2007.
Janiece (center) on Youth Climate Justice Lobby Day
I started out at Hamline University with the organization MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group). The very first campaign I worked on was getting recycling bins campus wide. It was the perfect campaign to hook me into organizing. Recycling was something I grew up with, it was almost instinctive to put a pop can in a blue bin, but I learned quickly that that wasn’t everyone’s awareness.
That following year was my first election, and found a new sense of political appeal doing voter registrations. These two issues were and still are major drivers of my organizing work. I feel very strongly the need to create solutions through advocacy, policy and action. That’s why I am compelled to be here at NOC. I’m so thankful to be pairing my passions in environmental justice with the spirit and platform that NOC has in elevating every issue that is taken up here.
I have begun my term here working in three pillars: working with the coalitions of environmental and interfaith organizations, state agencies and community members on the state implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan is a federal mandate created by the President Obama’s administration, that is the most significant initiative to combat climate change by targeting the largest point sources of carbon emissions: coal, oil and gas power plants and garbage burners. With the Clean Power Plan as a vehicle, we are working together to phase out the HERC incinerator (Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center); and base build the environmental justice community for NOC.
The most effective way to do all of this is to shift the way we think and discuss environmental justice. While talking about effects of climate change in terms of natural disasters is vitally important, it is just as significant to connect environment to local and personal impacts. Health and economic equity is just as much a part of environmental justice as accessibility to natural resources.
We must form a link for the sustainability of our society that combats the systemic racism and oppression that’s experienced by our black and brown communities in health disparities, unemployment and educational gaps; to the lack of fresh foods, clean water, air, energy and the intrinsic connection we all have to nature. For this shift to occur, we must continue this journey of a collective movement that encompasses all aspects of justice. I know that being a part of NOC will draw these intersections powerfully, because when we work together, we win big.
This was demonstrated last week when I joined the long standing partnership of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, MPIRG, and Sierra Club at the seventh annual Youth Climate Justice Lobby Day. Here, we brought together young people, some who are high school and college students, some who are young professionals, but all who care about addressing environmental racism through policies like the Clean Power Plan and Minnesota’s state implementation plan (SIP).
We are pushing to have representation and influence in Minnesota’s SIP by collaborating with the state agency leading the implementation plan, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and by meeting with Governor Dayton’s administration and state legislators which is what this lobby day was about. Young people are leading on environmental justice in many ways. There's so much to be gained by having us be a part of this movement, and it is critical that we keep the momentum in merging all the social justice movements together.
Hope you can join us for the kickoff of the new environmental justice committee at NOC on April 6! You can find more info and RSVP here.