This month in the MOMSpot we focus on MOMS member Anita Jackson, of Berkeley, California. Anita shares how her experience as a labor coach to low-income women inspires her work as a research consultant for CLEEN, a project of the Center for Environmental Health. Anita is expecting her first child in October.
Q. What is the focus of your work with CEH?
A. CLEEN (www.cleenca.org) works on strengthening the laws in our state that help keep our drinking water clean and help regulate toxic pollution. This includes protecting open spaces and the many species that use our waterfront for nesting and habitat. The Berkeley Waterfront also includes the Berkeley pier, which is one of the few places where fishing without a license is allowed. So we see many people fishing here for food, not just recreation. CEH with the creation of bright yellow fish advisory signs that are in several languages spoken around here. But we know that so much more could be done–not just in terms of public education, but in preventing sources of contamination (like dioxins) from ever reaching the Bay.
Q. How has your experience working as a labor coach in Zimbabwe and in San Francisco influenced your work on environmental health and justice issues?
A: I was a volunteer labor coach for low-income women and girls about ten years ago. Issues of environmental health and justice are deeply interrelated, and in no context is this more stark than in the lives of pregnant women who live in poverty. As I got to know my clients’ daily lives, I realized we couldn’t stop the inquiry at simply “Why are there pesticides in our foods?” We also had to ask “Why are organic foods more accessible in some places than others? Why do some places have liquor stores and no food stores? How can we improve bus service so that people aren’t isolated from parks and well-stocked grocery stores? How can we change the perception that fast food is cheap?” And so on.
Q. You seem to have a passion for human rights issues. In your opinion, when does an environmental issue become a human rights issue?
A. To me, an environmental issue begins as a human rights issue! I feel like it’s a mistake for various issue-based movements to work in isolation. I don’t mean to have a particularly anthropocentric point of view or to say that we have to find the human impact in every environmental issue for that issue to be worthy of attention. I mean that when we realize how dependent we are on the health of the environment, we see that a complete dialogue about human rights includes discussion about the environment. In law school, I worked on peace agreements for war-torn nations that included provisions for dealing with issues like deforestation and desertification. Decimating the environment can destroy a culture, a people, and take away human rights, health and dignity at a fundamental level.
Q: What sparked your interest in MOMS?
A: Like many others, I was deeply inspired by Sandra Steingraber and her book Having Faith. She writes so clearly, poetically and powerfully about pregnancy and birth processes, particularly about breastfeeding. I first read the book long before I became pregnant. Now I’m a mother-to-be, due in October. Ire-read the book and see my body in a whole new light, as the first environment for my little one. It’s astounding to think that, as Steingraber points out, the baby’s first nourishment comes from me,which puts the baby above me on the food chain. It’s even more astounding to think that, given this fact, environmental health and breast milk aren’t more aggressively protected by lawmakers and others in power. I joined MOMS to help change that.
Q: What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue that we are facing as a planet?
A: This goes back to our theme of interrelatedness, but I think we could address so many environmental issues if we looked at the global economy and how multinational corporations function. There is relatively little regulation of them, especially compared to governmental entities. The Office of the US Trade Representative is actually incredibly powerful. This is a quote right from their website:
“As President Bush stated when he signed the Trade Act of 2002, “History shows that as nations become more prosperous, their citizens will demand, and can afford, a cleaner environment.” “
But what Bush is missing is that people deserve a cleaner environment even without being prosperous, without being able to”afford” it. A clean environment is not something one aspires to when one can “afford” it. A clean environment is as much a fundamental human right as the freedom of speech. We need to realize that we depend on each other to protect and promote a clean environment.