Celeste Flores, our Lake County Outreach Director, is attending the State of the Union Address as Senator Tammy Duckworth's guest tonight. In a press release yesterday, Senator Duckworth said, “I’m so pleased to bring Celeste—a tireless advocate for environmental justice—as my guest to the State of the Union so together, we can shine a light on these issues and raise awareness of the fact that these communities face public health challenges at alarming rates while too many in power look the other way.” In this post, Celeste shares about her roots as an environmental justice advocate and what this opportunity means to her.
Tonight, the U.S. House and Senate will come together for the annual State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C. — and I’ll be in the room.
I’m honored to be the guest of Senator Tammy Duckworth and together we will help amplify and spotlight environmental justice communities and the injustices they face everyday.
We will simultaneously shine light on the reality that these same communities have the solutions to environmental injustices and must lead in any solution proposed.
Duckworth is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. In April 2019, Duckworth co-founded the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus to raise awareness of the many environmental and pollution issues that have created public health challenges, which disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.
I’ve seen firsthand how environmental justice communities in Lake County in Illinois carry the burden of polluting industries and are forced to deal with the consequences of environmental injustice for generations. The time to act is now and by joining together with elected officials like Senator Duckworth, who has been a staunch advocate for environmental justice, we can lift up the voices of those disproportionally affected and achieve our shared vision for social change that is led by those most directly impacted.
Growing up, I never questioned the quality of the air I breathed. It was not until I moved back to Lake County after receiving my bachelor’s degree that I learned about the contamination caused by the pollution spewing from the coal-fired power plant on the lakefront in Waukegan, IL. This is what industry relies on: community members who are too busy to question why one in three children in Waukegan have asthma or asthma-like symptoms. And after five years, imagine my surprise when I a got a call from a reporter asking me if I knew what ethylene oxide was. I learned that I have and continue to live less than 3 miles away from two facilities emitting significant levels of ethylene oxide, a toxic gas.
I want to thank Senator Duckworth and her office for this opportunity to once more partner up to uplift environmental justice communities not only in Illinois but across the nation.
A final word to faith communities who are not members of an environmental justice community:
Faith communities have always played a critical role in social change in America. We must continue this tradition by supporting communities disproportionally affected by climate change and toxic pollution just as our faith communities fought for justice during the civil rights movement. The work with faith communities also needs to be grounded in centering the voices of those disproportionally affected by climate change. Communities of faith have an obligation to create space for frontline environmental justice voices and to follow the lead of environmental justice communities. This will not be easy.
It will require a continuous process of trial and error as we each learn to lead and to follow. It will take time to get it right, and we may experience anger and frustration along the way. Nevertheless, it is crucial that we continue along this journey in solidarity with one another, rooted in our love of the creator and all creation.
Working together we have accomplished so much in Lake County since 2013. I’m looking forward to everything we will get done in 2020.