Meaningful Involvement


Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

If I had to pick out one part of environmental justice and other DEIJ issues, it would be the concept of meaningful involvement. Diversity and representation are assets that add value and legitimacy to the ideas and initiatives that they create. The search for meaningful involvement is hard, though, and for good reason. For us to have meaningful involvement and to reach the people who have historically been overlooked, we need to create an environment that is safe for them and an environment where they can bring their authentic and whole selves without fear of rejection.

I stumbled across this concept on either Twitter or Instagram and it pains me that I didn’t catch the source but as I frantically researched keywords with the hopes of running into the original concept I found a quote by Vernā Myers. She said that “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” and the fireworks went off inside my brain because YES! The distinction between diversity and inclusion is important and sort of fuzzy because they are so often grouped together. In order to have meaningful involvement you need diversity, but not as a foundation. First, you need an inclusive environment so that, when you add diversity, you’re not forcing people to enter hostile spaces where they can’t dance their way and comfortably ask dance partners for what they need.

This is an empathetic guide because I think many people ask themselves what they can personally do to create an inclusive environment and I think it’s time we talk about it. It is also called an empathetic guide because, while I am not a DEIJ expert, I have learned how to make people feel involved as a result of being born with what I see as two steps down from the hyperempathy that Lauren Olamina has in Parable of the Sower. I believe that empathy should be the first step we take when engaging with people, especially when we are asking for their help and intellectual labor.

The first step in my Empathetic Guide to Meaningful Involvement is to look outside of yourself and see how others experience the world. Read books from authors who live completely different lives from you. Engage with art from people who create things that challenge your ideas of what art is. Watch movies in different languages than the ones that you speak. Familiarize yourself with how other people interpret their world so that when the time comes, they don’t have to explain every single cultural difference when they enter a space with others. I’m in no way equating research to lived experience but Black girls in college shouldn’t have to explain why we wear bonnets.

The next thing to do is audit your space. Look at both your physical and virtual spaces, would somebody needing accommodations have to ask for them and do the work to create them? If you see this, start working to fix it. Start thinking about your unspoken rules and think about why you didn’t need them spelled out to you. These can be huge barriers to involvement because time spent participating can sometimes be spent trying to find where you fit in the current dynamic when the dynamic should be fluid enough to account for what people need. Audit your space, but more importantly, be willing to change your space to make it more inclusive even if it meets the needs of those currently there, because more will always come.

The last part of this guide is to be patient and compassionate in the moments that make you want to give up and do it yourself. Everybody starts from a different spot and took a different path to get where they are today. Consider that your impatience might be you expecting a system or structure that worked for you, to work for somebody who has different needs from your own. These are the moments when we need compassion and empathy the most. When you see someone struggling, ask how you can help them and truly listen when they tell you. You don’t have to be perfect, but empathy is the first step in bridging the gap between honest imperfection and the growing pains you feel in the beginning of any meaningful journey.

Reflecting On Women Environmentalists

For too long, women were seen as helpless people who always needed a protector. They were seen as fragile and were framed as too emotional or too simple to hold powerful jobs in society. Throughout history, countless women have shown the world how capable and innovative they can be. These women had to fight not only sexism, but also the other intersections of their identities like race, class, and sexuality, just to be awarded the same opportunities that were awarded to men by default. There are countless women who have paved the way for a more equitable society and workplace, and today we are going to highlight the women who have paved the way in the environmental field.

Mollie Beattie

In 1993, Mollie Beattie was appointed Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position and made a tremendous impact despite succumbing to her fight with brain cancer after only 3 years at the job. She is remembered for her integral part in the protection of both the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Under her leadership, 15 national wildlife refuges were added, more than 100 habitat conservation plans were signed with private landowners, and the gray wolf was reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains. Beattie made a huge impact on the environment in her time as director and her love for the earth has lived on in those who follow after her.

Mari Copeny

Also known as “Little Miss Flint”, Mari Copeny is known for her a letter she wrote when she was 10 years old that asked President Obama to meet and discuss the Flint water crisis. This meeting resulted in him signing off on $100 million dollars in relief for Flint, Michigan and helped start a nationwide conversation about the importance of youth advocacy and the right to clean water. Now 13 years old, she continues to fight for the right to clean water for Flint and other environmental justice communities. She became a national youth ambassador to the Washington DC Women’s March in 2017 and worked to provide the children and families of Flint with water bottles, holiday presents, school supplies and so much more. She is proof that passion and drive has no age, and that the voices of the younger generation deserve to be hard and taken seriously.

Aurora Castillo

A fourth generation Mexican-American living in East Los Angeles, Aurora Castillo is known as being one of the driving forces behind the creation of The Mothers of East Lo Angeles (MELA). At 70 years old, she advocated against the construction of a new prison in her community that already housed seven at the time. In addition to the successful fight against the proposed prison, MELA advocated for public meetings being held in Spanish to encourage involvement for more community members, fought against a planned toxic waste incinerator, led the fight against plans of a hazardous waste treatment plant to be built near a high school, and advocated for more community in involvement and company accountability in the area. Castillo received the 1995 North American Goldman Environmental Prize and is remembered for being a powerful and impactful environmental justice advocate and leader.

Marissa McClenton is the author of this blog and a student at University of Delaware as well as the Clean Water Team’s Grassroots Organizer. Stay tuned for more insights and resources from the DEIJ Corner and Marissa in the future!

Help Pass House Bill 200 Today!

Breaking news, Water Warriors! The Clean Water for Delaware Act, known as HB200, is going to be up for vote on the House floor this Thursday, April 1, 2021!

HB 200 will establish a Clean Water Trust Fund, provide financial resources to improve Delaware’s water quality and flood control, and prioritize investments in low-income and underserved communities. With 90% of Delaware’s waterways considered impaired or polluted, over 100 miles of fish consumption advisories, and consistent flooding statewide, there is no better time to act than the present.

In order for HB200 to pass, House legislators need to hear from you, their constituents! Will you help us ask the House to pass the Clean Water for Delaware Act (HB200)?

Below we’ve included the target legislators for you to contact as well as an email template for reaching out. If you’d like to like reach out to your specific House legislator and they aren’t one of our targets, we’ve provided resources for that as well.

Target House Legislators – To send an email directly, simply click on the link associated with each Representative on the right hand side.

Rep. Stephanie Bolden, StephanieT.Bolden@delaware.gov
Rep. Sherry Dorsey-Walker, Sherry.DorseyWalker@delaware.gov
Rep. Kevin Hensley, Kevin.Hensley@delaware.gov
Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, Jeff.Spiegelman@delaware.gov
Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf, Peter.Schwartzkopf@delaware.gov
Rep. Franklin Cooke, FranklinD.Cooke@delaware.gov
Rep. Kim Williams, Kimberly.Williams@delaware.gov
Rep. Steven Smyk, Steve.Smyk@delaware.gov
Rep. Mike Ramone, Michael.Ramone@delaware.gov
Rep. Mike Smith, Michael.F.Smith@delaware.gov
Rep. Tim Dukes, Timothy.Dukes@delaware.gov
Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, Madinah.Wilson-Anton@delaware.gov
Rep. Eric Morrison, Eric.Morrison@delaware.gov
Rep. William Bush, William.Bush@delaware.gov
Rep. Shannon Morris, Shannon.Morris@delaware.gov
Rep. Sean Lynn, Sean.Lynn@delaware.gov
Rep. Andria Bennett, Andria.Bennett@delaware.gov
Rep. Charles Postles, Charles.Postles@delaware.gov
Rep. Lyndon Yearick, Lyndon.Yearick@delaware.gov
Rep. Jess Vanderwende, Jesse.Vanderwende@delaware.gov
Rep. Ruth Briggs-King, Ruth.BriggsKing@delaware.gov
Rep. Rich Collins, Rich.Collins@delaware.gov

Sample Email for House Representative 

Dear [Representative their last name],
I am writing to ask that you support the Clean Water for Delaware Act, HB200, to establish a Clean Water Trust Fund, provide financial resources to improve Delaware’s water quality and flood control, and prioritize investments in low-income and underserved communities. With 90% of Delaware’s waterways considered impaired, over 100 miles of fish consumption advisories, and consistent flooding statewide, there is no better time to act than the present.
Earlier this year, Governor Carney and legislative leaders proposed a $50 million investment in clean water. HB200 will support this investment by creating a Clean Water Trust Fund, a cabinet-level committee to oversee the Trust, and guidelines to developing an Annual Report and Strategic Plan for Clean Water.
Funds from the Trust will go towards numerous priorities, including but not limited to:
  • Municipal wastewater treatment projects
  • Watershed restoration projects, including natural solutions
  • Flood reduction
  • Public sewer and septic upgrades
Clean water is especially important to me because [insert why you care about clean water here. Adding your personal experiences will make your email to your Representative stand out and have a greater impact!]
We need clean water to protect our health, economy, and environment while improving water quality and reducing flooding.
Thank you.
Sincerely,
[Insert your name here]

Take Action on PFAS in Delaware: House Bill 8, The Drinking Water Protection Act


In early February of 2018, Delaware officials announced Blades residents should avoid drinking their water to allow the town time to install a carbon filtration system. The warning was due to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) detected at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory limit of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). Blades, which sits near the headwaters of the Nanticoke River, is one of 18 sites in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed where PFAS were discovered at levels of concern. The news of their PFAS contamination in 2018 shocked and inspired people statewide to advocate for the improvement and for new protections of Delaware’s water resources.

Now, it’s time to take action by supporting House Bill 8, The Drinking Water Protection Act. HB 8 is sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Dave Sokola and has drawn bipartisan support. It will be heard on the House floor for a vote on Thursday, April 29, at 2:00pm. Make your voice heard by contacting your House legislators today. For contact information and suggested talking points, check out our latest Action Alert newsletter. 

The legislation in its current form would direct the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Division of Public Health (DPH) to set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) on PFAS, specifically PFOS and PFOA, found in drinking water. By establishing enforceable MCLs, Delaware will be going above and beyond the EPA’s non-enforceable healthy advisory limits and will reinforce that water providers must fix problematic PFAS levels.

Background on PFAS

There are thousands of types of Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); two of the most studied are referred to as PFOA and PFOS. The EPA has issued health advisories based on the best available peer-reviewed studies of the effects of PFOA and PFOS on laboratory animals (rats and mice) and were also informed by epidemiological studies of human populations that have been exposed to PFASs. These studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), liver effects (e.g., tissue damage), immune effects (e.g., antibody production and immunity), thyroid effects and other effects (e.g., cholesterol change).

PFAS come from a wide variety of sources, and are often associated with manufacturing. In Blades, the source is believed to be from electroplating operations based on other metals that were found in high concentrations in groundwater with the PFAS. EPA Region 3 Site Assessment Manager, Connor O’Loughlin, noted that the EPA has been looking into two electroplating facilities in the area since the mid-1990s, Peninsula Plating and Procino Plating, though the Agency would look at additional sites in their investigation into the contamination.

This is a critical issue facing Delawareans today, and we urge you to contact your state representative to ask that they support passage of HB 8. Make your voice heard and help protect Delaware’s drinking water today.