“When people are inspired by you leading them, it makes them want to go harder for it.”
-Chloe Desir, Environmental Justice Organizer, Ironbound Community Corporation
Chloe on who she is and why she does it...
My name is Chloe (she/her) and I am the Environmental Justice Organizer at the Ironbound Community Corporation in the Ironbound East Ward of Newark New Jersey. Essentially what I do is community based work with community members to inform them about the issues that they have in their own area. A lot of folks in this neighborhood don’t understand that they are in the vicinity of three power plants, an incinerator, a sewage plant, a fat rendering plant, a food flavoring plant, and they live not even a mile away from a place that’s known to be called “Chemical Corridor”. Chemical corridor is near Doremus Avenue, and it’s where a bunch of these facilities lie and it just so happens that there’s also a correctional facility on that street. Oftentimes when developers ask if anyone lives at those residences before going into a facility, the people that are incarcerated that live there aren’t considered.
Honestly, the more I get involved with the movement and learn more about it, the more I want to stay. I feel like when I first got into this work, I knew this was going to be environmental justice, but I didn't realize how intersectional it was and how much ground it covered. In the grand scheme of things when I went to school, I knew I just wanted to help people. That's the main goal that I had, and I still do. While we talk about being an EJ department, we also talk about immigration and housing and all of those issues that go into it because those are the people that end up in these communities.
Some of ICC's recent successes and campaigns...
For over 10 years, we were working on the Environmental Justice Law (S232), which actually got passed this past week! We also were able to stop a sludge facility from coming into the Ironbound not too long ago, and I had been working on a campaign to stop Amazon from building an Airhub at the Newark Airport. With the Amazon Airhub, I was part of the coalition hands on where I provided people with community meetings, letting folks know what options they have, that there’s a community benefits agreement if Amazon were to lay ground at the airport, which would include things like local hirings, healthcare, livable wages, etc. We also were able to take meetings with board members at the time to voice any issues that we might have had, actually it was our current Congressman Menendez. After that, we also went to the Port Authority board meetings because they were handling the Port and the Airport as well. The Ports themselves have so much money. But you know, it’s money that’s going through Newark, not to Newark.
Chloe on why it's important to keep environmental justice intersectional...
In the Ironbound, it’s predominantly immigrants that live here. It was originally a Portuguese and Brazilian area, which it still is, it’s mostly Portuguese and Brazilian owned with a lot more Hispanic and Black people living here as well. One of our main challenges with the immigrant community is having our information be accessible to them. There are a lot of barriers when it comes to language and the information that we give out, especially with state agencies that aren't able to give us translated packets (#LanguageAccess!). Also, just that they live there in the first place, they should know what's going on. One in four kids in the city alone have asthma, so to be concentrated in an area with all of these polluting facilities, you should be aware that these things are not common and not normal.
Chloe on what Earth Day means to her as an environmental justice organizer...
It’s definitely changed! At first, I was like “Oh my gosh I have to recycle today!” and then you find out that less than 5% of things are actually recycled. Earth Day now is more about accessibility and awareness than it is about performative actions. This is the busiest week of my working life to be honest. I’ve had busy times, but now, folks are like we have to reach out and do some environmental justice stuff. But I definitely think that one of the most important things that I push is that there’s way more to environmental justice than what we know about right now.
What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago, where do you see the movement in 5-10 years?
Five years ago I was 18. Don’t be so stressed about your major. I went to school for political science with a minor in Spanish, a very broad major. I guess it worked out in the long run! But definitely I would say to be inclined to explore more avenues. I’m still learning what an organizer is! In an optimistic way, I think that in 5 years we’ll have a stronger base. Last week, I was at a high school in the Ironbound. A lot of the folks that were there were like “I have a lot of environmental issues in my community” or “there are a lot of trucks that pass by and that’s an issue” and even this one girl was like “I want to work in advocacy to defend the people that go through these issues” So what do I see? I see hope.
Chloe's favorite memory from ICC...
The first thing that comes to mind is when I did a screening for the Sacrifice Zone for Seton Hall Law and they were really reflective about what they saw. One person said that she had friends there and would hang out there, and that seeing this community being advocated for was really touching. She said that she was also Honduran and it pushed her to go out and do the work. When people are inspired by you leading them, it makes them want to go harder for it. So that’s definitely a great experience. Another thing I will say is that going on retreats and trips with organizers all over the country and world is great. For example, I went to Chicago for the Green New Deal Network and I was able to connect with other EJ Organizations as well as Indigenous groups. I was able to listen to what everyone’s experience was, as well as connect on how we’re similar and share the same fight. It pushes you to keep going for sure.
I was able to meet with an elected representative from Chile in New York, and he came to talk to grassroots organizations about water privatization in Chile. Essentially, it would cost money to have access to water. You can connect those issues back to cities like Newark. Actually, there was an issue with our pipes and they were trying to privatize the water here until people were rising up and speaking out about it.
Chloe's inspiration in her work...
I would say my own boss Maria. She’s a machine of sorts. She’s done so much work in environmental justice to push the agenda of the movement. It inspires me to know that it’s possible to get things done. She’s holding this whole department down, and is even on the White House Environmental Advisory Council! She handles herself with discernment around other people, but is still able to achieve our agenda. At the end of the day, she’s doing it for the community, the people of Ironbound. When it comes to getting things done, you have to consider those that are the most overburdened.
What's a piece of media that's had an impact on you?
The last article that I read that really impacted me was on the silence of gentrification. The journalist goes into how communities like Bed-Stuy that are really vibrant and loud where people would have their outdoor cookouts are being gentrified by communities that are known to be more suburban and affluent are more quiet. So when they come into these neighborhoods, they essentially silence the people that live there. So the author gives her own account of going from a POC neighborhood to going to an Ivy League college, and only by playing her music, someone asked her if she had any decorum.
What songs do you have on repeat right now?
Right now, a song on replay for me is Escapism by Raye. More aesthetically, Masterpiece by Sault is in my top 20 right now.
What is one thing you are really passionate about outside of work?
I’ve been trying to go to one bookstore in every state. So far, I’ve been to Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, and New York. My favorite was definitely in Maryland, it was worker owned and operated and they had a really nice selection. They also had their own environmental justice work they did there (Red Emma’s in Baltimore). There’s also this place in Philadelphia, The Wooden Shoe, that is a volunteer run and anarchist bookstore. They also have a huge section of LGBTQ+ books, and there were specific sections for each topic. It was really great.
Be sure to follow them on Instagram at @ironboundenvironmentaljustice!
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