King would find inequality in the environment

LEWISTON — If the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he might preach sermons about giving people equal rights to clean air and water.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Bates College interim President Nancy J. Cable, back left, makes the opening remarks during the Martin Luther King Jr. Observance on Monday in the chapel. Julian Agyeman, a professor at Tufts University, delivered the keynote address.

It's the "unfinished business" that Julian Agyeman believes King alluded to in speeches but never spoke about explicitly before his assassination, the author and teacher told a Bates College crowd Monday.

"Healthy human habitats is what he was talking about," Agyeman said. "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work and coming home to a decent place to live."

The simple notion was at the heart of an hour-long address by Agyeman, a professor and chair of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

The keynote speech also served as the centerpiece to a weekend of events at Bates aimed at marking King's birthday and honoring his work.

Other events included a memorial service for King, the annual debate between Bates students and students from Morehouse College, King's alma mater, and a series of open discussions and workshops.

Most of the talks focused on the intersection of civil justice and environmental sustainability, something Agyeman described as "just sustainability."

Too many of the world's worst environments are in places dominated by poor people, he said.

It's plain wrong, said Agyeman, who grew up in England.

And it won't last forever, he insisted. The inequities between people — Americans account for less than 5 percent of the world's population but use 25 percent of its resources — will eventually provoke people from other countries to act if the wealthy do not change.

"Twenty-five percent is not going to continue," Agyeman said. "Someday a U.S. president has got to stand up and say, 'We have got to dial it down.'"

Or worse, the poor will rise.

"This just will not continue," he said. "We will either descend into barbarism and warfare over resource allocation or we will go to a table and start to think about how to allocate resources more fairly."

Convincing people to change will be extraordinarily tough, people said after Agyeman's address.

After the keynote, attendees were encouraged to attend one of six breakout sessions around campus.

In a classroom in Bates' Hedge Hall, students, teachers and visitors to the campus said they admired much of Agyeman's remarks, including his suggestion that cities and public spaces in particular should be designed to encourage more interaction between races. However, they also wondered if Americans might ever give up some of their luxuries in the name of fairness.

"We run the risk of telling people that the way you were born is the way you will end," said Chris Fortson, a Morehouse student originally from Milwaukee, Wis. "If you're born poor and we tell you, 'You shouldn't desire too much more because everybody has to have a piece of the cake,' then where is that innovation, that strive to be the greatest?"

Another Morehouse student wondered if environment and wealth are as linked as Agyeman suggested.

"Is the issue that poor neighborhoods don't have clean air and clean water or is it an issue that poor neighborhoods are poor?" asked Derrick Reed, a Morehouse student from Philadelphia. "For me, that's the part where I am lost when we talk about environmental justice."

Jane Costlow, a Bates professor of environmental studies, said people must face truths.

"You can propose capitalism forever and ever, but we live in a limited world with a growing population, so there's a challenge," she said.

"I think Martin Luther King, like Desmond Tutu, was a man of faith before he was a capitalist," she said. "That ratchets up a question about what's our vision of a good community. Is it a capitalist vision? Or is it a vision that comes out of a tradition of justice?"

It speaks to more than just the environment. For instance, she wondered aloud why Lewiston's Longley Elementary School is both a failing school and serves the community's poorest children.

"You need to ask, 'What's our definition of well-being? What do we want our community to look like ?'" she said.

"Think about it," she said.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Julian Agyeman delivered the keynote speech during the Martin Luther King observance on Monday at Bates College. Agyeman spoke on "The Dream Lives On: Towards A " Just Sustainability". Agyeman is a professor and chair, of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

Mike Lachance's picture

I admire the enthusiasm about

I admire the enthusiasm about promoting an ideaology one is passionate about (Socialism)... But let's face it MLK, Jr. was not talking about socialism in his "unfinished business" references.

"In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

He's not talking about cashing a WELFARE check, he's referring to FREEDOM for all... freedom to be as capitalistic as one wishes, if one so chooses.

"But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

AMEN Dr. Rev. King., AMEN...

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

AMEN.

"This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Socialism? ummmmm...

Nope.

GEORGE MCLEAN's picture

King would find enquality

You bet your boopies he would. I don't get welfare but large percentage of other races do!!

 's picture

why is it that we are told to

why is it that we are told to change our ways by people that make a lot more money than we do and live in nicer homes than we do? woildn't it be better to help the poor move up economically instead of forcing the wealthy and niddle class to become poorer and using less? you cand preach all day about me being "greedy" but that doesn't resonate. name calling and playing the guilt card will never workwhen those using it are better off than 99% of the people. the important thing to remember is that some pointy headed psuedo-intellectual is not smart enough to tell me how to live.SO SHUT THE HELL UP.

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...