|The Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (Southwest Network) is a people of color, intergenerational, multi-issue, regional, bi-national organization comprising 60 grassroots community-based, native, labor, youth and student groups and organizations working for environmental and economic justice in the southwest and western U.S. and northern Mexico. The Southwest Network was established in 1990 as a vehicle for regional and national empowerment created by and for grassroots organizations. The Southwest Network strengthens the work of its member organizations to empower communities and workers by providing training, research and technical assistance, capacity building, and leadership development to collectively address local, state, regional, national and global environmental and economic justice policies and practices.
The Southwest Network has broadened the perspective of environment beyond the scope of conservation and preservation of natural resources and has defined the environment as "Where we live, where we work, where we play, where we learn, and where we pray." We envision an inter-generational, multi-racial and international movement that promotes environmental and economic justice by recognizing the direct link between economic, environmental, and health issues and demanding a safe, clean community and workplace environment.
The Southwest Network has been a successful model of bringing together organizations from different cultures, primarily Latino, Native American, Asian-Pacific Islander, and African American communities, to overcome racial divisions, build capacity, and develop common strategies for community and worker empowerment. Overcoming cultural barriers has been essential to allowing us to impact policy beyond the local level.
The Southwest Network has provided a vehicle for member organizations to develop regional strategies that have influenced industry accountability and changed regional and national policies of government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and several state institutions. In 1994, the Southwest Network played a fundamental role, along with many other EJ Network and organizations, in the national movement that led to the signing of a Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice by President Bill Clinton. The Executive Order has led to an examination of policies throughout all federal agencies impacting environmental justice. More recently, in 2005, Southwest Network New Mexico EJ Working Group recommended that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) conduct Statewide EJ Listening Sessions that led to the creation and signing of Environmental Justice Executive Order 2005-056 signed by Governor Bill Richardson on November 18, 2005. This action has provided a model for affiliated groups in other states in influencing EJ policy on a local and state level and provides an avenue for collective action for government and industry accountability on a national level.
The Southwest Network provides a forum for organizations to learn from each other. In a peer-to-peer learning environment, organizations have shared successful strategies, tactics, and organizing models. In the early 1990’s People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) in Austin, TX adopted a strategy of conducting community economic and environmental tours, which they learned from other Southwest Network affiliated organizations. These tours were a fundamental educational piece for elected officials that led to the closing of poisonous gasoline tank farms in East Austin. Community tours have since become a primary demand of the Southwest Network affiliates in confronting the Environmental Protection Agency regional offices. Over the past decade and a half EPA Regional Administrators in 3 regions have visited communities throughout the Southwest leading to stronger and swifter enforcement, and administrative changes within EPA.
The Southwest Network has assisted local communities with limited resources to connect to national and global partners working for human rights, environmental protection, sustainable development, and worker rights. This has allowed community leaders to present their struggles before national and international bodies and see their fights within the global context. Through the Southwest Network community leaders from member organizations have participated in global forums such as the UN Conference on Environment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the UN Conference on Racism in South Africa, the World Social Forum in Brazil and Venezuela, and the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, and many others. Exchanges between Southwest Network member organizations have also provided essential links and learning opportunities for our communities.
The Southwest Network determined that developing youth leadership was critical for the success of addressing local environmental and economic justice issues. In 1993, the YLD Campaign was initiated at the Youth Caucus Meeting during the third Southwest Network Gathering held in San Diego, California. The Youth Leadership and Development Campaign (YLD) has continued to support Southwest Network member organizations and their efforts to engage youth in decision making processes, build capacity, build leaders, and build community and has served as a vehicle to refresh the environmental and economic justice movement by continually training and incorporating a cadre of youth of color organizers. A commitment was made by the Southwest Network leadership to continually and actively incorporate youth voices in the decision-making process of the organization. This commitment resulted in designating two seats for youth representatives in the Coordinating Council, the organization’s primary leadership body, and establishing the Youth Leadership Development Campaign (YLD), led exclusively by young people.
The Southwest Network has been a leader in developing the next generation of leaders. Since 2002 over 170 youth of color have participated in the Youth Organizing Training Institute. Since 1994, over 140 youth or color have participated in the Summer Youth Placement Program. The YOTI and SYPP continue to be a model for youth of color-led, intergenerational organizing, and coalition building.
Since its inception, the Southwest Network has played a leading role in moving forward the environmental and economic justice movement in the US. For the first time, multi-racial groups from the Southwest and northern Mexico have jointly developed and acted on a common agenda. In so doing, the Network has provided a model for other environmental and economic justice networks throughout the US and Mexico.