Too much water or not enough water

Filed under: Earth Day,Environmental,Featured |

By Denise Perry, Executive Director, Power U Center, Miami

My great-grandmother was tuned into her surroundings and guess what, she didn’t have the Internet, the Weather Channel or access to the latest scientific studies. When she was in her 90’s she told my mother, “They better stop putting all these planes and rockets in the sky, ‘cause they are messin’ things up.”  She was not impressed with the man walking on the moon, either.

We all know that our knowledge of how to live off the land, weather patterns and home remedies come from our elders and is passed down to those of us interested in learning. Today, climate change is bringing those lessons to light. Almost every Sunday, when I call my parents, they tell me how weird the weather is back home: more rain than normal, too dry for bulbs to bloom, winds are picking up for a heavy unexpected storm.

Our capitalist-driven society has got us in a crisis and now communities like those of my great-grandmother’s—communities full of new immigrants, urban centers, and poor neighborhoods—all face “messed up” weather due to climate change. Cities are economic engines, generating profit for a few, creating environmentally hazardous conditions for everyone else. Organizations working for economic justice in these communities need to draw correlations between real-life experiences and community solutions, and battle against racist, inequitable solutions and policies like cap and trade.

The true irony about the cause and the impact of climate change in communities of color is that we have been the least responsible for this crisis. The majority of people of color come from rural or farming communities, where we lived with nature before we were driven into these cities for jobs during industrialization of the country. Poor living in cities contribute less to the crisis since the poor travel by public transportation, live in dense housing that demands less heat and cooling.

Consumption is our weakness since most products are not from nearby. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the life of sprawl and consumption of products brought in from places beyond our communities and now globalization. This is a simplification of the conditions, and there are lots of details in this equation, but overall these are facts of forced migrations of people of color.

I live in South Florida where folks come to bask in the sun and take in the beautiful ocean breezes. Well, the weather has got everyone talking—we are in for a big hurricane! We are running out of water! Sea levels are rising! Flooding is getting harder to control! We are draining Lake Okeechobee dry, leaving us with a drinking water crisis! Too much water is going to drown us, not enough water is going dehydrate us! These two water crises come together in the eye of a hurricane. When hurricanes hit we try to save ourselves from the flooding; at the same time there are fights to get drinking water. Poverty and race make this a life-and-death reality. South Florida feels particularly edgy right now as we draw closer to June 1, officially hurricane season. The other edgy feelings arise from our memories of brothers and sisters from the Gulf Coast surviving Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. These survivors, and those who lost their lives or dignity due to the gross neglect of the U.S. government, are literally our family.

How do we begin to strike the balance of too much storm water and not enough potable water? The solutions to this irony of too much water and not enough water are aimed at those who can pay. Pay to live in a home that is built and maintained to be safe, pay to have clean water, pay to have access to transportation for evacuations, pay to have politicians develop policies, zoning, and ordinances in their best interest all at the cost to those who are poor and black or immigrants, women and children.

Climate change has created erratic weather patterns with the potential to affect South Florida that is reminiscent to Katrina’s destruction of the Gulf Coast. Although most people associate Katrina primarily with New Orleans, there was a much broader area that was damaged and that is what we need to discuss as a community.

It would behoove us to look at the wide array of immediate and delayed impact so we can begin to understand what a plan of action would be for the future of marginalized communities of color. The solution is systems change in the city—economic, social, and political—that would address affordable housing, water, transportation, food, planning and toxics, with race, class and gender equity as the measure of our success.

Some predictions indicate that South Florida will be under water before 2020 as the world continues to heat up, as water expands, as sea levels rise. South Florida sits at sea level, and the capitalists continue to build their playgrounds along the water’s edge, providing employment (low wages, poor working conditions) for community residents such as folks in Overtown, a historically Black community.

The Miami-Dade County government has created a task force to examine the impacts of climate change on south Florida and provide action plans to reduce our CO2 emissions. What I don’t see coming from the county taskforce is a real plan for evacuations or plans for improving the poor housing quality (leaking roofs, doors and windows) in the neighborhoods such as Overtown. What are the green employment opportunities for our people that would allow them to improve their housing and increase our economic status? Then people could afford the transportation, potable water, and emergency health supplies they need to prepare for crises. The task force is a collection of politicians, business leaders, and academics, and again the marginalized communities are overlooked.

Here in Miami, the Power U Center was the first responder to hundreds of residents in Overtown who were being evicted from their apartment buildings during Katrina when code enforcement started to put them out on the street at 5 AM because roofs were leaking and there was no running water. As we made calls and worked with a local agency to store the residents’ personal belongings that they could not take to the shelters, the county and city ran in circles. The building owners starting replacing the roofs while now-homeless residents stood by watching in dismay and confusion–they had been begging for the roofs to be fixed for over six months.

If we are going to be proactive about climate change we need to take advantage of the resources that exist through the new excitement for “green.” In south Florida we need dollars to rehabilitate rental units as well as private housing; 64% of residents in the city of Miami are renters.

Power U ( is looking at how we improve the quality of housing in Miami to ensure the safety of our community. We are looking to create jobs for people working to improve the conditions of their community, working to address the impacts of climate change on their neighborhood and services.

What can you do to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, as the old saying goes? Take a personal scan of your skills and use them to support action and increase a grassroots organization’s capacity and its resilience. Arts and culture, fundraising, research, transportation, and communications are some categories; think about what you know and what may be needed.

The point here is that you can simply write a check or you can show up and offer your car to drive local residents to city hall for a protest, or if you are a drummer, provide drumming for an action to increase the energy and fun of protesting. The needs are broad, the issues are deep. If we want to be a part of bringing attention to the environmental degradation in communities of color we need to do more than recycle, do more than go organic. We need to increase the capacity of grassroots people’s movements because they know we need to stop messin’ things up.

Denise Perry is Executive Director of Power U Center, a grassroots organization based in Miami fighting for land, people, and community; organizing for justice in schools and communities; and supporting the struggle for social, environmental, and economic justice. Power U has a long history of successes for the communities it fights along side of. From community health clinics to neighborhood organizing, Power U’s current projects are aimed at confronting the core issues facing youth and low-income people of color in the Overtown area and the rest of Miami.


Line Break

Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook


nine - 6 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>