Editor’s Note - The Margin

Editor's note

Editor's note

I write to you from stolen Tongva land, amid ongoing environmental catastrophes around the world. Wildfires in the American West and floods in the Philippines, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, China, Nigeria, South Africa, and Mississippi have caused untold devastation for countless families and communities, for years to come. 

September 2022 also marks the 40th Anniversary of the environmental justice movement in the United States. A movement founded in Eastern North Carolina with roots around the world. A movement led by poor and working-class folks. A movement fostered by Black, Indigenous, Latine, and AAPI women fighting for collective survival — for their families, for their communities, and for seven generations to come. 

I met the indomitable Elsie Herring in the back of a packed commuter van one sticky North Carolina summer day in 2018. Traveling through Duplin County, a rural community dotted by hog farms and acres of corn and soybeans, Ms. Herring had to raise her voice above the air conditioning to point out the numerous CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) facilities we passed. Local organizers, and even NC Department of Environmental Quality officials, including future EPA Administrator Michael Regan, took in the landscape and hung on Ms. Herring’s words. Her gaze was intense but kind, her voice both assured and melodic. Perhaps, for the first time in her life, after endless harassment, threats, and intimidation, her government was going to recognize the injustice she’s fought and endured for decades. 

Ms. Herring and over 500 other residents had gone to federal court against CAFOs and the companies running them, and it looked like they were going to win. For years, CAFOs meant noxious odors, flies, and liquid waste permeating the lives and property of local residents. I felt hopeful Ms. Herring and her neighbors would receive justice typically denied to most marginalized communities. 

Meanwhile, many in the North Carolina Legislature worked furiously on a Pork Council-sponsored bill to undercut the reparations residents could receive. Duplin County, and other communities harmed by CAFOs, needed Governor Roy Cooper to veto the bill, and for the veto to withstand an override vote. 

The plaintiffs won their case. The legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of the pork industry’s bill. Justice served, but full justice unrealized.

Duplin County reflects the story of environmental injustices faced by millions in this country every day. Historically, the knowledge, experiences, and stories of people like Ms. Herring have been deemed expendable, deceitful, and inconvenient. 

We needed a different kind of platform to tell nuanced and intimate stories of environmental justice like Ms. Herring’s, and in turn, speak truth to power. Our stories expose the ongoing cycle of violence and exploitation intentionally pushing the poor and people of color to the edge of society while driving our planet to the brink of collapse. 

The data scientists and designers at Earthrise Media have been both behind the scenes and at the forefront of environmental data analysis and mapping for over a decade. In creating this publication, we often talked about how environmental justice communities are left out of the data and how that data is used to make policy decisions. 

Meanwhile, communities are often questioned and dismissed as their knowledge and lived experiences are either not present in the data or ignored. In the United States, where the burden to prove injustice falls squarely on the people who are harmed, this data is a matter of survival. 

By combining personal narratives, data analysis, and visualizations, our hope is for readers and environmental justice communities to see themselves in where we are now, to better understand how we got here, and to re-imagine where we go next. As our environment changes, our democracy evolves, and our economy transitions, we must continue to ask ourselves: what does a just future look like? 

The following stories may just tell us the answer, from the people who know what justice looks like...

Welcome to The Margin.

Bryce Cracknell
Founder & Executive Editor
The Margin

This wouldn’t be possible without the many environmental justice leaders I have learned from and spent time with over the past eight years. Many thanks to Naeema Muhammad, Dr. Danielle Purifoy, Andrea Delgado, Dr. Aradhna Tripati, Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, Jamie Cole, Ayo Wilson, Ellis Tatum, Nalleli Cobo, Shandiin Herrera, Charlie Mae Holcomb, Mary McDonald, Mustafa Santiago Ali, Jacqueline Patterson, and my dear friend Catherine Coleman Flowers.

In memory of Elsie Herring, Pamela Rush, and Pono Shim. 

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