Virginia Organizing community activism

Op-ed: An engine for social justice leads the way to change

Virginia Organizing's 27-year history as a role model for The Daily Climate

I want to share a role model for impactful change.


For 27 years, Virginia Organizing has quietly – and not-so-quietly – pushed for equity and social justice in and around Virginia.

And for 20 of those years, Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of EHN.org and DailyClimate.org, has been part of the VO family. VO serves as our fiscal sponsor, handling our accounting and finances.

But VO does so much more, pushing us to report on environmental justice and fight climate and environmental inequities as we work to inform the world about the science of our planet and health.

Today, Friday, is our last day in that VO home. EHS has grown up: Tomorrow we take our first steps as our own independent nonprofit.

The Virginia Organizing model for change

VO made those steps possible.

In an era of Twitter campaigns and online petitions, VO has focused on grass-roots activism, showing up at city council meetings, building presence in the community and listening to community needs.

Every year the organization holds a "power analysis" – looking at who holds power over issues their constituents care about, and then figuring out how to leverage their networks to shift the power balance toward justice.

It's a remarkably effective approach.

  • VO reformed criminal justice in many localities and the state of Virginia with successful “ban the box” campaigns.
    • Removed the stigma of an arrest record or conviction that disproportionately affects minority communities.
  • It built coalitions that:
    • Brought tax relief to 150,000-plus low-wage earners,
    • Expanded Medicaid,
    • Shut down the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Worth copying: VO's beliefs

There's one other area where Virginia Organizing serves as a role model: Their statement of beliefs.

The 12 point list keeps the organization focused laser-like on its target of social equity, racial justice, and accountability from those in power. They all resonate with me, especially this one:

We believe that community, economic, social, and environmental policy should be developed with the greatest input from the people it is meant to serve, and that the policies should promote, celebrate and sustain the human and natural resources of Virginia.

I admire them all – and when EHS set out to craft its own statement of beliefs, we stood on VO's shoulders.

A legacy of advocacy and justice

So while VO ostensibly did our accounting, in reality their values, over 20 years, have permeated every aspect of EHS, from how we treat employees to the accountability we demand of people in power.

We're leaving VO today, but we're bringing VO's fierce, clear-eyed focus on justice, equity and a healthier world with us.

Photo montage courtesy Virginia Organizing, via Youtube.

environmental justice

LISTEN: Robbie Parks on why hurricanes are getting deadlier

"In places where there are high minority populations they bear, by far, the most burden of deaths from tropical cyclones."

Dr. Robbie Parks joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast for a bonus episode to discuss how hurricanes have become deadlier in recent years and how we can better protect vulnerable communities.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.

Massachusetts Governor announces plastic bottle ban for state agencies

Gov. Maura Healey announced she will sign environmental executive orders this week. Read about her proposed ban and new environmental goals.

U.S. industry lags on emissions cuts, DOE says

The country’s heavy industries remain off track in meeting the Biden administration’s climate goals but still have time to slash emissions by 40 percent by 2030, according to a trio of new reports from the Department of Energy.

Draft N.C. budget provision threatens plastic bag ban pursuit

Draft state budget language restricting how counties regulate containers poses a hurdle for local efforts to ban plastic bags.

Sponsor an ocean? Tiny island nation of Niue has a novel plan to protect its slice of the Pacific

The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue has come up with a novel plan to protect its vast and pristine territorial waters — it will get sponsors to pay.

Rishi Sunak considers weakening key green policies

Plans could include delaying a ban on sales of new petrol cars and the phasing out of gas boilers.
From our Newsroom
children nature

Opinion: When kids feel the magic of nature, they will want to protect it

Improving our quality of life starts with the simple of act of getting kids outdoors.

birds climate change

In the Gulf of Maine, scientists race to save seabirds threatened by climate change

“I could see that, if successful, the methods developed could likely help these species."

fracking economics

Appalachia’s fracking counties are shedding jobs and residents: Study

The 22 counties that produce 90% of Appalachian natural gas lost a combined 10,339 jobs between 2008 and 2021.

Marathon Petroleum y una ciudad de Texas muestran una  potencial crisis de comunicaciones sobre sustancias químicas

Marathon Petroleum y una ciudad de Texas muestran una potencial crisis de comunicaciones sobre sustancias químicas

En los últimos tres años, Marathon ha violado repetidamente la ley de Aire Limpio y tuvo tres emergencias en el semestre de febrero a julio de 2023.

WATCH: How Marathon Petroleum and one Texas city show the potential for a chemical communication crisis

WATCH: How Marathon Petroleum and one Texas city show the potential for a chemical communication crisis

Marathon in Texas City has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act and had three emergencies in the span of a six month period.

air pollution heart attack

ER visits for heart problems plummeted after Pittsburgh coal processor shut down

Levels of one highly-toxic pollutant fell by 90% and ER visits for heart problems decreased by 42% immediately after the shutdown.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.