Featured community partner
Faith Harris, Executive director of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light
The state affiliate of the national group called Interfaith Power & Light, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (VAIPL), aims to bring all faith communities together to mobilize a religious response to climate change through energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Until January 2022, Faith Harris served as Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University (STVU). She is the driving force behind the VUU Green Seminary Certification Initiative. Faith Harris has been chairman of Virginia Interfaith Power & Light since 2016. Under McAuliffe and Northam, she also served on the Governor's Environmental Justice Advisory Board.
In addition to Creation Care, Grassroots Organizing and Faith Community, she has taught various theology courses. She left her position as director of the Virginia Interfaith Power & Light organization to take on a job "her soul should have" (VAIPL). People of faith and conscience can advance climate and environmental justice by fighting the climate catastrophe, eliminating social and environmental inequalities, and creating a just, prosperous and equitable world.
To combat climate change, the VAIPL community collects, shares and promotes environmental wisdom through interfaith collaboration on behalf of present and future generations. VAIPL leader Faith Harris encourages all faith communities in the Commonwealth of Virginia to lead a sustainable lifestyle.
Dr Harris has spent over 17 years actively involved in the Richmond community in addition to her academic career. She has served on the boards of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Leader of the Organizing for Action Richmond Chapter, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, the Virginia Council for Environmental Justice, the Cooperative Organization for Environmental Justice, and the Cathy Geneva Cannon Geneva Center. Leadership included. She participates in the Virginia Conservation Network and is a member of a number of groups, including Land Use and Public Transportation and Protecting the Grassroots of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
She learned about the importance of the biopsychosocial-spiritual model through her experience in social work and is open to interacting with people of different faiths and spiritual backgrounds. She agrees with Virginia Interfaith Power & Light that everyone should work to improve the community's response to climate change and deserve fair access to its resources. She is committed to applying the experience she gained at VAIPL to their Richmond, Virginia, home and lifestyle.
For more information about Faith Harris and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, visit https://vaipl.org/
The Virginia Organizing (VO) is the state's non-partisan community organization dedicated to fighting inequality by empowering people in their communities to address issues that affect their quality of life. Those who have traditionally had little or no say in our society are especially encouraged to participate in the Virginia Organizing. The Virginia Organizing works to build relationships with individuals and groups across the state to get them to work together in a democratic and non-violent way for change.
Why did you decide to become involved with Virginia-Organizing?
Back in the early 2000s, VO was the only group I could find that fought to deconstruct racist structures by establishing power in a multi-tasking, multi-voter organization, said Brian Johns, executive director of Virginia Organizing about why the group was appealing to participate.
Those who have traditionally had little or no say in our society are especially encouraged to participate in the Virginia Organizing. Virginia Organizing enhances the ability of people to work together at the state level, democratically and nonviolently, for change by building connections with diverse people and groups across the state, Johns went on to explain further.
The primary goal of the Virginia Organizing is to create a powerful political force for long-term change with a diversified grassroots base that includes people who have never participated before, Johns states.
“We believe that all people, regardless of race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability, or place of origin, should be treated equally and with dignity in all aspects of life. We believe that the directly affected people should be held accountable for the organization. Discrimination in our schools, communities, and businesses must be eradicated. Virginia Whether it's fighting housing discrimination in Richmond, fighting for better accessibility in Fluvanna County, or supporting LGBT rights in Roanoke, organization leaders speak out against all forms of prejudice,” stated Johns, who thinks diversity in our society and state should be enhanced and celebrated.
According to the executive director the further of the group looks promising with plans to expand chapters, campaign, and the development of leaders to gain local, state, and federal influence to make a real difference.
In the pursuit of environmental justice, Virginia Organizing works with coalition partners on a range of environmental issues. We help groups working to keep the Commonwealth clean air and water. We believe that green jobs are an effective way to create jobs in the state and also move us closer to energy independence. Whether it is spreading compact fluorescent light bulbs in low-income areas in central Virginia or fighting mountaintop demolition in the Southwest, we believe in common-sense environmental solutions.
People who have worked hard all their lives and contributed to the social security system are eligible. This is an agreement that must be followed. You are entitled to a reward if you pay.
Instead of cutting Social Security, we should strengthen it. As a result, Virginia Organizing opposes any reduction in Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age. Virginia Organizing also rejects any proposals to reduce debt that includes Social Security. Social Security does not contribute to scarcity and should not be lowered to reduce it.
For more information about Virginia Community, visit the website www.virginia-organizing.org
Heidi Dhiya-Berthoud, President
Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN)
Virginia Community Rights Network (VACRN) is happy to join hands with VEJC, as our missions are closely aligned. We are looking at systemic injustice and working to change that system by helping communities find their power to change the law.
The founders of VACRN were directly involved in the struggle with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. From that experience we came to know of and support the Rights of Nature and Community movement. We experienced firsthand how industry intervened with our government and regulatory agencies, stifling our voices and eviscerating our democracy. We came to understand that polluting industry intentionally targets communities of low wealth and color, which are easy sacrifice zones. In our case, we saw Union Hill, in Buckingham, targeted.
VACRN is about pushing back against corporate rights by working to change the legal paradigm. We are using the model of bringing the Rights for Nature and Communities into law by supporting communities to assert their local rights and responsibilities to protect their health, land, water, air, culture. A central organizing and educational tool are the Community Bill of Rights, adapted to the needs of each locality. We are affiliated with a network of Community Rights organizations across the country and we are partnered with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), who pioneered this work.
We believe that by reaching out and collaborating with other justice-seeking organizations, we all become stronger. By hearing and sharing stories with other communities, we can keep in touch with what needs to be transformed, amplified and supported through mutual understanding and reciprocal aid.
To us, the words ‘Nature’ and ‘Community’ are somewhat interchangeable. We are not separate from Nature, we are part of Nature. A working definition for ‘Community’ is a natural environment in which a symbiotic (not parasitic) group of cooperating people live in physical proximity for the purpose of mutual aid and habitat preservation. We would change the word ‘people’ to ‘humans and non-humans’ to encompass the whole spectrum of interconnectedness we know exists.
The 1492 Doctrine of Discovery established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land by Christians. This evolved into the dominant Eurocentric worldview which objectifies and commodifies everything in order to justify dominion over and ownership of property. The result is the stratified world we now live in, impoverishing and enslaving many, putting wealth in the hands of the few.
The commons had been the norm, before property rights took over our culture, economics and politics. We, as humans, are much in need of realignment to find our place of balance in the circle of life on Earth, and not dominion over it. Unlearning the inheritance of the Doctrine of Discovery and helping communities find their inherent power to create new systems and law for a sustainable, regenerative world is what VACRN is striving to achieve.
Please read more about our history and background here.
DJ Gerkin, President and Executive Director
Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC)
Founded in 1986, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is the largest environmental organization in its region, with offices in six states - Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia – as well as D.C. With over 200 employees working at the local, state, and federal level, SELC is one of the most respected and successful environmental law non-profits in the South.
It is currently led by President and Executive Director DJ Gerken.
SELC recognizes that due to our region and nation’s history of racism and the systemic impacts it has on all facets of life, communities of color and those where residents have lower incomes and wealth are disproportionately affected by environmental harms and injustices. SELC believes that everyone deserves to breathe healthy air, drink clean water, and live in thriving communities free from harmful pollution.
SELC's Projects and Wins
Cleaning 270 million tons of coal ash and counting
They led a diverse coalition and forced utilities to remove coal ash waste from the banks of our rivers and streams to protect clean water and the communities and businesses that depend on it.
Defeating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
They halted construction of a 600-mile Atlantic coast pipeline, challenged hasty permits, raised environmental injustices, and exposed outdated fossil fuel investments. The six-year coordinated campaign with numerous partners created a successful roadmap to derail needless pipeline projects and paved the way for the South's sustainable energy future.
Enacting the Virginia Clean Economy Act
SELC played a major role in the enactment of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), undoubtedly the boldest climate legislation to come out of the South. The VCEA set the Commonwealth on a rapid transition toward a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2050. It did this by accelerating the retirement of fossil-fuel plants, expanding solar and offshore wind installations, establishing a statewide energy efficiency standard, and increasing rooftop solar by 600 percent.
If you want to learn more about SELC's environmental efforts, visit their website https://www.southernenvironment.org/.