Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice at Hudson River Watershed Alliance
Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s mission is to unite and empower communities to protect their local water resources. Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is critical to achieving our goals of clean water and healthy tributaries in the Hudson River watershed. We can’t find solutions to the complex and intertwined problems of water pollution, climate change, and racism without working together as a community of people who live in this place, our watershed. We recognize that community exists on multiple levels, and the community of leadership at the Hudson River Watershed Alliance is one of those communities that needs to change in order to meet that challenge.
Hudson River Watershed Alliance recognizes that systemic racism has resulted in many individuals and groups being excluded or under-represented in the environmental movement. To our organization, inclusion means deliberately bringing these individuals and groups into processes, activities, and decision-making, especially in a way that shares power. Our work is based on meeting the needs of local, community-based watershed groups, with an emphasis on equitable bottom-up organizing. Centering diverse voices from our local watershed communities is of particular importance. Though we serve as a collective voice, we strive to ensure that community voices are heard directly and that we represent them appropriately. As an Alliance, we seek to develop respectful relationships across the Hudson River watershed that consider power dynamics and privilege.
The lands of the Hudson River watershed have been inhabited by indigenous nations since the last ice age, and the word Mahicanituck — “the river that flows two ways” — remains resonant as a reminder that we can’t look forward without also looking back. The Hudson River Watershed Alliance acknowledges that the Hudson River watershed includes the traditional land of indigenous people, including the Munsee Lenape, Wappinger, Mohican, Haudenosaunee, Oneida, and Mohawk, whose relationship to the land and water is mutually sustaining and built around the recognition that humans are part of nature, not separate from it.
The lands of our watershed were among the first to be colonized in North America, and those colonies were among the first to enslave people. The Statue of Liberty stands at the mouth of the Hudson River, and the diversity of this watershed’s people, wildlife, water, and landscapes are among its defining characteristics. Yet many Black, indigenous, and people of color have struggled for equity and environmental justice here. Across our nation, there’s no better way to predict the burden of pollution facing a community than its race. Those inequities are present here in our watershed, too.
The environmental movement in the United States has resulted in significant improvements to human and ecological health and wellbeing, and yet it also has deep strains of racism. As an environmental organization, we acknowledge this harmful history and strive to move forward in a way that supports clean water for all communities, especially those that have faced environmental racism.
We understand that it will be a slow, intentional process to build right relationships and trust. We are committed to working towards a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just Hudson River Watershed Alliance.
Commitments and Next Steps
In 2022, the Hudson River Watershed Alliance has committed to taking these steps over the next three years:
- Develop a peer network with other organizations that are working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion. This starts with communicating to our peers about the value of this work, and our process.
- Assess needs for diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of our ongoing watershed groups Needs Assessment project. Through this effort, we will be better able to offer ongoing support and guidance to constituent groups in our network seeking to start or continue their own work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Join the Hudson Valley Environmental Justice Coalition, which organizes and promotes conversations on environmental justice with national leaders.
- Form an ad-hoc committee charged with developing a strategy to reach out beyond our usual networks to engage with organizations serving community needs other than those focused on water and the environment.
- Invite speakers from diverse backgrounds to our programs.
- Incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our committee work plans, including benchmarks and measures of progress.
- Develop a new inclusive process for identifying and inviting potential new board members.
We are committed to continuing to educate ourselves, at both an individual and organizational level. We share this information recognizing that we will continue to make changes and evolve over time. We look forward to your insights, feedback, and support as we move forward.
Some of Our Steps to Date
The Hudson River Watershed Alliance board of directors and staff members understand that the work of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice is never done. We acknowledge that these are among our first deliberate steps, and we share them as evidence of our commitment, and as a guide to other groups who may similarly be starting this work. As an organization that supports groups throughout our region, we feel that it is particularly important for our process to be transparent. The Hudson River Watershed Alliance is taking this critical work seriously, and this is an ongoing process with a learning curve.
Board and staff training
The Hudson River Watershed Alliance worked with The Support Center and facilitator Rodney Fuller to hold a training/visioning session on November 20, 2020 to identify priorities for the organization to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This session was funded by the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program and NEIWPCC. Our agenda included an hour of context-setting and training, followed by two hours of small and large group conversations. The discussions used a SWOT framework (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats) to identify specific places where DEI issues show up in Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s work and what actions to take. A summary report from that session is available here.
Putting our training into practice
The Hudson River Watershed Alliance is putting our training into practice through our board committees, and through our programming and communications. Examples include highlighting Black, indigenous, and other people of color as speakers in our breakfast lecture and new student speaker series, communicating to constituent groups about our training, and supporting the Hudson Valley Environmental Justice Coalition.
An inclusive call for new leadership
In 2021, we sought to fill vacant seats on our board by reaching out widely with an inclusive call to people who may be interested in working in a leadership role in the organization. We recognize that to date, board seats have largely been filled based on the personal and professional networks of those currently serving on the board. Therefore, it is a necessary step to state clearly our openness to working with board members of diverse backgrounds.
Postponement of a fundraising event in solidarity with Black Lives Matter
On June 2, 2020, the Hudson River Watershed Alliance postponed our Toast to the Tribs fundraising event in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and its call for the entertainment industry to recognize a “Blackout” in order to call attention to the need for justice for George Floyd and other Black people who have been murdered by police. #theshowmustbepaused This is an excerpt from our statement on that day:
“Hudson River Watershed Alliance’s mission is to unite and empower communities to protect their local water resources. Issues of environmental justice significantly impact our watersheds and our watershed communities. The need for clean water is universal, and too many people – particularly people of color – cannot safely drink the water from their taps, swim in the ponds and streams, or recreate safely. As an organization, our role is to support members of those communities by shining a light on issues of universal significance – health, safety, and equality.”
To educate ourselves on different approaches to this work, we took advantage of many online trainings and resources. These included:
- resource list from The River Network,
- webinar on “Building a Stronger Table: Models of Authentic Partnerships in the Land Trust Community” from the Land Trust Alliance’s 2020 New York Land Conservation Virtual Conference,
- webinars from the River Network, including “Ensuring Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Your Programs,” “The What, Why, and How of The What, Why, and How of Relevancy, Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity,”
- webinar on “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Nonprofit Boards” from the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, and
- Webinars from NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program’s 2020 conference on Reflecting Our Community.
We have also found the following resources useful:
- Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing from the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Toolkit: Volume 1 Internal Organization Practices from the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Toolkit: Volume 2 External Engagement Practices from the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed
- EJ and Environmental Racism Resources from Dr. Michael Finewood, Pace University/Hudson River Watershed Alliance