Last week, the Goldman Environmental Foundation held its 29th Annual Award ceremony for its six Environmental Prize recipients in Washington, D.C. The recipients, who were on a 10-day tour of San Francisco and Washington, D.C., presented the audience with their compelling and inspirational stories of grassroots environmental activism.
This year’s awards were even more noteworthy as five out of six award recipients were women, the most in the history of the award. A reflection that the significant role women are playing in environmental activism is growing.
Recipients originated from all walks of life and geographies, and while all their stories relate to environmental activism, they covered a variety of topics. These ranged from implementing a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling in France, catalyzing a citizens’ movement to force government intervention for clean water in Flint, Michigan, to institute a national ban on lead paint, complemented by implementing a third party verification system for paint manufactures in the Philippines.
While each story differed in scope, topic, and method, they did encompass one common attribute: persistence. Embodying the will to overcome overwhelming odds, when at times, no solution was in sight.
One story that exemplified this persistence was that of Francia Márquez. An activist since she was thirteen, this experience would help prepare her for the fight that was to come.
When miners invaded her community to illegally mine for gold, Francia took up the fight. A single mother of two, she was determined to fight for her community and the environment on which their livelihoods depended. After appealing to the UN High Commissioner for Colombia, she organized a 10-day, 200+ mile march with supporters who traveled from their homes in the Cauca Mountains to the capital, Bogota. She then spent nearly a month protesting in the streets until the government agreed to meet with her and take action on the illegal mining activities in the region.
Even after her victory against illegal miners, her fight continues. She has been forced to leave her home due to threats but is undeterred in her effort to have the Colombian government study the effects of illegal mining on the local environment.
Unfortunately, Francia’s story is not unique. Earth rights defenders around the world are increasingly threatened and their safety is often compromised by those who seek to exploit the environment for financial gain. In 2017, 197 earth rights defenders were murdered for their efforts to protect the environment and their communities.
Throughout the world, earth rights defenders are subjected to threats while fighting to defend and preserve the environment for future generations. While it may seem bleak, Francia is optimistic.
“The first thing we need is to be more aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves: the planet is being destroyed, it’s that simple, and if we do nothing to avoid it we will we will be part of that destruction. Our time has come, we must act, we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a better world, in which taking care of life is more important than producing cumulative wealth.”