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A Keynote Address with 

Melissa Miles

Garbage is a State of Mind

“Trash” is subjective. Some have the privilege to throw away what others consider valuable or even priceless resources. Historically, racist, sexist and capitalist systems in this country have determined who and what is disposable. We will explore the physical and ideological ways in which trash is produced and by whom. Just as important is where trash goes, who makes the decision to send it there and why.

5:30 Doors open — Irvine Auditorium
6-7:30 Keynote Address — Irvine Auditorium
7:30-8:30 Snacks and Community Networking — Hall Of Flags

About Melissa Miles:

Melissa Miles is a grassroots activist and organizer living in an Environmental Justice Community in Newark, New Jersey.  The East Ward (also known as the Ironbound neighborhood) is New Jersey’s front door-with transportation, waste, energy and “goods” movement infrastructure linking it to Manhattan and the world. This has made the Ironbound an important economic engine for the region as well as a particularly attractive place for polluting and extractive industries. Long considered the regions’ dumping ground, and called a “sacrifice zone” and a “waste-shed” by advocates, it is fertile soil for seeding activism and growing visionaries. Melissa is one of many there awakened to their mission to support the birth of a new community rooted in place where people can live, work, learn, and play in health and harmony.

“I wasn’t born, I was grown” is Melissa’s personal tagline and speaks to her entry into environmental justice activism, which was the result of the political and popular education she received from community organizers at the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC), where she currently works. As an Ironbound resident Melissa was encouraged to testify at hearings on the clean-up of the Passaic River, the site of the world’s largest concentration of Dioxin*. She did truck counts, air monitoring and community mapping with her children in the double stroller. She was also part of the Community Advisory Board and represented the community at trainings on climate justice and disaster preparedness workshops before she was even fully invested in the cause. “When I became active in the struggle it was because others asked me to. It was when my son got asthma and I knew that pollution was the cause that I became an activist.”

Although she has a MA in Anthropology from the New School, Melissa is adamant that academics can be allies but they are not the experts when it comes to solutions to the world’s current environmental crises. “Those that are most impacted, have the solutions” is the sentiment from which her advocacy stems. As the Environmental Justice Manager for the ICC she is a part of several national coalitions including the Climate Justice Alliance, Moving Forward Network, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, The Coalition for Healthy Ports and the international coalitions, The Movement of People Affected By Dams (MAB) and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. She is also part of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Advisory Council responsible for advising state agencies including the Department of Environmental Protection on issues of Environmental Justice. Her “expertise” is rooted in her lived experience and her commitment to making sure that Newark’s people are the protagonists in the struggle for their future.

*an extremely toxic by-product of Agent Orange which was produced on the banks of the Passaic by Diamond Shamrock Chemical Corporation during the Vietnam War.