Peggy Shepard

Full Interview (Duration 1:06:41)

General Contents and Links to Video Segments

Title Duration
Part 1 – Early Career 10:30
Part 2 – The Origins of WE ACT 8:24
Part 3 – The Work of WE ACT 11:02
Part 4 – Environmental Health & Justice 6:29
Part 5 – Collaborating with Scientists 7:51
Part 6 – Policy Reforms 10:15
Part 7 – Environmental Activism 14:22
Part 8 – Five Favorites 5:45
Full Interview 1:06:41


“When you realize that over eighty percent of Latinos live in non-attainment areas for clean air standards and that over seventy-two percent of African Americans, you understand perhaps why there are such glaring disparities, why there is such an asthma epidemic, and why it is so important for us to clean up our air.” (27:10)

“This nation has declared war on health disparities. . . . And we have not been able to do that yet. I believe that a key part of that puzzle is the environmental exposures from chemicals, from air quality, and other toxins.” (37:24)

“Political will is involved, big money is involved, power of business and industry is involved in not being able to translate what we really know now into policies that really protect all of us.” (48:53)

Specific Contents and Links to Video Segments

Part 1 – Early Career (10:30)

  1. Please describe your career before you became involved in the environmental justice movement. 00:40
  2. How did you move from magazine editor to an activist in the political arena? 03:40
  3. Did working for the Jesse Jackson campaign alter your career goals? 05:50
  4. What factors led you to run for office? 07:15
  5. As a politician, how did you become interested in environmental problems? 08:25

Part 2 – The Origins of WE ACT (8:24)

  1. Was it difficult to mobilize public support for environmental reforms? 10:00
  2. How responsive was the city to the problems that you raised about the sewage treatment plant? 10:50
  3. Were you pushing to have the sewage treatment center closed? 12:30
  4. Please describe the lawsuit that helped to solve  that problem and helped to invigorate WE ACT. 13:10
  5. Can you say more about WE ACT’s history and its staff? 15:00
  6. Please describe the community in which WE ACT does most of its work. 15:40
  7. What is the mission of WE ACT? 16:20

Part 3 – The Work of WE ACT (11:02)

  1. As community activists, how do you measure your own success in helping to create a healthy community? 17:20
  2. Please briefly describe WE ACT’s “8 Indicators of a Healthy Community.” 18:20
  3. Is there one environmental problem that stands out as most important to WE ACT? 21:20
  4. What sorts of things have you done to promote improved air quality? 22:50
  5. Please briefly describe some of your work to create open and green spaces in the community. 23:40

Part 4 – Environmental Health & Justice (6:29)

  1. How would you summarize the connection between environmental health and environmental justice? 27:10
  2. Can you say more about the role of race in determining exposure levels to environmental toxins? 27:40
  3. Why is it that environmental toxins disproportionately burden communities of color? 29:10
  4. In general terms, what do those exposures mean for health outcomes? 30:50

Part 5 – Collaborating with Scientists (7:51)

  1. Please describe how you are collaborating with  environmental health scientists. 32:30
  2. What sorts of things have your learned through that research, and how has that research assisted in your activism? 34:25
  3. Can you say a bit more about the research findings that connect environmental toxins to adverse health outcomes? 36:30
  4. How do you work with environmental health scientists to promote policy change? 38:00

Part 6 – Policy Reforms (10:15)

  1. What sorts of policy reforms has WE ACT helped to promote locally? 39:10
  2. How do your local efforts connect to the environmental justice movement around the country? 40:20
  3. What activities does your organization specialize in when engaged at the national level? 42:00
  4. Would you say that the environmental justice movement has been successful? 43:00
  5. What are some other policies that you would like to see enacted? 44:35

Part 7 – Environmental Activism (14:22)

  1. What do you consider to be the biggest obstacles to reform and most significant challenges to reformers? 48:15
  2. Why is community involvement and mobilization important? 50:40
  3. Why do you think community organizing has died out? 53:00
  4. What are some consequences of not having meaningful community movements? 54:40
  5. Why do you suppose so many people are apathetic with regard to environmental health risks? 56:00
  6. Does the global focus of many mainstream environmental groups contribute to the public apathy toward more local environmental justice concerns? 57:40
  7. What can we do to promote environmental health and environmental justice in our own communities? 58:30

Five Favorites (5:45)

  1. What mentor had the greatest influence on your work? 01:01:40
  2. What do you consider to be the best wide-audience book, article, or movie related to your field? 01:02:30
  3. What do you consider to be the most important academic book or article? 01:03:20
  4. Which of your writings would you recommend to viewers? 01:04:30
  5. Which activist or community organization, besides your own, do you most admire? 01:05:40
Peggy Shepard

Peggy Shepard, Executive Director for WE ACT for Environmental Justice


Peggy Shepard is executive director and co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. Founded in 1988, WE ACT was New York’s first environmental justice organization created to improve environmental health and quality of life in communities of color. A recipient of the 10th Annual Heinz Award For the Environment and the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Achievement, she is a former Democratic District Leader, who represented West Harlem from 1985 to April 1993, and served as President of the National Women’s Political Caucus-Manhattan from 1993-1997.


Five Favorites

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