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Uncharted Ground With SSIR

Jun 28, 2021

From coal plants to large-scale agriculture, industrial activities contributing to the environmental crisis tend to concentrate in minority communities with little power, wealth, or legal knowledge to defend themselves. The consequences to health and livelihoods are frequently devastating.  To help them protect themselves, the nonprofit Namati trains paralegals to educate and organize ordinary citizens to fight for justice within the legal system and change the laws that threaten their well-being.

This episode tells the story of Namati and founder Vivek Maru’s lifelong campaign to give the vulnerable a voice in the legal systems that impact their lives. Now, as climate change exacerbates nearly every form of social injustice, Namati is doubling down on the threats to land and environmental rights by forming a coordinated movement of environmental justice organizations around the world. This episode:

  • begins with a landmark land-grab case in Sierra Leone that illustrates the power of a community exercising its rights (0:06);
  • explains how years of deep experience in individual cases can lead to systemic changes in laws that benefit entire societies (07:21);
  • traces Maru’s personal history from the influence of his grandfather, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, through his college studies of the social movements of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X (09:00);
  • describes the origins of the Namati strategy in 1950s South Africa (11:52) and Maru’s first experience in combining law and community organizing in Sierra Leone (12:47);  
  • chronicles the work of Namati on abuses of land, citizenship, and other rights from Myanmar to Kenya, and the formation of an international network of justice empowerment organizations (16:47);
  • highlights Namati’s plans to turbo-charge its response to land and environmental abuses (22:05); and
  • how Namati is now transferring its experience in developing countries back home to address environmental injustices in the United States (26:18).

Additional Resources:

Source articles for this episode include:

The full transcript of the episode can be found at