The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Evelyn Morrison. MBA

Civil Rights Leaders in One of Nation's Poorest Cities Launch Environmental Justice, Ecosystem Rights Ballot Initiative

Reading, Pennsylvania residents launch ballot initiative campaign, speak out about environmental racism.


Petitioners in Reading, Pennsylvania have officially kicked off a campaign to amend the Reading City Charter to outlaw "toxic trespass," the poisoning of people and the environment within the city. The ballot initiative is in response to unaddressed toxic waste and environmental racism in the post-industrial city.

The proposed amendment launches direct public oversight through an Environmental Justice Advocate who would have authority to seat a local Environmental Justice Court made up of local residents.

It includes a "community bill of rights," encompassing a Right to Establish a Freedom from Poisoning Policy, a Prohibition Against Toxic Trespass and a Right of Ecosystems to be Free from Toxic Trespass.

Reverend Evelyn Morrison is a lead petitioner, with the support of local multicultural/racial/bilingual organizations and members of We the People Citizens Reading, Pennsylvania (Berks County), Abba's Advocates and The Diana Rivera O'Bryant Civil Rights Institute. The Institute was established by the nonprofit Reading Community Housing Development Corp. The Institute's Rev. Morrison and Sheila Perez say the ballot initiative project is inspired by their long-time friend Diana Rivera O'Bryant, former Executive Director of the City of Reading Human Relations Commission and renowned fair housing advocate. O'Bryant, like so many of their neighbors, family and life-long friends tragically died of environmentally induced cancer.

"We can't do anything for the people who have died, but we can try to avoid another generation of sickness," says civil rights leader Rev. Evelyn Morrison. "This is opening up a discussion about our post-industrial environment and environmental racism in Reading."

"Persons owning and managing corporations that manufacture, distribute, disturb, sell and deposit chemicals and chemical compounds found to be trespassing on and within the bodies of residents of the City, or into the ecosystems within the City of Reading, must be held liable for those trespasses," the proposed amendment reads.

Proponents developed the charter amendment in collaboration with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

The Petition Committee members are Cesar Cepeda, Pastor Maria Vializ, Angelita Peralta, Angel Torres, and Rev. Morrison, who also serves as an advisor to the Committee along with Dave Kurzweg and Sheila Perez.

The campaign builds off Rev. Morrison's and Sheila Perez's membership on the previous Reading City Charter Commission. Their work on the Commission led to a ballot initiative to place new local term limits.

"All the advocates are grateful for the collaboration and the 'meeting of the minds' with the members of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund," says Rev. Morrison. "To God Be The Glory!"

More information to come.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights-building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.

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