A Meditation on the Beatles, Transitions, Journeys ... and HEFN's 20th Anniversary & Annual Meeting

October 14, 2019
Ansje Miller

It was twenty years ago today

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play

They’ve been going in and out of style

But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile

So may I introduce to you*...

One of my favorite records as a kid was the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I would sit in front of the stereo with the album jacket in my lap and read along with the lyrics while bopping to the tune. My head would fill with images: Who is Lucy and what would it look like for her to be flying through the sky with diamonds? I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would look like “when I’m 64,” but the Beatles helped plant some seeds.
I may not yet be 64, and I’m certainly not Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but on this 20th anniversary of HEFN, I am excited to introduce myself to you – and I hope that you will raise a smile. 

It was twenty years ago today (Track 1)

In her lovely piece, “A HEFN Farewell,” outgoing Executive Director Kathy Sessions, described HEFN’s origin story, which begins almost 20 years ago today. As I read through that piece, the 1999 HEFN launch letter, and the overview of HEFN’s history, I marveled at how much HEFN’s history and new direction mirrors my own journey. I couldn’t agree more with Kathy that taking the ED position feels like a match made in HEFN. 

I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends (Track 2)

Many of HEFN’s members and partners have been my mentors and partners in the environmental health and justice movement starting (also about 20 years ago) in my early work directing the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. I was lucky to partner with others in the HEFN community through my work at the Center for Environmental Health. Together we banned toxic chemicals like BPA and lead in kids’ products, stopped industry apologist Michael Dourson from leading EPA’s chemicals program, banned fracking in NY, and won important victories on comprehensive chemical management and ingredient programs in California, New York, and nationally. 

It’s Getting Better all the Time (Track 4)

I am so excited to work with HEFN’s funder community to deepen strategic investments lifting up racial and social justice solutions that advance environmental health and justice. HEFN is more relevant than ever because of increasing environmental health threats and intensifying attacks against racial and social justice. Funders play a critical role influencing how the field moves on these threats.
Toxic and forever, PFAS contamination is everywhere. Energy and petrochemical companies are laying down roots in communities that need very different investments. Climate change is disproportionately impacting the air, water, food, health, and survival of communities that have already taken the brunt of decades of social and economic injustice. Our democracy is so broken that the Electoral Integrity Project reported that my home state of North Carolina can no longer be considered a democracy.
And in each of these cases, grassroots organizing is fired up, mobilizing, and ready to go. There is an increased recognition and appetite that a winning strategy means it’s time to intensify our efforts, sharpen our strategies, and, in the words of Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Maryland, to “put up or shut up when it comes to addressing racial disparities” by funding organizations led by people of color and Indigenous Peoples that are actually in the impacted communities. And from what I’ve seen of HEFN so far, the HEFN community is eager to meet that challenge. 

She’s Leaving Home (Track 6)

For those of you I don’t know yet, I look forward to meeting you at HEFN’s Annual Meeting and 20th Anniversary celebration in Fresno on November 19-20. I can’t wait to meet our keynote Dolores Huerta (pictured, right), the cofounder of the United Farm Workers. And the rest of the program is shaping up to be a can’t-miss opportunity to focus and strategize on the eve of an historic election and a make-or-break decade. We’ll also celebrate HEFN’s 20 years. Read about why Fresno is the perfect place to to get all of this done in this post by Ellen Braff-Guajardo of the Sierra Health Foundation..
I am enthusiastic about the Field Partner program and looking forward to meeting some of your grantees and strengthening the sense of partnership between funders and the frontline activists. If you haven’t yet heard about the program, read more about it here and start thinking about activists and partners who can help advance HEFN’s strategic priority of ensuring those most affected by environmental injustice have a meaningful voice in decisonmaking. 

Good Morning Good Morning…Everyone you see is full of life (Track 11)

I’m coming from the field fired and up and ready to go! Now is the time – can you feel it? HEFN was born to be intersectional. It’s in our name! And now is the time for us to come together to strategize and to mobilize resources for the challenges ahead, because together we win. See you in November!

* I use references to the Beatle’s album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, freely throughout this piece. If you are unfamiliar, sit down, clear your mind, and let it run free here.



Ansje Miller joined HEFN as its new executive director on Oct. 14, 2019. She previously served as the Director of Policy and Partnerships for the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) where she represented CEH with elected officials, regulators, and business leaders, and directed activities in the Eastern States office. She is currently on the Sierra Club National board and has served on the boards of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Healthy Babies Bright Futures and on the steering committees of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families. Read more.



From our Blog

Dolores Huerta (front row, 3rd from right) and community activists from the San Joaquin Valley.
Blog posted on September 4, 2019
HEFN's 2019 Annual Meeting will take place in Fresno in the thick of California’s San Joaquin Valley, which holds a number of valuable lessons for the rest of the country, as the United States...

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