Justice Movement Includes the Environmental Movement

Civil rights are deeply intertwined with the pursuit of clean air, water, safe communities

Jovita Lee

by Jovita Lee, North Carolina State Campaigner (originally published on Medium)

The current uprising that we are witnessing and experiencing isn’t anything new under the sun.

Historically, protests have been an effective outlet for marginalized groups to be able to express frustration and demand equitable policy that impacts their well being.

The Civil Rights Movement, Stonewall, Occupation of Alcatraz and other seminal protest movements have all been noted as some of the largest demonstrations and movements in our country’s history, and all directly relate to the concept of “rights.”

One of the biggest mistakes made within the justice movement as a whole is the decision to segment out social, racial, environmental and economic justice, as if they are their own movements. When we review the history of these movements, particularly the environmental movement, it was crafted as a direct response to the outcry of Black and Indigenous activists, leaders, and community members who recognized that the impacts of environmental policy unfairly targets communities of color.

I see it where I work in North Carolina. It’s there as we struggle against CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) that are strategically placed in low income and/or communities of color in eastern North Carolina and continually contaminate our water ways.

It’s there in our fight against an energy monopoly that places an energy burden on its customers rather than paying for their own mishaps. It’s there as we oppose the construction of fracked gas pipelines, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline-Southgate, and as we call for the closing of coal plants located in the backyards of historically Black and Brown communities.

In these struggles and all of the other wonderful work being done at the Center, we must be clear that they all not only impact our ecosystems and threaten our wildlife, but also have continued to slowly deteriorate communities of color and low- income communities that are often ignored.

We Have No Option But Radical Transformation

Jean Su

by Jean Su, Energy Justice Program Director, Staff Attorney (originally published on Medium)

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the most heartbreaking outcome will be that nothing changes.

Based on the history of this country, that won’t be surprising. The relentless carnage of Black lives — and the white apathy toward it — has persisted almost effortlessly in my lifetime, as it has done for four centuries.

It’s at moments like these that I look for signals that change is possible. It would seem like a miracle for transformation, yet signs of that possibility reveal themselves by the day and even hour.

I live in Washington, D.C. and protested in Lafayette Square the day that Donald Trump lodged a tear gas attack on Americans that would have otherwise been outlawed in war. I was there to lie down with thousands of Black, white, and other people of color on Pennsylvania Avenue for eight minutes and forty-six seconds choking on the words “Mama” that we chanted together in honor of George Floyd’s final words, as military tanks and unidentified soldiers with vests full of ammo lined the streets. And I marched with what can only be described as an endless ocean of people — people of all races, and of a youth that makes them raw and responsive to the horror of Black murder by the police. The jadedness against injustice has not sunk in yet, and maybe therein lies the miracle we need.

But to ensure that transformation is realized, we all must commit seriously to lasting action. The kind that doesn’t disappear after the protests do. In particular, people who benefit from the status quo — including myself as an Asian-American woman in the white-set racial hierarchy where the fluidity of my placement on the totem pole has fluctuated in COVID-19 and World War II and the railroad era — must do everything in their capacities to overthrow the system of entrenched racism that we have all been birthed into. No one is exempted from this system. For me, taking serious action is a question of profession and person.

In my professional life, I am very fortunate to fight for energy justice at the Center for Biological Diversity. That justice is sought both for communities of color and the planet. It is at once a moment of alignment, but at its root, a war against injustice itself.

We fight for a future where communities of color are powered by community solar instead of fossil fuels, where they are empowered to reject the fracked gas plant assaulting their bodies’ cells, and where they have a fighting chance to hold onto their life-saving electricity through decentralized, resilient power systems in the face of climate-fueled heat waves, hurricanes and fires. This visionary future is the one we need to save the planet from the violence of the climate emergency, and to safeguard our public lands and species with energy built within communities.

Energy justice is racial justice. At the outbreak of COVID-19, the massive wave of unemployment exacerbated the already-existing crisis of utility shut-offs across the country. In normal times, nearly 15 million families per year are at risk of facing electricity disconnections due to difficulties in payment — and these families are disproportionately Black and low-wealth. The coronavirus has severely widened that crack.

Our team has mobilized a federal campaign urging Congress to enact a nationwide moratorium on utility shut-offs with Black and civil rights, labor, and faith groups, and this moratorium was successfully included in the HEROES Act. The Movement for Black Lives demanded the same moratorium on utility shut-offs, and our work continues in solidarity in protection of Black lives and for energy justice.

On a personal level, we are challenged to fight a world enraptured in a racism that is implicit, explicit, structural, institutional and systemic. Angela Davis has said: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” That act is personal. It is a practice. It is and should be deeply uncomfortable for those who have benefited from the status quo. And if it isn’t, we are doing it wrong.

We have no choice but transformation. And this country hungers for — and deserves — a deeply radical one.

Photo of Black Lives Matter protest by Joe Brusky/Flickr