Care of the Environment and Ending Racism

A year ago I attended a Care of the Environment and Eliminating Racism Workshop in New York, USA, led by Barbara Love, the International Liberation Reference Person for African-Heritage People, and Diane Shisk, the Alternate International Reference Person. I continue to reference it and incorporate it into my life.

HOPEFUL FROM THE START

From the very beginning of the workshop, Barbara and Diane conveyed a sense of hopefulness. Barbara began by saying that when the astronauts first landed on the moon and looked back at the earth, they could see the Great Wall of China. She said that if humans could create a wall visible from the moon, and thousands of years ago the pyramids in Egypt, we can certainly eliminate racism and save our beloved planet.

For introductions, Barbara named a number of constituencies and we stood up if we were a part of them. Each person stood up at different times, with different groups of people, vividly showing how we are all interconnected.

People of the Global Majority were more than half the workshop, and for the first time an RC workshop was transmitted over Skype, so that Co-Counselors in Trinidad could be a part of it. Using Skype saved resources and burned less carbon than these people traveling to the workshop. The kitchen liaisons composted our food scraps, even though the venue did not customarily do that.

THREE POINTS

Barbara shared what she considers the three main points regarding care of the environment and ending racism:

1) Environmental damage disproportionately affects People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people, and their lands.

For example, in the United States three out of every five African Americans and Latinos/as live within two miles of a hazardous waste facility, and half of all Native people live with an uncontrolled toxic waste site in their community.

2) Along with bearing this disproportionate burden, People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people lack the resources to pay for cleaning up the environmental damage.

3) The green movement is perceived as a “white person’s movement.”

People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people have been repairing, recycling, and reusing materials long before there was a “green movement.” It was just called “living.” In spite of this, the voices of People of the Global Majority and Indigenous people have been silenced. They have been left out of conversations that directly affect them—for example, discussions about which programs should be prioritized and how resources should be allocated.

Someone added that when a white person talks about saving the environment, it’s important that ending capitalism and redistributing wealth and resources be part of the conversation. Otherwise it will be experienced as racist.

Diane said, “Climate change is the biggest human rights violation ever, because of the impact it is having on People of the Global Majority and Indigenous populations.”

TAKING ACTION

Diane shared that most people have to start care-of-the-environment work where they feel passionate. It’s hard to fight for something you are apathetic about. We may have feelings of “Oh no, now I’ve got to do something about this too,” but we get to be smart about it, and the work should be fun and not too serious. To illustrate her point, she had brought a rewritten version of “You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways,” renamed “You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Waste,” and we sang this funny song to open the workshop.

Diane told us that many scientists are saying we have twenty to thirty years to end the harmful practices that are causing climate change before it severely damages all life forms. She then added, “So it’s not time to panic. But it is time to do something.”

From what Barbara, Diane, and others in RC have shared, I’ve concluded that care of the environment needs to be one of my highest priorities. If we don’t stop climate change, we won’t have a functional earth to enjoy, and working on all the oppressions will become irrelevant.

BEING A WHITE ALLY

Barbara shared a story: One day in rural Arkansas (USA), during a time of widespread racial violence across the United States, everyone knew that some white men from a neighboring area were planning to come and “shoot up” her community. A white man, a friend of her family, got his five sons and they went with shotguns and stood on the road at the edge of the community.

When the mob of white men arrived, they told them, “Not today. You need to go home,’’ and they did. It is this kind of firm, unquestioned stand that we as white people need to take on behalf of People of the Global Majority.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOSSIL FUELS

Diane had done some research before the workshop and provided us with the following information:

The earth’s average temperature is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was thirty years ago. That may not sound like a lot, but, as one of the young adults at the workshop pointed out, if a human being’s temperature goes up by 1.8 degrees, that person is bedridden.

A University of Delaware (USA) study concluded it would cost $850 billion, and take fifteen years, for the United States to completely convert to renewable energy and not have to use any more fossil fuels.

Governments worldwide give the fossil fuel industry $4 billion in subsidies each year and spend $1.75 trillion a year on their countries’ militaries. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and diverting money from military spending would be great ways to fund the full transition to renewable energy.

MOVING AHEAD

I’ve done several things since the workshop:

• I’ve started a monthly discharge group, in my local RC Community, devoted to care of the environment and eliminating racism.

• I did a public listening project with my best friend and Co-Counselor at a commuter train station. One of us wore a t-shirt that read, “Racism: Getting Better or Worse?” The other wore one with “What’s Your Opinion?” written on it. We’ve thought that a shirt with just “Racism?” on it might draw more people in. We’ve also talked about creating one that says, “Climate Change?” to go along with the “What’s Your Opinion?” shirt.

• A woman of the global majority and I co-lead an eliminating-racism group at my Unitarian church. It is not for going out into the community and doing anti-racism activities; it is a place where people can openly share their stories and feelings about racism so they can think better and act more boldly to end racism outside the group. We do mini-sessions, which we call “listening partnerships.” We’ve also given people time in front of the whole group. Each meeting is centered on a certain theme relating to racism. A future theme will be care of the environment.

Each participant has mentioned how different the group is from anything else they are a part of and how they treasure it. One man said, “This group has exceeded my expectations, and my expectations were high going into it.” A woman who experienced a scary incident said that she hadn’t realized how important the group was to her until the incident happened.

The minister of the church and the social justice director asked the co-leader of the group and me for our input, because beginning in the fall they intend to have ending racism be a priority for the church.

• I am building a relationship with the person in charge of the committee that manages the pension funds in my town. I’d like the town to stop investing these funds in the fossil fuel industry.

• Finally, I am talking with the social justice director of my church about creating a Liberation Center in the community that would be a resource for people’s individual liberation, beginning with care of the environment and ending racism. Other priorities would be ending sexism and the oppression of young people. To make it fun, a lot of it could be art-driven.

Doing all this has made me more aware of people’s individual struggles while also giving me a larger global perspective. And it’s true—if you do what you feel passionate about, the work, while challenging and slow moving, is also fun, hopeful, and full of impact.

Dan Iacovella
Fairfield, Connecticut, USA


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00