In the fall of 2019, the Peoples Climate Movement invited people from across the United States to share stories of winning bold climate action.
Told individually or together, these stories are connected by a deeply-felt, grassroots commitment to addressing climate change through a lens of racial justice and economic equity.
Working individually and together, these people are building power – and they are winning.
Nicole Horseherder is an advocate with To Nizhoni Ani in Arizona, which is initiating efforts that will prepare the Diné people for the end of the Navajo Nation’s fossil-fueled economy. As Nicole puts it, “If you want to eat coal when there’s no more water and your elements of life are destroyed…that’s just not going to happen”.
To Nizhoni Ani advocates for the diversification of Navajo Nation’s economy by developing renewable energy, and building capacity within local communities to have full ownership in sustainable energy projects, while seeking to keep their traditional Diné life ways, language and culture alive through a Just Transition.
Tayse Crocker is a mother, artist, and indigenous advocate with the North Bay Organizing Project. A single mom of 3, she came to climate work as an artist and a seeker, and is now working to spread the wealth of information she learns through art.
“We’re writing a ballot measure here in Sonoma County to protect the Russian River by banning pesticides. While we’re using the framework of ‘The Rights of Mother Earth’, banning pesticides is the issue that affects every person here in this county: single moms, families, farm workers, anyone drinking the water or eating the local foods and we learned all that from talking with the community directly. Now, as the Art Director, I’m am using art as activism to continue this conversation in another form which can be really powerful. Art is a different way for people to process and understand what’s happening to the earth and to themselves.”
Amy McMorrow Hunter is a Mom of 2 from Carbondale, IL, who started her organization CLEAN after seeing a gap in climate education for all ages and populations. She wants the everyday person to not only understand but care. Her gig is turning apathy into action.
“In these crazy times it feels good to be a part of something, to pursue our passions, to help those who may feel scared or helpless because of climate change. We’re flipping it all to a positive thing where we’re more connected to ourselves, nature and our fellow humans.”
April Sims is the Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, who this spring helped pass Washington state’s ambitious new law that moves the state to 100 percent clean power by 2045 … and both innovatively leverages state incentives to create more green, union jobs while mandating that government investments in clean energy be equitably distributed to impacted communities.
As April says, “We have to change the narrative or workers will get left behind. The face of the climate fight is changing to the faces of folks on the frontline and people of color. It’s not the predominantly wealthy and white led movement that some may have thought it once was.”
The coalition that worked tirelessly in Washington state to pass this landmark legislation was intentionally a diverse, and broad-based group, showing the broad political power that comes from working together, and making climate solutions work for everyone.
Now we need our national leaders to follow their example with bold action that includes jobs and justice as we work to halt the climate crisis.
Dennis Dougherty is the Executive Director of Colorado’s AFL-CIO, and helped fight for a new package of laws addressing climate change and a just transition that passed in Colorado this year. These laws would cut emissions 90 percent by 2050, and both restrict new drilling for oil and gas, while establishing an “Office of Just Transition” to help workers in coal-dependent communities.
When asked about the impact of organized labor being involved in the legislation, and ensuring that workers were taken care of with a just transition, Dennis said “I actually testified in front of the legislature in support of the carbon reduction bill. That’s a huge shift from two years ago — It testifies to the coalition we have built, and the leadership from Colorado labor leaders.”
If we’re going to fight for a just transition to a clean and renewable energy economy that creates millions of new, good jobs that can be unionized and provide family-sustaining wages in this country, it takes everyone.
Daniel Penaloza is a City Councilmember and community organizer in the city of Porterville, CA. Daniel started volunteering with CHIRLA in California at a young age, where he grew committed to politics, community empowerment, and immigrant rights issues. Through that work he came to understand the interconnected nature of migration and climate change, and how it will impact the lives of undocumented immigrants and low income latinx communities. It was these issues that motivated Daniel to run for, and win, a seat on the Porterville City Council in 2018.
As California faced its worst drought in history, Daniel’s community of Porterville suffered through lack of access to clean water for months and for some, even years. Approximately 1,500 domestic wells had gone dry, impacting 3000+ family members. Through CHIRLA’s grassroots organizing efforts in tandem with local partners like Community Water Center, Self Help Enterprise, and others, many families have been reconnected to water lines. As Daniel puts it, “it took a village to get this work done. We held water meetings, conducted phone banks, and went door-to-door, doing necessary outreach to better understand the depth of this problem along with find the necessary solutions.”
For Daniel, the issue of water highlighted a much bigger challenge, intersectionality, and the need to connect the dots between social issues. “There’s a connection between hotter days, droughts, the impacts of the climate crisis and immigration. I want my brothers and sisters to be protected, granted documentation, or granted citizenship but I also want them to have a livable planet, otherwise, what’s the point? We must address these issues simultaneously. We cannot ignore or put one on pause versus the other.”
Daniel’s story makes it clear — we can’t sit on the sidelines and hope that others will act. If we want our leaders to push for bold action on climate, jobs, and justice, it takes everyone.
David Mendoza is the Director of Legislative & Government Affairs at Front & Centered, which represented frontline communities in fighting for the passage of a package of climate justice bills in Washington earlier this year. These bills both innovatively leveraged state incentives to create more green, union jobs while mandating that government investments in clean energy be equitably distributed to impacted communities.
When asked about the importance of having a broad coalition working together in the passage of these laws, he said “Frontline communities already have the expertise to find and develop our own solutions. The key for success is for those impacted to be brought in early to develop the solutions, not just asked to buy in on ideas that have been developed without our input.”
Rev. Michael Malcolm
The faith community is doing powerful work to bring people together to address climate change, because to win the change we need on climate, jobs, and justice, #ItTakesEveryone. Reverend Michael Malcom of Birmingham, Alabama is a pastor and the Founder of the Peoples Justice Council, leading the effort to organize the Southeast Faith Leader Network. The network aims to convene 250+ interfaith leaders in 2020 to discuss environmental justice through a faith lens.
As Rev. Malcom puts it, “I want to build a campaign that can speak to the issues associated with the fossil fuel industry, ending carbon emissions, and address the environmental concerns that most impact the communities I serve. We need to reach the faith community and the general population at large… and we need to bring in healing from a spiritual perspective.
The People’s Justice Council, Alabama Interfaith Power and Light, Southeast Faith Leaders Network also hosts “Our Creation Justice Webinars” monthly to help educate and build leaders. Learn more: https://www.ucc.org/creation_justice_webinar_series
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi Julie Greenberg, of Philadelphia, PA, is a long-standing social justice organizer and a founding clergy member of POWER, a multifaith movement fighting for racial and economic justice, and the intersection of those issues with climate justice. “Our communities are getting educated and organized. We’ve been taking on energy utility companies and our legislators as a collective. We are making our voices heard, as we are the public. We are the rate-payers. And we are the energy users here in our cities with our energy utilities… so we’re really working to have a voice in what our future will look like.”
The work they’re doing in Philadelphia shows what’s possible when strong climate solutions are combined with an inspiring investment in jobs that can sustain our families, and justice for those hurt first and worst by the climate crisis. As Rabbi Greenberg said “Three years ago, the people doing climate justice work and social justice work did not know each other. There were multiple organizations working on many issues separately. Now, we’ve built a deep coalition. We have found each other, and we’re all in it together, and we all show up for each other. That’s the win… the capacity of our own allies and partners to work together.”
Camille Hadley is a mom, a flood survivor, and the founder of @LittleGrowersInc. As a member of the Anthroprocene Alliance and #HigherGround activist around the #UnitedFloodedStatesOfAmerica, Camille said the impacts of climate change really became clear to her seeing the impact of extreme weather on her community in Florida. “My garden [for Little Growers Inc] was destroyed. A whole community was flooded. It was that moment that I learned how connected these issues are.”
Camille is committed on working with community members and trusting that they are the experts in their own problems, because she knows that to fight climate change, #ItTakesEveryone. “All of the issues around climate change are interconnected — extreme weather, food justice, racial justice — and so too can the solutions. We’ve got to start connecting the dots and looking at this as a bigger, whole picture to find the right solutions.”
Hector Huezo, LA resident and Senior Workforce Equity Coordinator with Jobs to Move America believes that we don’t have to choose between good jobs and a livable climate. We can have both!
Hector’s work shows firsthand the power of strong climate solutions being combined with an inspiring investment in jobs that can sustain our families and justice for neglected communities and those hurt first and worst by the climate crisis.
JMA has been doing just that, building coalitions in key regions to urge cities and states to ensure our public dollars reduce emissions, advance equity, and lift up workers and communities through access to quality training and employment opportunities. In his words, “With the right tools, investments in cleaner technologies can spur not just the creation of good jobs, but pathways for folks in need of stable, high-quality employment.”
Through his organizing, Hector is fighting to show how cities and states can use public money to ensure that climate change solutions also fight systemic economic disparities. “We work to center good jobs for women, African Americans, veterans, formerly incarcerated folks, and other people that have been historically left out. We ensure training pathways and opportunities for folks who otherwise would not have had access to a family-sustaining job. This is how we make visionary frameworks like the #GreenNewDeal a reality. This is how we prove that we don’t have to lose jobs at the expense of investing in clean energy.”
Pastor Clifton McMillan
The son of an activist mother, Pastor Clifton McMillan has devoted his work to fighting for good housing and employment opportunities for the African American community, and he now works to “raise awareness, guide policy, and educate my community on how their historical burdens are also connected to a changing climate.”
Concerned about the physical health of those around him most exposed to toxins and pollution, in addition to the ongoing impacts of climate change, Pastor McMillan aims to “speak truth to power”. In his own words, “This is a national crisis and a national shame. This is also a ‘right-now problem’ not just a long term problem. We need to inspire and encourage one another to keep fighting for themselves and for their children. We’ve got to encourage people to seek solutions and stay organized and therefore in power.”
William Barber III
Born into deep environmental justice roots in North Carolina, William Barber III now serves as the Ecological Justice co-chair for the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign; on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Justice Advisory Board; and as the Strategic Partnerships Associate for the Climate Reality Project, based in Washington, D.C. He believes that building power is working to help educate people on the urgency of this present moment – recognizing both the need for bold action as well as the intersections of the climate crisis with the additional crises of poverty and democracy.
“This work is rooted in the reality that we cannot win on climate unless we work together to fully understand the intersections and, that once we understand these intersections, the good news is that there are solutions in front of us. We know that by leaving fossil fuels behind and making a truly just transition to clean energy, we can avoid the worst of the climate crisis, and give all peoples and countries a chance at a healthy future.”
Former combat veteran and resident of Fairbanks, Alaska, Jessica Girard has seen first hand the interconnectedness of the military industrial complex, climate change, and the oil and gas industry. As she puts it, “I know how many veterans have lost our lives for the continued imperialistic quest in the name of oil and gas. That is what started my path towards climate justice organizing.”
Following the leadership of Indigenous communities in Alaska, Jessica shows us what it means to be a better ally in this movement. In her own words, “white allies need to unlearn and accept the shared histories that inform our movements and solutions. Without acknowledging and moving from these shared histories we are only bound to repeat them. We then must leverage our privilege, which comes with so much power, to ensure a transition that is actually just as not repeat the mistakes of our shared colonial history.
My message is for us, white allies, is do better. We don’t have time for false solutions or continued compromises on the backs of Indigenous and other Communities of Color in the name of urgency. Indigenous Peoples are leading this movement and it is time for non-Native allies to take that leadership and be accountable to that leadership. We must add to their work, fund their work, uplift their work and step back when asked. A win for Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition looks like our continued ability to bring the community together and move the climate conversation towards climate justice and truly equitable solutions.”
Christopher Jones, resident, organizer, and flood survivor of Beaumont County, and the current President of the Charlton-Pollard Historic Neighborhood Association is fighting to bring positive attention back to his community; a county adjacent to various industries and international trade. In his own words on community empowerment, “we are the residents and stakeholders of where we live, and we do have a say in how things operate. It is our lives and our future.”
“Let’s not only seek or speak to the issues we face, let’s seek solutions that can be presented to our local governments that are actually befitting to us rather than them telling us what’s best. This is about being proactive and being a true stakeholder in what you fight for.” Through his work with the neighborhood association, he is growing the number of connections amongst community members, building working relationships with local government, school districts, local municipalities, port authorities, the railroads, and private industries alike. “To live in such an industrialized community, we need to be transparent with each other about how we live, how we build, and how we produce…. building relationships creates doors and windows of influence and no corporation is too big or too far to hear the cries of the residents they effect.”
Andy O’Brien is the communications director for Maine’s AFL-CIO, where earlier this year legislators worked hard with Ironworkers 7, IBEW 1253 and 567, the Maine Building Trades and the Maine AFL-CIO to craft a version of a Green New Deal bill in Maine, and union members joined environmental groups and students to testify in favor of the bill.
When asked about their support of the bill, Andy said on behalf of Maine’s workers, “In an era of austerity and ever-worsening income inequality, it is critical that proposals don’t exacerbate this crisis and turn working class people against the climate justice movement.”
Climate instability and skyrocketing income inequality pose dire threats to working people, but as Maine is showing, it’s possible to tackle both crises at the same time. There is an opportunity to create thousands of high paying jobs while addressing climate instability, but that will only happen if workers and unions have a vision to address the climate crisis and have a seat at the table in crafting bold climate protection policies. In short, #ItTakesEveryone
As Andy puts it, “In order to ensure that a transition to a renewable energy economy is equitable and just, we need to rewrite the rules of the economy to tackle the climate crisis and raise wages, guarantee workers’ freedom to organize and build an economy that works for all, not just those at the top.”
Siqiniq Maupin is the Art & Youth Organizer with Native Movement, and a resident of Fairbanks, Alaska. After experiencing the extractive industry first hand as a shareholder of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, some of whom are pro-arctic drilling, she witnessed its impacts on “the Inupaiq people, all the indigenous people of Alaska, and the world at large.” She decided to take action. Through her work with Native Movement and Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, she has been able to speak out against the spread of misinformation and the impacts of being misrepresented.
“It is a victory to be able to move this conversation forward in Alaska, to be able to speak out against this corporation that misrepresents us and encourage others to do the same. I don’t speak for my people, I speak with my people. Through talking with my elders and relatives, I am fighting to change the stereotype that Inupaiq people are only for-profit. We are here fighting to be seen and heard against great odds. There are many of us that see climate change as a man made issue that needs to be addressed through the lens of a just transition. I’m here to call out the actors at ASRC who act as indigenous peoples but don’t actually represent the true sentiments of the indigenous peoples they claim to be.”
Climate change and sea level rise is a huge issue facing Ocean City, New Jersey. That’s why island residents like Suzanne Hornick have dedicated the last five years to pushing back against a city that has hesitated to take bold action. After consistently experiencing extreme flooding impacts, she formed a citizen group called Ocean City, NJ Flooding Committee, now a chapter of #HigherGround, and began raising awareness around the issues facing residents.
Through community meetings, petitions, letters to city council members, and community organizing, in addition to networking with other flood support groups and environmental experts nationwide, Suzanne and her community have seen many climate justice wins. So far, they have successfully pushed the Mayor to implement a reverse 911 alert system that provides weather and storm alerts for citizens, as well as a safety plan that allows folks to move their vehicles off the island when it floods. She helped establish the city’s DEP Coastal Keepers Data Collection Program that tracks just how deep the flood water gets in particular areas. And most impressively, she and her group pressured the city until they created a 25 million dollar deal resulting in a short term plan for flooding remediation and mitigation in the areas of the island most impacted by flooding. Suzanne had this to say about their continued efforts: “For more than 5 years, we’ve been pushing for island-wide long and short term mitigation and remediation. While we’ve won in the short term, and the city has now recognized the need for more flooding remediation and mitigation, we will keep pressuring the city and also offering to help when and where we can until these commitments spread island wide and the city has plans to address our long term needs. We just can’t accept anything less when our homes, families and quality of life are at stake.”
Guadalupe Casco is a bilingual organizer with the North Bay Organizing Project, and Land Paths in Sonoma County, California. Through community organizing, outdoor activities, art campaigns, and more, Guadalupe is using strategic political moments and momentum to “bring people back to the earth” and build out a strong initiative that wins. She is rebuilding her community by helping families, indigenous peoples, the young, and the elderly reconnect to their land. The goal: building safer communities through the Rights of Mother Earth Campaign. An initiative targeted for a 2020 launch, this campaign will center women, people of color, and indigenous groups in seeking to ban pesticides in all of Sonoma County.
The key, Guadalupe says, is that “the initiative itself is being drafted by community members, not politicians. We are learning together and focusing on our people power. It will be written for and by the communities most impacted by pesticide use. This is truly grassroots organizing. Our team of legal advisors understands and trusts that we are the experts in our own experience. This campaign is not only empowering us to make a difference but showing us how to make a difference.” This initiative will be the first of its kind in Sonoma County and when passed, will lead to policy meant to further protect these communities from the harsh and compounded impacts of continued pesticide use in a rising climate.
Arturo Orozco, a high schooler from San Bernardino, CA, was recently introduced to the climate movement while organizing around mental health facilities with the Inland Congregations United for Change. “Students from other high schools asked us to join the September 20 youth climate strikes, so we jumped on board.” Since September 20, they’ve been striking at high schools every Friday, inspired by Fridays for Future, demanding clean air filters in every classroom. They strike silently with masks and costumes, creatively exposing the issues of clean air and the climate crisis. Initially, they received a lot of push back from administrators but the students stood up for their right to protest, and now administrators are in support – some have even worn shirts in solidarity. For now, they have 3 local high schools involved, with the goal of all San Bernardino City Unified School District high schools striking.
The youth led work happening in their community is largely done by Hispanic students, but they are reaching out to collaborate with other organizations and youth. Their goal is to bring awareness to the climate crisis, while demanding an immediate need for clean filters for classrooms, due to 87 consecutive bad air days in their district.
Arturo wants the message to be known that, “We are not the generation of the future, we are the generation of now!”
Soon after moving to Charleston, South Carolina with her family, Ana’s house flooded during a thousand year flood in 2015 and flooded in a hurricane in 2017.
Forced to have her house condemned, enduring a complete loss on her home, she was forced to leave it behind. However, knowing that her neighbors could not leave so readily, she banded together with other community members and took action. Through the formation of the Lowcountry Flooded States of America, their local flood survivor group, they were able to accomplish a lot. When confronting their local officials proved slow or unsuccessful, they pushed even further. By writing a full investigative report for those very officials, they were able to grab the attention of FEMA who later launched an investigation into building code violations and flood impacts.
They also wrote a 17 page letter and declaration for community members and local politicians alike that not only enables folks to be seen and heard but most importantly, shows leaders how to help.
With the help of Anthroprocene Alliance and the Progressive Club, they were able to bring the community together around 4 specific actions that would prevent future flooding and help those already impacted: (1) Ban fill and build (building on top of existing neighborhoods), (2) Build a flood/storm shelter in Charleston, (3) Help people (4) Sign the declaration that was created by the people of Charleston and for the people of Charleston. In her own words, “we cannot have the entire cost of incompetence fall on the unsuspecting renter or homeowner, on the elderly, the poor, or on children. That is not justice.” Turning her misfortune into a rally of perseverance, Ana refuses to back down. “I refuse to be a bystander to the suffering of my community. We’ve made flooding the main issue in our mayoral election this year and we’ve made a statement through our organizing that the status quo is no longer working for our city. This is about looking out for the community. If you can put in the effort, do it. Take the opportunity to pivot and to act.”
Helen Lekavich is a resident of Midlothian, Illinois, a community that has flooded over 15 times. Now, with extreme weather and more brutal storms, she is experiencing flooding that is harder and harder to bounce back from. She describes the experience as feeling like “flooded orphans. The people that were supposed to represent us, our village elected officials, did not support our efforts.” Helen and her community continue to fight for flood victim support, storm impact prevention, and they’ve even drafted the first ever ‘Rain Ready’ program in the nation while simultaneously drafting new transportation plans and stormwater management plans. For Helen, this is about more than saving the community, “all of this is about quality of life. Everyone deserves quality of life. And while I do believe that one person can make a difference, it’s much more productive when residents and local elected officials pursue matters of this nature together.”
Valerie Cortazzo organizes her community in Pittsburgh through meetings, door knocking, calls, and her facebook group. As she says,
“I’m learning that change is possible. Through networking, through resource sharing, through educating myself, I’m learning that there are solutions. Most importantly, I’m learning that my township does not have to shoulder this problem all on our own. There are people out there that want to help. We have to talk with those folks and build a community of concerned and supportive people. I believe that as human beings of this world, we have to fight for what’s right and the general well being of people benefits whole communities and then some. Let’s start a chain reaction of care and well being.”