Following NGO attempts to silence communities of colour at the London climate march, Tisha Brown lays out some advice for building a truly inclusive climate movement.
‘I know that Indigenous rights are important. But we really need to focus on renewables.’ That was one of the less offensive things shouted to me as I was shoved and verbally abused whilst marching with the Wretched of the Earth bloc during last Sunday’s climate march in London.
What took place on Sunday is shameful. You can read more about it here. But I’m not going to re-hash the events of the day. I’m here to talk about what we can do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Below are some things to consider when trying to build a diverse and intersectional environmental movement.
Decolonise your mind
Suzanne Dhaliwal, Director of UK Tar Sands Network said, ‘People on the frontlines of this struggle are the people who hold the deep solutions.’ The people she is referring to are the Global South. They are the first to fight and the first to die. We should be looking to them for solutions to the climate crisis. The fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline was led by Indigenous groups and people of colour. The Ogoni in Nigeria have successfully been fighting Shell for years. We need to remind ourselves that sometimes the people with the solutions are not Western or of European descent.
This also feeds into the messaging around the environmental movement. We want to save the polar bear. We are doing this for the love of coffee or chocolate. But we fail to acknowledge that the people most affected by climate change are black and brown people. They are also poor people. They deserve our support and we should be just a willing to save them as we are the Arctic. Black lives matter.
Engage in mutual solidarity
This means not just asking black and brown people to show up at your demonstrations but to also support us in our struggles. Last year at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and at solidarity events here in Britain, I was struck by the silence coming from the climate movement. On one hand, we are all agreed that the police represent state oppression and are guilty of disgusting acts of violence. But when groups were holding demonstrations, like a march for those killed in police custody, the environmental movement was silent. If we are serious about building a mass movement, then we have to become more intersectional in our politics. We have to reach out to black and brown organizations and ask how we can help and maintain that relationship if we want them to build a mass movement.
However, be careful that the invite isn’t just a tick-box exercise to fill a diversity quota. These groups should be involved in the planning and messaging of the day. Ask them what they think and take their concerns and ideas on board.
Intersectional organizing is essential
Intersectional organizing needs to be at the heart of what we do. For us to fight off the worst effects from climate change and help support the people in the Global South fighting on the frontlines, we are going to need the help of everyone. That means we need to ensure that our spaces are not only welcoming and safe but also accessible. We have to look at power and privilege in groups and be serious about finding ways to address it.
We also need to be intersectional in our messaging. You can care about renewables and still care about Indigenous rights. In fact, this is the only way that we can bring about the revolutionary change needed to secure a liveable climate. Covering the Sahara desert with solar panels to supply energy to the West is not a just solution. Our liberation is your liberation.
Listen when oppressed people speak
If someone tells you that something is racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic towards them, please listen. They are the ones who endure their oppression on a daily basis. Doubting them invalidates their experience and inevitably adds to their oppression. It also upholds oppressive behaviour. If we want to seriously address problems that we have in the movement, we need to be willing to listen to those who feel oppressed, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.
We also have to realise that we are all guilty of these behaviours. It doesn’t matter how radical your politics are. We all live and take part in a social and economic system that is heteronormative, abelist, patriarchal, racist and cis-gendered. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have all internalised these behaviours. Occasionally we will make a mistake. While it’s never easy to be called out, we have to avoid going into a default defensive mode. Listening is the most important thing that we can do. It’s also vital to sit with that feeling of discomfort and figure out where it’s coming from. It’s not easy but anti-oppression and power and privilege workshops can help.
Whilst the points named above are by no means exhaustive, they are very important first steps to creating a broad and diverse movement that can help tackle the climate crisis. Climate change provides us with the opportunity to build a just and equitable world where everyone is liberated. To achieve this, we need a diversity of tactics and voices. A climate movement that ignores those who are fighting on the front lines or re-creates the systems of oppression that created this mess needs to do some serious soul searching. Let’s work together to ensure that the events of Sunday never happen again.