The Climate Movement Must Show Up for the Movement for Black Lives

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We’re living in a moment of urgent and intersecting crises.

Countless Black people, some whose names we know and others we do not, are being murdered by manifestations of white supremacy. As we take to the streets to demand justice, police are responding with deadly and terrifying force. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising unemployment are ravaging our country, particularly in Black and Latinx communities. These crises are connected, they reflect systemic problems, and they are existential emergencies.

It is this urgency and the belief that no person on this earth is disposable that compels us as climate organizers to fight for the Movement for Black Lives. We fight for George Floyd, suffocated by police officers in Minneapolis. For Breonna Taylor, murdered in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky. For Tony McDade, shot down by an officer in Tallahassee, Florida. For Ahmaud Arbery, targeted by white “vigilantes” in Georgia. For Oscar Grant, for Nia Wilson, and for our Latinx neighbors Erik Salgado, Sean Monterrosa, and Alejandro Nieto, killed in our own Bay Area communities. We cannot be silent.

It is the same urgency that powers the climate movement, that brought us to the streets in 2019 for the largest climate event in history. That sparked school strikes across more than 270 cities. That powers every sit-in, every phonebank, every campaign we undertake today. The climate movement is powered by urgency because we know human-caused catastrophes are already claiming innocent lives around the globe, disproportionately poor people and people of color — and that more will follow unless we defeat the racist systems behind the climate crisis and build a more just and sustainable world.

The fight for Black liberation in America is not new. Over the last 60 years in the Bay Area alone, our communities have been fighting for Black lives, from the rise of the Black Panthers in the ’60s to radical Black-centered education initiatives developed here in the ’70s and ’90s, to Alicia Garza declaring “Black Lives Matter” in 2013, to the groundbreaking Moms 4 Housing’s protest this past winter. What is new about this moment is that a groundswell of white people have promised to learn, to listen, and to take action.

Historically, the climate movement has been predominantly white and rooted in racism. As Oakland’s Julian Brave NoiseCat wrote in Vice, today’s climate movement “inherit[s] a troubling history of colonialism, racism, and exclusion.” That means it is especially important that climate organizers — particularly white climate organizers — stand up against racism now and into the future.

If urgency has powered your voice to demand climate action, you must raise it now against white supremacy. It’s past time to say it loud and clear: fighting the climate crisis means fighting racism. Fighting the climate crisis means showing up in the fight for Black lives. The fight is one and the same.

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The climate crisis is rooted in a racist capitalist system — one that benefits white people while oppressing and exploiting Black people and other communities of color. For decades, countless Black activists in the climate movement have been drawing the connection: The climate crisis already has and will continue to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, class and more. In this country in particular, while white people have been primarily responsible for pollution, Black people disproportionately bear its burden. A study on racial inequality found that Black Americans are exposed to about 56% more pollution than is caused by their consumption. White Americans on the other hand, breathe about 17% less air pollution than they cause.

We see this in the Bay Area first hand. From 1946 to 1969, the U.S. Navy used San Francisco’s historically Black neighborhood Hunters Point as a toxic waste dump site. Today, pollution from industry in the historically Black neighborhood of West Oakland means that residents can expect to live seven years less than their counterparts in the richer, whiter neighborhoods in the Oakland hills. And the predominantly Black city of Richmond sits “within a ring of five major oil refineries, three chemical companies, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports and marine terminals where tankers dock.” Our Black Richmond neighbors are at a higher risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, and asthma.

In short, we fundamentally cannot create a sustainable future if we ignore the racial injustices that permeate across our country and planet today. That means fighting white supremacy on every front, and it means building on the momentum of this moment to make lasting change.

How Can You Help?

The fight for Black liberation in America is as much a local issue as it is a global one. Here are some resources from Movement 4 Black Lives on how to take national action, and below, find highlights for what to do here in the Bay Area.

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3 Actions To Take in the Bay Area Right Now

  1. Show up to the Juneteenth West Coast Port Shutdown, June 19 @ 10 am in Oakland: The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has called for a weekend of action starting on Juneteenth (June 19th) to commemorate the end of slavery. For eight hours on June 19, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Longshore Division will stop work at all 29 ports on the West Coast. In Oakland, Sunrise Bay Area is part of a massive coalition supporting ILWU’s action at our famous port, which includes speakers Angela Davis and Boots Riley. More information here.
  2. Call the Oakland Unified School Board to get police out of Oakland schools. For nine years, the Black Organizing Project has been campaigning to get police out of Oakland schools, after an Oakland school officer killed 20-year-old Raheim Brown. On June 24, the Oakland Unified School Board will be voting on the BOP’s George Floyd Resolution and we need to make sure the school board members vote in support. More information here.
  3. Call your city council and let them know you demand they defund the police.

10 Local Black-Led Organizations to Support

Anti Police-Terror Project

Community Ready Corps

People’s Breakfast Oakland

Black Organizing Project

East Oakland Collective

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights


Initiate Justice

Hunters Point Family

Abundant Beginnings

5 Articles to Read on Climate Justice & Racism

  1. Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist, Leah Thomas
  2. I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
  3. Racism, Police Violence, and the Climate Are Not Separate Issues, Bill McKibben
  4. Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment, Somini Sengupta
  5. The Climate Justice Movement Must Oppose White Supremacy Everywhere — By Supporting M4BL, Mattias Lehman

By Grace Galletti & Julia Clark-Riddell

Written by

We’re the Bay Area hub of Sunrise Movement — building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.

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