Race, religion, sexuality, socioeconomic status, home. Diversity, or lack thereof, was the elephant in the room for much of Climate Summer training. And everyone could see it. Among our 28 riders there were zero African Americans, 1 Muslim, and a handful of folks who didn’t call New England, New York or California home. This homogeneity was certainly no fault of the program; people have long considered the environmental movement to be elite and comprised of middle-class white folk who like stomping around parks.
And yet (or rather because of this preconception), I have been rolled over by the diversity of people my team has met who are taking action to improve our planet and protect our now-fragile climate. There’s Carmen, Hartford’s Vecinos Unidos organizer who blames her Fibromyalgia and other newly diagnosed illnesses on the Bridgeport Harbor Station’s emissions she grew up breathing. And in Middletown there’s Vic, the retired blue-collar public service worker and recovering Catholic who just wants town residents to speak out more (and vote for Jill Stein). And, of course, John Hall, the former-reverend who is now running the Jonah Center and working with businesses to reduce their energy use. There’s the Wild Wes student permaculture gardeners and their organic farmer counterparts at Long Lane Farm. And the architects at Confluence Studio who are embracing zero net energy design principles (such as retro oasts) and so many more in New Haven: businessmen, bike shop (and Penny Farthing) owners, low-income housing redevelopers and consultants, high school students looking for a quick buck cleaning up park grounds, and even knitting store owners selling yarn from South American women’s collectives.
Now, our team hasn’t been asking people whether or not they feel they are part of a climate or environmental movement. I believe that many of them would say yes, but that’s beside the point. In speaking with Bren Smith, a sustainable oyster farmer, I came to realize that the success of a movement can be measured not by the people who are part of it, but rather by the actions taken as a result of it. Likewise, the movement’s diversity can be measured by looking at the diversity of actions loosely associated with the movement.
Yes – there is certainly significant diversity lacking in these actions – all but 3 or 4 of the environmentalists listed above are white. Each and every person working on issues of sustainability or the environment must work to invite others into their folds, and to demonstrate that the climate movement is not opposed to any other ones. Because working with members of these other movements – the labor movement or the food justice movement for example – is key. These other movements have the diversity and numbers necessary to create a critical mass of people calling for change
Yes – we are starting to work together. And yes – the diversity of this movement – this mash-up of climate activists, environmentalists, labor organizers, urban farmers etc. is growing. The felons, ivy-league students, drop-outs and gardeners at Summer of Solutions were as diverse a group as you could find in inner-city Hartford. Their voices and opinions are equally necessary in calls to end deadly energy subsidies, and transition away from this doomed dinosaur economy. But in working together, we cannot forget to support the goals of these complementary movements and we cannot forget to search for common ground.
When speaking with Bren Smith, who works toward and advocates sustainable, fossil-fuel free fish farming, I realized that both his sustainable food movement and our climate movement shares a common goal of putting a price on carbon. Now if only more of these linkages and conversations happen between the climate movement and the other ones, perhaps we’ll stand a chance of actually enacting such a carbon tax, or whichever other solution we partners collectively decide upon.