Last night I waited in line with my teammate to pay for our groceries. It had been a long day – it was already almost 9pm and we still had to go back to the church and cook dinner. I was staring into space and did not realize we had been waiting in line for a while, until I noticed the woman behind me muttering under her breath impatiently. Confused, I turned to look at the cashier. He was picking quarters up one-by-one off of the conveyor belt from a pile of coins. A girl of about 11 years old held the hand-decorated box that the quarters had come from, as the mother watched the cashier with a concerned face. As he counted, he told the woman, “This isn’t enough money, you’re going to have to put another thing back.” Her cart was half-full with food, most of which did not look very healthy, and she took an item out. She spoke to her daughter in another language as the cashier continued to pick up coins off of the conveyor belt. The woman behind me continued to shake her head in annoyance that the line was taking so long, while I stood there uselessly, unsure of what to do.
While we have a modest budget ourselves – $6 per person per day – we are able to buy ample amounts of healthy food; no one ever goes hungry. Even so, for most of us participating in the program, this budget is not our reality. Once the summer is over, we can go back to our normal lives. We will be able to spend more than $6 per day on food, and we will have a bed to sleep in every night. Many people though, especially here in New Bedford, cannot escape an uncertain lifestyle, and do not know where their next meal is coming from. New Bedford is a very low-income city with a lot of crime and homelessness. Many people here struggle to provide themselves and their families with even the basic necessities to survive.
For these reasons, it feels strange to come into a town where people have very real and immediate problems, such as securing a job or working long hours to pay the bills, and tell them they need to worry about climate change and join a movement against it. While I absolutely believe that climate change is the most urgent issue that humanity has ever been faced with, it is still hard to reconcile peoples’ everyday reality with a more existential, abstract issue. It is especially difficult when they are entangled in the system. For example, last week our team attended a rally to shut down the Brayton Point coal plant – a cause that I believe in, yet would result in a loss of jobs and tax revenue for the city of Somerset.
At the same time, people who are of lower income are the ones who will be more severely affected by climate change. They lack the resources to move to a more habitable part of the country, or to protect themselves from the affects of climate change. Because they will be disproportionately affected, they deserve to have their voices heard even more in the struggle against climate change, yet they lack a political voice in our society. It is also more difficult for them to participate in the climate movement due to a lack of resources such as time and money.
I understand that it is my responsibility to use the privilege that I do have – I can afford to attend rallies and spend my summer trying to build the climate movement without being paid – to help those without a political voice be heard. However, as I attend more rallies and events within the climate justice movement, I can’t help but notice that most of the other people who attend are also white, middle-to-upper class people. We are all doing an incredibly important thing by being there and trying to build the movement, but I believe that this needs to be a movement that represents everyone. We are fighting for the survival of all of humanity, and that calls for an incredibly inclusive movement. I think that the fact that this movement does need to be so inclusive gives it the potential to be extraordinarily strong, as everyone has an interest in joining, and everyone has something to contribute. However, the movement still has a long way to go in this area, and it seems to me that we need to be doing everything possible to make this movement more inclusive. In terms of Climate Summer, going to low income towns like Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford to spread our message is certainly a start, and I am glad that these towns were a part of our route. As a whole though, as part of this movement, we need to be reaching out to all different groups of people so that a large diversity of voices can be heard and the movement can become even more powerful.