** Framing speech I gave at the April 2014 Convergence of local 350 leaders working in their towns, cities, and states to end the climate crisis.
I want to bring my whole self into this room.
- I am the great-great grand-daughter of villagers from a rural, Tamil-speaking, Hindu people
- I am the great-grand daughter of a people colonized by profit-seeking, English-speaking, pale-skinned, Christian, monarchists from thousands of miles away.
- I am the granddaughter of civil servants whose families survived, then profited by taking on the values, language and practice of their British rulers.
- I am the daughter of a father born a few years after Indian Independence, who was told by his parents, “we should speak English in this house.”
- I am the daughter of a mother who was one of a few Hindu students allowed to attend a prestigious Christian Medical college in independent India.
- I am the child who immigrated with her parents to the United States as a baby. I am the naturalized citizen.
- I am the child of a doctor and an engineer. I am comfortably middle class.
- I am a woman.
- I am a college educated person.
- I am an anti-oppression educator and an activist for women’s rights and racial justice.
- I am a woman of color.
- I am a woman married to a man.
- I am a brown-skinned woman married to a white skinned man.
- I am the mother of two kids under age 6.
- I am an activist working to end the climate crisis
I have brought my whole self into this room with you because we all share a basic goal: the end of the climate crisis.
We have the same basic analysis;
1. the fossil fuel industry is the main driver of this crisis. We must stop them.
2. Alternate forms of energy exist that do not contribute to global warming. We should use them.
But just as I bring my whole self into this room, I also bring my questions:
Why do we as a global society allow the fossil fuel industry and other corporate and state powers to put profits before people?
This question keeps me up at night. Because when we try to answer this question, we know that the answer lies in 500 years of history we cannot ignore.
No. We must bring our whole selves into this room.
In the 15th century the Kings and Queens of Europe sent their people to systematically colonize the non-Christian lands;
They prioritized power and profits for the kingdoms of Europe over the sovereignty, and survival of indigenous people, nation-states, and their lands.
In order to increase and maintain their power they exploited the lands, natural resources, and labor of the people they encountered.
They silenced those who stood in the way of this profit. They massacred tribes, enslaved whole villages, indentured workers, discounted local values, beliefs and practices and replaced them by force with their own.
But perhaps the most clever thing they did was this:
They rewarded those who complied by minimally sharing profits and offering security. And those who actively brought profits in were granted riches, safety, and access to power.
They rewarded those who complied…and we are still being rewarded, or privileged simply because we were born into the middle/upper class, simply because of our European ancestry, simply because we are culturally American.
We have been taught to believe that our ideas are good, our methods are rational, are causes are just.
And now we are all here in this room. A group of good, rational people, with a just cause: shutting down the fossil fuel industry, and ending the climate crisis. But who are we in this room? And who is missing?
I bring myself into this room as a person who has internalized the values of a profit-driven colonialist culture.
Around the world people who rely on the land, natural resources and on their own physical labor for their daily survival are most often Black and Brown people, indigenous people, and migrants.
When their ancestors attempted to resist colonization and the unending drive for more profit, more growth, they were massacred, enslaved, indentured, exploited, dehumanized, and objectified.
Today the great-great grandchildren of those resisters carry that trauma within them and face the 21 century colonial weapons being wielded daily: malnourished and poisoned bodies, crumbling neighborhoods, children trying to learn in dysfunctional schools, hostile law enforcement, and decimation by incarceration.
In order to survive, they too have often been minimally rewarded for compliance.
Compliance has often meant working in service of profit for the wealthy, in the very industries we are trying to dismantle. Coal mining, oil-refining, pipeline laying.
Knowing this, are we still good? Are we still reasonable? Are we still just?
If we want to end the climate crisis, is it enough to end our reliance on fossil fuels? If the” profit before people and land mandate has gotten us to where we are right now, what must we do differently?
We do not have to answer this question by ourselves. In fact, we cannot.
Many groups led by people who work the land, black and brown people, indigenous people, and migrants are finding ways to resist the fossil fuel industry, AND prioritize the people and the land. Some refer to this work as “THE JUST TRANSITION’. Others may think in terms of building the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.
I bring myself into this room as a humble student of those groups working toward a Just Transition. Groups working for more triple bottom line approaches: Groups like the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Green Jobs Movement, and Idle No More.
I am asking you now to bring your whole selves into this room and into this work. To consider becoming a student like of those who have been traditionally outside of the environmental movement.
As you strategize, organize, and mobilize, I ask that you consider the following:
1. How can we prioritize those who rely on the land, natural resources, and their own physical labor to survive?
2. How can we prioritize the voices of those who have been silenced?
3. Who is missing from our strategizing, our organizing, our mobilizing? Why?
4. How do we begin?