Struggling for Intersectionality in a Previously “White” Movement
“Climate change has everything do with economics, social justice and human rights in the US, and around the world. Denying climate change is racism in action, and we have to name it as such,” author Naomi Klein said during a lecture at Howard University earlier this week. “We are unable to deal with climate change as a society before challenging neo-liberalism capitalism.”
Yesterday, there were over 350 rallies around the world where people gathered to speak about climate change, and its effects on their communities.
Kansas City, where I reside, had its own Climate Change March today. The rain was pouring, and the rally was moved inside to a Temple downtown. Prior to the rally, about 200 of the 1,000 people attending the rally marched down the streets in the pouring rain with smiles as they looked down at their drenched clothes and signs.
Arriving at the climate march, I was trying to go in with an open mind. My friend, Carp, had helped to organize it, so I knew about the lurking skeletons in the hidden closets. But overall, I think the march went pretty well, even if the radicalism was toned down, and many of the “climate activists” the audience were thinking about the human impacts of global warming for the very first time. The thing that I’ve recently realized is, you can’t think about justice for the land without thinking about justice for the people that live off the land. And on the whole, the people who contribute least to climate change are the ones that are most affected by the damage and health concerns it is causing. Also, climate deniers are not bad scientists, they are merely capitalism preservers.
The rally started out with your typical OWDS (Old White Dudes Speaking) about new green scientific inventions we need to market and capitalize on. Then there was faux patriotic flare with an “America the Beautiful” performance with a banjo and boots. If the rally had continued like this, I think I would have been in a bad mood by the end of it. But thankfully, the rally was attempting to model itself after the “Women’s March on Washington, and they soon moved on from the OWDS and patriotism (that land ownership patriotism that comes as a result of a genocide of native peoples by OWDS).
Next up was a speaker from Stand Up KC, a local group leading the “Fight for 15,” ($15 an hour for minimum wage workers). The speaker, Terrance Wise (a nationally celebrated organizer) is a father of 3, and works at McDonalds for $9 an hour. Terrance tells how just a few years ago, even with his working two full time jobs and his wife working full time, they were not able to pay rent and were forced out of their apartment. Their “habitat” was living in a car on the street not far from where the rally was held that day.
He notes that people ask him why a smart guy like him is working at a fast food restaurant, and he says that that’s simply what there is for work for a person with his background. He notes that 2/3 of fast food workers are not lazy teenagers looking for extra cash, but are actually single mothers working to put food on the table for their children.
“The only way to make bad jobs into good jobs,” Terrance goes on to say, “is by organizing. It’s the same for our planet. Corporations like Wal-Mart treat their workers no better than they treat the environment.”
He says that when he left for the rally today, his daughter asked him why he was going to a climate march instead of a Fight for 15 march.
He quotes MLK in explaining to her something that many adults in the world are having a hard time digesting, though they wouldn’t like to admit it.
“A threat to justice anywhere is a threat for justice everywhere. We don’t just march for jobs, baby. We march for justice.”
Next on the lineup was a woman from Ivanhoe, a historically black neighborhood in Kansas City where the medium family income is $20,000. She stressed the fact that people of color make up a large proportion of the low income areas of cities in the US. These areas are also where environmental pollution and damage are also the worst a lot of the time. She made a point that no matter how much you think you know about an issue, you always have something to learn, and you always have something to share. If you’re a listener, start talking up. And if you’re a speaker, learn to listen.
John Reyna, a local Kansas Citian who is from the Standing Rock tribe in the Dakotas spoke next. He said he wanted to take a different approach to his speech today, because of the effects of PTSD on the native communities due to recent events. He begins by telling a history of the U.S., about mercantilism and how the land and the people living on it were exploited for profit. He states that this is not something that happened once and now we can move on, but is still happening constantly. Last night, for example, the president just signed a new Executive Order repealing a Native Alaskan place at the table in discussions about petroleum. That’s fucked. He also notes that the new president just hung a photo of Andrew Jackson up in the White House. Jackson was responsible for taking more lives of people in the ‘Trail of Tears” than were lost in the recent 911 attacks.
John begins to tear up as he talks about his community of Standing Rock, and the trauma they have endured recently concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline. He reminds us that Indigenous people have never had an “Enlightenment” age, he states that their beliefs of symbiosis with nature and others has always been firmly in place. It’s the rest of the world that is taking its time catching up.
After John, there was a spoken word poet with a performance tilted “Between Entitlement and Guilt,” who called for 185 moments of silence for all the climate activists who were murdered this year. Then there were dancers from Haskell (the local Native university).
“These are not costumes that we are wearing. This is our regalia,” one of the dancers clarifies to the majority white audience. “Now we’re going to share a bit of our dance with you. We all dance differently.”
Their dance reminded me of the beautiful coordination of chaos. They did not necessarily have a planned way of dancing together, they danced their own dance and played off one another’s movements. It seemed to reflect resiliency.
One of the dancers was holding a toy gun, and wearing a raccoon skin cap similar to Western settlers’ style of dress. He also had mirrors attached to his furs, and while he was dancing and pretending to shoot his fellow dancers and the audience, I couldn’t help but think that the mirrors were supposed to be reflecting the audience back at themselves. To make them face what white legacy in this country has done to the communities of the people dancing onstage.
In her recent book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein sends out a message of hope:
“Climate change could become a catalyzing force for positive change- how it could be the best argument progressives have ever had to demand the rebuilding and reviving of local economies; to reclaim our democracies from corrosive corporate influence to block harmful new free trade deals and rewrite old ones; to invest in starving public infrastructure like mass transit and affordable housing; to take back ownership of essential services like energy and water; to remake our sick agricultural system into something much healthier; to open borders to migrants whose displacement is linked to climate impacts; to finally respect Indigenous land rights- all of which would help to end the grotesque levels of inequality within our nations and between them,” Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything)
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