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The growing BIPOC youth-led climate movement is the force it could have occupied

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Hundreds of activists gathered this week at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC for the People’s Mobilization Against Fossil Fuels – 10 years ago to the week I set foot in the same location as the Occupy DC had started.

I started as an organizer of Occupy DC and have since become Executive Director of Power Shift Network, where I work to support young people, especially Blacks, Indigenous people, and youth of color who are organizing for climate justice. This work has allowed me to see a critical line between the movements that offer us lessons and mandates for our present moment and to strive for a stable climate and a liveable future for all of us.

Occupy made us understand a dimension of corporate hold on our lives, and while we have built on that power, we have also had to reorient our activism away from its failures. What our movement must internalize today is that what causes the destruction of the climate and What has truncated the ability of our past movements to challenge corporate power is both white supremacy and the violent colonial legacies that continue to shape our politics and our world. There are black and indigenous youth who have always understood this intimately, working to build a new era of climate activism and environmentalism – and it’s up to all of us to join in.

Ten years ago, Occupy was not there yet. The movement’s failures to fight white supremacy and colonialism have kept us suffocated on the inside and also limited our demands and our narrative on the outside. In DC, there was tension over the appropriate “Occupy” encampment – there were two in different parts of town – a white-dominated conversation.

Those of us whose families had felt the throes of empire in our own lives, or because of structural violence, were fighting to reconsider the word “occupation” thrown by gentrifiers and outsiders in DC, home. ancestral home of the Piscataway people. , who were also woefully under-represented in the Occupy space. A centered understanding of colonialism and white supremacy would have resulted in an entirely different and deeper conversation about corporate power and led us to a different climate today, both literally and figuratively.

Occupy’s failures to tackle its predominantly white leadership and internal racism are well documented, but perhaps less documented is that those of us who were Black, Indigenous, and Colored (BIPOC) prevented the space from being ‘completely implode by continually putting out internal fires caused by the white supremacist culture. Me and others spent a disproportionate amount of time being drawn into circles to transform damage after internal conflicts and acts of violence – leaving us excluded from conversations about external messages and demands, which were largely echoed by whites. .

These dynamics have had important consequences, both for those of us within the movement and for the long-term effectiveness of the Occupy mainstream narrative and claims. The Occupy movement has elevated critical narratives of the post-United citizens, wealth inequality and student debt cancellation – but what was overshadowed in our national conversation a decade ago are the experiences and analyzes of many black and Indigenous organizers on the impacts of supremacy. white and colonialism. It is the root cause of the abuse of the planet and of people, the continued extraction of resources and the ongoing colonial violence against the BIPOC communities who constitute the vast majority of the 99% in the world.

This limited analysis leads to band-aid approaches to the systemic damage that fundamentally leaves marginalized people behind in a country built on white supremacy. When I was first exposed to the youth climate movement, the loudest people were the most privileged and those who were most invested in maintaining the status quo. People were fighting to preserve a life of upper-middle-class suburban homes with white fences – a life that is only made possible when we separate the demands for business reform and government accountability (both fundamental Occupy and Environmental Movements) analyzes the root causes of damage to these systems.

In 2011, the vast majority of the environmental movement was not focused on challenging corporate power and combating colonial violence against BIPOC communities, and the leaders of major organizations were predominantly white – the Sierra Club founded by John Muir. , a shameless eugenicist, is just one example among many. This movement focused on conserving virgin land for white recreation and the promise of ending climate change, while black and indigenous communities already knowing its catastrophic results were too often sidelined or completely ignored. . Meanwhile, the white-led leadership of Occupy, in Washington and beyond, made few meaningful connections with Indigenous and black communities and alienated many interns who chose to participate.

It took years to bring about real and meaningful leadership changes that have led today’s Indigenous and Black-led movements to make these essential connections. I am thankful that People vs. Fossil Fuels is rooted in Indigenous leadership, and all climate and environmental organizations need to work hard to follow this example and ensure we all learn from past movements.

We need to invest in those who are categorically suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis, disproportionately the folks at BIPOC. By supporting the ‘melanization’ of the climate movement, Power Shift Network membership has grown from 86 to 118 member organizations in the past year – a 37% increase – because we have focused on supporting voices that have been marginalized by the movement environment historically.

But while our movements have counted internally, the 10 years since Occupy have given our target companies the opportunity to grow in size and sophistication: the wealth of the 1% has increased from an amorphous idea to an idea. with specific faces, names and cultural power. , like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. In the absence of meaningful government action, they pose as technocratic capitalist heroes who will solve the climate crisis by moving our extractive industries and pollution to space.

When the movements do not have a leading analysis of white supremacy and colonialism as extractive from Earth, this co-optation and pose of “silver bullet” solutions will continue. Only a climate justice movement centered on racial justice will be sufficiently equipped to understand the action needed the two against this booming business sector which presents itself as a solution and a federal government that continues to expand fossil fuel expansion to serve these corporations, while touting its own climate leadership – as the Biden administration does.

The need for climate justice solutions that center our relationship with the Earth is more vital than ever – and the young people who are BIPOC are leading the movement that will bring us to these solutions.

Ten years ago, we raised a narrative about violence and the dangers of corporate power on the national stage. Today’s BIPOC youth-led climate justice movement challenges the power of government and business that prevents us all from having a liveable future. They call on Biden to take the necessary executive action to stop offshore drilling, challenge investment banks funding fossil fuel expansion, and build healthcare infrastructure to help our communities weather the damage to come.

It’s the movement we needed 10 years ago, and way before, but now that we have it, it’s up to all of us to support it, uplift it and make it grow.


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