The first night of PopDev, SisterSong, and the Political Economy Research Institute’s Bridging Movements to Build Climate Justice convening, Thursday October 20th, was dedicated to story-telling. Loretta Ross, Nia Robinson, and Jacqueline Patterson each shared histories of reproductive justice, climate justice and environmental justice. The group of about thirty activists from different social justice movements sat together, learning from the veteran organizers.
This story-telling set the tone of the convening, which aimed to bridge the work of reproductive, climate, and environmental justice movements. As a participant in this convening, the importance of telling our own histories stuck with me. Hearing about events that happened before or soon after I was born, which set the stage for the work I do now, was humbling and grounding. It also forced me to think critically about what lies ahead, and how we can strengthen our movements to reach collective goals.
It’s no coincidence that these movements share the word justice in their names: each was created with a fundamental focus on access, distribution and inequity. Fighting racism, sexism and class-prejudice are foundational to their organizing strategies. These common origins are not always known, though, and many in these movements appear to work in isolation from each other. Over the course of the convening, everyone made real progress on linking and deepening their struggles.
The convening brought together a mix of organizers, academics and funders to look critically both at the opportunities for collaboration and the faultlines between these movements. From near-by New York City to New Orleans, from Atlanta to Los Angeles, participants represented a range of organizations and approaches. I enjoyed talking with anti-nuclear activists from Tewa Women United in New Mexico, a “liberation permaculturalist” from Sacramento, a housing organizer from the South Bronx, and many more people with rich experiences to share. I was touched by the empathy I saw in people’s faces as they heard stories of struggle from communities across the country. Even as many of these organizers’ home communities face devastating situations, (a new proposed coal plant, a nuclear laboratory, and attacks on public housing), they listened with deep compassion and concern.
A common question that comes up among organizers is whether the hard work it takes to build alliances and collaborations across issue and identity lines is worthwhile. It can feel indulgent or off-mission to step outside our traditional networks or comfort zones. Movements built around a strong sense of urgency, where lives are at stake, which is true of environmental, climate, and reproductive justice work, must take extra effort to forge intentional alliances. The Bridging Movements convening demonstrated the deep value of reaching across the lines drawn between us. In the span of two days, we defined several shared fronts of struggle and ways in which we can support each other. Most importantly in my mind, the convening challenged us to craft a collective vision, a very difficult task when attacks on reproductive and environmental/climate justice crop up constantly.
I came away from the convening with a deeper understanding of how to build alliances and organize intersectionally. As the Occupy movement continues to spread, the convening also gave me tools to bring my values and perspectives into other social change movements. For every budding movement strategist who is convinced that bringing a gender, race, or class lens into their work is counter-productive, divisive, or somehow beside the point, the convening was strong evidence that only once we engage these discussions, identify faultlines and shared struggles and address them, then we can created a united front. Bridging Movements to Build Climate Justice was an alluring peek into a world where we meet with our companer@s across divides of movements and geography to start building a more united future.
Continue the conversations about bridges between reproductive, environmental, and climate justice organizing through panels, strategic action sessions, and networking at the new Climate Crossroads Institute during the 2012 CLPP Reproductive Justice activist conference Save the date! April 13-15, 2012
For more information about Climate Crossroads, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org