This post is part of New Economy Week: From Austerity to Prosperity (November 9-15)—a public conversation about the ideas that can transform society and build an economy where people and the planet matter. Today is Day 4, “A People’s Climate Agenda“: What are the policies, campaigns, and grassroots initiatives that can address the magnitude of the climate crisis while building shared prosperity?
The state of Washington has climate proposals coming from all directions, from a “Governor’s Rule” to cap climate pollution, to an economist pushing for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, to a cross-sector alliance planning a 2016 ballot measure that would put a fee on emissions and invest the proceeds in renewable energy.
Grounding the discussion are two grassroots, community of color leaders getting to the root of the problem. Jill Mangaliman leads Got Green?, a Seattle group that organizes for an equitable, green economy, and Rosalinda Guillen leads the farmworker organization Community to Community, which advocates for food justice. In a crowded climate conversation, they lift up the connections between the dominant economic system and climate justice.
Deric Gruen: Both of you have linked the climate justice movement to the need for a just transition to a new economy in your organizing. Where do you see this emerging connection happening? Where is it missing and why?
Rosalinda Guillen: We’re definitely reminded of the early years of farmer-worker organizing when Cesar Chavez first spoke about economic justice for farmworkers and their solution was organizing a farmworker union. But tied into that was always the idea that farmers would have a voice in how food was produced. The industrial agricultural system has had incredible power to be able to use as many resources as they want. The connection we’re making in our organization is that, because of the agricultural industry’s drive toward making profit in the growing and producing of food has had an incredible impact on climate change.
Jill Mangaliman: The economy and environment are pitted against each other, but really we should look at them as linked; the economy impacts the environment as it impacts people and workers. Yes, we have to defend our community, our environment, our livelihoods. But also we need to build something else: an economy that doesn’t extract large amounts of resources from the earth, and also doesn’t extract from human resources. We do want our community to be able to meet its basic needs, but also we want to have a healthy place to live and a healthy community and earth.
Rosalinda: I want to add that it’s actually economics that have caused the climate crisis; the economic system that has labeled every resource on earth as a promised profit making opportunity. It’s actually a false economy that has created this crisis. We can’t provide true environmental justice and save the planet if we don’t change the economics of what caused it in the first place.
Deric: How can we tell the difference between “A People’s Climate Agenda” and the climate movement of the past? What do you see now in Washington State?
Jill: For a people’s climate movement, it really it has to involve the most impacted communities, people who are often left out and not included in decision making roles. We’re talking about marginalized communities like people of color, farm-workers, youth, immigrants, women. Because each community is different and has different needs and conditions, solutions may not look or sound the same, but if it’s vetted and comes from the people themselves, that is what we should listen to and follow their lead. Communities are the ones that are living those impacts, they are the experts of their condition. They know what they need to get through the storm.
Rosalinda: When you involve the people that are impacted, and you’re really honest about it, they will bring to the table the issues that they see happening because of climate justice. I think it will appear disconnected and chaotic. The reason it appears chaotic, in my opinion, and why it seems disconnected, is because we’ve never done it before. Our political movement and campaigns have been rigidly structured to try to create a political victory, instead of really focusing on transforming the dynamics of how we work together as people to save the planet. And we’re at that political moment right now, and for me, the discourse of possible conflict, of disagreement, of confusion—to me that’s a people’s movement. It means we’re engaging people where once they were not engaged. I think many people are nervous about it, because it’s not easily controlled, and it shouldn’t be. We don’t have all the answers as community leaders. We cannot impose solutions on people that have been oppressed and are struggling to just barely survive.
Deric: Jill, your organizing work is with communities of color in urban areas, while Rosalinda, your work is tied to farmworkers in more rural areas. Why is it important that you collaborate and where you think it might take you?
Jill: Often rural and urban areas are pitted against each other. It seems like the urban areas suck up a lot of resources and people sometimes, because that’s how it’s been structured. It is for us to learn how we’re connected, especially our economies, to know that the things we consume in the city are not just appearing in our stores or on our plate, that it is tied to the people in the rural communities.
Rosalinda: For us in rural areas, it’s been difficult to build a relationships with organizations in the urban center of Seattle. It didn’t changed until Got Green, without us asking, said we will go to Bellingham to meet with you. And I think that simple act of leaving the city to come and sit down and discuss food sovereignty was pretty awesome. It’s the urban centers that are eating the food that we are producing. It’s also the urban centers even now are providing the most solidarity and direct action for the boycott of Sakuma Brothers berry farm. For climate justice, it’s critical that we have those equitable relationships between urban and rural population.
Deric: You are both working in a very local and intentional way with specific communities, but I know you have both also drawn global connections, so I’m wondering how you see your work fitting within the global context?
Jill: Like Rosalinda said, it’s going to take a mass people’s movement. The global South has been mobilizing and growing this movement for decades, if not centuries. So there’s a lot of learning from that needs to be happening and taking some lead from our friends overseas. This is also a global issue because the economy doesn’t just stay here in Washington State. Our lives here are impacting other people’s lives around the world. We’re learning here from the rural areas, but were also learning from the global South. For folks living in south Seattle to know that we’re connected to communities in the global South makes this movement feel more whole.
Rosalinda: It has always been our intention to connect the farmworkers movement locally to the global peasant movement. We’ve been to Indonesia, South Africa, South America, accompanying our colleagues that are doing local work in their countries. And the just transition for climate justice, when we go into these other countries, has always included the local economy and the just economy, addressing capitalism, addressing racial justice and gender justice. It’s encouraging that in Washington State that we starting to create a people of color movement and we’re starting to address climate justice, but we have a long way to go.
Top photograph by Mike Annee.