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Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)

Stopping Cop City and Reconnecting with Abundance: Interview with Abundia Alvarado of Mariposas Rebeldes

By Abundia Alvarado and Dan Fischer - New Politics, January 14, 2023

Abundia Alvarado is a community organizer and a co-founder of Mariposas Rebeldes, a member of the movement to protect Weelaunee Forest and Stop Cop City, and a founder of FaunAcción, and El Molcajete. A Nahuatl and Apache trans femme migrant, she is currently based between Atlanta and Tennessee. In Atlanta, she helped launch an annual money-free gift-economy festival called the Dandelion Fest and is working on projects around the idea of the universe as a “Sacred Web of Abundance.” We spoke about Abundia’s life’s philosophy, its roots, and how it has shaped the trajectory of her organizing.

Since the interview was conducted last month, there have been some developments in Atlanta’s grassroots campaign to stop construction of a highly militarized police training facility, nicknamed “Cop City,” on 85 acres of the Weelaunee forest. On December 13 and 14, SWAT teams and police arrested twelve land defenders and six of them were given bogus “domestic terrorism” charges. All six have been bonded out of jail, but readers can contribute to their legal expenses through the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, follow the movement at Scenes from the Atlanta Forest, and organize solidarity events.

You’ve described your childhood surroundings near Monterrey, Mexico, as a “web of abundance”. Could you elaborate on some of the values you picked up in this environment – including from your Nahuatl and Apache family and from the local community as well as the broader ecosystem – which continue to inform your organizing?

I grew up in a neighborhood called Canteras in the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, the third largest city and center of the Mexican business and economy, located in the desert land, surrounded by a beautiful web of abundance that saved me from the daily horrible reality of extreme poverty. Canteras was full of different cacti—many of them edible like the nopales which have tunas (prickly pears)—that I collected almost all year round. There were different varieties of chiles, my favorites being the tiny yet potent piquin. For my sweet tooth, there were blackberries, mulberries, and many other desert foods and flowers. So even though we were food insecure at my household, I still ate so well and plentifully. Canteras’s web of abundance (or WoA, for short) was everything to me. I played in it all day, befriended animals and plants, and imagined other worlds outside the neighborhood and its physical and mental constraints. I relentlessly explored every inch of that land and learned something new every day from all the plants, animals, insects, fungi, etc, that were part of that particular WoA. There were a lot of waterways, little waterfalls, and pools to bathe in. It was heaven for a curious and very active little girl (although I didn’t yet identify as a girl outwardly).

This particular land where I was born and grew up was owned by a very rich landowner, but my mother helped organize 120 families to occupy it and settle there. The occupation was successful and the Canteras neighborhood was born.These 120 families were mostly Indigenous people from different parts of Mexico but mainly Nahuatl people like my father’s family. I learned about their cultures and traditions by paying attention to the staples they grew (such as corn, tomatoes, chilis (especially chile piquin), blackberries, mangoes, oranges, peanuts, bananas, and avocados), the way they cooked them and the dishes they made. My neighbors helped each other to grow food and shared the harvests. One value that was instilled in me during these early years was respect for all the plants, ecosystems, and animals, and always being aware of other species’ jurisdictions or territories. Canteras was also the home of many kinds of snakes like the rattlesnakes, copperhead, coralillo and the mysterious (mythical) Alicante snakes. My family was so lucky we never got bitten by a snake even though I encountered them every day in the mountains. I knew where they lived and hung out and was careful not to intrude then. That respect and awareness is something that I carry on with me and that informs my activism around animal rights. Regarding human jurisdictions, I was never good and always transgressed their boundaries.

Climate Change As Class War: A Review

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, December 6, 2022

As the burning of fossil fuels continues to pump up the size of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere, the global warming crisis becomes ever more acute. In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…”

But we’re losing the climate battle thus far. In Climate Change as Class War, Marxist geographer Matthew Huber argues that the climate movement is losing because it is rooted in the “professional class.” He argues that this class lacks the power to defeat the powerful capitalist interests that drag their heals against the kind of drastic cutting back of fossil-fuel burning that is needed. For Huber, the climate movement needs to be rooted in the working class to have sufficient power to enact radical structural reforms needed to effectively fight global warming. 

Huber analyses the existing climate movement as consisting of three layers. First, there are the “science communicators” like James Hansen who try to do popular education about climate change science. A second group are “policy technocrats” with expertise in law or policy studies and work in think tanks, the university world, or non-profits. Their orientation is to craft “smart” policy solutions. A third group are the “anti-system radicals” whose exposure to the science of environmental devastation “leads to a kind of political radicalization.” Huber views these groups as part of the “professional class” and tries to use his theory of this class to explain the politics of the climate movement. Huber pinpoints two features of the climate movement that he sees as sources of weakness: (1) The emphasis on high levels of personal consumption as a factor in global warming, thus leading to a “politics of less” — especially a feature of “degrowth” politics; and (2) an emphasis on science education. “Making climate politics purely about science evades the question of power. It allows us to attribute…inaction on climate change as simply due to misinformation rather than a lack of power.”

Huber appeals to the theory of the “Professional-Managerial Class” (proposed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich) to try to explain the origin of these features of the “professional class” climate movement. Here he points to the centrality of credentials which mediates the access of the “professional class” to the labor market. This includes “the existence of a specialized body of knowledge, accessible only by lengthy training,” degree and licensing programs, professional associations, which he regards as “forms of class organization.” This tends to encourage acceptance of meritocratic ideology which favors decision-making power for managers and professionals. This emphasis on the importance of knowledge and the role of professionals tends to favor the science education emphasis of the climate movement, as Huber sees it.

In the Ehrenreichs’ theory of the PMC their class position is based on their control over cultural and social reproduction. This is how teachers and writers are included in the class. Among both Marxists and libertarian socialists, however, class has historically been seen as an institutional group-to-group power relation in social production, as in Marx’s concept of capital as a social power relation. Looking at it from this point of view, I think the PMC theory tends to paper over a distinction between two different class groups. First, there is a group I call the bureaucratic control class. This group’s class position is based on their relative monopoly of decision-making power, via bureaucratic hierarchies that exist to control labor and run corporations and government agencies day-to-day. This includes not only salaried managers but high-end professionals who work closely with management to control labor and defend corporate interests, such as corporate lawyers, HR experts, and industrial engineers who design jobs and work organization. This class power relation is the basis of the clear antagonism between this layer and the working class. 

It’s noteworthy that school teachers, newspaper reporters, script writers, and nurses all form unions and occasionally go on strike. These lower level professional employees are not usually part of the management apparatus, and don’t manage other workers. As such, they have a structural position like the core working class of manual workers, not the bureaucratic control class. The people in this lower professional layer often have college degrees, and sometimes do show elitism towards the core manual working class. They also tend to have more autonomy in their work. However, the “skilled trades” in the early 20th century often showed elitism towards less skilled manual workers and often had relative autonomy in their work. But we generally regard skilled blue collar workers (such as tool and die makers) as part of the working class. 

Lower level professional employees may be tempted to middle class meritocratic ideology. As such they will be in a conflicted position, as they also share the subordination of the working class position. This is why Erik Olin Wright’s phrase “contradictory class location” is appropriate for this group — a point that Huber concedes.

A Pick Axe and a Heart Attack: Workers Suffer As They Clean Up Toxic Mess That Vernon’s Old Battery Recycling Plant Left Behind

By Mariah Castañeda - L.A. Taco, October 26, 2022

When workers tasked with cleaning up toxic lead dust spilled by the Exide battery recycling plant from Guadalupe Valdovinos’ yard started packing up, she noticed they hadn’t finished. She saw a large patch of soil on her property that they hadn’t touched. 

When she insisted they missed a spot, she remembers the clean-up workers rudely said that cleaning up the untouched corner of her property “wasn’t part of the plan.” 

Valdovinos says that the apparent disregard for her home started early in the clean-up process “They would hit and break things. We expected them to repair it. They were hostile. They were they would grunt or be very like, well, we didn’t do that,” said Valdovinos, “Like, we didn’t come at them attacking them. We were just pointing out, hey. You broke something. And they took it very offensive, like, No, we didn’t do that. No, that’s not our problem. So that was another issue. Yeah, it wasn’t a friendly environment.”

She complained about the clean-up at an Environmental Board Meeting in July and addressed California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the state agency responsible for cleaning up the mess made by Exide Technologies’ battery recycling plant. For decades, Exide belched out thousands of tons of poisonous lead dust across the predominantly Latino communities surrounding the industrial city of Vernon. 

“I’m here to urge the Council and DTSC not to contract the cleaning crew National Engineering Consulting Company Group, also known as NEC because they are not professional,” said Valdovinos at the Environmental Board Meeting.

She was hardly the first to complain of sloppy standards affecting the cleanup of more than 7 million pounds of lead dust spewed out by Exide. Residents have long complained about issues with the cleanup, and now employees of the contractors responsible for the cleanup are speaking out too. Reporting by L.A. TACO found two incidents of severe injuries to subcontractor workers due to possibly unsafe working conditions and questionable treatment of poisonous lead dust. 

One cleanup worker died after suffering injuries inflicted by a Bobcat digger at one site in 2020. At another, in the spring of 2022, an employee of a state contractor was severely injured by a pickax blow to their chest and shoulder area after a site was not appropriately cleared for overhead hazards. 

A Discussion on the Inflation Reduction Act and Climate Justice

80+ Groups Blast CA Climate Plan’s Reliance on Carbon Capture for Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, October 25, 2022

Despite California’s image as a “green” and “progressive state,” Big Oil and Big Gas continue to exert huge influence over California regulators in the promotion of carbon capture and storage as a “tool” to addressing climate change.

On October 24, over 80 climate and environmental justice groups sent a letter urging California Air Resources Board Chair, Liane Randolph, and California Governor Gavin Newsom to reject the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) for fossil fuel infrastructure like oil refineries, gas-fired power plants, and other oil and gas operations in the state’s 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan.

This letter was sent after new lobbying disclosure research revealed the CA CCS lobby, dominated by fossil fuel interests organized by the CA Carbon Capture Coalition, spent more than $13 million lobbying California’s Scoping Plan, Governor’s Office, Legislature and the Air Resources Board in the first six months of 2022, according to a press statement from a coalition of over 80 climate and environmental groups.

“California must have a climate roadmap that prioritizes rapid and direct emissions reductions at the source, centers Indigenous Peoples and frontline communities of color, and fully phases out the production, refining, and use of fossil fuels at the pace that science and justice require,” the letter states.

“Yet, the current plan to increase the state’s reliance on carbon capture and storage (CCS) undermines that vision and the state’s ability to meet its climate goals. CCS regularly fails to meet its promises, requires high use of electricity and water, puts communities at real risk of harm, and would prolong the production and use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate emergency and polluting communities. We urge you to adopt a Scoping Plan that rejects the use of CCS for fossil fuel infrastructure such as refineries, gas-fired power plants, and other oil and gas operations,” the letter continues.

Outdoor Workers and Organizers in Miami are Fighting for a Countywide Heat Standard

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, October 6, 2022

Marta Gabriel has been picking tomatoes in Homestead, Florida, since she arrived from Guatemala five years ago. She didn’t know how hot and grueling conditions would be, but the job guaranteed her money that she could use to support her growing family as a mother of young children. However, after she nearly fainted from heat exhaustion and then suffered heatstroke while bending down to cut tomatoes, Gabriel realized her working conditions were not sustainable. She was already a member of WeCount!, a coalition of immigrant workers in southern Florida, and shared her concerns with organizers. 

Hundreds of thousands of other outdoor workers across South Florida share Gabriel’s experience. Starting in 2017, they began telling organizers at WeCount! that heat had become an issue. Now, construction workers, farmworkers, and other outdoor workers across Miami-Dade County are fighting for a countywide heat standard to ensure workers are protected from the deadly rising temperatures on the frontlines of climate change and extreme heat.

As it stands, workers in southern Florida are forced to work outside in the extreme heat without any local, state, or federal heat standards. WeCount!’s “¡Que Calor!” campaign (Spanish for “it’s so hot!”) is hoping to enact a heat standard similar to the one states like California, Washington, or Oregon, have already implemented—one that highlights the need for water, shade, and rest for workers. Led by those most impacted by the problem—farmworkers, plant nursery workers, day laborers, and construction workers—¡Qué Calor! is building a grassroots movement for climate, health, and labor justice. 

Making It Make Sense: Equitable Transition and What EJ Advocates Should Know about the IRA

A Just Transition Primer from Global Climate Justice Leaders

By Molly Rosbach - Sunflower Alliance, October 1, 2022

A new report from leaders of the global climate justice movement argues that “a broad vision of Just Transition with social justice at its core is critical, especially as fossil fuel companies and defenders of ‘business as usual’ are adopting the language of climate action and just transition to thwart real solutions.”

The report, From Crisis to Transformation: A Just Transition Primer, released by Grassroots Global Justice and the Transnational Institute, “explores the root causes of the climate crisis . . . and argues that we need transformative and anti-capitalist visions to bring us “from crisis to transformation.” The report lays out the big picture of those causes, starting from colonialism, capitalism, and the industrial revolution, and traces the development of the current crisis. It outlines key elements of a true just transition:

  • Decolonization and restoration of indigenous sovereignty
  • Reparations and restitution
  • Ancestral and science-based solutions
  • Agroecology, food sovereignty, and agrarian reform
  • Recognition of rights to land, food, ecosystems, and territories
  • Cooperatives, social, and public production
  • Just distribution of reproductive labor
  • Going beyond endless economic growth

And provides case studies of communities putting visions of Just Transition into practice today:
* The Green New Deal
* Cooperation Jackson and the Jackson Just Transition Plan
* Just Transition in North Africa
* Movement of People Affected by Dams

Authors of the report include Jaron Brown of Grassroots Global Justice, Katie Sandwell and Lyda Fernanda Forero of the Transnational Institute, and Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson.

The report was released in Arabic, Spanish, and English, with plans to add translations in Bahasa, French, and Portuguese.

Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) “is an alliance of over 60 US-based grassroots organizing (GRO) groups of working and poor people and communities of color,” including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Jobs with Justice, Cooperation Jackson and many more.

The Transnational Institute “is an international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic, and sustainable planet.”

They “offer this primer as a contribution to the broader ecosystem of Just Transition frameworks and articulations. In particular, we honor the work of the Just Transition Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Climate Justice Alliance, Movement Generation, the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, among many others.”

Fighting California’s fires requires carceral reform and a Just Transition

By Ray Levy Uyeda - Prism, September 28, 2022

Fires fueled by climate crisis expose the intersecting injustices incarcerated people face and the comprehensive reforms needed for a Just Transition:

Fall is a tough season for Da’Ton Harris, a wildland firefighter who spends multiple weeks at a time attempting to tamp down fires without hoses. Harris and his crew of 20 other firefighters with the Urban Association of Forestry and Fire Professionals, where he’s a superintendent, are responsible for cutting down a forest to its soil so that, theoretically, there’s less fuel to burn. It’s a critical job, especially as climate change continues to dry up California’s forests and prolong the summer heat, which now overlaps with increased winds during typical fall months—creating a ripe environment for wildfire. 

Many firefighters have been at the front lines of these dangerous jobs while being incarcerated, but policies block them from being hired by municipal fire stations after their release because they have conviction and felony records, despite the growing need for more firefighters to combat intensifying wildfires.

California legislators are starting to acknowledge this reality. In 2021, a state law went into effect that may make it easier for firefighters who were trained while they were incarcerated to expunge a felony conviction from their record, which is needed to gain the required licensing to become a municipal firefighter. Harris, a staff member at Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP), which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs, went through the expungement process this year.

“With me being able to get this off my record, I can try to head back to school to work for a paramedic license, so I can work closer to home,” Harris said. He lives in Victorville, California, with his wife and five children, and he said that he’ll be able to go to his son’s baseball games and maybe even help coach the team. The expungement, he said, will change everything.

Advocates say the change in the law is a prime example of the progress that needs to happen around felony records and removing employment restrictions for those who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. However, others warn that reforms to a system that is restrictive by design won’t bring about the justice needed to address climate change-induced wildfires or change the way a conviction record can shadow someone long after they’ve served their sentence. 

While incarcerated wildland firefighters are tasked with combating the consequences of climate change, justice-involved community leaders and grassroots activists say that the intertwined issues of climate change and retributive policies of incarceration deserve a deeper look that questions the efficacy of piecemeal solutions to systemic issues. They also echo a call for a Just Transition, a union term for shifting the workforce away from harmful industries to those that don’t risk climate and ecological balance.

Labour and the Global Climate Strike: An interview with Nigel Barriffe

By Spencer Bridgman and Nigel Barriffe - Spring, September 20, 2022

For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island have cared for and protected the land and water we all rely on. This is especially true in settler-colonial Canada, where Indigenous Peoples have always been at the forefront of the climate justice movement. Two recent examples of this is the work of the Wet’suwet’en People and the Keepers of the Water. Their calls for climate justice have been amplified in recent years through the blossoming of Fridays for Future: a youth-led, international movement demanding immediate action to address the climate crisis. Under this banner, student strikes have been held across the globe, from Tokyo to Tehran to Toronto. 

This year, a Global Climate Strike is taking place on September 23 and Fridays for Future TO is leading the Toronto action. A number of groups are joining the strike in solidarity, including a Labour and Allies Contingent, who are meeting at Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St. at 12:30pm and will unite with the main march at Queen’s Park at 2pm. 

Spring Magazine spoke to labour organizer and elementary school teacher Nigel Barriffe about the climate strike and the many intersections between the labour and climate justice movements. Nigel is active in a number of roles including as Vice President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, President at the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and a board member at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Good Jobs For All

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