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Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement react to criticism for toxic workplace cultures

By Adam Mahoney - Grist, August 24, 2021

In a summer dictated by converging climate disasters, two of the nation’s largest progressive climate organizations have been preoccupied with their own crises.

Both the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement face criticism for workplace cultures that attempted to cover up episodes of racism and abuse, while the Sierra Club is also facing allegations of repressing acts of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The Sierra Club is facing internal upheaval after a former staff member came forward with allegations of being raped by a “celebrated” Sierra Club employee in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, known for its diversity and pivot away from the historically majority-white climate movement, is facing allegations of “tokenizing” its members of color for political advantage. 

The fallout comes at a critical time in their fight against climate-induced disasters and the fossil fuel industry. As leaders in the struggle for environmental justice — which inherently involves defending women and communities of color — their efforts may be thwarted by not supporting these vulnerable groups within their respective organizations. Both groups, aware of the bad optics, are trying to react swiftly.

Earlier this month, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., announced his resignation. Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz says the organizational shake-up is part of a years-long process to re-examine how the organization affects its community. “We recognize the impacts of our organization’s history and harm, and we are deeply dedicated to fundamental transformation,” Cruz told Grist. “We are making substantial changes to our policies and committing substantial resources to much needed capacity, and we know that the trajectory for transformation will be a long one.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Resigns Amid Upheaval Around Race, Gender, and Abuses

By Alleen Brown - The Intercept, August 19, 2021

During a summer of extreme heat, wildfires, and floods, the largest environmental organization in the U.S. announced last Friday that its executive director will step down, effective at the end of the year. The resignation of Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, comes amid the fallout of an internal report, the executive summary recommendations of which were obtained by The Intercept, that describes an organizational crisis likely to upend the Club’s volunteer-led structure.

The internal reckoning around race, gender, and sexual as well as other abuse allegations coincided with a more public confrontation with the legacy of the Sierra Club’s once-revered founder John Muir, who expressed racist sentiments and traveled in circles that included eugenicists. Following the racial justice uprisings during the summer of 2020, the Sierra Club disavowed Muir. At the same time, discontent was brewing inside the organization over less symbolic issues, leading to the internal report.

The report, prepared for the Sierra Club by the consulting firm Ramona Strategies, describes a series of recommendations developed as part of a “restorative accountability process,” based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documentation. The sharply worded executive summary describes how the organization of nearly 900 staff members fostered a culture lacking accountability for abuse and misconduct, especially when it came from the Club’s 4,000 volunteers, some of whom act as managers for the organization’s employees. The report, which was commissioned after a volunteer leader was publicly accused of rape, underlined that employees and volunteers from historically marginalized groups were most vulnerable to abusive behavior.

Job Creation for a Clean Jumpstart

By Amanda Novello - Data for Progress, July 2021

Government stimulus is sorely needed: more than a year into the pandemic recession, nearly 10 percent of Black workers are unemployed, and over 6 percent of all workers are unemployed. There are still more than 7 million fewer jobs than there were last June, and nearly 40% of all unemployed workers are long-term unemployed. A majority of those out of work have no college degree. In addition, there are 5 million fewer people in the labor force than pre-pandemic, including 3 million women who left the labor force since last February, and 2 million men.

Decarbonizing the economy in tandem with a full, job centered green recovery, will require many different plans to be executed at all levels of government and society. That’s why, this March, Data for Progress and Evergreen Action released the Clean Jumpstart 2021 report that offers 39 policy priorities for how to carry out our existing commitments, while increasing ambition and creating good jobs that Americans desperately need, in communities that need them most. All components of this plan are popular with likely voters. The Clean Jumpstart 2021 plan represents how a bold climate investment package, like the American Jobs Plan, could tackle the climate crisis and build a clean energy economy.

The Clean Jumpstart 2021 plan would invest a total of $2.3 trillion over four years. Some investments would create jobs more or less immediately, while others will take longer to realize full job-creation effects. Therefore, in this memo, we estimate that the plan would create an average of 2.7 million jobs annually for the first five years. But the job benefits of the plan don’t end there. The policies in Clean Jumpstart would also create up to 960,000 jobs annually for five years following (year 6-10 after investments begin). Approximately 40 percent of all jobs created would be “direct” jobs, or employment working directly toward these policy goals, and the rest would be due to additional work generated along supply chains and in communities due to the multiplied impacts of increased demand.

Read the text (PDF).

Congress Should Enact a Federal Renewable Electricity Standard and Reject Gas and False Solutions

By various - (690 Organizations), May 13, 2021

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Manchin, and Chairman Pallone,

On behalf of our millions of members and activists nationwide, we, the undersigned 697 organizations—including climate, environmental and energy justice, democracy, faith, Indigenous, and racial justice groups—urge you to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the infrastructure package and reject gas and other false climate solutions to address the climate emergency.

As Congress prepares to pass a historic infrastructure package and President Biden has globally pledged to slash carbon emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, we should look to the 28 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico that have passed Renewable Electricity Standards (also known as renewable portfolio standards), as opposed to only seven states with Clean Electricity Standards (CES). The bold leadership demonstrated in RES-leading states like Hawaii, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. provide a roadmap to building a new renewable energy future. Funding this transition must start with shifting all fossil fuel subsidies to mass renewable energy deployment.

Renewable energy sources are sources that naturally replenish and are most often defined as solar, wind, and geothermal power. In contrast, so-called “clean” energy standards generally encompass these renewable sources but also include other technologies, like gas with or without carbon capture and sequestration, biomass, and nuclear, which are significant sources of pollution and carry a host of health and safety risks. In order to avoid perpetuating the deep racial, social, and ecological injustices of our current fossil-fueled energy system, Congress should ensure that any federal energy standard does not include these dirty energy sources.

Specifically, we write to express our concern that recent Clean Electricity Standard (CES) legislation, including the CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512), embed these injustices because they include gas and false solutions. The inclusion of gas and carbon capture and storage as qualifying energies in any CES undermines efforts to end the fossil fuel era and halt the devastating pollution disproportionately experienced by Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color in this country. Even a partial credit for fossil fuel resources that attempts to factor in lifecycle emissions runs the risk of subsidizing environmental harm for years to come. Allowing dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy under a federal energy standard would prolong the existence of sacrifice zones around dirty energy investments and delay the transition to a system of 100 percent truly clean, renewable energy.

The National Black Climate Summit

Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021: Findings and Recommendations

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 2021

In February 2018, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) partnered with the Labor Network for Sustainability to launch Transit Equity Day in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, which is on February 4. We chose to honor Rosa Parks for the role she played in the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus and, in doing so, lift up transit as a workers’ rights, civil rights, and climate-justice issue.

Since its launch, Transit Equity Day has grown each year. In 2020, there were events in 50 cities and a social media explosion that brought attention to transit equity beyond just the participating locations. Just as important, a Transit Equity Network emerged through the process. Consisting largely of grassroots advocates, the network has grown and relationships have deepened both locally and nationally.

After the success of Transit Equity Day 2020, participants were ready to work together on a national initiative. We wanted to develop a stronger sense of unity and shared values. We sought to shape a broad vision of what we wanted from our transit systems across the nation. But rather than creating a vision document ourselves, the Transit Equity Network leaders wanted first to hear directly and collectively from transit stakeholders—riders, workers, families reliant on transit, and community activists—about their needs, frustrations, and hopes.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and, with it, a transit crisis. With ridership plummeting and state and local budgets imperiled, it became clear that transit was facing an existential threat. The pandemic laid bare the crisis of inequality and highlighted the essential need for transit. While thousands of workers in sectors not considered essential stopped using transit, millions of essential workers continued to need to get to their jobs: workers in healthcare, public service, food and agriculture and others continued to work to keep us safe and healthy. Many of these workers were in low-wage jobs and dependent on transit, but transit services were being cut and health and safety was not adequately addressed in many systems that remained in service. The dangers associated with the pandemic were exacerbated for unemployed and low-income riders who rely on transit to get to healthcare appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other necessary retail establishments. The idea of holding a (virtual) community hearing on transit was born in this context. The crisis caused by the pandemic made it even more apparent that we needed to hear directly from transit riders and workers about how to address the crisis in the short-term and improve the system in the long-term. For Transit Equity Day 2021 we convened two days of live testimony–as well as pre-recorded testimony–over Zoom with hearing facilitators who came from the policy and social justice world, with Spanish interpretation and to the extent we were able, accommodations for the physically challenged.

This report is a summary of those hearings–rooted in the experience of workers and riders. We have tried to highlight recurring themes, distill the most salient points and remain faithful to the intent of the testimony. Transit riders and workers were very clear about the important role transit plays in their lives and in their community. At the same time, they identified problems with the current system and offered constructive solutions to address them. We structured each key theme of these findings in a similar fashion: 1) recognize the critical benefit of public transit to those who are most vulnerable; 2) identify the existing problems and inequities in public transit; 3) propose policy solutions to both fix and improve public transit. 

Read the text (PDF).

A Letter and Action Plan for Racial Change at the California Air Resources Board

By various - Concerned Black Employees at CARB, September 4, 2020

Who We Are

We are a group of concerned Black employees at the California Air Resources Board (CARB). We are Millennials, Generation X’ers, and Baby Boomers, with individual years of experience ranging from 2 years to 30 years.

Why Are We Speaking Up?

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, began a long overdue nationwide discussion about race and the Black experience in the United States. Discussions are taking place every day around the nation, and the world, about the myriad of ways Black lives are under attack in every facet of life. We have written this letter and action plan as our contribution to these discussions. Our intention is to highlight systemic racism and implicit bias at CARB through sharing stories of our lived experiences. We have also included an action plan with concrete ways to begin the hard work of supporting and healing the wounds of Black employees at CARB. In many instances we may indicate “white”, but Black employees at CARB also experience discrimination from other non-Black people of color (POC). Our goal is not to shame or belittle CARB, or to assign blame. However, it is important to bring these issues into the light, so we can spread awareness, and address harmful behaviors, structures, and practices.

We hope our words will encourage deep reflection, growth, and meaningful transformation concerning the culture of white privilege in our workplace and our country. CARB and other government agencies are increasingly using terms like “equity”, “diversity”, and “environmental justice” without recognizing the importance of having a workforce that reflects these principles. We are speaking up because we believe that Black employees must play a critical role if CARB truly believes in the pursuit of equity, diversity, and environmental justice.

Read the text (PDF).

Just Recovery Workshop: Another World is Possible

A Green New Deal Must Be Rooted in a Just Transition for Workers and Communities Most Impacted by Climate Change

By various - Climate Justice Alliance, December 11, 2018

A Call for Special Attention to Highly Impacted Communities Leading a Just Transition

What is the Climate Justice Alliance?

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is a growing alliance, currently linking 68 community organizations, movement networks, and support organizations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to unite under Just Transition strategies. CJA’s inter-generational constituencies are rooted in Indigenous, African American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and poor white communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. They share legacies of colonialism, racial and economic oppression, along with rich histories of environmental, economic and social justice organizing.

CJA believes that in order to effectively confront the climate crisis, we must transition our priorities from global systems of production and consumption that are energy intensive and fossil fuel dependent to more localized systems that are sustainable, resilient, and regenerative.

The transition itself, however, must be just.

What is the Green New Deal (GND)?

The GND is a proposal recently put forth by Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and currently supported by 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. It comes on the heels of the midterm election where Democrats won the majority in the House as well as the election of a number of self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists. Building off of energy from the demonstrations in Nancy Pelosi’s office by the youth of the Sunrise Movement, the GND, at this stage, has been presented as a call for the establishment of a House Select Committee that would be charged with “developing a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral.”  It also aims to “significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and … promote economic and environmental justice and equality.”(1)

The GND is the first time in many years that a proposal of this type has been presented by a number of members of a major U.S. political party. It proposes to tackle climate change and inequality simultaneously, while revolutionizing conditions for workers.  It is a much needed aggressive national pivot away from climate denialism to climate action with large scale federal legislative and budgetary implications.

Civil Rights and the All Mighty Economy

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, January 16, 2018

When I attended Clintwood High School throughout the mid-90s, there was an amazing lack of ethnic diversity.  Our school was 99.8% white. The one student of color who attended CHS had been adopted and raised by a white family. It goes without saying that we had a very limited understanding of diversity. What little we did know came in the form of 80’s and 90’s whitewashed television programming pulled in with our 10-foot diameter c-band satellite dishes perched up on the hillside.

According to some, I should be racist. I was from the South, I was raised in a predominantly white area, and my hometown had even been renamed after Henry Clinton Wood, a Major in the Confederate army. So why ain’t I? Why do I stand in solidarity with people of color against injustice and the institutionalized racism of our nation?

It’s because our parents and the United Mine Workers taught us differently.

The few people of color in our county lived in the small town of Clinchco, Virginia, an old coal camp built by Clinchfield Coal Company. Like the rest of us, they were coal mining families. Their grandparents and great-grandparents had moved from the deep south searching for a better life. Though still wrought with oppression thanks to company-owned towns and the mine guard system, many people saw coal mining to be more preferable than sharecropping in the Jim Crow south.  While racism was still unavoidable in certain places throughout Appalachia, the United Mine Workers gave everyone rights as laborers and justice when facing the greed and oppression meant to subjugate us all to the will of the wealthy elite.

What racism did occur was often brought on by the coal companies themselves and the local elites who sought to divide the workforce and prevent unionization. They segregated the housing, churches, and bathhouses, doing what they could to socially and racially stratify us.

But the union wouldn’t stand for racism and segregation.  As my dad once said, “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is when you go into the mine, we all come out the same color, and so do our lungs.” This was the understanding of equality that was passed to me and my brother.

It was this sense of equality that held us all together, keeping our union and our communities close-knit and strong. It was this same understanding that led Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Appalachian coalfields in his work on the Poor People’s campaign. He had long known that the issues of racism have been rooted in classism and that classism has always been rooted in economics.

In the years since the union fell, the belief in equality that once bound our communities together has faded. Each calculated move by the industry has seen to the demise of our solidarity, starving us out during each strike, shutting down union operations, and even corrupting union leadership. In the absence of our once mighty union, the industry has guided us once again towards classism among the poor and middle class, classism that gives way to prejudice and racism.

We are caught between multimillion-dollar misinformation campaigns aimed at our continued exploitation, and the condescension afforded us by a liberal elite who believe us too stupid, too far gone, to help ourselves. What we need now are voices that call out clearly across the divide of populist politics, voices that cannot be easily drowned by the money of industry and philanthropies alike. We need voices that unite us all, from the coal mines to the inner cities, from the fields of migrant workers to the sweatshops of Bangladesh. If we are ever to find true justice in this world, we must stop letting money speak louder than our own voices of reason and equality.

“It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps. It is even worse to tell a man to lift himself up by his own bootstraps when somebody is standing on the boot.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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