Women of Color Speak-Out: Climate Change and Systems of Oppression
Last night we were pleased to join a packed crowd of 300 at the Women of Color Speak Out’s presentation at the First Unitarian Church. Four women, Zarna Joshi, Afrin Sopariwala, Sarra Tekola, and Yin Yu, spoke passionately about systems of oppression and their relationship to climate change. They explained how capitalism, colonialism, the prison-industrial complex, and patriarchy are used to oppress black and brown peoples globally and how this oppression is intimately tied to the creation of climate change, who bears the brunt of climate change, and the approaches we use to stop climate change. The WOC Speak Out comes to us at a time when we are painfully aware of how little time is left to reverse climate change. Their words are critical for us to hear, particularly as urgency can cloud our thinking.
The audience likely brought a range of understanding of systems of oppression to the room, and we probably experienced different emotions to the presentation. But I hope we all walked away stronger and wiser as we let the powerful presentation sink in and impact our work. My favorite message of the evening was the reminder that the people who consistently change things are those most impacted by an injustice. We cannot beat climate change without supporting people on the front lines. Thank you Women of Color Speak Out!
Women of Color Speak Out website
Transcription of the presentation:
Hello everyone, good evening. We are so excited to be here. I drove almost ninety miles an hour on my way here, and just arrived twenty minutes ago, and now can be at peace in this amazing, beautiful church. So, we’re really grateful to be here, and we want to start off by acknowledging the First Nations people whose land we’re on, who’ve caretaker for this land for centuries. We’re in solidarity with them. We want to learn from them how to look after the land like they have for centuries.
We also want to thank our amazing hosts and sponsors and all the volunteers who made this event happen. I also want to shout out to Rianna, an amazing woman of color, trans activist, and also Patricia, indigenous environmental activist, who have both come down from Seattle to support us tonight. And thank you, Antonio, for sharing your story and your words with us. You really are an inspiration to us, to all of us.
So, a quick introduction. My name is Afrin, we’re the Women of Color Speak Out. We came together about a year ago last year during Shell No. At that point we were at direct actions, and looking around us, we saw that there were not a lot of other people of color, and we were like, “why are more people of color not feeling safe in spaces like this? And how do we create a space that feels safe for people of color?” So we decided that we would, instead of waiting for someone to create that space, create it for ourselves. And that’s when we did our first panel, last year. It was such an amazing experience just to see how empowered we felt creating that space, and how people responded and really resonated with that idea of hearing from us. Since then our presentation has evolved into what you’re going to see tonight, and it is constantly evolving. We call it, “The Systems of Oppression and Climate Change”.
So, what are the systems of oppression? In the course of this program, we’re gonna talk about capitalism, we’re gonna talk about colonialism, we’re gonna talk about the prison industrial complex, we’re gonna talk about patriarchy. We recognize that the most urgent problems facing humanity right now are the climate crisis and the economic crisis, and they are connected, as they’re connected with so many other issues, and that’s what our work has been about. While we are all direct action activists, we recognize that until we do this deeper work of recognizing and dismantling these systems of oppression, we’re not going to be able to overcome this crisis.
So I have a more technical definition that I’m just going to read out about what oppression is; I think it’s really important for us to learn. So oppression is institutionalized power that is historically formed and perpetuated over time. It allows certain groups to assume a dominant position over others. And it is built into institutions like government and education. They have history, they’re formed over time, so we cannot get rid of the systems of oppression overnight. We have to do a lot of work.
Also, we’re so deeply embedded and conditioned to these systems that we often don’t recognize them. We don’t recognize them and we perpetuate them through our own ignorance or not knowing. And sometimes we recognize them, but we still don’t know how to overcome them.
For example, when we talk about patriarchy, this system is so deeply embedded in us that even women will sometimes perpetuate it in certain ways. These systems are also designed in such a way that they make us feel guilty. They make us feel hopeless and helpless like we don’t know how to overcome them, and that is again designed by the system to keep us oppressed.
So in short, what we want to say is that when we talk about these systems, we don’t blame the people who are in the systems. In the course of this presentation we will talk about white people, we will talk about racism, we will talk about patriarchy. That doesn’t mean we hate white people. And that doesn’t mean that we think that all male-identifying people should not exist. Right? That’s not what we mean when we talk about patriarchy. We really want this to be an exercise of learning to recognize these systems, learning to reflect upon them, process them, and then change how we perpetuate them, and then also help, maybe, other people change and recognize them.
So we want to help people recognize their privilege, recognize their power, and check it. It’s a lot of work. It’s hard work. All of us have to do it every day. You’re not gonna be experts when you leave today, none of us are experts in dismantling it. It’s a constant process.
So we really want to thank you for being here. We’re excited to have a room full of new allies, old allies, and thank you for being here.
Capitalism – Afrin
We’re gonna now kick off with the first system of oppression: Coca-Cola, or capitalism. I chose this image because Coca-Cola presents this brand, it’s a 150 year old brand that tells you, “Enjoy life.” And when we really look under it, we know it’s toxic for us. And yet we are so conditioned to using it, we crave it, we want it. But that’s exactly what capitalism is.
So, a definition: Capitalism is a political and economic system in which the trade and economics of a country are controlled by a minority for power, for profit, and this is the capitalist class. Most of the population exchanges their work for a salary, or a wage. And this is the working class.
We have done trade for centuries. For years, people have exchanged goods or even traded with money, but it really was after the discovery of the New World that trade became a big business, and also this was around the same time that we started using coal to manufacture in factories. All of a sudden, we were able to cut corners to make profit, and that’s when we started seeing slave labor. We started seeing child labor. The rich got richer, and the poor were exploited and tormented in such ways. But that’s not in our history, right? Today, 200 years since that, we are now in a place where 1% of the population owns 90% of the world. This is the wealth distribution of the United States from 2012. And today, we still see sweat shops. We still see incarcerated people used like labor. We still see huge amounts of land, forests, cut down for profit. We see incredible amounts of pollution and toxins put into our atmosphere, all for the sake of profit.
The key symptoms of capitalism are this enormous disparity of wealth, the enormous power that corporations have, even over governments, and how they have gotten away with exploiting nature’s resources for the sake of making profit.
So how did we get embedded in this system? After the second world war, when here in the U.S. the leaders were thinking about how to grow our economy, this retail analyst made this declaration. He said, “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life. That we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals. That we speak our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. We need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever accelerating rate.” So instead of thinking about, oh, should we have more schools? Should we increase farming and agriculture? what we decided to do was consume more, and produce goods that we could discard quickly so that we could keep consuming more.
So we live in an economy that is a linear process. And at every stage of this process, natural resources are exploited and destroyed. We go to lands where people have lived off the lands for centuries, we take their lands from them, we put up factories. Now these people who have survived off the land have no way to live. They are forced to work in factories where they’re exposed to toxins, where there’s pollution, and then these products make their way to us, where we believe that consumption makes us happy, that our spiritual satisfaction comes from consumption. So at every stage, this linear process is not a closed loop, and on a finite planet, a system like this cannot be sustained. We consume twice as much now as we did 50 years ago, we have 5% of the world’s population in the U.S., but we use 30% of the resources in the world, and make 30% of the world’s waste. If everybody on the planet consumed at our rate, we would need 3 to 5 planets to sustain us.
This is because we measure our success by this number, the GDP. Which is just: more is better. It doesn’t matter if we are polluting more. More carbon is better, more pollution is better. So we’re not thinking about the consequences of this “more”, but instead just producing. The whole measure of our success is backwards. And so, as people, where does that leave us? It leaves us like mechanical beings. We’re overworked, we’re isolated, we don’t recognize community anymore. We just are made to be in this very individualistic mindset, and we think that consumption makes us happy. We’re unhealthy, and we have lost touch with nature and we’ve lost touch with our spiritual selves. And all this while, big corporations can get away with poisoning us. For years, they have gotten away with it and they still have so much power. While farm workers are still oppressed. There is still child labor in farms. there is still exploitation. they are paid ridiculously low wages for the backbreaking work that they do on our farms, while industrial farming pollutes and exploits people.
And bottling water. I heard that Nestle was trying to bottle water in Oregon, and you all won and they’re banned. That’s awesome. That’s people power, and that’s what we need to do. But the CEO of Nestle said, “Access to water should not be a public right”. So his whole agenda is to privatize water. Whereas, the indigenous people have always said that water is sacred. How far away are we- are corporations- from that sacred wisdom?
And all of these fossil fuel companies, their stock market value is based on fossil fuels that are still under the ground. So the economic structure that we live in is based on oil that we know we can’t use, based on fossil fuels that we know we can’t extract. And of course, you all know about Exxon. You all know about how 30 years ago, they knew about climate change, and they lied. They suppressed this information. they put out false information about climate change.
Just 90 companies have caused 2/3 of manmade global warming emission. We know the names of these people. We know who they are.
Also, the TPP: corporations are not done yet. The power that they have, they want to continue, by passing secret trade agreements like this that give them more power over local governments, more power over people for the sake of making profit. I hope there is a really strong resistance here against the TPP as well.
Now that climate change is no longer deniable, really, we see solutions come out of governments and come out of corporations that are really false solutions, under the names of words like “mitigation” and “adaptation” and “carbon offsets”, they offer us solutions that allow corporations to keep polluting by paying a price. So when we see solutions like this, and before jumping onto signing on to ballots, we really need to look and see who’s being impacted, and what really are the fine details of these false solutions. We call them false solutions.
This is an amazing book I read that was really inspiring to me by Vandana Shiva, she’s an amazing activist from India. Her organization is called Soil Not Oil, and in her book, she says, this is a quote from Chief Seattle: “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth. All things are connected.”
I only have a couple more minutes, so I’m going to skip through this slide, which really was describing the differences between the corporate globalized market economy, which, basically the principles are creating scarcity. It’s greed over need. Whereas nature’s economy is one that we have completely ignored and disregarded, which is why this crisis exists. Nature’s economy is nature’s slow process of regenerating forests and regenerating water reserves. And that takes its own time and has its own life cycle, and by disregarding nature’s economy, we have misused natural resources.
The third economy is how people lived in harmony with land for centuries. This is people who lived off the land, but who knew how to respect the resources. They got their sustenance from farming or craftwork. They balanced their production with nature, and that is what we need to go back to: sustenance economies. And we need to come to people’s solutions.
Just transition is a term that we use a lot, which is talking about how we transition from this current system, this current fossil fuel dependent system, into transitioning away from these, without leaving communities behind. Without leaving people that depend on them, but generating ways in which we transition, quickly.
Our power campaign is an amazing group that runs assemblies around the nation to invite people to talk about solutions. Because the truth is that there’s not one single formula for just transition. Each community has to explore and see what solutions have worked for their region. And with that, I am going to leave you all with a quote that really affected me a lot when I first stepped into the movement. This is a video from an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean 2000 miles away from the mainland, where albatross birds are feeding their children bits of plastic, because their island is surrounded by bits of plastic that we throw in our waste. These are pen caps and bottle caps. So they’re feeding their babies, and the island is full of baby albatross birds dying because this is what they’re eating. And the question that he asks in the video is, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?”
And with that, we’re going to move on to the next system that Zarna’s going to talk about.
Colonialism – Zarna
Okay, so I’m going to stand here, because I like to move around. So, I’m here to talk about colonialism. What is it, exactly? It refers to control over a piece of land and its people by a more dominant power. Control. Over a piece of land and its people by a more dominant power. That doesn’t necessarily mean governments, it doesn’t necessarily mean armies, it means a more dominant power.
So this is a map of the 18th century, and all of these different colors that you see here, these are all different empires. So the bright red that you see there? That comes from Spain. This blue, blue blue? That’s comes from France, that’s a French empire. The dark red, all of these dark red, that’s the British empire. The purple, that’s the Russian empire. So, as you can see- the green, the green green, that’s the Portuguese empire. The single unifying factor here is that these are all European empires. In other words, the white people colonized the black and brown people.
This is the propaganda of empire: She is the empire. She’s very attractive. She’s a white woman, she’s blond. She is a mother, and she nurtures her colonies at her breast. She’s loving. They cannot exist without her. They are literally attached to her body. And notice, they’re all different colors.
This is the reality: Empires were not feeding their colonies. They were leaching the very blood out of them. They were gorging themselves on the blood, and sweat, and tears of the people that they colonized. This is the reality of empire.
And of course, this country was part of the British empire, right? The thirteen colonies, they were part of the British empire. Everyone was really excited, and then they were like, “Oh, wait a minute, we don’t like the British”, so now we’re gonna fight them, we’ll have a revolution, and then they fought the revolution to get out of the empire. Then this country became the empire. And they became the empire using a term, “Manifest Destiny”. “Our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent, which providence has given us, for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self government entrusted to us. And this was written by John L. O. Sullivan, New York journalist, 1845. Our Manifest Destiny. “To overspread and possess the whole of the continent.”
So this is the propaganda of Manifest Destiny: She’s liberty. She’s a woman. She’s attractive. She’s blond. She’s in flowing robes that are barely hanging off her breasts. Notice, notice how she’s holding power cables in her hands. Notice how there are coal trains behind her. Notice how there are ships behind her, carrying goods from other countries, carrying slaves from other countries. Notice that beneath her there are white men in pioneer wagons. White men in pioneer wagons.
This word “pioneer”, it basically means a white man going somewhere other white men haven’t been before. Because there were people who already lived here, and those people, the peoples of the First Nations, their natural way of life was pushed further and further off the land. And of course, where did Manifest Destiny come from? It came from white men, right? Who said, “Well, but we have a right. It’s our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole of the continent because we have the great experiment of liberty and federated self government”, right? In other words, we have got the best government idea in the whole world. No one has a better government idea than us, and that gives us the right to overspread and posses the whole of the continent, because what? “Providence” has entrusted it to us. God gave it to us. Right? And this idea was come up with by white men, right? So George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, right? White men. So of course, it makes sense that they would be the founding fathers, right?
Except that George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin met with the Iroquois natives frequently. The Iroquois were a confederation of six tribes on the east coast, and they met with these white men frequently, and they said, “Empire is evil. You must get away from empire, and you must be free. And the only way you white men will be free is if you follow the great law of peace.” The Great Law of Peace: Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The right of women to participate in government. Separation of powers. Checks and balances. A government of the people, by the people, for the people. Three branches of government, and a women’s council. Apart from the right of women to participate in government, and a women’s council, the white men adopted all of these things. And instead of a women’s council, they had a supreme court, and they put nine white men on there.
The U.S. Constitution is based upon the Iroquois Great Law of Peace. It is their idea. It did not come from white men. The central idea underlying the Iroquois political philosophy is that peace is the will of the creator, and the ultimate spiritual goal and natural order among humans. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: All men are created equal.” Thomas Jefferson didn’t make those words up, they were taught to him by the Iroquois. These principles do not come from white men, because the white men got their principles from Europe, and Europe didn’t believe in freedom of speech. Europe didn’t believe in freedom of religion. Europe didn’t believe in the equality of all people, the right of women to participate in government. These are not the values of Europe.
And that’s why those white men, even though they said, “It’s our idea”, they were not following the Great Law of Peace, because they had slaves. And a slave was considered three-fifths of a person. These are the historical facts of the values of Europe.
And the native people, the Iroquois , the first nations all over this entire continent, even though they gave food to those starving settlers when they first came here, even though they helped them in many ways when they came here, those First Nations were forced off their lands and made to starve to death by those settlers. And by the way, the word “settler” is a white privilege, white supremacist word. They were not settlers, they were immigrants, and they had no papers. They had no papers. They had no rights to be here.
And it was the presiding view of the US army that “the only good indians I ever saw were dead” . That was what General Philip Sheridan said. So it’s not just history, it is right now. Because the Duwamish tribe in Seattle, where we live, the Duwamish people, Seattle is named after Chief Seattle, their chief, and in 2015 the federal government denied their tribe federal recognition. They said, “Your tribe doesn’t exist, and it never existed.” So what it means with colonization is, it means that colonizers take control of the land and people by imposing European culture of capitalism and materialism. And to do this, they destroy Indigenous cultures, Indigenous culture that protects the land. That means they destroy their spiritual beliefs, their languages, their family structures, their relationships, so that only European culture is seen as acceptable. There’s a reason we’re all speaking english here. There’s a reason.
So this is a map of the British Empire, and this is the continent of Africa during the height of the British empire. All of this belonged to Britain, and all of this was French. This is Africa today. All of these logos are fossil fuel companies. And every single one of them is British or French. The continent of Africa and the many many countries and the many many peoples of Africa are not free, because corporations are colonizing powers.
And it’s not just Africa. Last year, Shell brought their giant Arctic drilling rig to Seattle waters, and they brought their icebreaker, the Fennica, to Portland waters so that they could get them ready to go up to the Arctic, where brown people live, so that they could colonize them too. Do you know what this giant Arctic drilling rig was called? It was called the Polar Pioneer.
We fight wars to maintain this empire. Wars in the middle east, wars all over the world. It never ends. And you see the non-profit industrial complex, that is the mainstream environmental protection movement? Yeah, they’re in bed with big oil. World Wildlife Fund has taken lots of money from Monsanto and big oil. They have participated in the displacement and cultural destruction of 20 million Indigenous people worldwide, and they have a private military commando unit that was deployed against African liberation movements. Yeah.
We talk about solar and wind, right? That’s awesome, and the mainstream movement goes on and on and on about it. Where are the materials going to come from to make those solar panels?Where are they going to come from? They’re going to come from colonized people. We talk about green jobs. But corporations are colonizing powers. When are we gonna talk about green jobs that are local, that are NOT corporatized? When are we going to talk about actual solutions like hemp, like earthship building, like permaculture, like veganism, when are we going to talk about those things? Right? We need to de-colonize the environmental movement. Because the non-profit industrial complex is in bed with the fossil fuel corporations. They are the fossil fuel empire. And they are the reason why we have failed for so many decades to resist. That’s why we must understand that the revolution will not be funded. It will not be funded and it will not be broadcast, because the colonizers don’t want it to be. Right here, these countries in red, in the global north, most responsible for climate change. These in the global south, least responsible. These countries (north) least impacted by climate change, these countries in the global south, most impacted. In other words, the white colonizers have created climate change, and the black and brown people who were colonized will pay for it.
The Daily Mail told its readers, “Go to these countries before they’re wiped out by climate change.” All of these countries in yellow and orange and red in the global south, go before they’re wiped out, not to help them, not to stand in solidarity with them, not to uplift their voices, go to enjoy them. Go see the elephants, go on safari before all the animals are dead. Go to the savannas before they’re wastelands. Go eat the food that the people make before the food and the people are gone. It is colonization and exploitation of people of color, all over again. Because that’s what this is. That’s what colonization is: it is eurocentrism, it is racism, it is white supremacy, it is imperialism. And I’m gonna hand it to Zara.
The Prison Industrial Complex- Sarra
So I’m gonna talk about the Prison Industrial Complex, a term coined by Angela Davis, a civil right activist and prison abolitionist. “Prison has become the first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people in poverty. These problems often are revealed by the conveniently grouped together category of “crime”, and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from the public when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.” Or in other words, the prison industrial complex has created prisons to be made into a profiteering institution by systematically increasing their populations to benefit from slave labor.
The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, yet it contains 25% of the world’s prison population, as well as 25% of the world’s CO2 emissions. That means that we have more prisoners and pollution per capita than anywhere else in the world. 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record. But it did not always used to be like this. The total incarcerated population in the U.S. is 2.4 million. That’s a 500% increase in the past 30 years. This graph shows the correlation between the prison populations and the policies. You can begin to see how the trigger starts with the War on Drugs.
But really, to understand the prison industrial complex, we have to go all the way back to slavery. Now we’ve all been told that the 13th amendment abolished slavery, but it did with one exception: criminals. Given the loophole, vagrancy laws and loitering laws were created which criminalized not having a job, or loitering. And then they did not give jobs to black people. Newly freed black people that were found standing on the block with friends could be arrested arbitrarily, making them slaves again. This was called “Black Codes”. Through convict leasing, prisoners were rented out, and still are, and the freed slaves who were arrested could be rented out back to the plantations that they were freed from. And this still happens. Recently, a friend in Atlanta, a friend got arrested for sagging his pants. What was his punishment? He was sent to a plantation to pick cotton. This is 2016.
As you can see, these systems are still continuing, and prison labor is the only legal form of slavery in the United States, states the 13th amendment. Since the abolition of slavery, prisons have held a disproportionate amount of black people. There are now more black people in prison than there were slaves in the 19th century.
Nixon was the first to declare a War on Drugs, which was really turned into the war on people of color and poor people. Nixon received the political power by the people by putting forth propaganda about drug lords and crime, despite the fact that at the time, crime rates were going down. Marijuana has been listed as a schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical or research potential, and that if caught with it in states where it’s still illegal, you can be sentenced harsher than cocaine and heroin. Heroin is a schedule 2 drug. Alcohol is a schedule 3 drug, yet it kills more people than all drugs combined. But who uses alcohol the most? White people.
Reagan passed the anti-drug abuse act in 1986, which created the mandatory minimums, and sentenced people found with one gram of crack 100 times worse than cocaine. The only difference between crack and cocaine, besides some baking soda, is who’s using it and where is it found. With cocaine being a rich white drug, and crack a poor black drug. This happened during the Nicaragua Iran-Contra, where the government assisted or turned a blind eye to the drug cartels in Nicaragua who were smuggling cocaine into America via drug lords in inner cities. These laws and others after it have created this system that is the prison industrial complex. The ending result is our disproportionate prison statistics that we have today, with 1 in 3 black men in jail.
The prison system has become a debtor’s system. In 24 states in this country, you are legally allowed to charge for room and board and other fees to rack up in jail. For example, my partner’s brother has been in jail for 9 years. He’s just getting out now, and he has over $150,000 worth of debt. And he found out it’s gathering interest by a thousand dollars a month. They told him that it doesn’t matter how much you pay every month, because you’ll be in debt for the rest of your life. Your punishment isn’t over when your sentence is over. Thank to laws passed by Bill Clinton -that’s why you shouldn’t vote for them – people forget their legacies. If you have a felony, especially a drug offense, they do not allow you to have financial aid, public housing assistance, public food assistance, public health assistance. A criminal record is the only thing that you can legally discriminate against someone in employment and housing. So it’s no wonder recidivism or re-offense rates in this country are around 77% after 5 years out of prison.
Today, prisons are a huge source of profit. Prisons are now even privatized, hired by out-of-state contracts. These contracts have quotas of how many beds they will have full, and since they are paid per bed, they have an incentive to put more people in prison, since it makes more money for the privatized prisons. This conflict of interests has led to much cooperation. Wives of judges who are sentencing people have been found to be invested in prisons. Recently, a Pennsylvania judge went to jail for a “kids for cash” scandal, accepting money from the owner of a privatized juvie to sentence kids longer and harsher.
Class two prison labor is anything from stamps, license plates, furniture, and other equipment. In Washington state, all state agencies are required to buy from prison labor, giving a monopoly on these markets. Yet Washington state law says prisoners are only paid on a gratuity scale, meaning they’re hardly paid to work. Privatized prisons also pay their laborers even less sometimes than sweatshops across the world. So they monopolize markets worldwide through slave labor in prisons. This causes poor countries to be relegated to extraction of resources, because they can’t even compete with their markets. Companies like Starbucks, Microsoft, and Boeing, have all used prison labor. And Whole Foods. And paid people pennies on the hour for work that would have been paid around fifteen to twenty-five dollars an hour.
So what does this have to do with climate change? Well, we’re getting there. Climate change has caused increased natural disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes. During these disasters, prisoners have no agency and no say in whether or not they will be evacuated. During recent hurricanes, including hurricane Rita, Sandy, and Katrina, prisoners were left in their cells to die while the rest of the city was evacuated. Prisoners are also given the most dangerous jobs, put in the front lines of firefighting and oil spill cleanup. Prisoners are paid around three dollars a hour while firefighters are paid twenty to thirty-five dollars an hour. And those who refuse to fight fires or do any of this other frontline work are put in solitary confinement.
Increased temperatures create increased heatstrokes inside of the jail. In 2012, one of the hottest years in human history, ten inmates died of heatstroke in Texas within ten days. In New Hampshire, prisoners went on a food strike to fight for fans during a heat wave. These types of conditions will become more common with climate change.
Now I’m going to talk about the school to prison pipeline, and this is also really personal to me because as a person of color that went to a white school, I was personally affected by this, continually being criminalized for doing things like rapping. I eventually got expelled for bringing herbal supplements to school, which they considered drugs because the ingredients weren’t in English.
So the prison industrial complex begins affecting people as young as five years old, with the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is a system that targets brown and black kids, criminalizing them from as early as kindergarten, through racially biased disciplining. Schools in people of color neighborhoods are not given the resources to succeed, and mistakes are handled not by security guards, like richer neighborhoods, but have actual police that can come into campuses and can charge them, creating a criminal record in high school. Youth of color are suspended at a higher rate, leading to falling behind that can lead to expulsion. Students that drop out and are expelled are at higher risk for prison. And many people don’t think that this applies to the liberal bastion that is the Pacific Northwest. However, in Seattle, they’ve actually been federally investigated for their racially biased disciplining. As you can see, this is how they suspend white and Asian students, and this is how they suspend African-American students.
So, racism. These laws and institutions that create this system of oppression by themselves are not racist. But together, they disproportionately affect people of color, especially black people. And by and large, all of the institutions and policies are mainly created by white men. There is no such thing as reverse racism, because racism requires institutional power. Racism describes a system that privileges white people. What is racist is denying that there is a problem, that all lives matter, or “I don’t see color” approaches, erases our existence, and disqualifies our need. White people have no authority to make judgement on racism for the same reason men don’t with sexism. They aren’t experiencing the same realities as people of color in a white supremacist nation. Living in a racist system is dangerous. I’m an activist who fights for economic justice, climate justice, democracy, and racial justice, and yet it is only my Black Lives Matter activism that has gotten me death threats, and resulted in my motorcycle being sabotaged. White America is not a safe place for us. We have higher infant mortalities and blood pressure, even when perfectly physically healthy. This is from the stress of trying to live in a system that is not made for us. Black male teens are more than twenty-one times more likely than their white counterparts to get killed by the police. Polluting industries are zoned into minority neighborhoods, shortening our life spans. And now climate change is racist, not only affecting people of color, but also the climate policies are racist.
For example, two degrees of warming is named the “safe” target for warming, but at 2 degrees of warming, much of Africa and South America’s soil becomes infertile, and small island nations go underwater at 2 degrees. That’s why during the climate talks, Indigenous people, Africa, and small island nations demanded 1.5 to stay alive. And yet the mainstream environmental and climate movement has accepted 2 degrees as a safe target. But 2 degrees is when white people burn. We will already be dead. This is the difference between climate change advocacy and climate justice advocacy, because climate justice is led and centered for communities of color. Thank you.
Patriarchy – Zarna
So we’re talking about a lot of really heavy stuff, as I’m sure you can feel. And so we’re going to talk about something light, like the patriarchy! Lots of fans of the patriarchy in the house, I see. So what exactly is it? A society is patriarchal to the extent that it is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered. One of its key characteristics is the oppression of women, and that’s one of its key characteristics. Another key characteristic is homophobia. Trans-phobia. Right? These things come out of the patriarchy.
So how does this manifest in our society? Well, one of the things that we’re hearing a lot about these days is the gender wage gap, right? Interesting that in 2016 we’re hearing about this. This has literally been going on since, who even knows how long this has been going on. But for every dollar that a man makes, a white woman makes 77 cents. A black woman makes 69 cents, and a hispanic woman makes 57 cents. You can clearly see from this that not only is it a gender issue, it is also a racial issue. It is also a racial issue. So this means that women of color are even more marginalized than white women within a patriarchal system. This averages out to about an $11,000 a year loss in wages. $11,000 a year, every year, for your entire life. And this spans every single industry. Every single industry, from menial jobs to professional jobs. It’s everywhere.
Women are still expected to do most of the childcare. Still, even now, even today, even though they still do the majority of the chores and they work. So there’s no end. It’s piling on and on and on, all of the work, even though men are always the ones who get the credit. Right? At work, when a man is the boss, he’s the boss. When a woman is the boss, she’s bossy. Right? She’s the nag, she’s outspoken. Outspoken? Really? She’s loud. If she happens to have an opinion, well, you know, you’ve got a lot of opinions, don’t you? Yeah, these are all patriarchal micro-aggressions that are there to continually remind women that they’re not supposed to be in power.
And when a man has opinions, he’s a leader. He’s a visionary. He’s strong. He’s courageous. He’s bold. Right? These are ways in which women are kept subordinate, even if they happen to be in a position of power. In our language, not in the workplace, but in our language, we are continuously reminding ourselves and each other that anything feminine is inherently bad. “You play like a girl. You dance like a girl. You cry like a girl. You run like a girl.” This is what we hear, over and over again, and worse things, far worse things, that I won’t mention because we’re in a church. Right? But you know, anything that’s considered to be feminine is considered as weak, to be mocked to be laughed at, because women are inherently wrong. In a patriarchal society, women are inherently wrong. That is what the patriarchy teaches us. So women are told to “calm down.” “Don’t be so emotional all the time.” “Do you remember it right? Are you sure you remember that that’s how it happened?” These are ways in which women are kept down.
And of course in our looks, right? Women are told, we’re told, “You know, you’re gonna get judged by your looks. That’s just the way it is, you know.” Nothing is more patriarchal than science. Nothing is more patriarchal than science. Because we’re told, “No no no no no, see, in evolution, men have this drive to procreate and therefore they’re constantly looking for the biggest breasts and the widest hips, and the sexiest body in order to plant their seed. So women are just going to be judged that way.” Except in nature, what you actually find within the natural world is that it’s in fact the male of the species that has to impress the females with their looks, not the other way around. Not the other way around. That is often the case. So what we see, is, there are no rules like that within nature. Those are rules that a patriarchal society has imposed upon women and female-identified people.
So we also see, as I said, relationship inequality, and then we have violence against women. One of the darker ways the patriarchy manifests. The truth is, is that one in three women in the U.S. will experience domestic abuse. One in three. That means that of all the women you know, likely 1/3 of them have or will experience this. And these are conservative numbers. They’re conservative numbers. Most female homicides are committed by their partners, three every single day. So it’s not like what we’re told and what we see in all of the movies is, “Oh, it’s some crazy serial killer outside” -no, it’s the men you know. You live with them. They’re in your house. This is how overspreading patriarchy is.
We live in a rape culture. That’s what we live in. As much as we don’t want to admit it, the truth is that within our military, 8 out of every 10 females in our military will or has experienced rape and/or sexual assault during her time of service. 8 out of every 10. And that’s not counting our college campuses, that’s not counting our workplaces, that’s not counting our homes. Everywhere. So Bell Hook says, “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence towards women. Instead, patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.” “You cry like a girl”, right? “Be a man.” “Man up.” This happens over and over again, and young boys hear it from very young ages, and what this does is it means that they have to literally deaden that part of themselves that is considered “female”.
So how does this relate to climate change? Well, we’re told about the fossil fuel industry, right? And we frack for gas, and we drill for oil, and we mine for coal, and we burn it all up and it goes into the atmosphere, and this is what we’re told climate change is, right? This is what the science and this is what the mainstream movement keeps telling us is climate change, right? Except that in a culture of patriarchy, humans -mostly men- try to dominate nature they same way they try to dominate women. It is not just the fact that it’s the carbon in the atmosphere. It is the system of patriarchy that leads to men thinking they can do this to the earth. They think they can do this to nature, because they can do this to women. So why not do it to nature? It is that ego that is within our society that makes us think we can do whatever we want in nature, because she’s an object. She’s an object. We can use her however we want. She exists for our pleasure. Just like in our rape culture, we teach our men that women exist for their pleasure. Women exist for them to do whatever they want, women are objects. Right? This is what we do to nature.
So we pollute the water, the land, the air, despite the fact that millions of other species live there, you know why? Because we treat other animals exactly the same way we treat women, too. They are objects. They exist for our pleasure. We can do whatever we want with them. This is patriarchy.
And that’s what is happening with the animal agricultural system. The truth is that it’s not fossil fuels that are the leading cause of climate change. It’s animal agriculture. A conservative estimate of the impact of animal agriculture on the climate was that it’s 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than our entire transportation sector combined. More. And that’s the conservative estimate. And then a whole bunch of people at the World Watch Institute, they said, “Wait a minute, this is not including the damage done from deforestation. This is not including the damage done from the methane. This is not including the damage done from the dead zones in the ocean.” Eighty percent of all of the forests that have been cut down on this planet have been cut down to make way for animal agriculture. There are dead zones in the ocean from the feces and urine that we dump into the water that goes into the ocean from factory farming, okay? All of the grain that this planet produces -we produce enough grain on our planet right now to feed the world’s entire human population three times over- but most of that grain goes to feeding the cattle that only feeds a few people, and who? White colonizers. And who? Men. Because it’s manly to eat meat, right? That’s what we’re told in a western patriarchal society. It is not people of color who eat the majority of meat in this world.
So this is patriarchy, this is an egotistical, dominating, male-identified sense of what rights we have over animals and over this earth. What the mainstream climate movement does is it tell us that, “We need to not talk about the animal agriculture system, ’cause if we do, no one will listen to us.” That’s total nonsense. In England, numbers just came out. When the mainstream would not talk about it, ordinary people started talking about it. And they made movies, and they made videos, and they started campaigns to go vegan, and they started planting farms, and they started saying, “Eating meat is really hurting the entire planet, and we need to stop it.” In the last five years, veganism in the UK has gone up by 350%. In the last five years in this country, vegans and vegetarians have increased from 1% to 5% of the population. That’s what happens when you put facts into the hands of the public. They respond. They respond. So what do we have to do? We have to respond. And another way the mainstream says is, “No no no no, veganism is white privilege.” It is white privilege to the extent that communities of color don’t have access to fresh vegetables. But this idea that it’s white privilege, as if veganism is a white idea? The country with the largest number of plant-based people is India, with 500 million people, and they have eaten this way for thousands of years. It is not a white idea. It comes from people of color all over the world. So whenever someone says that to you, you come right back at them and say, “Excuse me, that’s racist. Because veganism and a plant-based lifestyle does not come from white people.”
This is the projected impact of climate change on agricultural yields around the world. All of these countries in red and orange and yellow, they’re all gonna starve. This is the impact of the world’s largest, most devastating animal agricultural system and white colonizers burning fossil fuels. This is the impact. As we said, we fight wars, right? To maintain the fossil fuel empire. Who suffers the most in wars? It’s women. It’s women who suffer the most. Who? Women of color. The truth is, it’s the Indigenous women who suffer the most. They always suffer the most. They are murdered at ten times the national average in this country. Sixty-one percent of Native women suffer assault in their lifetimes. Often and mostly by non-native men. You know why? Because the fossil fuel workers that go on to their lands, without their permission, without their say so, to colonize them and steal their resources, yeah, they steal the indigenous women, too. And they go missing. They go missing and they disappear, and often they’re found dead. This is what’s happening with the fossil fuel empire, and this is patriarchy.
So what do we see in the mainstream movement? Instead of women and women of color being at the forefront, even though they are the most impacted, we see white males leading the movement, because white males understand patriarchy, don’t they? And not only that, but as we said before, women can be patriarchal. And the white feminist movement is patriarchal. “What does race have to do with gender?” It’s pretty clear what race has to do with gender if you’re a woman of color. It’s pretty clear. So what happens is that women of color, when they speak out, and non-cis people, when they speak out, they’re tone-policed. They say, “You’re being really angry right now.” “Do you hate white people?” “Do you hate men?” “You know, you really need to calm down”. This is what women of color and trans-gender people and queer people hear all the time from the white feminist movement, and from the mainstream white-male-led movement. And meanwhile, women in sub-Saharan countries spend 16 million hours a day looking for water. This is what they’re suffering, while white women talk about feminism. This is what’s going on. It is unacceptable. And this is why climate justice means that we must uplift the voices of those who are most marginalized. That’s what that means.
Right now there’s a devastating heat wave happening in India. It’s happening in my state. That’s where my people are from. And who has to spend hours and hours every day walking in search of water. But there is no water. They’re saying that even if the monsoon is good this year, it won’t be enough. They’re saying that 330 million people are affected. That’s more than the entire population of this country of Manifest Destiny. 330 million people. The crops are destroyed. There’s no food. There’s no water. And who suffers the most? The women.
So as we know, burning fossil fuels, the pollution from animal agriculture, all of that pollution goes into the ocean and it’s creating ocean acidification, right? The problem with this is that when the ocean becomes too acidic, phytoplankton, which is the basis of the entire food chain, phytoplankton will to extinct. And if phytoplankton goes extinct, the entire food chain will collapse. Phytoplankton also produces at least 50% of all of our oxygen. So when phytoplankton goes extinct, there will be no food and there will be no air. There will be no food and there will be no air. And just last month, scientists came out and said 40% of the plankton in the ocean is gone.
This is why in 2002, scientists agreed the world faces mass extinction. Last summer in 2016, scientists came out and said, “We are not facing mass extinction. We are already in it.” So let’s remember what Chief Seattle said. Chief Seattle said, “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to earth.” And therefore, we, in the climate justice movement must smash the patriarchy. It is not rhetoric. It is not rhetoric. It is critical to the survival of life on this planet. This is not a drill. This must happen.
So, I’m gonna hand it to Yin, but before I hand it to Yin, I’m just gonna let you know, after Yin’s segment, we’re going to go into the Q & A, so while you’re listening to Yin, write down any questions that you have and send them to the front. And so as you write down those questions, then when Yin is done we will go into those. And we have some rules of engagement that we will talk about later, after the end segment. So write down your questions and send them to the front as Yin is talking. Thank you.
Leverage Point – Yin
Hi everybody. Whoo! Aren’t you glad you joined us tonight? How many have heard about Women of Color Speak Out? A few, okay. How many have learned something new today? How many feel uncomfortable with what they’ve learned? Woo! We’re at the same page, alright, thank you. I just want you to breathe a little bit with all of that information you’ll just kind of try to absorb. Good thing it’s recorded, so you can look at it again.
So what I’m talking about here is leverage point, because, where do we go from here with the systems of oppression? The current movement is controlled by the white male in science and policies. And what they’re really good at is intellectualizing everything. You know, when Bill McKibben was in Seattle, we had a one-on-one with him, and we were able to surface a bit of a difference in analysis. When you’re producing so much and you’re an entry way for most people coming into the movement, that’s it. That’s the way we get stuck, we get stuck in facts, we get stuck in feeling unqualified, unless we know all the facts, unless we know all the solutions, then we don’t feel like we’re qualified to be engaged in this movement. The truth is, environmentalism is the most intersectional in all of the social justice movement, with food justice, with gender justice, with everything, housing justice. And yet, because of who’s controlling it, it doesn’t feel relevant to a lot of people. So with my involvement in environmentalism in the past 8 years was perpetuating from the same narrative of white saviorism, of coming in and “I’m going to go fight the blackberries and do the science”. You know, it sheltered me from my friends that I was trying to get involved, because it’s very individualistic-based.
So in my projects, then, I perpetuated that same narrative of going into a community of the housing authority, creating a garden for them, and not having anybody involved in that conversation of what that garden needs to be. Then I leave, and they are left with what I created. So that was not very helpful. I went to the Philippines three months after their typhoon. Same concept of coming in. I’m going to parachute this earthship into your land, and then just leave after a week. Not so helpful, because they are facing that, they’re recovering from that, not just that week. And there’s not ongoing dialogue of “How can I be accountable to you, and how can I continue to support this?”. So, that’s where I’m coming from, right, still doing that.
The Berkana Institute has a two-loop theory. The current system, the way I see it, is dying. When we talk about false solutions, it’s trying to create solutions within that dying system, and what we’re working towards is a brand-new system. Let’s not try to create additional false solutions of Carbon Washington or carbon taxes that don’t really serve the people, by the people.
What we do is direct action, right? So we’re disrupting the system. So when we were up in Anacortes for Break Free a few weeks ago, and had to recognize that we were on unceded territory of the Swinomish tribe. The two Shell and Tesoro refineries are on their land. They’re colonizing their land, and we were there for four hours, poisoned by that refinery, with headaches and sore throat. So I don’t really know that that was a good idea to bring all those people there, but it was good to witness the upstream effects of the system, the fossil fuel infrastructure. Because it keeps us so separated that I don’t have to witness pain, suffering, and killing and death of my food. This was just a few weeks ago.
I just want to note that there’s a Columbia Pacific Refinery that does ethanol, and I can’t pronounce this. How do you pronounce that? -Clatskanie. It’s an hour north of Portland. It’s important to learn these names and how to pronounce it. This is their land, it’s named after them, and this refinery was really hard for me to find. They try to keep it hidden, and the only reason I was able to find it was through a job search for oil jobs. This is their official name on Google maps, and then there’s the global partnership where they have another name, and then their website is a whole other name. So they are really disguising what they do here, and they use water that is coming off of the Columbia River. I think it’s really important as direct action activists, that we bring attention to the current colonizing spaces.
As we say, we only need 3.5%. That is the direct action theory. We only need 3.5% of the population to do non-violent, continuous direct action, and it has to be nonviolent. So when we don’t stand for something, then the alternative narrative of Trump takes that dominant narrative. 3.5% – so you just have to go where it’s open, you don’t have to spend energy on where it’s not. Grace Lee Boggs says, “Why is it nonviolent? Because it respects the capacity of human beings to grow. It gives them the opportunity to grow their souls.”
Another direct action: this was Black Lives Matter doing Black Friday. I think it’s important that when we’re doing these movements and actions, that we have to intersect with other movements. Right? Not just doing our own. And when we’re pioneering (obviously, I didn’t create this language), it’s important for us to name the narrative for us. We have to be in front of the city council, because our voices are not represented if we’re not there. The fact is media justice. If there are only 1.4 females in the newspaper producing media, I think that’s an important thing to know, because how are we always perpetuating oppression? When we’re on social media, if we’re sharing news that is from the dominant media, but it’s not from the Indigenous cultures’ stories, like when the Lummi nation in Washington won Cherry Point. There was a lot of news that was shared, and Sightline, one of our local groups, shared their story and had 400 shares on their social media. I’m like, oh great, but that’s not their story. Unless you were helping to organize with them, unless you gave them money and all of that, then we should be continuously uplifting the narrative that it is coming from, not taking it, editing it, making it 30 seconds, then saying, “Hey, look! We did great.”
We have to recognize that this system hasn’t been working for us from the beginning. The rails in Portland and Washington, we gave up our waterfront to the rail company in order to bring them up to the Pacific Northwest. We cut down 3000-year-old old-growth forests, and justify it as GDP. So this system hasn’t been serving nature, and it hasn’t been serving us. Once again, the transition has to be a just transition assembly, and that has to be led by people of color.
So, building a new system. Martin Luther King said that “We must undergo a radical revolution of values”, and that “We must shift from a thing-centered society to a person-oriented society.” To remember back, the Highlander Center was created in the south, and it was a gathering place for people to find their voice. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt all went through that center to have conversations for the movement. So as we’re working, we have to stand with our Indigenous communities, for their treaty rights. I have to say, their treaty right is one of the most powerful environmental policies that we already have. So if you hold our politicians accountable to their rights, then that is the one piece of policy that we need. We don’t need any Carbon Washington, anything else. That is all that we need. We already have it, right?
And as we do have to stand in solidarity with our trans and queer rights also, because we can’t be oppressing people as we’re fighting for our liberation, right? This discussion about bathrooms? Like, let’s move beyond that. That’s done. Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about other things now.
And our students, our youth. Youth right now are the truth right now. Disarm PSU, hey! Disarm PSU! In Washington, we’re doing our work, too, with de-colonizing U-W and Seattle University, demanding de-colonized education, not white-centered education. So we can’t be doing this work if we’re not in solidarity with their movements.
As we’re doing this -we do direct action- and we talk to our legislators and we keep them accountable. I also do, because my name is Yin, right? It’s the feminine energy, and I also do the peacemaking circles to understand how I am influenced by the system. Last year, when I biked twice, each time I biked on the road, I purchased a new jacket. So I was seeking safety in those REI jackets. But it’s understanding, how am I influenced? And in all the versions of me, how does that still live in me? It takes a deep place of knowing and places of conversation. The stories in the beginning came from hate, blame and frustration. Now, it’s from a place of gratitude and appreciation. So in order for that to shift, you have to tell your story eight times, as my Indigenous elders have told me. You have to tell your story multiple times.
As Martin Luther King says that “A nation that continued year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” One way to protest the food industrial complex is to start a plant-based diet. May it be one day, may it be one meal, may it be a whole week, whatever that process takes. For a person of color, that is challenging because of the culture that goes with the meat. But as I talked with my mom, the meat that she is purchasing is not good for her, so it’s really out of safety and concern that I don’t want her to eat those meats.
As we’re elevating, there are a lot of men in our community that are also doing this work, and we need them to do their work as we’re doing this. The local chapter undoing racism, the European descents, we need our white allies to be doing their work also. It’s very important.
And our youth are doing their work. Shout out to the Children’s Trust for suing the federal government, right? As we were talking to Aji when we were up at Break Free, he’s 15 years old and he’s been on Democracy Now. He’s telling us that he has to be a 40-year-old male to save his future, and that, to me, breaks my heart a little bit, because he doesn’t get summers. He doesn’t get time off because he’s busy flying and talking at conferences. So they’re doing their part, and we need to do ours.
Final thoughts are that activist life is not very glamorous. There is a lot of heat, or backlash, that comes with naming this because everyone is on their journey, and they’re not all ready to receive what this information is. So we’re on the front lines of white fragility. But this is how we make space for our voices. This is the work of de-colonizing ourselves, and to speak more from the heart instead of from the head. That’s really the ultimate radical change we’re pushing for. Thank you.