NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Equity, climate justice, and public health go hand in hand, Netroots Nation panelists say

Wel­come back to our con­tin­u­ing cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2020, tak­ing place exclu­sive­ly online for the first time ever due to the nov­el coro­n­avirus pandemic.

It has been long a tra­di­tion at Net­roots — America’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sives — to give atten­dees a choice of three fea­tured pan­els dur­ing at least one or two of the times­lots dur­ing the three-day conference.

Today’s menu of fea­tured pan­els con­sist­ed of three com­pelling ses­sions about press­ing top­ics: legal ini­tia­tives to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties from the Trump regime in the courts, tack­ling the cli­mate cri­sis, and defend­ing vot­ing rights.

This post will sum­ma­rize the cli­mate cri­sis pan­el, which was mod­er­at­ed by Antho­ny Rogers-Wright, the Pol­i­cy Coor­di­na­tor for the Cli­mate Jus­tice Alliance, who has over ten years of expe­ri­ence ana­lyz­ing land use and sus­tain­abil­i­ty poli­cies, spear­head­ing com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing, and envi­ron­men­tal advocacy. 

The ses­sion is avail­able to watch on demand if you’re inter­est­ed.

Titled “Cli­mate Change and COVID-19: What the Pan­dem­ic Teach­es Us About Prepar­ing for Dis­as­ter,” the pan­el fea­tured four inspir­ing cli­mate activists on the front lines of both this pan­dem­ic and the fight for cli­mate justice. 

At the out­set of the ses­sion, the pan­elists delved into the root caus­es of the pan­dem­ic and the cli­mate cri­sis. They agreed that insti­tu­tion­al racism has con­tributed to the warped real­i­ty of the pan­dem­ic in the Unit­ed States.

Cather­ine Flow­ers, a com­mu­ni­ty activist from Alaba­ma’s Black Belt, point­ed out that in her com­mu­ni­ty, the low-wage work­ers being ush­ered back to unsafe work­ing con­di­tions are los­ing their lives.

Their labor is being treat­ed by law­mak­ers as essen­tial… but not their lives. These atti­tudes are not new; they come straight from our lega­cy of colonialism. 

None of the pan­elists expressed sur­prise at the glar­ing inequal­i­ties in who is bear­ing the brunt of the coro­n­avirus pandemic.

These sys­temic inequal­i­ties can be found every­where, includ­ing the Pacif­ic North­west. For exam­ple, in July, rates of pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus tests were notice­ably high­er in South King Coun­ty com­pared to the rest of the county.

Michelle Mar­tinez, a pan­elist and com­mu­ni­ty activist from Detroit, point­ed out that sys­temic inequal­i­ty is a virus that has been cir­cu­lat­ing for cen­turies in oppressed and mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. The same peo­ple who are liv­ing in neigh­bor­hoods con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by decades of auto indus­try pol­lu­tion also fear being test­ed for COVID-19 because they could be deported.

Mar­tinez and Flow­ers were joined by Jacqui Pat­ter­son, the Direc­tor, Envi­ron­men­tal and Cli­mate Jus­tice Pro­gram at the NAACP, and Tara Hous­ka (Couch­ich­ing First Nation Anishi­naabe), a trib­al attor­ney, founder of Giniw Col­lec­tive, and a for­mer advi­sor on Native Amer­i­can affairs to Bernie Sanders.

Address­ing cli­mate dam­age can­not be sim­ply about reduc­ing emis­sions; it is not enough. To ensure the sur­vival of Black and brown folks, solu­tions such as com­mu­ni­ty direct invest­ment will be critical.

The expres­sion of con­do­lences for the dis­pro­por­tion­ate suf­fer­ing endured by mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties does­n’t actu­al­ly do any­thing for those communities. 

An opti­mal response to a pan­dem­ic should be made up of strong pub­lic health guid­ance and invest­ment in unem­ployed work­ers and strug­gling businesses.

Sim­i­lar­ly, tack­ling the cli­mate cri­sis — which is already here — can­not be sole­ly focused on emis­sions-reduc­tion goals. Invest­ment is essential.

In terms of equi­ty and jus­tice, the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has been a hor­ri­fy­ing dress rehearsal for the cli­mate hav­oc that will engulf the entire world.

Under­stand­ing these forces and trans­lat­ing them into action is essen­tial to help peo­ple (and not just polar bears, though they mat­ter!) sur­vive the cli­mate crisis.

Our cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2020 will con­tin­ue through this Sat­ur­day; we invite you to check back reg­u­lar­ly for peri­od­ic updates from the conference.

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