Students on strike for the climate
Youth holding signs at the School Strike on Friday at the National Mall in support of taking action to reverse climate damage (Photo: Earth and Main, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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.

Adjacent posts