Friday, November 29, 2019

Pre-COP25 Panel of Speakers: the Intersection of Climate and Race

A headache kept me home from work today, so I got some fresh air and checked out the climate strike. It was great timing for the strike, on Black Friday, with COP 25 starting in Chile - scratch that - Madrid three days from now.

It's a really hard sell to get a protest going on a cold day. There were about 200 people there, which was great, but it could be better, couldn't it. We can't have field trips to the protests, but could I book a field trip to see a movie and then accidentally get side tracked on the way?? Oh look, that protest is today too. Let's check it out for a minute! I have to say, it's really cool when you're at a march and suddenly a huge group of people join at once. It's like the cavalry coming in to save the day!

The protest started with an indigenous smudging ceremony, drumming and singing from Idle No More. Some dancing in unison, holding hands with the strangers next to us, can be so useful for developing community. It's necessary to be part of something bigger than ourselves if we're going to tackle something this huge. The speakers outside the mall had the power cut by Primus Property Management, even though, as far as I know, they had booked the area just like any other group. But a megaphone was passed to them, and they continued. Then we marched down the middle of the street instead of sticking to the sidewalks. That felt more like a real march. There was a panel of speakers waiting for us at a nearby church. The event ended with an Extinction Rebellion disruption at the mall. Kudos to the organizers for such an incredibly smooth event!! But about that panel...

The speakers in the panel were excellent: Samantha Estoesta, diversity and inclusion advocate, was moderator and asked some tough questions of Fanis Juma-Radstake, Social Worker and Social Activist, who works with the African Community Wellness InitiativeLori Campbell, who ran for MP here and is the Director of UW's Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre; and Richard McLeman, WLU prof who works for the IPCC on climate effects on human migration. I hope this brief summary captures the flavour of the discussions, but I can't do justice to their words. This is substantially paraphrased; I was writing as fast as I could!

Estoesta started with an important discussion of the reach that Greta Thunberg has had in part because of her position of privilege, which becomes so clear relative to the obscurity faced by Autumn Peltier who scolded Trudeau two years ago, at age 13, and spoke at the UN again in September to relatively little fanfare: "Thunberg's success in getting traction was on the backs of the experiences of the marginalized who have been fighting this fight for generations."

Campbell explained that to be Indigenous or racialized or LGBTQ is to be political: It's not a choice for some. Trudeau ran on a platform advocating for Indigenous rights and protecting the environment, but fifty reserves are still without clean drinking water. The marginalized are more affected by these decisions, and we can't have climate justice without Indigenous justice. "Decisions and policies are made about us without us."

Juma-Radstake had us all hold up our phones. "It's okay, this isn't a shaming exercise! We're all walking around with a piece of Africa." She asked, "What does it mean to do work when so many have been displaced?" and spoke of AIKS: the African Indigenous Knowledge System movement, which doesn't have a Wikipedia page to explain it to the uninitiated yet. She explained, Africa has been most impacted from climate change, and Canada is one of the countries leading in resource extraction there. We need to listen to voice of the racialized on the front lines and build networks together. Estoesta added the concept of humans as imports and the number who have died in the Philippines as some of the first climate refugees.

McLeman had a more technical approach to the discussion with a reminder of the potential increase to 3.2 degrees by 2100 which could increase droughts in Canada by 500%: The World Bank, a conservative organization, even suggested that, if we continue in our current path, there will be over 140 million people displaced in the next thirty years. That's triple the current number of worldwide refugees. There are three things we need to do: 1. Recognize that we can decrease GHGs with our current technology; 2. Meet sustainable development goals around the world so we don't create as many climate refugees, and 3. Adhere to the Global Compact on Migration that we signed last year. We can use migration as a tool. We have the agreements in place already; we just have to follow through on them. We can double down on our open migration policies to have migration with dignity. After Poland's crackdown on climate activists last December [not to mention the states], it's Canada's duty to ensure the most affected can continue to be heard.

Juma-RadstakeDavid Suzuki said, "Aboriginal people, not environmentalists, are our best bet for protecting the planet." We need more of that to broaden the concept of environmental activism. There is an increased health risk due to poverty and gendered violence. We live a precarious existence being a guardian of the land or water. We are more visible due to the white presence, but it's not seen as a continuation of the anti-colonial process. It's a resistance to white supremacy and cultural patriarchy. It's been 1,000s of years of work. Welcome to the resistance! It's sacred work. You stand on the bones of so many people, the genocided people, who somehow continue to resist. What does it mean to stand up against inevitable violence? I study prophetic traditions, and it's important to know when it's time to speak truth to power, and when it's time to build an ark. Vote for open borders. Understand anti-black history in this space. We must build anti-racist open borders.

Campbell: Indigenous are always surveilled. The RCMP locked us in reserves in the West. Indigenous peoples are criminalized when they are protecting Mother Earth. We're not being activists; we're just being who we are, protecting the earth. Indigenous peoples never had the option to be thrifty. It's always been who we are. I'm frustrated with the movement from white settlers. We don't need allies; we need accomplices. There's a history that goes with the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous. We need to know who we are.

Here's where things got even more interesting:

McLeman: We're all from Africa originally. We can feel kinship and support together. You all care about the place you're from, and you need to share that with people you connect with. Some people ask, "What can one person do?" But small choices made by lots of individuals make a big impact. We need to reduce GHGs by 20%. For every household to reduce by 20% means not eating meat just one day each week. Meat is ten times as impactful as vegetables. And just don't drive your car one day each week. It's how we can feel like part of the solution.

First of all, I think we're well beyond his numbers here, and it harkens back to Rick Mercer's ads for the One-Tonne Challenge, which failed miserably. Many pledged to reduce their household energy use, but GHG emissions rose dramatically. As soon we felt secure that everyone else was doing their part, we all turned up the heat! But, secondly, I watched Campbell's eyes grow a little bigger as McLeman spoke. McLeman was last to answer the question asked, but Campbell intercepted the mic as it was being returned and gave a bit of a scolding.

Campbell: Our differences are not equal. Blanket statements about eating meat take away from our people. Consumption of meat by the Indigenous is sporadic, and our relationship with the land and wildlife is different from yours. We don't need 9-5 accomplices. I don't get to walk away from this part of me. It's not a sideline or a hobby. There's no option. We must think of the world seven generations into the future.

Juma-Radstake: There are ways folks can be accomplices. What does it look like to have a sustainable food system? We need to talk to the young; they are marginalized too because of what looks like in the future. I'm drawn to be taught more by the Indigenous, the racialized, and the youth. At the Young City Growers, you can get groceries there to have an increased access to the production of food, and we need people to volunteer their time there in the summers.

Estoesta: How do we demand from the government that people like Lori and Fanis are brought to the table? Find and follow them on Twitter. There's a saying from the Philippines, You can't go forward if you don't know the way back. We don't know the ways back to our roots. I wear pearls to symbolize the amount of ancestors that follow you. Once you have pearls given to you, then you're at a place where you can now start building on other peoples. We need to think of how we can go back.

Then the speakers from the march, whose names I didn't write down because it was freezing out, made an important point: We need to learn how to give back. We've lost a sense of reciprocity that was once an important part of every culture.

It's that conspicuous consumption that has us in its grip. We need to get free of that, today.

Then the three women on stage took selfies together, and I felt a little badly for that one white guy who tried, sitting alone at his end of the table. I might have read too much into that gesture, but if it is as I saw it, then I'm of two minds on this. What he suggested isn't far off from things I've said in the past, so I'm just as guilty of being oblivious to my privilege. They are the solutions of the privileged class, right up there with telling the impoverished to just cut down on lattes. Those blanket statements are just so easy! But we are complex beings with very different lived experiences, so one size will not fit all. It's not false to suggest that cutting back will help (a bit, but really we need a systemic change if we want to accomplish anything significant), but it was his suggestion that this is what 'you' should do that's the problem. It is what I can do to help as part of the class that has indulged in conspicuous over-consumption from birth. Our path is different. People who were raised like I was raised need to stop being so selfish and wasteful and actually restrain ourselves in the never-ending quest for more and better that's been passed down through our generations from our elders in the name of progress with a no-holds-barred approach that killed people and places in the way, and will continue to kill well into the future. That's what this is all about. Absolutely. Remember the line: Whoever has the most toys, wins?!? That's my history, my ancestors. And we will never finish making amends.

BUT, it also was an unfortunate way to end things, seeing the division on stage like that. After so many sentiments of inclusion and solidarity, it kinda suggested, 'except for that dude!' He had a moment of offensive ignorance as he hoped to be, maybe, as authentically connected to the issues as they were. He didn't have (or didn't share) the lived experience to enable same level of understanding of the displace that he hopes to help, and he failed to see that, no, we're not all African. Oh dear. He needs to learn the ropes of being the token white guy on a panel! But this is a time for unbridled compassion for one another. I don't suggest inclusion at any costs, but this wasn't an act of aggression or intentional disrespect by any means. It was yet another learning opportunity! But, on the other hand, it's not for me say how inclusive anyone should be, especially not in this situation. And the responsibility of teaching and learning should be on us, the ones who messed it up in the first place. Hopefully we rise to this occasion and learn to be better accomplices before it's too late.

Quick and easy ways to help if you have $5:
  • The Woodland Cultural Centre / Mohawk Institute is hoping to save their centre with $5 donations to "buy a brick" this Tuesday, Dec. 3. 
  • Text the word CONSERVE to 20222 and $5 will be charged to your phone bill and you will have funded the planting of five trees through Communities for Conservation
Ways to help if you have some time:
  • Write letters to MPs and MPPs and city counsellors (mainly MPs here) urging them to...
    • ratify UNDRIP - Canada came close, but is one of few who refused to sign
    • revisit bill C-262 to provide at least minimal rights to Indigenous peoples
    • ensure we have open borders by standing by the Global Compact on Migration
    • create some firm targets that will actually slow down this crises at COP25!!
  • Volunteer at the Young City Growers in the summer
  • Support groups who are already on the front lines of these issues!  


The Mound of Sound said...

COP25 has had a tumultuous birthing. It was to be held in Brazil but Bolsonaro, he-who-torches-the-Amazon, backed out. Then it was to be held in Chile but unrest there cause Chile to back out. Now it's on in Madrid. Keep your fingers crossed that the Spanish don't rise up in some revolt before Monday.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for the correction!