Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for Your Advocacy Work 2016 WECAN Training Recap

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Photo by Emily Arasim

On April 5, 2016, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network allies united for the second in a series of 2016 Education and Advocacy online trainings.

‘Direct Action and Non-Violent Civil Disobedience: Tools for your Advocacy Work’ featured three outstanding women leaders providing an overview of direct action and non-violent civil disobedience as key elements of the global movement for just climate justice and solutions, providing examples of successful actions across the US and the world, and sharing resources, tools and strategies for beginning direct action planning and execution.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the call with a brief introduction to WECAN’s work, the reasons behind a focus on women, and the critical need for escalating action by diverse U.S women for climate justice. She framed the training as an introductory call, encouraging participants to reach out to the presenters’ respective organizations for in depth, in person trainings, or to contact local groups who have direct action expertise.

“We are here to protect the rights of Mother Earth, the rights of our communities, the rights of women and the rights of future generations, and direct action and non-violent civil disobedience is an absolutely crucial component of this work,” Osprey explained.

As opening inspiration, she provided a recap of the recent International Women’s Day/No Extraction in the Amazon actions taken by women of seven Indigenous Amazonian nationalities in Puyo, Ecuador.

Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US, took the floor as the first training presenter.

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Molly Dorozenski, Media Director at Greenpeace US

Molly has worked with Greenpeace on public relations and creative and strategic communications for the past eight years, planning and executing comprehensive communications campaigns on climate, the Arctic, and the Gulf Oil Spill, as well as a variety of corporate campaigns that have helped move companies towards more sustainable practices.

Molly’s presentation centered around the question, ‘what would you risk?’ and the personal, moral and political choices involved in the decision to put our bodies on the line to protect the Earth and our communities.

She shared recent photos and thoughts from six Greenpeace women who climbed over 1,000 feet up the side of the highest building in London to send a message to the oil giants of Shell headquarters, and from female activist Faiza Oulahsen, one of the ‘Arctic 30’ jailed in Russia for their action to protect Arctic ecosystem against expanded oil drilling. In reflecting on Faiza’s story, Molly drew specific attention to the extra risks, and incredible power taken on by young women who choose to stand up for their rights, their homes and the future of life on Earth.

Molly also discussed ‘risk’ outside of concerns over arrest and legal charges, honoring the brave women and other leaders who risk their lives and health to stay in their communities amidst severe environmental pollution in order to document, expose and stop harms and injustices.

Other inspirational direct action examples shared by Molly included the #ShellNo Seattle kayak blockade, led by diverse Indigenous leaders and fantastic groups such as the Raging Grannies, and recent action by Greenpeace activists to publically confront and question U.S presidential candidates about their commitment to stop taking dirty money from the fossil fuel industry.

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From PowerPoint by Molly Dorozenski – Photo by Emily Arasim, 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC

Molly ended her presentation with a brief invitation for engagement with the incredible Democracy Awakening actions planned for April in Washington D.C., which focus on getting big money out of politics and protecting voter rights in advance of the upcoming US election.

Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society, spoke next.

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Sharon Lungo, Executive Director of the Ruckus Society

Sharon is a founding member of the Indigenous Peoples’ Power Project (IP3) Advisory Board, and has been a trainer with Ruckus Society since 2001 and key member since 2007. Sharon directs all Ruckus Programs, manages the implementation of strategic priorities, and cultivates and grows partnerships with allied organizations and frontline partners. She was a co-convener of the Mobilization for Climate Justice West (2008-2011) and has served on the coordinating committee of the Global Women’s Strike.

Throughout her more than 18 years of political and non violent direct action, she has held an unwavering commitment to racial justice analysis, and has extensive experience working with grassroots frontline communities and big NGO groups alike. She is the daughter of migrant parents from the Pipil nation, Indigenous to Cuzcatlan, El Salvador.

Sharon began by exploring the core tenants of Ruckus Society, a group focusing on building capacities, particularly of directly impacted frontline communities, to plan and implement effective direct action campaigns around climate, environmental racism and a host of other cross-sectional issues.

She then provided an overview of some of the key ways in which direct-action and non-violent civil disobedience can be used to create change, including:

  • Directly stopping a social, political or environmental injustice
  • Asserting our rights despite the consequences
  • Showing willful refusal to participate in an injustice
  • Sounding an alarm, alerting folks to an issue or problem
  • Amplifying People Power
  • Creating a Community based solution

Through her discussion of these main leverage points, Sharon touched on ongoing campaigns to block pipelines across the US and Canada, direct action to halt migrant deportation buses, campaigns to assert Indigenous rights to traditional hunting, farming and fishing grounds, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and movements to protect urban farms and community spaces from development, among many examples.

One poignant story shared was that of the fight to save the South Central Farm in Los Angeles, an epic struggle that brought concerned residents together to physically resist the bulldozers coming to knock down community garden space which provided for over 350 low income families. In their non-violent civil disobedience to protect the farm, activists highlighted the dire problems facing their community, and also the showed the path towards solutions.

Sharon also shared an important list of key elements of strategic direct action, including:

  • Strategic timing and relevancy to key political moments
  • Reframing the debate
  • Making the invisible visible – overcome the corporate media, reclaim our language and storytelling
  • Hijacking spectacles, big events
  • Creativity
  • Choosing your tone – humor, anger, embarrassment
  • Stacking risk
  • ‘Show don’t tell’ – use powerful visual representations that will resonate far longer than words, and which bring a face to the myriad of injustices we hear about on a daily basis

‘Stacking risk’, which describes the critical step of planning and delegating action roles in a way that is cognizant of varying levels of privilege, risk and oppression, was a concept of particular importance to many on the call, prompting further discussion of this important justice framework.

Sharon pushed training participants to think about how actions can be designed in a way that best highlights the struggles of those on the ground, and which involve action and risk from allies from outside of effected communities without taking away from the local stories that should be at the forefront.

“As a movement, this is something we are still struggling with but really want to get right… how do we do it [direct action] in a way that allows us to express solidarity and take physical risk, to have a really effective action, but to also powerfully and effectively lift up the story of the people, through their own words. Our job is not to tell their stories through direct actions, but rather to have a framework, to have direct actions that have a strong place for impacted and frontline communities to tell their own stories in the context of these actions.”

Sharon closed her presentation by encouraging participants to cultivate long term, just and meaningful partnership with the frontline communities with whom they work, and to involve themselves in further on-the-ground direct-action workshops and training camps through local direct action training collectives, the Ruckus Society, or international groups such as Greenpeace.

Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center took the floor as the last presenter of the day.

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Marla Marcum of the Climate Disobedience Center

Marla is a United Methodist “committed to supporting people of all faiths and no particular faith to act boldly for justice”. An experienced campaigner, trainer, pastor and leader, Marla has over two decades of social justice organizing experience with faith-based, youth, and grassroots groups. Marla supported the launch of Climate Summer and is a Co-Founder of the Better Future Project and 350 Massachusetts. She has supported, organized, and participated in many direct action and civil disobedience efforts, including the Lobster Boat Blockade and ongoing resistance to Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline project.

Marla shared core principles of the Climate Disobedience Center, including the goal of using “creative conflict to break up business-as-usual, forcing attention to the underlying, fatal conflict between global survival and blind adherence to fossil fuel powered mass consumption, and unrestrained economic growth”.

She framed direct action as a way to “unmask” the social and ecologic violence happening all around us, and also bring forth as our capacity to unite and make change. She emphasized that recognizing and engaging in solidarity, unity and action with each other is one of the most powerful ways to overcome fear and despair in the face of climate change.

“We’re convinced that the kind of resilience that we need in the world going forward can be cultivated in doing this type of work together. And also, I am convinced that the best way to cope with the despair over what feels like an impossible challenge that we face everyday, is to take principled action with kindred spirits,” Marla explained, “Sometimes we are working and working on problems that seem intractable, challenges that make it seem like we really don’t have a chance to win, but we know we have to fight. And sometimes, if we just get together and put ourselves in the way, it can shift our own internal sense of power and our own groups sense of hope about what could be done.”

Direct action exampled shared by Marla included diverse actions to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, the Delta 5 oil train blockade, the Lobster Boat Blockade, and ‘Resist the Pipeline’ actions against Spectra Energy.

In her closing comments, she reminded participants that a key part of the work of those involved in direct action must be to tell the real and whole truth, and to demand action that is commensurate with the real crisis we face, not action which bows to that which is “politically feasible” and easy.

The training ended with a series of questions and answers around direct action timing and learning to seize the moment, the importance of continued training, and the importance of building cross-sector, intersectional movements, long term community relationships, and growing ‘cultures of resistance’.

Training Resources:

 

 

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For Earth & Future Generations: Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change, Paris

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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On December 7, 2015, women from around the world united at ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris’, a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network event held in parallel to United Nations COP21 climate negotiations.

In holding with tradition, WECAN began the event by honoring the peoples of the land on which event presenters and participants stood. Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Executive Director, presented a gift and opened the floor to Josefina Skerk, Vice-President of the Sami Parliament of Sweden, who offered a traditional Sami welcome on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of Europe.

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“We are all bound to each other, and we are all bound to Nature,” Josefina reflected, “As Indigenous peoples, the bond that we have to Nature is that of a family member, it is someone that does not have to be vocal for you to understand them. And right now our family member, our mother, our Nature is screaming. But thanks to people like you and me who are speaking out, taking action and working together to build strong alliances against this exploitation, there is hope. We are becoming joined in a beautiful weave.”

Sally Ranney, co-Founder of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network took the floor, sharing thoughts on consumerism, personal responsibility, and the imperative of changing our cultural narratives.

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Sally Ranney (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“We are experiencing a wake up call, both internally, for our internal journeys and decision making protocol, and for our global decision making protocol. Climate change asks us to look really deeply at what are values are, and these are the kind of discussion that aren’t happening inside COP21,” Sally explained, handing the mike back to WECAN co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake for a critical analysis and foundation for subsequent panels and presentation.

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Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“It is not a time to be timid, we are not in a rehearsal but rather in a truly a transformative moment,” Osprey began, noting that COP21 discussions and emissions cuts happening simultaneously just outside of Paris remained absolutely insufficient, “There is no later date – the time is irrefutable now, so we are calling for radical change and I want to bring that forward today,”

“There needs to be an understanding that there is a systemic link between the climate crisis, our economic model, and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women,” she continued, outlining why women are impacted first and worst by climate change, but more importantly, why women are key to climate justice and global peace making.

“To address systemic problems, women are advocating for and implementing models of collective ownership of the plants, the forests – they are working to localize their economies… they are already demonstrating alternative plans and policies, small scale solutions with very large impacts.”

“There is something else that women are bringing to the conversation that really cannot be left out as we face massive loss of life, species extinction, and the increasing threats of climate change, and that is our emotional and spiritual intelligence. Healing our seeming disconnect to Mother Earth is a solution, and women’s voices are central to this.”

Osprey drew attention to the critical leadership of Indigenous women across the globe – framing their struggles and solutions as one of the most critical untold stories of the climate crisis.

“We are Mother Earth’s immune system – standing up together to protect and defend and heal her. Through our collective networks, we are calling for system change, not climate change. We need climate justice, and we need to have the courage to change everything about how we are living with each other and the Earth,” Osprey concluded, bringing the first group of outstanding women leaders to the stage for the ‘Women Speak from the Frontlines of Climate Change’ panel.

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Pictured right to left: Kandi Mossett, Josefina Skerk, Eriel Deranger and Thilmeeza Hussain

Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Climate and Energy Campaign Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network of North Dakota, Turtle Island, USA spoke first – sharing immensely powerful words on what is happening in her homeland, and on the connections between capitalism, colonization, and violations of women and the Earth.

“This is COP21 – they have been doing this for 21 years… the truth is that women and Indigenous peoples have the answers, if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what is best for us. You cannot expect to take and take and take and never give back.”

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Kandi Mossett (Indigenous Environmental Network)

“Without balance we will destroy ourselves, and I think that is why women are leading the movement… women have always played a central role in the balance of life and livelihoods…look at the COP21 and what you’ll see is primarily a room full of older white males in suits making decisions on our behalf. My two and a half year old daughter is at home and has no idea about the decisions they are making for her, we must think about the next generation and the seventh generation. ”

Kandi’s spoke on her experiences in North Dakota, where fracking has exploded and brought dire environmental threats and a host of social injustice to her communities’ doorstep. She looked to the roots of escalating pollution, cancer, violent crime, drug use, and sexual assaults and sex trafficking – which all lie in the rapidly expanding toxic industry.

“We need to use the gifts that shine down on us almost everyday from the sun, the wind that blows in our face… So my message to the leaders that are listening, if they are listening, is to use your common sense. Get away from these ideas of greed and power – because when they are sitting around in a torn up world and everything around them is polluted, they will not be able to drink their oil and they will not be able to eat their money.”

Josefina Skerk, Vice President of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, took the floor again to share more on her peoples, lands and the stark climate impacts being felt there.

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Josefina Skerk (Sami Parliment)

Josefina explained that a two-degree temperature increase in most regions results in an eight degree rise in the far North, and that the traditional life and livelihood of the her people is already directly threatened and changing rapidly due to fragile ice and warming ecosystems. The Sami have persevered through intense discrimination and forced sterilization as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s – but now climate change is bringing new threats to their very existence itself.

“We are not strawberry jam, a wise Sami women once said…we do not want to be preserved,” Josefina stated to a resounding applause and calls of solidarity from the audience and fellow presenters.

“However through global work and though connecting with Indigenous people and others – through raising our voices – we are truly finding a way forward. There are demonstrations, there are protests and what we see is leaders taking their place, and they are normally Sami women from our society,”

“I do not know where the men are,” she laughed, “but I do know that women are fighting back and I see the strength of this. Raising our voices is immensely effective.”

Eriel Deranger, Communications Manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Treaty 8 Territory in Northern Alberta, Canada spoke next, bringing critical light to the importance of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous women’s climate solutions.

“Despite centuries of colonization and attempted assimilation, we have persevered and we have survived. Now, in 2015, it is time to abandon patriarchal and colonial ideologies… we have always been here, we have not been discovered. … we cannot move forward to a just and balanced society if we do not unpack these systems of patriarchy and colonization that have brought us to where we are today.”

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Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation)

Eriel continued, “We are seeing a merging of movement, and it is imperative. The environmental movement, the Indigenous rights movement, they are coming together because we have a common goal – the protection and preservation of the lands, of Mother Earth, of the places that have given us life and bred cultures that have persevered… I have no intention of stepping down – I will stand up to every government so that my children know who they are, so that my children can go back to the Delta and eat the fish and caribou and moose and know who they are. Without the strong voices of the women on the frontlines of climate change, without the strong voices of Indigenous women on the frontlines – we would not have a hope, so I want to pay homage to the strong women, all the strong women, I raise my hands up to you.”

Eriel passed the floor to Thilmeeza Hussain, Founder of Voice of Women, Maldives, who offered a jolting testimony based in her experience as a woman of a highly climate vulnerable small island nation.

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Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women Maldives)

“We need to look beyond the negotiations, beyond the text – we need to put a human face on what is going on – we need to understand what is really at stake. Lives are at stake, we are loosing lives, people are dying – that is what is at stake… how many lives are we willing to sacrifice before we act on climate change? How many dead bodies should we serve on a gold platter to these oil corporations before we can satisfy their greed and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy?”

Thilmeeza continued, “as mothers, as women, as sisters – as responsible citizens of this world – we cannot afford to watch our children be killed by climate change, we need to look beyond Paris and insure our governments are held accountable for the promises made here… we need to take strength from each other and move forward, we cannot afford to look back.”

Patricia Gualinga, Indigenous Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador took the stage as the afternoon’s first keynote speaker. Patricia spoke on the struggle and victory of her people, who have campaigned and successfully prevented oil extraction in their territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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Patricia Gualinga (Sarayaku, Ecuador) with translation by Leila Salazar-López (Amazon Watch)

“Our people, our women are determined that there will be no oil extraction in our territory, there will be no mining or industrial development. For this reason, we can say that we are already combatting climate change,”

Patricia spoke to the role of women in this vital work, to the need for strengthened global solidarity, and on the Kawsak Sacha ‘Living Forests’ proposal, her communities integral plan for a just and sustainable future. She framed the global climate crisis as fundamentally rooted in Western thought’s division of the material from the spiritual, and its loss of vision surrounding the profound interconnection of humans and the Earth.

“There is much worry about regarding what the governments are doing [inside COP21]… in many ways it pains me, they are so isolated – have you noticed how they drive in blacked out cars, how they hold meetings in these very cold sites that are so cut off from contact with reality? They have imprisoned themselves in their own heads in some ways, and they are the ones making decisions about the planet. We need to be very worried – if they are generating laws that don’t include us, with which we have never agreed, then we do not have any reason to obey them. If they are going to destroy the planet, it is our responsibility to resist them.”

Patricia continued with words of hope and unity;

“Now is not the time to see social classes, or colors or different languages – now is the time to transform ourselves, it is time to see each other as brothers and sisters. It is the time to understand and the time to change…. This is not a matter for Indigenous peoples, this is not a matter for just those who are out on the front fighting every day against oil concessions in our territories. This is an issue for everyone – respect Indigenous rights, respect the integrity of our lives, of future generations. In this we are all united, and if we are just one more everyday, then we can generate change,”

After concluding the translation from Spanish, Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, provided closing comments contextualizing why it is imperative that we work with communities like Sarayaku to protect the Amazon, and sharing the newly released document, ‘Keep It In The Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth‘.

Fleur Newman, Programme Officer and UNFCCC Gender Focal Point representing the UNFCCC Secretariat, spoke next after having listened to the first panel.

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Fleur Newman (UNFCCC Secretariat)

Fleur presented an overview of her role within the UNFCCC, and the various programs and mechanisms around women and climate change that she helps facilitate, including the UN System Wide Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She shared words of support and encouragement with the women leaders, helping bring the formal COP21 process together with the frontline and grassroots women leaders present at the event.

Following Fleurs remarks, presenters of the second panel, ‘Women’s Strategic Analysis, Policy and Advocacy for Systemic Change and Climate Justice’ took the stage. 

Titilope Akosa of Centre for 21st Century Issues, Nigeria and representative of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency opened the panel with an in-depth analysis on the status of gender equity in the Paris climate accord and the work of the Women and Gender Constituency inside of COP21.

She presented the ten point Women and Gender Constituencies COP21 Key Demands document, and outlined the Constituencies struggles and ceaseless work to retain gender responsive language in the Paris accord.

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Titilope Akosa (Centre for 21st Century Issues & the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency)

“We have made it clear that this agreement, the global agreement on climate change will not be complete without women…you cannot write off half of humanity, it is not possible. If gender is not referenced and if the aspiration of women is not included, if the aspirations of the women on the frontlines are not included in this global agreement, then a whole half of humanity is excluded,”

“We do not want a polluted future, we do not want a future that is used up before our children come to life,” Titilope continued, “We are women, we are the ones that create, we are the ones that bring forth life and this is why we must stand strong for the people and planet. And this is why I am here, I come all the way from Nigeria in Africa – I said that I cannot sit down and allow this to go on, and allow these leaders to gamble with the future. If I have to talk to my children, the ones yet unborn, I will be happy and grateful to tell that when it was time to act, I was there, I stood for their future and I am proud to say that I am a warrior on this land and I am ready to fight to the end. We will not give up on our beautiful planet.”

Mary Louise Malig, Campaigns Coordinator and Research Associate with the Global Forest Coalition in the Philippines spoke next, shedding light on connections between climate change, agribusiness and global industrial trade, and presenting small-scale agro-ecological farming as a critical, tangible and immediate climate solution.

She discussed how the WTO and trade agreements like the hotly debated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) effectively block the progress made through negotiations such as COP and other local and national initiatives, using its fierce, legally binding power to enforce trade sanctions that benefit very few over the health and wellbeing of people and planet.

Mary Lou shared the example of Ontario, Canada, where a tariff program to encourage local renewables was shut down by a WTO dispute claiming they were unfairly favoring local workers and processes – both vital to just climate solutions.

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Mary Louise Malig (Global Forest Coalition)

“It has to be the system that is changed. We cannot win a battle where we just fight inside this arena. We have to connect our struggles – we have to connect the struggles against deforestation, the struggle against free trade, the struggle for real solutions to climate change. We have to connect them all together and really fight to change the system and bring peoples solutions up to the front.”

Mary Lou passed the floor to Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental & Climate Justice Program, who shared a presentation called ‘Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation and Revolution’.

Jacqui spoke to the effects of environmental discrimination and industrial pollution on communities in the US, and called out false solutions such as natural gas, which are only deepening the climate crisis and violating rights, particularly those of frontline communities, low-income families, and peoples of color.

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Jaqcui Patterson (NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program)

“We must address the disparity between who is making decisions and who is most impacted,” Jacqui explained, simultaneously referencing her experience with the post Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and the concurrent COP21 climate negotiations.

She shared stories of successful, tragic and ongoing struggles of women and community leaders documenting pollution related health impacts in their communities and taking direct action to shut down toxic industries and build alternatives – and expanded Mary Lou’s insights on the intersectionality of our people’s movements.

“Not only are we pushing for clean energy, but we are also working to insure that there are economic justice measures in these policies,” Jacqui explained, emphasizing that things like women in renewable energy, accessible and sovereign food systems, immigrant rights and justice, and racial justice are all connected and essential elements of the just transition we so desperately need.

Angelina Galiteva, Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute in the USA closed the second panel with compelling comments on energy policy derived from years of work inside the industry and outside as an advocate, activist and mother.

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Angelina Galiteva (Renewables 100 Policy Institute)

“We are moving forward and we are going to transition the system to 100% renewable energy. Why? Because we have the technology, because it is possible,”

She shared poignant reflections on the role of women in the coming clean energy revolutions, “climate change is a man-made problem, women are the solution.”

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and Coordinator of the WECAN Democratic Republic of Congo program opened the third and final panel.

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Neema Namadamu (SAFECO & WECAN DR Congo)

Neema framed her work in the context of the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world and cradle of more than 60% of Africa’s forest area. She expressed solidarity with the global Indigenous women who had already shared their stories, and urged collective global action to care for the vital ecosystems of the Congo.

“Open your eyes, look to Africa…we must invest in Africa planting trees again, so you can have oxygen – after that we can negotiate everything else we need to negotiate.”

Aleta Baun, conservationist and activist of West Timor, Indonesia took the mike next, speaking on her communities successful resistance to mining, and the ways in which they took positive direct action to conserve the forest and build sustainable local economies around textile weaving in the aftermath of the mobilization against mining.

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Aleta Baun (activist of West Timor, Indonesia)

“In our worldwide land is flesh, water is blood, forest are hair and stone is like our bones… We plant trees to heal the water that was once destroyed by mining companies. We discuss how to build women’s strength, especially though weaving so that we can have economic strength and this will protect us from being uprooted again.”

Aleta passed the floor to Natalie Isaacs, CEO and co-Founder of 1 Million Women, Australia, who addressed themes of overconsumption and lifestyle choice amongst women in wealthy nations.

“Individual action, action of households, action of communities and all of us acting together actually makes a big difference,” Natalie began, reflecting on her personal transformation from an unengaged corporate leader, to a catalyst of women and girls for healthy lives and climate justice.

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Natalie Isaacs (1 Million Women)

“In all our discussions, inside the COP21 climate negotiations – behavior change and how we live our lives is actually the elephant in the room, it is not being talked about…1 Million Women has a big task, we are trying to change the way people in a developed country like Australia live – but luckily we all know that women and girls are incredible change agents,”

Nino Gamisonia, Projects Coordinator with the Rural Communities Development Agency of Abkhazia, Georgia spoke next, providing insights on renewable energy and solar water heater programs in her country, and their benefits for the environment and rural communities.

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Nino Gamisonia (Rural Communities Development Agency)

She highlighted how women are disproportionately impacted by dirty energy and the burning of wood as fuel, and detailed how women’s engagement in solar water programs has generated a profound and critical sense of empowerment amongst those involved.

Naomi Ages, Climate Liability Project Lead with Greenpeace USA closed the third and panel of the day with thoughts on risk, bravery and action on climate change. Drawing on stories of activists who put their bodies on the line for climate justice, Naomi asked each person in the room to reflect on the level of commitment and action that they are willing and able to make in order to contribute to critical climate solutions.

“This is a call to action – choose your version of courage and do the thing for you that really contributes and combats climate change.”

Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, current UNFCCC Climate Change Envoy and former President of Ireland, took the stage to present her thoughts on the climate negotiations and women’s leadership in climate change solutions at COP21 and beyond.

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Mary Robinson (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice)

Mary acknowledged great strides by COP21 government representatives to address the needs of most vulnerable nations and recognize the imperative of human rights and gender equality – however also spoke to a sense of stagnation and repetition within climate negotiations and the struggles to retain gender responsive, just and concrete language within the accord.

“But we’re back again with a real sense that this will be a very important agreement. It wont be a great agreement, but it will hopefully be ambitious enough to help us to realize that on the 1st of January of 2016, we are in a new era,”

“We really need the power and knowledge of women leaders at all levels, it is so important for the future. Indeed, if we had more women’s leadership, I do not think we would be where we are now…women’s participation is an enabler of climate justice,” Mary attested, discussing her foundation’s new report, ‘Women’s Participation – An Enabler of Climate Justice’.

“There really is no longer a divide between the sustainable development goals and the France climate agreement, we bring them together in January. And I really do think that women are at the forefront of what happens after that. Why? Because it’s women that change behavior, its women who influence change – starting in the family, starting in the community, starting by assisting in the schools and having young people encouraged to think about their futures in a way that is sustainable. And it is every little step in all of that…we are going to need transformative change throughout the world, and women in every community would be on the frontlines … in the beginning of next year comes a new surge of energy and commitment to start implementing what this year has brought us at the global level, but we know that it is at the local level that things will really make a difference,”

“In a way, we are privileged to be at this moment when we can in fact bend the curve and get back on track towards a safe world. We are not there, and we will not be there the day after Paris, but we will be heading in the right direction. And we will put gender equality issues on the frontlines, because we know we are sacrificing our children, in my case my grandchildren, to a much more dangerous and catastrophic world, and we cannot have that. … We are ready to take the leadership, to give the changes to make sure that there is no going back and that we have a world of sustainability with our Mother Earth, our beautiful Mother Earth, who we must cherish more, who we must reinvigorate in the degraded areas. Take back the deforested areas and have Mother Earth breathe freely as she has for centuries upon centuries until we started to interfere with her. And it is women who have to be at the forefront of that.”

Following Mary Robinson’s keynote, members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature provided a brief recap and analysis of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, held over two days in Paris the previous week.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance provided an introduction,

“What we’re really seeing, and as we heard from so many of our speakers, is that the way that we are interacting with Mother Earth is not working and part of that is also based upon our legal system that treats Nature as property.… we have to change this system, so the Rights of Nature movement is really looking at the DNA of our legal frameworks and saying NO, Mother Earth has rights, rivers have the right to flow, all the systems of life have the right to grow and thrive and be healthy, and we as human being have to have new laws that allow us to live in good harmony with Mother Earth,”

Osprey continued, “What we are saying through these Tribunals is that we have the right to create laws that work for the people and for the plant, we are not asking for permission. Humans invented our governance structures, humans invented our economies, that means that we can reinvent them again and take back our power as people,”

Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights in the USA shared her insights;

“As long as we continue the story of separation, that Nature is owned by humans, that we are separate from Nature – we are never going to be able to move forward. So the Rights of Nature Tribunal has been a very powerful place, especially when put head to head with the COP, to ask, ‘what would it look like in a world where we recognized the inherent rights of ecosystems to live, to thrive, to regenerate…Imagine if we acted like rights matter, as if our human rights came and were derived from the rights of ecosystems, from nature, from creation – what would it look like to be in that world?”

“We heard not just from experts, but from people who are living this everyday on the ground, defenders of the Earth, people who are living under these conditions. We are really showcasing the world as it could be, because the one thing that I think was critical for the Tribunal was to see that the way the COP process is operating isn’t the way it has to be,” Shannon continued, “We are looking at two very different power structures –we are looking at the power of corporations running the world one way, and we are looking at the power of people taking ownership and responsibility and connection for their communities and saying ‘we can work together, there is a way forward’ – we can together actually commit to our relationship and break the cycle of separation from Nature, we can live as one. We can put forward new laws and really showcase how to make this shift.”

Natalia Greene of CEDENMA (Coordinadora Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y del Ambiente) and Fundacion Pachamama in Ecuador provided more background on the Tribunal and on implementation of Rights of Nature in her country.

“People are thirsty to have these places to voice new ideas, to voice their suffering and the hurt to Mother Earth,” Natalia explained, “Rights of Nature is not theoretical, it is happening in Ecuador, it is happening in the US and in more communities and more places if people start to understand that we cannot work without Mother Earth…. If we want to have peace on the Earth, we must have peace with the Earth.”

Closing the Rights of Nature report back, Osprey called to the stage a group of outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across North and South America to share their stories, struggles and solutions for climate justice as part of a presentation of the Indigenous Women of the America’s: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation)

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation elder and representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island, USA opened and guided the subsequent series of thought-provoking, hard-hitting and heartfelt presentations.

“There is much we want to share, but we want to share first and foremost is our love of you and Mother Earth….it is very simple my relatives, if our [Indigenous] rights are upheld, we know how to save you. So together we have a path to walk.”

Casey spoke on the connections between the conditions experiences by her family– relocation, persecution, boarding schools, and labor camps – and the modern environmental genocide and crisis with which we are all faced, and which Indigenous peoples feel directly and disproportionately.

“The struggle for us is not one issue, it is a totality of all the issues – it is whether or not humanity will continue on this Earth, do we get that honor? Do we deserve that honor? My mother, my relatives felt that we do, they felt that we simply need to align ourselves with the natural laws.”

Faith Gemmill, Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan woman from above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, USA addressed the room next, speaking first in her traditional language. For over 30 years Faith and her community have been protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee, one of the last stretches of Arctic Alaskan coast still free from oil extraction.

The land that Faith and her community defend is the land of the threatened polar bear, hundreds of species of nesting birds, fish and caribou, an animal deeply sacred to her people.

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Faith Gemmill (Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabasca)

“Our elders knew about climate change, they prophesized it. And they said, ‘tell them that we are not standing here for ourselves, we are standing for them [the animals], for their children’. And it is our belief that if this place is ever accessed, it will begins a cycle of destruction of humanity…All of our prophecies are all connected, in the South, in the North and across the world, Indigenous prophecies all say the same thing – there is a path destruction, but there is also a path of life, and we have a choice as humanity – and right now we are at that place where we make that choice.”

“We have to think about our children – what are we going to leave them? We have to change the consciousness of the leaders of the world, that’s what we have to do, that is our responsibility. And I have hope because my people said, if we do it in a good way, we are going to be successful – I believe in us and that is why I am standing here today…I think if we all keep holding our ground, if we all keep defending our territories, protecting these spaces – if we keep it in the ground, we can make it, we are going to win.”

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Canada and Kandi Mossett, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara woman of North Dakota, USA spoke again briefly, sharing messages of solidarity and encouraging everyone in the room to stay engaged with the issues and stories presented, including through donations to the women and organization putting their all into speaking out and driving forward momentum for a just world for all.

“We have to take back the power in our communities because no one else is going to do it for us,” Kandi concluded.

Ena Santi, women’s leader of the Kichwa community of Sarayakyu, Ecuador spoke next on behalf of the women of the South.

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Ena Santi (Sarayaku, Ecuador)

“I am feeling so much emotion to be here and hear the voices of all my sisters gathered here today….we as women are treated so badly so much of the time insulted, violated, treated poorly – physically and physiologically,” Ena began.

“But even with all of these obstacles that we are experiencing in our Indigenous communities, us women are fighting, we are continuing ahead. To save our Mother Earth we have confronted the military, the police – and when this happened I carried on my back my baby of just 2 months,”

“In this way we can save our Mother Earth, because within Mother Earth exists all of humanity… Us women fight for our grandchildren, for our children, for the children that will come in the future – it is for them that we fight. Human beings are not eternal, in whatever moment we will go to rest.”

“So us together, sisters that are here now, united, we women must together put forth a strong effort to save our Mother Earth, because pure air still exists in the Amazon of Ecuador. We must keep this in our hearts…. As women on our Earth, in my land where I live in Sarayaku in Ecuador, we will fight until the very end. We will not allow oil, mining, wood companies to enter. We will fight, not with guns, but with thought, in a peaceful way,”

Mirian Cisneros of Sarayaku also shared words,

“We have flown from very far away, like the eagles… we have a prophecy that Sarayaku is called the ‘pueblo de medio dia’ – the people of the noon time. That when all our neighbors had been contaminated, that we would be that community that would be there until the end defending the Earth. We take on this great responsibility as mothers, as wives, as givers of health, food and the security of future generations…. And so we are here, to ask for solidarity, for an alliance between all sisters and brothers of the world to defend our only Earth, the one that has been left to us by our ancestors, by our grandparents,”

Mirian then called on the whole room to join hands and speak together with her, ‘Pachamama estamos contigo’ – ‘Mother Earth, we are with you’.

Monique Verdin, a Houma woman of the Mississippi river delta in South Louisiana, USA spoke next,

“We have lost our land, they cut down our forest, we have waste pits in our back yard and we are loosing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet next to the Maldives,” Monique began,

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Monique Verdin (Houma)

“I came to Paris not knowing what I’d find, and I found these amazing women who are standing up, and I am going home with inspiration…. we cannot be silenced any longer…even though our men are afraid to say anything, even though they are the ones witnessing the land going and know why, they are also being paid by the oil and gas companies and that’s how they feed their babies. They’ve told us that we don’t have any other economic source, but they are wrong.”

Pennie Opal Plant (Yaqui, Mexican, English, Choctaw, Cherokee and European) of Movement Rights, USA took the floor next, providing a beautiful and vital overview, and reading sections of the ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact’, which can be read in full here.

“By this time next year I imagine that there will be millions of women around the world shutting it down…so I want to ask you, whose with us?” Pennie asked, the whole room rising and raising their fists alongside her.

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Pennie Opal Plant (Movement Rights)

Casey Camp Horinek took the floor to close the presentation,

“I want to take this moment to remind us, what is real power? Is it what is in COP’s? Is it Obama? Or, or, realign your thinking, realign your thoughts so that we all go forward with the seventh generation philosophy, each and everyone of us. To think about the seven generations that came before us, and what they went though to arrive at this point, to bring us into life. What about the seven generations to come? If every step you make is thinking about those coming in the seventh generation, then thank you. If not, then switch it up, right now… Realign your thoughts, what is real power?”

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN closed the event with brief words before an end of event group action.

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“We need to reconnect with our original instructions, we need to reconnect with Mother Earth. We have these incredible women and Indigenous peoples who are generously, kindly offering knowledge and information to us, so lets have really big hearts and respect and dedication to what they are offering us. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is first and foremost dedicated to frontline communities in countries all over the world … we the people have power, we the people are making change, this, right here, is where real change is coming from.”

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From right to left: Patricia Gualinga, Neema Namadamu, Mirian Cisneros and Ena Santi – women of Ecuador and DR Congo united

The event will be commemorated and continued through the planting of a French olive tree near Paris – a symbol of hope, peace, growth and resistance into the future.

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Resistance & Solutions: Women on the Frontlines Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

On July 8 2015, the US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative presented the third in a series of online education and advocacy trainings. ‘Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change: Resistance & Solutions’ featured Kandi Mossett, Casey Camp-Horniek, Jacqui Patterson, and Pennie Opal Plant, four powerful women leaders at the forefront of movements for social and ecologic justice in their communities across the United States.

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Osprey Orielle Lake, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, opened the call with a warm welcome and brief background on key WECAN International principles, including dedication to women’s stories and solutions, and work within a climate justice framework centered on those who experience climate impacts “first and worst”.

“We need to examine the root causes of climate change and carry out deep systemic analysis around racism, sexism, and our economy of consumption as we seek to understand and address the planetary crisis we face,” Osprey reflected.

She described the US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative as one of the ways that WECAN International is seeking to examine these root causes and uplift women’s solutions. We are “weaving together different stories, sectors, struggles and conversations,” and addressing differing needs and privileges across diverse groups of US women, Osprey explained. With a word of thanks, she passed the floor to the first training speaker, Kandi Mossett.

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“Hello relatives my name is Eagle Woman,” she began, speaking in the language of her people.

Kandi is of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara heritage, and was born and raised in an area known today as the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She serves as the Native Energy & Climate Campaign Organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Click here to read more about Kandi’s work on the WECAN International blog.

Kandi’s home and the surrounding region has become a major extraction hotspot due to the large Bakken shale formation that lies beneath its soil. Expansion of the industry has been rapid and dangerous – destroying the land and bringing pollution, health complications, community conflict, and growing problems with crime and sexual violence.

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Collection of news headlines. Photo via Kandi Mossett powerpoint.

Kandi began with a description of the basic mechanisms of fracking, and then dived into the impacts being felt by the Earth and local communities. Flames from flaring natural gas send a constant stream of pollutants into the air. Prime agricultural and livestock lands have been poisoned. Trucks carrying volatile materials and toxic waste pass through towns 24 hours a day. Community members have been killed by the endless train of semi-truck traffic, and exhaust and dust pollution is exacerbating already severe health impacts. Kandi explained how these trucks dump excess frack-water on back-roads near the reservation, and that even when the waste is ‘properly’ disposed of, it is often simply dumped into plastic-lined earthen pits from which water seeps and wildlife drink.

A one million gallon spill occurred last year and killed everything it touched, compromising the safety of the lake from which Kandi’s community and others draw their drinking water. People have been told to keep off of land that has functioned as community space for decades, and an area that was previously quiet and sparsely populated is now flooded with so many industry lights that it stands out brightly in satellite images.

Kandi discussed some of the long-term and deeply felt social and cultural impacts of the oil boom. One is division within communities where some tribal council members welcome the fossil fuel companies and others speak out and resist.

Many of the biggest issues, she explained, revolve around ‘man camps’ – huge complexes of mobile homes used to house hundreds of men brought in to work on extraction sites. These ‘man camps’ have brought spikes in crime, drug use, and sexual assaults, particularly on Indigenous women and girls.

Kandi and members of her community continue to organize and fight back. They hold educational events, marches, and line roadsides with poster displaying their demands for change. They have had some successes, including stopping the construction of a new waste pit near a vital water source, taking back an important powwow which was sponsored by fossil fuels companies the previous year, and forming a new community group called Fort Berthold POWER, ‘Protectors of Water and Earth Rights’. Other successes have been short-lived, such as when they successfully stopped an oil refinery only to have it built in the neighboring town.

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Photo via Kandi Mossett

During her presentation Kandi stressed the importance of water and the need to defend it from contamination. “Water is life,” she explained, “its no coincidence that when we have babies they are born in water.”

The situation in Fort Berthold and across the Bakken region is life or death for many, but despite this Kandi concluded her presentation with inspiring and hopeful insights. She encouraged training participants to focus on education, taking back power in their communities, and helping others make connections between the concept of climate justice and the injustices experienced in their daily lives.

“We must keep it in the ground and protect the generations to come,” Kandi concluded.

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Casey Camp speaking at WECAN’s Sept. 2014 event in NYC. Photo by Emily Arasim.

Casey Camp Horneik spoke next. Casey is a long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist, and actress from the Ponca Nation in Oklahoma. She helps maintain the cultural identity of the Ponca Nation as a traditional Drumkeeper, and stands at the forefront of efforts to educate and empower Native and non-Native allies on environmental and civil rights issues in Oklahoma, and at the national and international level.

Like Kandi, Casey began with a greeting in the language of her people. “What an incredible healing time we are all participating in,” she reflected.

She described the “spiderweb” of pipelines crossing her region – including pipelines that stretch to Alberta, Canada, and from both coasts of the U.S. The intensity of fracking in her region has made Oklahoma the new earthquake capital of the US, with the number of 3.0 or greater earthquakes rising from 106 in 2013 to 585 in 2014 – with 400 thus far in 2015. According to Casey, the locations of underground pipelines, fracking injection wells, and recent earthquakes overlap quite closely.

“It’s difficult to talk about the issues in our homelands in a way that can help you understand the devastation that extractive industries have us under.”

In 2004 Casey’s small community of less than 800 people held one funeral per week. They have witnessed massive fish die-offs in poisoned waters and have been told not to eat the fish out of the river. Necessity and hunger have meant that some families have no choice, but the fact is that it is not a choice they should have to make at all.

Casey drew connections between the devastation being wrought by fossil fuel companies and the larger legacy of displacement and persecution of Indigenous communities in her region and across the world.

“We are experiencing a real and active genocidal process here in Oklahoma and we are only one people,” she continued, explaining that the genocidal process fueled by extractive industries takes many forms, including loss of language and spirituality, destruction of sacred sites, economic collapse, social breakdown, and long and short term health impacts.

“Our children are coming onto Earth with poison already in their body,” she lamented.

In explaining the deep impacts felt by her community in Oklahoma and others across the world, Casey also discussed the “normalized oppression” held firmly in place over many Indigenous peoples, and the depression and sense of hopelessness that goes along with it. Frontline communities like Casey’s can feel abandoned in their struggle, and it is time to change that.

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Photo via Casey Camp

“Right now we have the chance to turn this tide where we are participating fully in the healing of ourselves as women, daughters, granddaughters, sisters…We can find a way to make it happen so that our grandchildren can have grandchildren who will live because of what happened in 2015…We aren’t giving them our power any longer – we are recognizing where power really belongs – the true power is Earth,” Casey concluded, passing the floor to Jacqui Patterson.

Jacqui is Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and Coordinator and co-Founder of Women of Color United. She has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist on issues of women‘s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice. Some of her publications include “Climate Change is a Civil Rights Issue”, “Gulf Oil Drilling Disaster: Gendered Layers of Impact”, “Disasters, Climate Change Uproot Women of Color”, and “Coal Blooded; Putting Profits Before People” – which can be found in the resources section at the bottom of this article.

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Jacqui at the 2013 Women’s Earth & Climate Summit. Photo via Lori Waselchuk

Jacqui began her presentation by framing the climate crisis in terms of our “dangerous relationship with excess” – be it food, transport, waste, or energy. She noted disproportionately severe climate impacts on low-income communities, peoples of color, nations of global south, and women, and zoned-in specifically on the skewed placement of coal-fired plants, fracking, mining infrastructure and landfills near communities of color.

Jacqui brought vital social issues to the table, including stories of children living near toxic sites who have become totally dependent on medications to combat asthma and respiratory problems, or who have developed learning disorders due to lead exposure. She tied environmental justice issues to the “school to prison pipeline”, explaining how people living near toxic sites have a 50% lower property value, which translates to under-funded schools because property taxes pay for local education systems. Lack of resources and teachers makes it harder for children to thrive, and children who do not reach a certain learning level by third grade are considered more likely to enter into the criminal justice system. Environmental injustice is thus deeply tied to cycles of poverty, criminality, and discrimination.

During her presentation Jacqui drew attention to the double damages felt by low-income families, Indigenous people, and communities of color who are affected both when industry extracts, pollutes, and dumps directly in their neighborhoods, and again when they find themselves on the frontlines of large climate disasters like hurricanes, droughts, and floods.

Jacqui discussed why we continue to find ourselves in this unjust and unhealthy situation, citing ‘powerbrokers’ including big corporations, courts, banks, think tanks, and academic institutions that are set on “maintaining the status quo of poor policymaking that values profit above people.”

In the face of mighty challenges, it is time for “Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation, and Revolution” she explained, shifting to a discussion of the experiences, solutions, and forward steps that the communities she works with are engaged in.

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Photo via Jacqui Patterson

Jacqui reflected on “women as leaders in this freedom fight,” as she told the story of a woman in North Carolina who began her own ‘citizens investigation’ to document the illnesses being experienced by community members living next to a coal-ash pond. The woman took photos and notes that she began to have to mark with the letter D as friends and neighbors passed away. She too ultimately passed away from illnesses believed to be linked to the nearby contamination.

This story is harrowing and must be honored, however Jacqui also shared some exciting victories. She introduced the story of the Fisk and Crawford coal plant in Chicago, which was successfully shut down by organizers with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and allies. She also touched on the growing movement to recognize corporate overreach, citing movements like Occupy and a citizen survey that found that the influence of money on elections was one of US residents top concerns. This is all part of the fight and the solution.

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‘Stop the 1% from profiting from pollution’ – South Africa. Photo via Jacqui Patterson.

“We need to ensure that we are working together to root out all forms of oppression wherever it is,” Jacqui explained.

She echoed Osprey’s sentiment that we must look at both micro-level, immediate changes and solutions in how we live and our relationship with Nature, families, and communities – as well as at big picture systemic change. Extreme weather events and other climate stresses are having devastating impacts now, which means we must build resilience on a day-to-day basis as we work towards larger transformation. Jacqui called for “reclamation” of the commons, our communities, the energy grid, our food system, the shared economy, and our democracy.

Jacqui ended with a 1967 quote from civil rights freedom fighter Martin Luther King Jr: “One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy…You begin to ask the question, ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?’”

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Pennie Opal Plant spoke as the final presenter of the day. Pennie is of Yaqui, Mexican, English, Dutch, Choctaw, Cherokee and Algonquin heritage, and has been an activist for over 30 years working on anti-nuclear, environmental, and indigenous rights campaigns. She is a founding member of Idle No More SF Bay, Movement Rights, and the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance, working ceaselessly to address climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and environmental injustice in and around her community.

Pennie began with thanks to her ancestors for making her a strong woman. She recognized all of the incredible efforts to heal the Earth happening in her San Francisco Bay Area community and across the world, but also reminded participants we still have a long way to go to bring awareness about the issues we face to the level we need.

“There is so much work for all of us to do to help people become activated and inspire them to see this beautiful new future that we imagine and people are already putting into place,” Pennie reflected.

“I’ve really realized that we have to call out for the complete end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure. Period… We know that we need to keep it in the ground.”

She explained clearly how continued fossil fuel development is bad for the Earth, bad for the investors who will face stranded assets as we transition, and bad for the communities who very well may continue to be abandoned with the mess to clean up.

Pennie outlined the situation in the Bay Area of California, where they are coping with Chevron, Conoco Phillips66, Tesaro, Shell, and Velaro refineries and a slew of other industrial sites. The latest are the proposed West Pack site, which seeks to bring oil from the tar sands in Alberta and the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, and the Water Front Industrial Project, a fifty mile construction which will require the dredging of the delta and countless other harms.

In response to the refineries and the deep environmental and social damages they are causing, the idea of the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks was birthed out of a circle of Indigenous Grandmothers and the Idle No More SF Bay community.

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Photo via Pennie Opal Plant

For the second year in a row, this summer organizers took people out on four to nine mile walks between refineries to see the damage and smell the toxins that nearby communities experience everyday. It is action to walk, witness, heal, experience, and unite. Walks are led by Indigenous elders in prayer, and throughout the walk teachers and friends “share our understanding what it means to be alive in this system of life on Mother Earths belly.”

Refinery Corridor Healing Walks will continue next year and all are welcome to participate. Pennie also mentioned allies in Texas who are hoping to start healing walks through a refinery corridor in Huston, discussing her excitement that the idea of healing walks could be expanded and applied in other communities worldwide.

In closing, Pennie provided a brief background of Movement Rights, a new organization that provides organizing and legal support to helps communities assert their rights to self governance, ban corporate harms and take away corporate personhood rights, promote Rights of Nature, and write ordinances to put people over profit in their community.

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Photo via Pennie Opal Plant

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN International transitioned the group into a Question & Answer session with comments on the powerful spectrum of emotion felt during the four presentations, from deep grief to hope and inspiration. She opened the floor to training participants and speakers, who explored how allies can support and engage with the community movements highlighted during presentations.

Pennie shared the Refinery Corridor Healing Walks GoFundMe page and invited anyone in the Bay Area to join Idle No More for future actions and events. Kandi encouraged allies to contact North Dakota Senators Heidi Heitkamp and John Holden to push back against fracking in the state, reminding participants that “the water doesn’t stay in one area, the air doesn’t stay in one area, all of our local struggles are connected.”

Casey spoke frankly with participants about the need to get funding and other forms of support directly to the frontline communities whose “blood, sweat, and tears” go towards on-the-ground community organizing and resistance. She asked participants to share ideas on how to raise funds, get frontline communities connected into larger movements, and bring Indigenous leaders to speak to affected communities so that they can better understand the challenges they face and see how others are resisting, protecting the Earth, and uplifting their people.

Osprey closed the training with a deep thanks to everyone for their participation, encouraging them to share what they had discussed during the training far and wide. She also invited participants to share stories of the climate impacts their communities are facing and the solutions they offer as part of the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, happening September 29, 2015.

“Stories about women, frontline communities, and climate justice are not being told at the level we need them to be and this deeply hinders our movement forward. The more we amplify these stories the more change for climate justice we will see.”

Training Resources

Health & Climate: Changing the Narrative – Training Recap Day Two

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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On June 25, 2015 the U.S Women’s Climate Justice Initiative held the second day of an online education and advocacy training, ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’. A detailed review of day one is available here.

Day two featured four outstanding women leaders, Susan E. Pacheco M.D of the University of Texas, Pandora Thomas of EarthSeed Consulting LLC & the Black Permaculture Network, Angela Monti Fox of The Mothers Project, and Hannah Vogel with Climate Nexus.

Osprey Orielle Lake, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International), spoke first, welcoming participants to the call and providing a brief background of WECAN International’s framework and vision for this training and other related work.

According to Osprey, the training call aims to bring together women from diverse groups across the US, acknowledging differing experiences and struggles, and working to build a powerful women’s voice for action on climate change. The training, and WECAN’s work in general, is centered on a climate justice framework, which means dedication to the communities who experience climate and health impacts “first and worst”.

“While we are all exposed to environmental degradation, we must take into consideration that frontline and Indigenous communities bear the biggest brunt of health and climate impacts, and that the only way to change this is through our involvement and action,” Osprey explained.

She noted that genuine action on climate change requires “systemic social and political analysis,” and asserted that women’s voices must be heard if we are to develop effective, long-term solutions. Osprey closed her introduction by inviting all participants to join WECAN International for a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action, happening on September 29. Learn more about the Day of Action here.

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Dr. Susan E. Pacheco

Dr. Susan E. Pacheco took the floor as the first training presenter. Dr. Pacheco is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center specializing in pediatric asthma, allergies, and immunology. She is also the founder of the Alliance Of Health Professionals Against Climate Change and the Texas Coalition for Climate Change Awareness, and serves as the health representative for the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. Susan’s presentation, ‘Children in a Changing World: Silent Victims of Climate Change’, focused on climate-related threats to maternal and children’s health.

According to Susan, 88% of the worldwide disease burden falls on children under five years of age. Some of the things that make children especially vulnerable include the fact that they ‘breathe more air and drink more water’, have immature and developing organs, lungs, and nervous systems, are at a stage of rapid change, spend more time outdoors, need more ‘emotional shelter’, and face a lifetime of exposure and climate stress.

Dr. Pacheco discussed air pollution as a health impact stemming directly from fossil fuel use, and touched on a few more subtle health problems with severe impacts on children. Changing climate patterns are causing increased pollen production in plants, which is worsening allergies and causing respiratory problems. Rising temperatures are affecting ozone production, which changes air quality and has increased the prevalence of asthma. 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. In U.S 20 million people are afflicted, 7 million of them children.

Echoing calls made during day one of the training, Susan pointed out that very little research has been done on the mental health impacts of climate change, which are thought to include apathy, depression, social stress, and PTSD, to name but a few. As a poignant example, Susan drew attention to the 160,000 children displaced and 15,000 children who did not go to school during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Pacheco also spoke on maternal health, discussing studies connecting women’s exposure to air pollution with autism risk in their children. She highlighted long-term brain damage and developmental issues as effects of exposure to industrial pollutants and fossil fuels during pregnancy, and commented upon pregnant women’s increased vulnerability during heat waves and other extreme weather events.

Susan presented passionately on issues of justice, reminding participants that the burden is not distributed evenly, with socio-economic background determining children’s relative exposure. She spoke to the fact that those who produce the least carbon emissions are the most effected, whether we are discussing differential impacts on children and adults, or between high and low-income communities and countries. According to her presentation, there are more than 700 million children living in the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change.

Critically, Dr. Pacheco explained that re-framing the climate conversation to bring health impacts to the forefront has the potential to inspire meaningful action like perhaps nothing else could.

“The moment that we change our conversation to bring health to the climate change debate our action will change,” she asserted, describing how health discussions can make climate change more relatable and bring an even greater sense of urgency to our response efforts.

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Pandora Thomas

Pandora Thomas spoke next. Pandora is a teacher, writer, designer, speaker and co-Founder of Earthseed Consulting LLC, a holistic consulting firm working to expand opportunities for sustainable living to diverse communities across the U.S. Pandora’s other projects include the Black Permaculture Network and Pathways to Resilience, a program working to engage people exiting the prison system in permaculture concepts and practices.

Pandora spoke with training participants about building community resilience and helping engage people in climate change and health issues by “meeting people where they’re at” and creating relevant, appropriate, and community led projects and initiatives.

“Where we are is very urgent, but ripe full of opportunities,” she began, introducing the West African concept of Sankofa, which translates roughly to ‘we must know from where we came in order to move forward’, used here in reference to the need to build on centuries of wisdom and tradition as we move forward in addressing climate change and its dire health impacts.

Pandora shared a powerful discussion of the disproportionate climate-health impacts felt by African-American communities across the U.S.

Pandora shared research that 71% of African-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollutions standards. 78% live within 30 miles of coal-fired plant, and they are also more likely to live near landfills or incinerators. African-Americans have a 36% higher rate of asthma and die from this condition at twice the rate as Caucasians Americans. They are also at greater risk of heat-related deaths, (which will increase by at least 90% due to climate change) due in part to the fact that they are more likely to live in inner city areas. African-Americans are also more likely to reside in coastal areas prone to hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise, and experience food insecurity at a rate 25.7% higher than the national average.

Pandora also drew connections between climate vulnerability, economic insecurity, and crime and violence, presenting the story of the Pathways to Resilience program as an example of how we can tackle the nexus of climate impacts in a constructive way.

In sharing the work of Pathways to Resilience, Pandora introduced the concept of permaculture as a key tool for restoring the health of the planet and people. Permaculture is a design system and way of living based on observing how natural systems work and seeking to emulate these patterns and principles in all that we do. Among many things, permaculture includes ecologic farming, soil and plant stewardship, green building, Earth-centered economics, water conservation and care, reduced consumption, and clean energy– making it a potent tool for build the kind of world we want – one that insures health for people and planet.

Some of Pandora’s other insights for addressing climate and health impacts within a justice framework include “connect to that which gives you strength”, “think of our potential instead of being mired in the problems”, “feed what you want to see grow”, and draw upon and uplift the existing experiences and solutions of frontline communities.

Angela Monti Fox spoke next. Angela is a mental health professional and founder of Mothers Project, an organization established in 2012 in reaction to the expansion of fracking and natural gas exploitation in New York and Pennsylvania.

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Angela Monti Fox

“[They are] drilling in everyone’s back yard and creating a public health crisis without the public actually knowing it,” Angela explained, noting that similar stories are repeated across the country, “poisoned water and sick children.”

Angela described how extractive industries and other big polluters are allowed to slide-by, dumping toxins into water and claiming that chemicals are diluted to such small quantities that they cannot affect people. The Mothers Project and countless other groups and communities across the world however, are testifying otherwise.

Angela cited a 1996-2009 study in Colorado which followed pregnant women living near gas wells and found birth defects and a 30% greater chance of these women giving birth to a preterm and/or underweight babies. It is being revealed that this kind of exposure can also result in endocrine disruption and DNA damage, meaning that children could be affected for life.  Angela also noted disruptions of children’s ability to “learn, love, bond”.

Angela and the Mothers Project team wrote and sent a letter to Michelle Obama asking for her support in addressing fracking and its health impacts on children. They received no reply, but continue undaunted in their work to expose and prevent these dangerous health impacts.

“A child centered model would bring the entire fossil fuels industry down in a massive action,” Angela explained, expressing her sentiment, much like Susan’s, that the public would care deeply if they understood the depth of the climate-health crisis. Mothers can and should be at the forefront of the movement to educate and inspire action.

We have the power and the science to shift our energy system, Susan concluded, “do we have the power in the people?”

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Hannah Vogel

Hannah Vogel, an associate with Climate Nexus, spoke as the fourth and final presenter of day two. Hannah presented an overview of an important climate and health report that was released just days before the June 25th training. The ‘Lancet Commission on Health & Climate Change’ frames climate disruption as the most pressing global health risk of the century, while conversely drawing attention to action on climate change as our greatest opportunity to address health problems worldwide, with immediate and long-term benefits.

Hannah touched on a theme highlighted by many presenters over the course of the two-day training –we simply must start paying a lot more attention to what our energy decisions mean for our health. According to Hannah’s overview of the Lancet report, we need to fundamentally shift our energy model and implement an ‘emergency-style’ response to climate change.

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During the training Q & A session presenters and participants returned to the subject of the Lancet Report to discuss concerns that, while the report makes powerful calls for action to shut-down coal based energy production, it does not make similar statements on fracking and natural gas, two toxic energy sources whose major health impacts were reviewed by Angela Monti Fox and other speakers during training day one. WECAN International will continue to review the Lancet Report and speak out about discrepancies in an otherwise powerful and important document.

Other topics discussed during the Q & A session include; why we need to pay attention to changing consumer behavior and companies visions rather than just policy, the importance of “finding peoples entry points” and framing climate and health discussions in a positive, inclusive way, and how we can create bridges between diverse movements for justice, referring specifically to the devastating Charleston shooting and Black Lives Matter movement.

In reflecting on the two days of ‘Health & Climate Change: What Is At Stake, What Can Be Done?’ training a few key themes become apparent:

  • Children, women and elders are disproportionately vulnerable to health problems stemming from climate impacts.
  • Low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to toxic industrial sites, fossil fuel infrastructure, and extreme weather events.
  • The fossil fuel industry is the root source of much pollution and climate change-related health problems – addressing health impacts thus means working towards 100% renewable energy.
  • Direct action at the local community level is effective and we all have the power and potential to get involved.
  • Re-framing climate change conversations to reflect pervasive health impacts is central to insuring deep, sustained action on climate change.
  • Education is the key – it is up to all of us to raise our voices and get out in our communities to help connect the dots and re-frame the climate change conversation to include critical health impacts.

For information on future WECAN International education and advocacy calls, please click here.

Health & Climate Change Day Two Training Resources