By John Walkey, staff member of ACE
Through our 25 year history, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE) has built our reputation on successfully bringing together the concerns of people and the environment in the form of campaigns and projects that improve the health of both the physical environment and the folks who live in it. We have done this through policy changes, through hands-on projects and coalition building across diverse stakeholders. As we enter a new and critical phase of the environmental movement – one where it has become obvious that
drastic action is necessary to prevent, or perhaps at best mitigate, the local impacts of human influence on global climate – the ability to unite people of different backgrounds, achieve a shared understanding of our problems and their solutions, and to actually move forward an agenda for equitable and sustainable change is needed like never before in human history.
In April 2017 ACE joined with Boston area allies to fill four buses journeying to Washington DC to participate in the People’s Climate movement. This trip retraces our journey 4 years ago where we filled eight buses with community members and activists to travel to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March. These landmark events represent the transition of the national environmental movement from one focused on natural resources such as water, air and energy sources to one that puts those elements in the context of our society and its internal issues. In particular there is a growing recognition that the solutions to our environmental concerns are integrally intertwined with the solutions to our social ills, such as poverty, structural racism and oppression. This intersectionality is best exhibited in the concept of “frontline communities” which was physically manifest in these marches by having the front of the column of hundreds of thousands of people be led by indigenous groups, people of color, low income people and other marginalized groups. These are the same groups that are the first and most drastically affected by climate change, by contamination and by inequitable management of shared natural resources.
On an unseasonably sweltering DC street corner in April we readied our contingent of activists young and old near the head of the line for the start of the march and watched the people walk by. The organizers had a challenging time making sure that people who were just joining up understood that the front of the line was reserved for these representatives of “frontline communities.” Indeed this is an apt illustration of the challenging coalition building work we do with allies and members, where we can easily find common
ground with allies on the need for open space or better transit, but must work harder to get across some of the other perspectives that our communities have that might not be readily apparent to those that would join with us in common cause.
A trio of older, white environmentalists holding signs that called for “Saving Chesapeake Bay” and “Save Our Crabs” walked by and looked at the young people holding their “It Takes Roots To Weather the Storm” banner, dancing and chanting to the beat of the five-gallon bucket-drummers. “This is the place to be,” said one of the three to the others as they looked for a space in the line. The challenge for our movement is to reach out to those environmentalists who are attracted to the energy of our actions but may be a bit more perplexed about what “Black Lives Matter” has to do with saving Chesapeake Bay, polar bears or solar panels. The future of our movement hinges on evolving the environmental movement into an environmental justice movement, which sees social change just as necessary as the changes in our energy production and natural resource use. At ACE we hope to help define those solutions for Boston’s future in our next 25 years.
To learn more about ACE, visit https://www.ace-ej.org/