By Lance Chilton
We Democrats have a strong ally in fighting for social justice and for our environment. (Where are Republicans like Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves, or Teddy Roosevelt, who established the National Park Service?) The ally, now 128 years old but showing no signs of age, is the nation’s oldest conservation group, the Sierra Club.
I spoke with Miya King-Flaherty, the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter’s Our Wild New Mexico organizing representative, and activist Sharon King about the natural alliance of those who care about our party and the Sierra Club working together to both preserve our beautiful surroundings and to break down racial barriers and white supremacy. In 2020, the Sierra Club in New Mexico supported 77 candidates for election based on their beliefs on the environment and on racial injustice, and 63 of those won in November’s election. All were Democrats.
Both Ms. King-Flaherty and Ms. King pointed to an article by national Sierra Club Organizational Transformation chair Hop Hopkins which can be summarized in his statement, “We will never survive the climate crisis without ending white supremacy.” Hopkins goes on to write that “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”
Hopkins points to the Navajo Nation, “where uranium mines poisoned the wells and the groundwater and coal plants for decades poisoned the air.” Ms. Flaherty-King would add the Permian Basin area as a sacrifice zone, where the inhabitants and the environment alike suffer the consequences of the oil and gas extraction industry.
Ms. King pointed out that we are “newly aware of the state of our country and our duty to understand the connection between degradation of the environment and the type of racism that led to George Floyd’s murder and the Flint water crisis (where largely African-American children were poisoned by high levels of lead in the water).
“Republicans,” Ms. King-Flaherty stated, “don’t think of the reverberating effects of their actions on other people.” That has seemed especially true this year, in both environmental effects and in the effects of systemic racism. It may be that some at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder want to look down on others, and target disempowered minorities, such as immigrants, African-Americans and Native Americans, which allows for the policies of the current inhabitant of the White House.
The Sierra Club will continue to fight for the environment and for racial justice, as the Rio Grande Chapter did in putting forward a discussion of community policing in Albuquerque. Its Rio Solidarity Policy Committee, which anyone can join as I have, will “share news, webinars, events and calls to action related to racial and social justice; indicate volunteer or mutual aid opportunities that support communities in need; inform us about other organizations we can partner with, and let us know about potential speakers working on social/racial justice that might be interested in presenting on a certain issue.” Join by sending an email to Miya King-Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Ms. King’s and Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Camilla Feibelman’s excellent articles on the Sierra Club’s local activities on racial justice in the “Rio Grande Sierran,” at https://www.riograndesierraclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/JulyAugustSeptember-2020Sierran-forweb.pdf, and Hop Hopkins’ magisterial explanation of the connection between racism and the environment at www.sierraclub.org/sierra/racism-killing-planet. We stand together with the Sierra Club on the right side of both issues.