By Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director at Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Gloria Walton, President and CEO of The Solutions Project
Colette Pichon Battle, Esq., Executive Director at Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy
We have seen our relatives dying in hurricanes and floodwaters. We’ve seen communities gasping for clean air amidst raging wildfires and surrounded by looming refineries that have exposed them to toxic emissions for years. We have seen Black, Brown, poor and Native children anxiously reaching for their inhalers on the schoolyard to fend off an oncoming asthma attack. And we have seen the lives of too many friends and family cut short by a viral and deadly epidemic.
We are on the frontlines of these crises, and we ARE the frontlines of the solutions.
Environmental justice is the principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection regardless of race, color or national origin, and that everyone deserves to live, work, learn and play in a clean and healthy environment. The Jemez Principles, core organizing guideposts of the environmental justice movement, call for the work to be inclusive, to emphasize “bottom-up” or base-building organizing, to let folks/communities speak for themselves, to work in solidarity and mutuality, to build just relationships with each other, and to commit to self-transformation. By adhering to those principles, communities and their organizations and leadership have steadily labored to build a strong base to fight for justice, even as their work (environmental justice, climate justice, and a Just Transition Framework, to name a few) continues to receive only a tiny fraction of the resources provided to large, mainstream environmental organizations. With the newly formed Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective of Kataly, we have come together as a group of nine Black, Indigenous, and people of color women, centering the communities most impacted and honoring our people’s solutions and wisdom as part of our larger commitment to our communities’ self-determination and sovereignty.
We define environmental justice broadly, recognizing that communities do not draw bright lines among the many issues alive in their communities and central to their fight for justice. We are rooted in a deep appreciation and understanding of our interconnectedness with all life and honor the rights of Mother Earth as a Being. As such we are committed to environmental and climate justice including food sovereignty/security, and a Just Transition Framework. Racial justice, food justice and food sovereignty, reproductive justice, economic and labor justice — these are all interwoven in the lives of communities on the frontlines, and each of these is bound up in the struggle for our collective liberation.
We have co-created this Collective to design and actualize a process to make effective, generative investments that share power and liberate wealth. We trust the knowledge, vision and leadership of our most impacted communities, and we hold a vision of deploying resources to amplify and accelerate their power and movement-building. With Kataly’s decision to commit $50 million for movement leaders to set the strategy and make the decisions to return resources to communities, and to commit to support our process to do this effectively, Kataly is also living the values of the Jemez Principles. They are centering organizers as philanthropic decision-makers, thereby honoring our relationships, knowledge and expertise as the authority to make these decisions. At the heart of this work is trust — our trust in each other, Kataly’s trust in us, and trust in the rich ecosystem of movement-aligned, base-building organizations leading the work.
When the pandemic first hit, the Kataly’s Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective was still in the early stages of development. Still, through our deep relationships with groups on the ground, we could connect immediately with folks on the ground working to meet the crisis in the moment. They were the ones at the center of their communities distributing masks, coordinating food boxes with local farmers, organizing mutual aid and providing direct payments to help people make rent. By supporting these organizations with substantial general support grants through a trust-based process, we could support relief and recovery, to meet immediate needs and to shore up long-term organizing and community connectivity and resilience. After all, it is the communities hit hardest by the cumulative impacts of exploitative practices that will lead, that are leading. They are building the power that we need, power to shift to a regenerative economy and a world transformed — one that benefits us all.