Environmental Activism Must Be Intersectional

Categories: Environmentalism

I love this planet, and I want to protect it. I am an environmental advocate working to practice what I preach through awareness, education, and advocacy. I have been advocating at my school for environmental efforts through different organizations, and working with my campus has opened my eyes to just how atrocious so many other places are in regards to waste. Being environmentally conscious in a controlled and somewhat small environment is still an important task. However, if I am to truly be in environmental spaces, I must recognize the privileges associated with environmentalism, and not only recognize the privileges but make room for others voices to be heard. The work of environmentalists is often viewed as static, only taking into account how individuals contribute to climate change and not analyzing how corporations are doing the most damage to the environment, as well as taking advantage of low income people, people of color and immigrants, the ones whose voices are most important to the environmental movement.

I have been in the environmental activist space for about four years now, and I have a lot of problems with it. Environmentalism is, first and foremost, incredibly white. The leaders of the movement, the people who I find in environmental spaces, and the ones who get all the attention for their advocacy are often white and wealthy. Power and privilege in society go hand in hand, and in America, many people with power continue to deny the very real fact that climate change exists. It’s pretty well established that climate change does exist, but  we need to move beyond those conversations about its causes and instead look into solutions. This doesn’t mean white people can’t be a part of the movement, in fact white allies are incredibly necessary for any movement. Instead, white folks in the environmental movements need to be purposeful about expanding the movement, sharing the space and listening to the voices of those on the front lines of climate change. We must ask the question, who’s voice is missing and who isn’t at the table? Then we must find those voices, give them our seats at the table, and ensure that their stories and experiences are included in finding and creating the solutions.

“They give me hope for a future of not only environmentalism but all activism truly will be intersectional.”

Zero Hour is an organization created by a diverse group of young people dedicated to centering the voices of, from their website thisiszerohour.org, “diverse youth in the conversation around climate and environmental justice.” Lobbying with Zero Hour on July 19th was such an impactful experience, and I truly learned a lot from the young people who are part of that organization. They partnered with several climate justice organizations, like the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement, and presented the Sunrise Movement’s pledge to their legislators in hopes that they would sign it and refuse campaign money from fossil fuel corporations. They are proving that not only do young people belong in politics, but their voices are just as important as everyone else’s. The Zero Hour team are some of the most amazing, passionate, and empowering youth I have met and the impact they had on Congress that day was palpable. They aren’t done fighting, but they are just beginning with a movement that will bring real and necessary change to our world. While other environmental movements aren’t yet as diverse, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to participate with Zero Hour because they give me hope for a future of not only environmentalism but all activism truly will be intersectional.

We need to uplift the voices of immigrants and refugees whose families are being forced to flee because of the climate crisis. We need to uplift the voices of people who live in areas where their air and water are being polluted. We need to uplift the voices of youth, like those involved in Zero Hour, who are fighting against corporations and politicians who don’t have the interests of the people at heart.

Anna Peichel is a Political Science major with a focus in gender and public policy and Communication minor at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. She is the Feminist Social Justice Coordinator at the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) at CSB, where she coordinates campus programs and events dedicated to advocating social justice through a feminist lens. Through her work with the IWL, she brought body-positive activist Jessamyn Stanley to campus. Anna is also the president of the gender and sexuality education club PRiSM. She is a fierce advocate for intersectional feminism, a crazy cat lady, and a lover of traveling.