This month, the Movement for Black Lives launched a new nationwide agenda called the Red Black and Green New Deal that seeks to address the climate crisis primarily through investing in black and indigenous communities. During their inaugural climate summit on May 11th, the organizers spoke about the need for a climate agenda that specifically centers on black and indigenous communities when designing solutions to the climate crisis.
Chief among the reasons for this initiative is the fact that these communities are least responsible for causing climate change yet most harmed by its consequences. Organizers at the summit spoke about the clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the oil refineries and dumps built in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, and the millions of low-wage workers at the frontlines of natural disasters and working dangerous jobs for coal producers and oil companies.
Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, also spoke about how this climate crisis was started because of racist policies and practices. During the summit, Chatterjee argued:
“Rich, white communities made it pretty clear that they didn’t want this dirty stuff [oil pipelines, coal plants, etc.] so what happened is people with power looked around and said, ‘Where can we put it?’ And they put it in black communities. Without racism, we would not be in a climate crisis. Without colonialism, we would not be in a climate crisis.”
Racist policies and colonialist attitudes enabled these harmful fossil fuel industries to flourish when they otherwise would have been held back by the fact that nobody wants a potentially explosive oil pipeline or a toxic waste-generating facility in their backyard.
The Climate Crisis Is a Threat Multiplier
Pollution, toxic waste, disappearing natural resources, and intensifying natural disasters are enough reason on their own to feel a sense of urgency about this issue, but the organizers behind the Red Black and Green (RBG) New Deal also pointed out how the climate crisis makes other injustices and vulnerabilities faced by black and indigenous communities worse.
Valencia Gunder, the organizing lead on the RBG New Deal and executive director of Make the Homeless Smile, explains what it means to call the climate crisis a threat multiplier:
“We have under-resourced populations that are literally under stress all the time: state violence, no access to food, no access to education. They don’t have access to evacuate and then the shocker hits them: a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake. These types of things end up happening to our communities often. But to prepare for a disaster, it’s a lot of money.”
Communities have already been made vulnerable by racist policies and chronic, generational injustices that have deprived black and indigenous communities of land, of safe, well-paying jobs, of quality education, and so many other resources.
By the time a natural disaster hits, these communities are already too under-resourced to prepare for them. They can’t afford to evacuate. By the time the long-term health effects of unclean drinking water or unclean air are made known, these communities are too poor to move somewhere else.
The 6 Pillars of the Red Black and Green New Deal
The need for the new initiative was born out of a recognition that many of the existing climate policy proposals fail to include the in-depth structural changes that are really needed and fail to acknowledge the disproportionate impact the climate crisis has on communities of color around the world.
Thenjiwe McHarris, a leading organizer behind the RBG New Deal and co-founder of Team Blackbird, argues, “We must no longer fight for the reforms that don’t address suffering or structural change. These are crumbs designed to maintain the way the world is structured.”
So how does this new climate agenda seek to address this crisis and what does it mean to center on black and indigenous communities in climate policies? In the words of Keya Chatterjee:
“We are going to give the microphone and the power to the people who we have made vulnerable here and around the world through policy. We have made them vulnerable. Sometimes we talk about vulnerable people, but they didn’t get that way by accident. Policy made them vulnerable, and policy can make them not vulnerable.”
The new climate agenda is doing this through a series of clear policy demands and movement-building efforts that are divided into six pillars:
Pillar 1: Water
People need clean, safe water to survive. We also need clean, healthy oceans to support independent fishers and to maintain the balance of our global ecosystem. To that end, the RBG New Deal includes a constitutionally protected human right to water and an end to deep-water fracking and drilling.
Pillar 2: Energy
Our dependence on fossil fuels is destroying the planet and hurting communities. A widespread restructuring of our energy infrastructure to become fully sustainable is a necessity. The RBG New Deal proposes that the government should fully divest from fossil fuels and instead invest that money in black communities in the form of natural disaster preparation, job retraining, and improved access to essential resources.
Pillar 3: Land
Land is a central point of the climate agenda. Black and indigenous communities have been displaced and the lands they live on are being destroyed by fracking, logging, mining, and unsustainable industrial agriculture.
The RBG New Deal envisions a reparations program that returns stolen land to indigenous communities and provides land as part of reparations for slavery and generations of racism and injustice aimed at black communities. With more land in the care of black and indigenous communities, it can be protected and renewed through more sustainable practices.
Pillar 4: Labor
As Valencia Gunder explained during the summit, preparing for natural disasters and rebuilding stronger, sustainable communities requires money. Safe, clean jobs that pay living wages are key to generating the income needed for these communities to restore their neighborhoods and better protect themselves against floods, hurricanes, and other disasters.
The RBG New Deal has a comprehensive labor agenda to achieve a sustainable, dignified future that includes a universal basic income, heavy investment in infrastructure jobs to repair and upgrade broken-down infrastructure and expand renewable energy like wind and solar. It also includes policy recommendations for greater safety standards and better protections for workers’ rights.
Pillar 5: Economy
Our current economy depends on fossil fuels, industrial agricultural, and other harmful practices that we can’t continue to rely on in the future. To that end, the RBG New Deal envisions a new global economy built on renewable energy, clean and modern infrastructure, safe jobs that provide livable wages, and investments in black-owned businesses.
Pillar 6: Democracy
During the summit, the organizers spoke of a “radical democracy” which challenges our current neoliberal democracy by emphasizing equality, equity, justice, and freedom. By empowering the people to build a more representative government—one where money can’t be used by the wealthy to exert an outsized influence on policymakers—we will be better able to take on the handful of corporations who are building pipelines, fracking in protected lands, and devastating our natural resources.
The RBG New Deal includes universal and automatic voter registration, better protections for voting rights and other civic rights, and national, enforceable human rights standards.
What’s Ahead for the Red Black and Green New Deal?
After the inaugural summit this week, the Movement for Black Lives will be hosting a number of free educational events and meetings to organize and mobilize a nationwide movement. This includes weekly Black Climate Wednesdays that dive deeper into each of the six pillars and provide a space for those who are interested in making an impact to collaborate on strategies for making the policy ideas in the agenda a reality.
In the words of Thenjiwe McHarris:
“We must recognize that our power, our strength is not just in the millions. We’re at the point where we’re in the billions. The challenge ahead of us is how organized can we get.”
Those who want to get organized and fight for climate justice can check out the RBG New Deal Toolkit for resources and suggestions for getting started.
You can also watch the full recording of the inaugural summit here: