Finding My Place as a Climate Justice Activist
About the Author: Hodan Hassan is a Climate Justice Organizer for Got Green. She gained skills as a political organizer while working on group of college and university campuses as a Washington Bus Fellow.
I was an underemployed college graduate looking for a job when I was invited to be part of the Climate Justice Committee, organized by Puget Sound Sage and Got Green. I had never really thought about climate-related work. I was much more concerned with racism and I wanted to work mostly organizing with black communities. Climate was not my thing and I didn’t see the connection between a warming climate and the immediate challenges facing my community and other communities of color, but I said yes.
In our first committee meeting, I was in a room full of young people of color from all backgrounds. We immediately started talking about climate change: what it is, what it isn’t and what it means to live in the kinds of environments that many people of color live in around our country.
Still, I wasn’t ready to punch my ticket to “climate justice activist land” just yet.
As a black Muslim woman living in the United States, in my mind, there were things that were much more pressing than climate change. And to be honest, every time I had ever heard the words climate change, I still couldn’t relate.
Then a fellow committee member explained to me how climate threatens our livelihoods, especially as communities of color. I learned that a majority of African Americans live near coal plants and other polluting industries, which hurts their health while contributing to climate change.
This was when I realized that climate justice was an important journey that I wanted to be part of.
Led by young adults and people of color, Got Green is a grassroots organization that promotes movement towards an equitable, green economy as a strategy for fighting poverty and global warming.
I served as a member of the Climate Justice Committee for five months, learning new information every day, like how the environments where we live impact our health and opportunities. I was also growing as an organizer, working with different people on how to engage communities of color in climate work. In June 2015 the opportunity to work for Got Green as their climate justice organizer presented itself.
Within Got Green I can incorporate all of the passions I care about under the umbrella of climate justice work. I can be a black Muslim woman who is concerned about racial disparities while also working on climate-related issues to prevent displacement of communities of color from things like a lack of preparedness to extreme weather events and inequitable development.
Last year, Got Green launched the Climate Justice Project, a community-based participatory research project surveying individuals and communities about their climate change priorities. This project, contracted by the City of Seattle’s Equity and Environment Initiative, found that only 24 percent of participants thought people of color and low income people are most impacted by climate change. This tells us that the current climate activist narrative is not working. We are not talking about climate change in a way that’s culturally relevant to people of color.
Here at Got Green we are working to change that.
Like with our most recent work as a project partner with El Centro de la Raza. As a result of receiving an Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Cooperative Agreement from the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, we will be assisting El Centro to improve the environmental health of the Beacon Hill neighborhood through educational outreach, engagement and capacity building.
It is projects like these where we start by localizing the impacts and connecting people of color to what’s going on in our communities so that people, like me, can see themselves in climate work.
And it is this work that has taught me that only through an inclusive and diverse movement can we truly hope to ensure all people are protected from a warming and destabilizing climate.
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