We need a mass movement of people from different backgrounds working together in unity, calling for a complete change to the social and economic system which drives us to destroy our environment, and to be in conflict with each other.
Climate change is a direct result of the way our economic system is organised in the rich, developed countries. If we don’t address climate change, it will lead to total societal collapse everywhere.
Climate change is already affecting the lives of everyone, but impacting hardest on the frontline communities living in the Global South, and frontline communities of the Global North, and of those, first and most affected are the women who uphold those communities. Grassroots movements in these communities have long been organising to solve climate change and asking for our cooperation, but the mainstream environmental activists in the Global North (which are predominately white) have been slow to hear their call.
All of the different oppressions embedded in our societies such as sexism, racism, the oppression of young people, etc, keep people divided from each other by giving one group social and/or economic advantage over the other. One role of environmental activists based in the Global North is to look at the ways we are divided from others and find ways to build the alliances required to end climate change.
"Racism, like all oppressions, leaves everyone in a difficult place."
Sustaining All Life has developed tools which enable people to look at how they have been divided from others by various oppressions. Through using these tools white people (for example) have noticed that when they find themselves acting out racism, it tends to be because of the times when, as a young one, they witnessed racism being directed at ‘people of colour’ around them. When you’re young your mind is vulnerable, you’re learning, you expect to be respected, you expect to see others being treated with respect. An experience witnessing racism that goes unchallenged by the people around you is hurtful and sits in your mind as a confusion. If you don’t get a chance to recover from this emotionally painful and confusing experience you become vulnerable to re-enacting the racism you witnessed.
Racism, like all oppressions, leaves everyone in a difficult place. People in the oppressed group tend to feel ‘less than’, and also hurt and resentful because of the mistreatment they’ve suffered. People in the oppressor group tend to feel superior and perhaps numb, unaware or justified and defensive. Crucially it tends to leave both groups largely unable to relate to each other (within their own group or between their groups) or think clearly about themselves.
The process of recovering our ability to think clearly again in the area of racism (for example) involves being listened to, that is, having the aware relaxed attention of somebody else while you release the tensions and painful emotions from your experiences of the oppression. If you grew up experiencing racism directly it is useful to talk about the harsh effects this has had on you. If you are white, it is useful to talk about where you witnessed racism as a young one, and also any times you have found yourself re-enacting it. None of us have experienced this quality of listening fully, so in Sustaining All Life we set up listening partnerships. This is where each person is listened to without interruption for an equal amount of time. The person listening is a silent witness to whatever the speaker has to say. The listener doesn’t worry about long silences while the speaker gathers their thoughts or maybe feels emotional. The more people do this the more resilient, compassionate and skilful at building alliances with others they become, and the more ready they become to face difficult challenges like climate change.
Alima Adams, Sustaining All Life.
Note: Join the Sustaining All Life event on Global Racism, women and war.