Non-White Environmentalists to Become Your New Idols

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Anyone ever notice that the face of sustainability in media is pretty damn white?

This is an issue that’s bothered me for a while now, but I just haven’t known what to do about it. How did the environmental movement get such a white public image? Especially when indigenous communities in the US have been fierce protectors of the environment long before the modern environmental movement.

Despite being bothered by this issue most of the people I follow online in relation to sustainability are white. I realized I needed to find some new environmentalist role models to follow and I imagined a lot of other people, particularly members of other racial minorities, might be feeling the same way.

So, to help myself and everyone else feeling the same way I’ve compiled this list of non-white American environmentalists. As a note, I’m focusing on Americans since that is where I am from and I don’t see it as my place to comment on representation in the movement in other countries.

Dominique Drakeford

Dominique Drakeford is a black environmental activist, influencer, and writer  in Brooklyn with a focus on fashion and beauty. MelaninASS, which stands for melanin and sustainable style, is her website that serves as a hub for all things related to sustainable fashion and black and indigenous people of color. The site features profiles of people of color who have started sustainable fashion brands as well as providing practical advice for consumers about beauty and wellness. Dominique also co-founded the Sustainable Brooklyn symposium series, a series of conferences held in Brooklyn that discusses sustainability and climate justice.

Follow Drakeford on Twitter and Instagram

Stephen Steele

Stephen Steele is a black fashion entrepreneur and the founder of Kind Socks, a company that makes socks that are not only sustainable and ethical but colorful, stylish, and fun. Fueled by a personal love of socks and passion for sustainability Steele was disappointed that he couldn’t find socks that were both sustainable and fashionable. Kind Socks are created with responsibly sourced organic cotton and manufactured in a safe working environment with fair wages.

Follow Steele and Kind Socks on Instagram

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is perhaps one of the biggest names in environmental activism in the US right now. She earned her seat in the House of Representatives in a historic race against Joe Crowley, who’d held his seat for 10 terms, the results of the race made national news and she became the youngest women in congress at age 29 and of the few Hispanic members. Since then she’s worked hard to protect this planet and created the highly influential Green New Deal, a plan that showed how the US could move towards a new sustainable society in under 10 years. The plan received massive media coverage and whether or not democratic presidential candidates support it has become a key issue for voters.

Follow Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram and Twitter

Jamie Margolin

Jamie Margolin is still in high school yet she has not let class get in the way of being a Latina activist bad ass! She is the founder and director of the Zero Hour youth climate movement, an organization that has organized several large, influential youth climate action campaigns. She has spoken at over 20 conferences this past year about climate change and has even testified before congress on the issue.

Follow Jamie on Twitter and Instagram

Elizabeth Yeampierre

Elizabeth Yeampierre is the current director of UPROSE, the oldest Latino community organization in Brooklyn that aims to create intergenerational, multicultural, community-led change for climate justice. She has so many impressive accomplishments I really just cannot list them all in this post, but here are just a few: spoke at the White House Forum on Environmental Justice, founded the NYC Climate Justice Youth Summit, has served as the Dean of Puerto Rican Students at Yale University, spoke at Pope Francis’s Climate Change Rally, and helped lead the 2015 People’s Climate March mobilization which had over 400,000 participants.

Follow Yeampierre on Twitter

Youheum Son

Youheum Son is an extreme minimalist, sustainability, and wellness content creator of Korean descent. Her youtube videos alone have pulled in over 8 million views and she also runs a blog ,creates digital workbooks, and works as a life coach. If you’re searching for inspiration to become more sustainable, minimalist, or improve your wellbeing Youheum’s content is a great place to start.

Follow Son on Youtube, Instagram, and her website

Miya Yoshitani

Miya Yoshitani is the executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network which works with Asian, immigrant, and refugee communities across the state of California. She started working in community organizing at a young age as Greenpeace canvasser in Chicago and hasn’t slowed down since. She attended the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit where she helped draft the original Principles of Environmental Justice which has laid the groundwork for the movement since.

Follow Yoshitani on Twitter

Klee Benally

Klee Benally is a Navajo media maker and activist who has been a key part in the founding of a number of organizations protecting the environment and indigenous peoples. Currently based in Flagstaff, Arizona he is the lead singer of a Navajo punk rock band Blackfire and is in charge of strategic planning and training for Indigenous Action Media. He has produced a number of short films and has helped establish several other activist organizations including Protect the Peaks, Haul No!, and Táala Hooghan Infoshop.

Follow Benally on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and his website

Dallas Goldtooth

Dallas Goldtooth is a Dakota activist and campaign coordinator for the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Keep it in the Ground initiative. He has been especially vocal regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and more generally putting an end to the use of fossil fuels. He is also a Dakota language and culture educator and facilitates workshops in non-violent direct action. Additionally he is the founder of an indigenous comedy group called the 1491’s and believes humor is a powerful way to address life’s problems.

Follow Goldtooth on Twitter and Instagram

Brett Isaac

Brett Isaac has a story that may surprise you, his Navajo community had been relying on revenue and financial support from a coal plant on their land for nearly three generations. When it was announced that the plant would be shutting down it was tough for the community to decide what to do, but Issaac helped lead the change to solar. He wanted his community to get involved in solar in part because it aligns much better with Navajo philosophy. The tribe has so far built two solar facilities and is working on a third. Brett has continued to help bring solar power to indigenous communities across the nation through his current work with Navajo Power.

Read more about Isaac’s work here.

Wrap-Up

I hope reading through this list was as inspiring to you all as it was for me to make it! I did my best to represent a variety of racial and ethnic identities in this post but of course I haven’t been able to represent everyone.

I’d also like to make it known that by writing this post I don’t mean to throw shade at white people at all, I have no issues with white people being in the movement. I want as many people to take up the cause as possible regardless of race. However, I also want to acknowledge and showcase the amazing work being done by under represented groups.

Who are your environmental idols? Would you be interested in lists featuring environmentalists of other under represented identities? (i.e. not race but sexuality, ability etc.) Let me know in the comments!

The Global Climate Strike in Athens, Ohio

Collage made with Canva

THE GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE IS HERE!!!

Hello! The day has finally come, people have come out all across the world at over 4,500 strikes globally and over 1,000  just in the US. Over 250,000 people have taken to the streets in New York City alone.

What exactly is this global climate strike anyways? How did it start?

It begins in 2018 with the one and only Greta Thunberg. Greta did not go to school from August 20th until September 9th in 2018 to protest climate change on the steps of the Swedish parliament. After this initial period of striking, she continued to strike every Friday.

At first, the lawmakers she had been seeing daily, then weekly, ignored her. But as other children began to join her in the Swedish capitol and the school strikes spread internationally she began to grab the attention of world leaders. She was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where she gave a speech with the famous words “Our house is on fire.”

Since then, she has been catapulted onto the global stage as THE leading climate change activist and face of the growing school strike movement #fridaysforthefuture.

So, today is the Global Climate Strike. Youth have been striking internationally for over a year, and today the rest of us are urged to join them.

All of this, is what led up to my stomach full of butterflies as I rode my bike to the Village Bakery in Athens for our local climate strike.

I was feeling oddly anxious. What if it’s massive and overwhelming? What if no one comes and it’s depressing? What if, somehow, someone knows about something unsustainable I’ve done and yells at me? What if I don’t know anyone?!

I know that none of those things are the point of the Climate Strike, and I felt a bit selfish for being so in my head. I did my best to shake off the anxiety and focus on thinking about the planet as I pulled my bike into the bustling parking lot out front of Village Bakery.

The Athens, OH climate strikers gathered outside Village Bakery.

I was relieved to see a moderate turnout. The parking lot was filled with booths from the prominent local environmental groups, bicycles, pot luck food, and of course, people. It took me a little while, but I eventually got into the social mood and began talking to acquaintances and new folks alike.

The main activities of the local strike are as follows:

  • “Flash Mob” Tree Planting
  • Potluck Brunch
  • T-Shirt-Making
  • Press Conference
  • Walk and roll march culminating at the courthouse

How was it you ask? Honestly, pretty amazing.

First major activity was tree planting. A local landscaping company (whose name I’ve forgotten or I would surely recognize them) was kind enough to donate trees and plants as well as instruct the strikers who volunteered to plant. Before we made the four block trip to Factory Street Dance Studio, the local charity whose lawn we planted on, a striker from the Athens Justice Choir taught us environmental songs.

One of many trees planted in the Factory Street Studio yard

As the last few strikers returned to the bakery from planting, the press conference was getting ready to start. I took the opportunity to get some free t-shirts made while I had time.

A local business was actually screen printing environmentalist sayings and logos onto used shirts donated by a local thrift store. I absolutely loved this, as I’ve wanted a shirt to show my support for the planet for a while but was definitely not going to buy anything new. The shirt on the left is actually a boxy t-shirt dress and I picked it up to wear as a nightgown, the one on the right is just a normal tee I plan to wear around that will hopefully help start some conversations.

The press conference only had one press outlet filming. But there were a handful of photographers and reporters from student publications reporting as well. Various sustainability leaders from the community stood up to give empowering speeches to the assembled crowd. To see and hear the stories of so many dedicated activists was truly inspiring.

Finally, to wrap up our day we had our “walk and roll” climate march. We were split into two groups traveling alternate routes to the local courthouse, one group on foot and one on wheels. I was, of course, on my bicycle and I must say we had the best time hooting and hollering as we rolled through the streets.

Me! Getting ready to ride my bike through town.

We made sure to take up all the lanes of traffic and bike at a comfortable, not too quick, pace. There was something so fun and exhilarating about taking over the streets in an environmentalist biker gang, the whole group was practically giddy by the time we finished.

Once both groups reconvened at the courthouse we circled up for some chants. Then, it was time for strikers to take the stage, anyone who had something to say was invited to climb up onto the bench in the center of crowd and say their piece.

Climate strikers crossing the street.

About two dozen strikers decided to speak up. Many expressed appreciation for their fellow protesters, some brought attention to environmental issues not discussed in the press conference, others expressed their anger and passion, the striker from the Athens Justice Choir led us in song again.

This was my favorite part. When we were all gathered at the center of town listening to the words of fellow strikers and seeing their passion, it was inspiring. I teared up a little and felt truly hopeful.

My tears of joy explained why I was so anxious in the morning. As much as I wanted to lend my voice to the strike, I was also relying on the strike to lift my spirits.

Most people I know aren’t active about or interested in becoming active about climate change. I, as many environmentalists do, get a lot of people who think what I’m doing isn’t worth it or outright silly. It is so easy to feel despondent and hopeless about climate change, but spending my morning with fellow strikers was so restorative and revitalizing.

Maybe our event was small. But dammit, we made our voices heard as loudly as possible.

The climate strike was amazing, but today is only the beginning. Today’s Friday strikes kick off a week of climate activism aimed to force the U.N. to finally take real action on climate change when they meet in New York City this Monday for the Climate Summit.

If you’re reading this, I urge you to go to an event in your city.

If there aren’t any, organize an event. Even if that event is just you and a few friends sitting outside the local courthouse with signs, look at all that just one Swedish teenager was able to inspire.

Did you attend your local climate strike or other activist events this week? Leave me a comment and tell me about the great work in you area!

What is Sustainability Lifestyle Activism?

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Impending environmental doom.

It’s an issue a lot of us are concerned about, but apart from becoming a conservation biologist or otherwise dedicating your career to the environment what is the everyday average person supposed to do?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in lifestyle activism.

Now, there is a lot of misconception about what lifestyle activism actually means, in my research for this post I found very little consensus about what actions qualify as lifestyle activism or not. The most common theme? That the term was used in a negative way and seen as lesser than true “activism”.

The problem with this is that nearly every article I found critiquing lifestyle activism failed to compare it to anything other than “activism” in a general sense, simply presuming the reader might intuit what it is exactly that the writer believed true activism to be.

Overtime, I discovered the particular brand of activism many of these critics were comparing lifestyle activism to can be more specifically defined as civic change. Activism aimed at civic change involves addressing issues through political channels and pushing through governmental policy changes. This includes actions such as voting, lobbying, attending marches, or calling your senators. Lifestyle activism includes basically everything else from posting on social media, buying activism merch, reducing personal waste, and shopping at the farmer’s market. This brand of activism aims not to create civic changes but cultural changes and engender shifts in how we live our day to day lives.

However, as I mentioned before there is very little consensus on how lifestyle activism is actually defined. I have seen both attending marches and becoming an artist who focuses on social justice both negatively referred to as lifestyle activism.

However, I just find this hate of lifestyle activists a bit confusing. What is wrong with activism becoming a part of the broader American lifestyle? Isn’t that kind of the dream? Isn’t it wonderful that it doesn’t make you an outcast to have attended a climate strike or women’s march?

Particularly when it comes to sustainability, I feel that there is a unique and strong connection to lifestyle activism with the low waste, minimalist, and plant based eating movements all becoming trendy and gaining a lot of steam. Environmentalists are more or less expected to make lifestyle changes such as having reusable water bottles, coffee cups, and shopping bags in a way feminists or other activists aren’t expected to. I’ve never seen feminists encouraging each other to ditch fast fashion so as to not take advantage of vulnerable women the way I see environmentalists ditching fast fashion so as to not take advantage of our vulnerable planet.

Isn’t it admirable to not be able to just talk the talk but walk the walk as well? If you protest fast fashion outside city hall and encourage governmental policy for sustainable clothing production it’s going to look hypocritical if you’re always shopping at Forever 21.

At the end of the day I believe that all this hate on lifestyle activism is uncalled for and unhelpful. The amount of sustainable products and alternatives that have popped up for consumers, governments, and businesses alike in the last decade is staggering. These changes can only happen if there is a public interest in and desire for sustainability, lifestyle activism is the engine that drives these cultural changes.

Now, I say none of this to detract from modes of civic activism at all. Voting is important. Lobbying is important. Calling your senators is important. I just don’t see any reason that the importance of civic activism has to detract from the power and potential of lifestyle activism.

For there to be policy changes people have to care enough to fight for those changes, and the way to get more people interested is through cultural shifts that are driven by lifestyle activism. Civic change alone isn’t going to create interest in the hearts and minds of the people.

As much as sharing posts on social media is generally considered to be the most lazy form of activism, no one would ever argue that social media hasn’t been instrumental in spreading ideology and awareness about sustainability. Sure, one individual sharing a post doesn’t change the world. But to focus on that fact completely misses the point that millions of people are posting and sharing and that does create massive cultural changes.

Take for example the video of that turtle with a straw in their nose, sure no one individual is a hero for having shared that video. But you’d have to be blind to not have noticed the sudden changes taking place after that video went viral. Coffee shops have changed the shapes of their cups to ditch the straw, some restaurants have stopped giving them out altogether, and a ton of people have begun to carry their own reusable straws.

Even the most commonly cited form of lazy and false activism has created potent, fast, and tangible changes.

Even if most people who shared that turtle video aren’t engaged in any other forms of activism does that really mean they shouldn’t have shared that video? Would the environment be better off if these folks had not shared the post?

At the end of the day, this idea that lifestyle activism is bad and civic activism is good, is just a false and oversimplified dichotomy. Both are vital and important to achieving sustainability goals and saving our planet. So, why don’t we just stop wasting time hating on people who aren’t doing activism the way we are and just focus on working together.