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Our Power climate gathering builds ‘roots to weather the storm’

Members of the Asia Pacific Environment Network march in Richmond, Calif. on August 9. (Flickr / Malena Mayorga)

Members of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network march in Richmond, Calif. on August 9. (Flickr / Malena Mayorga)

Earlier this month, over 400 people from across the country headed to Richmond, Calif. for the Our Power National Convening — a gathering initiated by the Climate Justice Alliance, or CJA, which is a national campaign to bring about a just transition towards economic and environmental justice. Participants came from CJA partner and member organizations for four days of workshops and strategy sessions, culminating in a day of action on Saturday, August 9.

Combining locally-rooted grassroots solutions and movement-building strategies with shared national vision and messaging, these member organizations collectively form what CJA calls a translocal strategy for climate justice. The campaign intends to accomplish two broad goals: end the era of extreme energy and implement a just transition to local, living economies. For Our Power, this means prioritizing the vision and leadership of communities historically on the frontlines of extraction, climate change and the negative impacts of the current economic system.

While this is Our Power’s first national convening, the campaign officially launched last summer with a smaller strategy gathering in Arizona led and hosted by the Black Mesa Water Coalition. This past June — in the midst of the current water crisis — the East Michigan Environmental Council and CJA held a similar convening in Detroit that primarily brought together youth and young adults.

In Richmond, Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network have been organizing against the 112-year old, 3,000 acre Chevron Refinery responsible for both a deadly 2012 explosion and decades of toxic seepage into area air, water and politics. Fittingly, the last day of the convening revolved around a march from the Kinder Morgan Railyard, a center of crude oil transportation, to a festival of community stories and solutions along the Richmond Greenway. Like Our Power itself, the day of action was intended to highlight both the scale of Chevron’s destruction and the potential for scaling up community-led solutions in Richmond — key components of the campaign’s just transition framework.

Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan is a co-chair of CJA and a core member of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, which helped to develop Our Power’s just transition framework. As she pointed out, “Transition [away from fossil fuels] is inevitable, but justice is not.” CJA, then, sees a just transition as “not just shifting the energy systems,” but involving “a whole shift in the way we live, the way we organize to meet our needs — the way we foster economy.”

The convening is also just over a month from what may well be the United States’ largest ever climate demonstration: the People’s Climate March on September 23 in New York City. CJA has been a leader in planning the march and has also been preparing for the People’s Climate Justice Summit from September 17-24, a four-day gathering in New York centering on the grassroots solutions and resistance of indigenous peoples, people of color and working-class communities. Part of last week’s strategizing involved CJA member organizations and allies discussing how best to engage these communities with the prospective quarter million person gathering in a way that builds long-term power.

According to Mascarenhas-Swan, “We’re about changing the face of the climate movement because the communities on the frontlines of the crisis are engaged — not just in showing up in the streets, but actually leading the deep organizing that it’s going to take to make the transformations necessary in our economy to address climate change.”

Our Power’s new tagline, then, is fitting: “It Takes Roots to Weather the Storm.” This fall, Our Power will lay down even more roots by continuing to work with additional partner communities. The next year will be an exciting one for the climate movement, and perhaps one in which gatherings like this become more common.

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