Personal Reflection on Race in the Climate Movement, Part 3

As we begin to round out Black History Month and ClimatePlan’s series of personal essays on identity and climate (here are Moiz’s and Nicole’s), I’ve been reflecting on why transportation justice is so important to me. I came to ClimatePlan, after years of organizing around various environmental justice issues. Early in my organizing career, I learned the difference between environmentalism and environmental justice the hard way. Once, I sat through a meeting where people named trees by their scientific names but asked me for a nickname because ‘Nailah’ was too difficult. I heard predominantly white communities advocate to preserve land for birds but were silent about waste treatment centers sited next to me and my BIPOC neighbors. What always floored me was these two different worlds were often separated by a road. 


For me, fighting for environmental justice meant I needed to take on traditional environmentalism and structural racism. So I took my passion and frustration, bottled it up, and started organizing. One of the first campaigns I was involved with was restoring bus service in South Sacramento. A few months into this campaign, Oscar Grant was killed by BART Police in Oakland, California. He was 22; I was 21. The Fruitvale BART Station was within walking distance of where I had just moved from in Oakland. This experience was a core memory in my advocacy, I was advocating for more public transit while seeing my equal was killed using public transit. It created this lasting memory and a deep desire to see my people get to where they need to go.


The more and more I do this work, the more I come to understand how complicit our roads are in the murdering of Black and Brown bodies. It's maddening. How often do we have to hear about routine traffic stops, jaywalking, or how simply running or walking in a neighborhood can lead to death? For far too many BIPOC people, concrete and asphalt are the last thing they will see in their lifetimes. 


If it's not the enforcement and preservation of our roads, it's the construction of them that displace low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately. Our roads are complicit in the taking of land, stifling generational wealth, and dividing of communities. If not the construction of our roads, it's the pollution from cars on the roads and the lack of policies to protect and monitor air quality in low-income communities and communities of color. Again, our roads, our lack of intentionality, and our negligence in building proper infrastructure are all complicit in the murdering of Black and Brown bodies. Every misplaced crosswalk, stop sign, or traffic signal can be used as a tool for death. Where a road is built can grant or deny access to various opportunities for generations of families. 


Now, I'm not saying roads themselves are the problem. I’m saying roads, like any other resource, can be used as tools for oppression. It is not that I don't see value in highways, streets, and roads; I just want streets and roads that connect us. I want neighborhoods that are accessible. I want options and versatility in how I move through a city. I want bike paths, sidewalks, public transportation options. I want shade trees and clean air. I want pathways in my neighborhood that leads to park and outdoor spaces. I want to get to my destination in the most peaceful, healthy way possible, and I want that for EVERYONE. 


With all that in mind and in my heart, I’m happy to announce that I will be serving on the Interagency Equity Advisory Committee created by the California State Transportation Agency, CA Department of Transportation, and the California Transportation Commission. I am also a member of the Board of Directors for America Walks and California Walks. In these spaces, I hope to use my lived experience and professional expertise to help more people get to where they want to go. 


In the meantime, As I say to anyone and everyone leaving my house, get home safe and text me when you get there.


As a team of people of color in the climate movement, the ClimatePlan team is conscious of how race and ethnicity impact our work. Often, during team meetings, we find ourselves discussing how to handle microaggressions or how it feels to be the only POC in the room. After the recent comments from some LA City Council members, we felt obligated to say something but were exasperated that we had to. We settled on giving each team member space to share their personal experience about subtle and not-so-subtle ways our identities are challenged in the climate movement.  We invite you to read this series with an open mind and open heart.

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