What COVID-19 Teaches Us
Climate impacts us wherever we live, work, study, and play in Washington State. The compounding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic further reveal that the systems we have created to deal with daunting challenges related to health, the economy, and justice are neither sustainable nor equitable. The measure of health impacts and available remedies during the COVID-19 crisis follow a similar pattern to climate and environmental injustices:
How you’re impacted is a factor of both exposure, whether to the virus or the economic fallout, and pre-existing vulnerabilities like healthcare access, existing health conditions, race and language discrimination, and lack of employment or savings. These conditions are the result of historic and persistent institutional racism and systemic inequity.
Accelerating a Just Transition
Front and Centered has been organizing for this moment. Our Principles for Environmental and Climate Justice provide guideposts for how we do our work. Racial and economic analysis, such as the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map, should drive decisions. We follow the leadership, knowledge, and expertise of communities disproportionately impacted. We pursue targeted strategies for communities of color and Indigenous people that create net environmental and economic outcomes for everyone, and we have our eyes set not just on piecemeal change, but a truly Just Transition. (Read more about the Just Transition framework.)
Our new report, Accelerating a Just Transition in Washington State: Climate Justice Strategies from the Frontlines, is intended to guide the Front and Centered coalition and our allies as we consider where to focus our work.
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The Front and Centered Approach
As always, our approach begins with outreach and discussions with people most impacted by the issues through grassroots organizations rooted in communities of color doing direct listening and organizing. We strive for action on all fronts on the solutions we really need. We seek to transition away from an extractive, exploitative society to a future where our communities and the earth are healed and thriving, our people have dignified work and the building blocks of opportunity and prosperity, and our government values, respects, and represents us. We are working for sovereignty, resilience, and self-sufficiency for our communities so that future generations can thrive. We strive to make racial inequities on all issues a thing of the past, and to ensure that people of color and indigenous people are at the forefront of building equitable, democratic systems and policies that work for their communities.
Washington State’s Just Transition requires action in four key areas:
While not historically the focus of climate work, these four areas are necessary conditions for achieving climate goals.
Washington State is at a pivotal moment. While we are winning small battles to shift our economy off extractive resources, we are losing communities to displacement, life expectancy to air pollution, and our future to climate change. The solutions that will allow us to break from business as usual are those that prioritize equity. We must temper the urge to put all our resources toward short-term wins based on what is politically possible right now, and instead illuminate the full potential of where we can go if we pull together for a truly Just Transition.
How do our members advance key Just Transition goals?
Below are three examples of the work our members do to advance a Just Transition. You can also learn more about our many coalition members here.
Below are three examples of the work our members do to advance a Just Transition.
Na'ah Illahee Fund
We believe that communities disproportionately impacted by an issue or problem are best able to identify effective and equitable solutions. Through its work toward the regeneration of Indigenous communities, the Na’ah Illahee Fund exemplifies this vision of a democratic, localized, participatory system of self-governance and resource management.
An Indigenous women-led organization, the Na’ah Illahee Fund uses grantmaking, capacity-building, and culturally-grounded leadership and organizing to seek transformative change. In 2020, they started building the Sovereign Futures Green Infrastructures Leadership Society, which aims to support community-led solutions through project-based learning to address the ongoing impacts of climate change and racial inequity.
This visionary cohort of rural and urban Indigenous leaders is building and developing skills, learning organizing strategies, and forming deep alliances with each other and the broader tribal community. Each participant will create their own community-based solution around issues including environmental restoration, food sovereignty, and a regenerative economy, and then get assistance amplifying their unique plans.
RESTORE COMMUNITY CONNECTION TO PLACE
Africatown Community Land Trust
As in many other American cities, the racist practice of redlining helped shape Seattle’s Central District by blocking Black homeownership throughout much of the rest of the city for decades. The majority Black Central District became a dynamic and thriving neighborhood despite this challenge, but gentrification has been relentless, disrupting history, families, and generational wealth. Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) works for community ownership of land in the Central District that can support the cultural and economic thriving of people who are part of the African diaspora in the Greater Seattle region.
The ACLT board includes local real estate professionals, entrepreneurs, and long-time community members and their collective work embodies a core Front and Centered strategy of returning community connection to place. The ACLT employs a land trust model in which a buyer purchases a house below market rate, but with the requirement that if they sell the house, they must also sell at below market rate to make the home affordable to the next buyer. In one example of this approach, the Yakima Avenue Townhomes project will offer ten of sixteen new units well below market rate. Black subcontractors, who often find themselves marginalized and sidelined during Seattle’s historic construction boom, are invited to offer bids in the process.
The ACLT also informs the community about ways to keep or diversify their properties, including using property as a stream of income to help afford increasing property taxes. These efforts aim to make home ownership accessible to communities of color that historically called this neighborhood home or wish to live across the Seattle region.
TRANSITION TO RENEWABLE RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Puget Sound Sage
In order for humanity to survive climate change, we must transition away from an extractive, fossil-fuel based economy towards a human-centered economy powered by renewable energy. Puget Sound Sage knows that the expertise, decision-making, and leadership of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and low-income communities are critical to the success of the effective policy-making needed to guide our region through these transformative times.
Puget Sound Sage conducted authentic outreach to hear directly from hundreds of community members about climate change, renewable energy, transportation, housing, utilities, and more. Their report, Powering the Transition: Community Priorities For a Renewable and Equitable Future, is a compilation and analysis of what they learned about our community’s top energy policy priorities.
One of these priorities is the need to make large-scale new investments in public infrastructure that promote carbon emissions reduction, support good, family wage jobs, and provide a direct benefit to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-income households, as well as people with disabilities. The challenges of the COVID pandemic required that immediate safety nets be put in place. Puget Sound Sage is also focused on what comes next: collective action and crafting policy that will lead us towards a regenerative, people-centered economy.