Close this search box.

Conversations on Just Transition and COP21


In August 2015, grassroots communities of color came together in Bellingham at the first Just Transition Assembly in our region. We explored the framework of a Just Transition, one that re-imagines a just and sustaining world as we transition away from the systems of capitalism and fossil fuel economies. Just Transition focuses on using solutions offered by communities that have been most exploited. Seven months later, leaders from the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a national alliance of grassroots groups were in Bellingham for their executive conference. Got Green and Community to Community Development held a community event with these leaders to continue the conversation about Just Transition. Those who had gone to Paris also shared their analysis of the COP21. Many attendees of last summer’s Just Transition Assembly were present at this event, including folks who drove up from Seattle.

The Speakers

The event began, as we start many of our events, with a meal together. Edgar Franks, Civic Engagement Program Coordinator at Community to Community Development introduced the speakers. The talk was facilitated by Rosalinda Guillen, the Executive Director of Community to Community Development. The speakers were:

  • Jose Bravo, Director of the Just Transition Alliance and member of the steering committee of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Jose’s talk focused on the importance of labor and community working together to create change.
  • Cindy Weisner, Executive Director of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Her sharing really brought out the importance of local grassroots movements building alliance with international grassroots movements.
  • Helena Wong, National Organizer at  Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and also founding member of the US Chapter of the World March of Women mainly shared the story of the founding of the World March of Women, and its stark difference from mainstream feminist organizations that are often focused on the needs of privileged white women.
  • Tom Goldtooth, Director of the Indigenous Environmental Movement. Tom’s story and experience — decades of being part of the indigenous and people of color movement against the climate crisis, revealed how corporations and those in power have set us up for a global catastrophe, making strong connections between capitalism and our climate crisis.

The Takeaways

Jose Bravo laid some historic background — how the Just Transition Assembly was formed in 1997 as a collaboration between labor and environmental activists. Frontline workers in oil, chemical and atomic energy facilities recognized they worked with toxic and unsustainable products and that’s when activists and workers began to have conversations. A collaborative agreement — a key aspect of enabling groups to work successfully — between labor unions and environmental activists began a long term relationship between these groups and the local communities. Over time, they transformed working conditions in facilities and how corporations treated the communities. The collaboration between workers and the community continues all these years later. Jose’s examples showed that there are many models for just transition, and no single model fits everywhere. He suggested that folks look at the Principles of Just Transition and then build their own model using the principles as guidelines.

Cindy Wiesner reflected on the Battle of Seattle in 1999, what she called a historic moment in the radical movement; and the founding of GGJA as a part of that anti-globalization movement. The vision was to strengthen the movement in the US by ensuring that people of color lead it, united with working class white people; but also in relationship with international movements facing neo-liberalism, imperialism, patriarchy and capitalism.

During the World Social Forum in 2002 at Porto Alegre, the founders of GGJ met global counterparts who had the same radical analysis but had managed to develop a larger movement while maintaining their radical grassroots policies. These international groups questioned them — what were US activists doing about the US military occupation of their countries, the war, and the lack of binding climate accords? From this interaction, GGJ recognized the responsibility to connect with injustices outside of the US and building grassroots internationalism. GGJ helped create the US Social Forum in 2007 bringing together social movements that don’t usually work together.

This year, GGJ is focused on deepening the conversations of what Just Transition means in communities and building momentum of the It Takes Roots delegation at the World Social Forum. They want to align with the unique perspectives of other movements like #BlackLivesMatter and Not1More, to bring the best of the political demands of the movement of movements together.

Helena Wong shared  insights on the forming of the US Chapter of the World March of Women, a global feminist action network, which started in 1995 in Quebec as a 17-mile march that centered the voices of women in poverty. The march was so successful that women around the world decided to make it a movement with an international call to action every five years. The leadership body is now in Mozambique, as a commitment to leadership of women in the global south, particularly Africa. The WMW has four main fields of action — peace and demilitarization; women’s economic autonomy; commons and public services; and violence against women.

Leaders of the World March of Women approached GGJ to start a US chapter, who hesitated because there were already so many women’s organizations in the US. Looking closer, GGJ saw that the existing women’s organizations did not match the analysis and goals of the World March of Women, nor were they inclusive of the diversity of feminism. Further, some people in the women’s movement say transgender women are not women, and trans, queer and gender nonconforming people are not part of the women’s movement, which of course, Helena and the GGJ reject entirely. Lastly, the US groups did not have a perspective of grassroots internationalism. A really relevant example was at the world social forum, where women asked if Hillary Clinton is a feminist, why was she bombing their country? It was important to say that Hillary Clinton didn’t represent US feminism, which is aligns with what women are fighting for around the world. And so the new US chapter, the 65th in the world, was formed. Their theme this year is “Fight The Right” – a challenge the right-wing’s oppressive attacks on women.

Tom Goldtooth gave deep context on the framework of climate justice and a blunt report back of what the Paris accord actually means for indigenous and grassroot communities.

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) has been a part of the environmental and racial justice movements since back in the late 1980s. Native people stood with people of color, looking at environmental protection and at how federal and state laws were not protecting their communities, which were the first to be contaminated by environmental hazards. There are disproportionate impacts and locations of toxic waste facilities and extractive industry near these communities, which are also the last to get cleaned up. In the early 1990s, they developed the analysis against imperialism, militarization, colonization and capitalism and what Tom called the ‘privatization of nature.’

Listening to Tom’s narrative of the history of the UN’s Conference of Parties was a painful eye-opener. From the late 1990s, when the science was already pointing to the urgent need for the planet to reduce combustion of fossil fuel, the outcomes were continually far short of what really needed to happen. This was because powerful countries, especially the US, negotiated for treaties with no legal binding. The US sent 60-90 delegates, while small nations could barely afford to send one delegate. When these small nations pressed for binding agreements, the US would threaten to withdraw financial aid. Further, indigenous nations had to get accredited as non-governmental organizations to participate while the World Bank and the church were granted the status of nations.

The most recent COP21 is full of market solutions like mitigation and carbon offsets which are in truth, false solutions. Tom notioned that the Paris Agreement is another coverup for continuing the capitalistic agenda — privatization of the earth’s resources. To counter it we have to change the way we live and organize at the grassroots level en masse.

Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community closed the evening by saying that these discussions bring the community together for the important work of talking about the reality. It’s difficult to come up with a quick, simple solution and that’s the whole point — to make it complex, difficult, illegal and costly to be able address and mitigate what is coming. She said to make it simple, we must call attention in every way, to these injustices that build up.

Moving Forward

As a movement, it’s important that we learn from the work of leaders who’ve laid the foundation for our next steps. As we move toward a just transition away from fossil fuels, we must keep these lessons close to our hearts and embed them into our work. We need to learn from our mistakes and our victories and build on them. The struggles of our communities are one and while we tackle them in different ways, our liberation comes only when we are all free and in harmony with each other and the planet.