A Movement Moment

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We are living in a whirlwind. It began in grief over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Rayshard Brooks, and so many other Black people by police. And it’s become a movement moment,  a time when possibilities for meaningful change are opening up everywhere.  

This movement has deep roots. As long as there have been Black people in this country, there has been resistance. Over the past seven years, the Movement for Black Lives has organized across the country to demand an end to police violence and white supremacy. And now, we are once again in a moment of deep pain and rage and grief -- but one that also carries the possibility of transformative change.

The Sierra Club is committed to meeting this moment. We mobilized our members and staff to take part in massive Juneteenth rallies across the country. We added our voices to support the Movement for Black Lives’s demands: Defund the police, invest in Black communities, and get Donald Trump out of office. The board officially signed on to their platform late last week.   

Like so much in this moment, these demands might seem unprecedented or radical. (Although I’m sure we can all get behind the last one). Where did this push to defund the police come from? And why is the Sierra Club supporting it? 

It comes from recognizing that the problems with policing can’t be solved through piecemeal reforms or getting rid of “a few bad apples.” The whole barrel -- the whole system -- is rotten. We have to shift our priorities away from punishment and incarceration and toward investment in the things that actually keep communities safe, like high-quality education and housing, access to nature’s healing benefits, and mental health services. That shift in priorities will have to be accompanied by a shift in spending. Imagine a world where we always had enough money to maintain green space and public transit, because a third of our city’s budget no longer went straight into policing. 

Part of the Sierra Club's mission is to fight for safe and healthy communities -- and this includes safety from police violence. We’ve laid the groundwork to show up in this moment through decades of commitments and shifts in practices and resource allocation. The board adopted its first environmental justice policy in 1993, and a set of environmental justice principles in 2001. In 2014, we signed on to the Jemez Principles, which outlined a new way of operating. We committed to a focus on working in solidarity and building just relationships among ourselves. And just last year, we aligned ourselves with the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, a set of policies to end the climate crisis and achieve racial and economic justice. 

What’s happening now may seem unprecedented. But it’s not. It’s an extension and a deepening of the work that’s long been central to the Sierra Club -- understanding the intersections between environmental justice and racial justice -- and working to combat both. Even after this whirlwind ends, and mass protests cease to be near-daily occurrences, we will still be doing this work. 

Because we know we can’t win without defeating white supremacy. I can’t say it any better than our strategic director of partnerships, Hop Hopkins: “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.”  

I trust that many of you will be active within your own communities to demand that your local government redirect funding from the militarization of the police force into social services that prevent violence and racism and investment in Black communities and underserved populations. I count on you as allies in our struggle for equity and justice, with the understanding that this struggle is the only way that we can live up to our mission to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet for the benefit of everyone -- not just the privileged few.