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Movement Reportback: Environmental Justice and Solidarity

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Activists with a tar sands pipeline dragon during the environmental justice day of action at the G20 protests in 2010. (photo: Christian Peña)
Activists with a tar sands pipeline dragon during the environmental justice day of action at the G20 protests in 2010. (photo: Christian Peña)

 

The environmental justice movement has been distinguished by practicality as opposed to a particular ideological or tactical framework for action. This diversity was exemplified by Thursday’s panel- part of Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Month, which featured a broad range of tactics from direct action, to community organizing to put political pressure on governments, to indigenous resistance, all together on one panel, bound by a common cause.

The environmental justice movement is reacting to changes in the global political context. Brent Patterson from council of Canadians talked about the need to fight the new UN ‘green economy” which he called the “financialization and commodification of nature and the privatization of public water’.  This kind of greenwashing of high finance indicates the limits of the traditional environmental movement, and the extent to which corporations and capitalism have adapted a ‘green’ rhetoric that does nothing to change the systemic exploitation of people and nature. Raul Burbano said: "Issues of environment, of water of austerity are all inter-related. The same issues we see here are the same as you see in the south and that is why solidarity is so important.”

Ben Powless, a Mohawk photojournalist speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Environmental Network, told the audience that “First nations are beginning to lead a lot of this resistance. We’re all on the front line in some way. Of course some communities are more directly affected, but we have to find our own front line and find a way to act from our own positions, from our own privileges”. Dave Vasey spoke about how living through Walkerton’s water crisis opened his eyes to the crisis of water contamination in indigenous communities and the systemic racism that makes Walkerton newsworthy but ignores even worse water problems on reserves. “Communities take action because the they have to.” he said. “And now we in Canada have to.”

The audience included many environmental justice activists, including Ron Plain from Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, which has been described as the most polluted place in Ontario. It’s not often on the left that the question and answer period includes both people urging that struggles be channeled through the NDP, and Ron Plain talking about how when he was young he served a 6 month sentence for blocking the Gardiner expressway, and how organizers need to be honest about the kind of risks faced by protesters so that new people can make informed decisions.  But in many ways, its important to lay out the real possibilities for different kinds of action that are on the table - not a stereotype of 'diversity of tactics', but a real one that includes people who want to lobby parliament, or use UN international law, or vote NDP as well as people who want to do protests or act in solidarity with indigenous communities taking direct action.  

Environmental justice organizers are leading the way In working across political differences and taking indigenous solidairty seriously, and this panel was another example of what they have to teach to broader social movements.

 

Megan Kinch is an organizer with Mining Injustice, a member organization of the Latin American and Caribean Solidarity Network. The month of solidarity continues, check here for the schedule of events.


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Megan Kinch (Megan Kinch)
Toronto Ontario
Member since December 2009

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is a writer and editor with the Toronto Media Co-op.

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