Tag Archives: justice

New Experiences: International Anti-Oppression

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To be completely transparent: I’ve been writing, re-writing this post since I led the workshop last Friday. I find Anti-oppression to be difficult to write about and agonize over every single word trying to make it the best possible. I’ve decided it’s just time for me to be human- I can’t be prefect, so I hope that y’all understand that I did my best and I hope my desire for solidarity, justice, and understanding comes through in this post. 

After attending COP18 in Doha last year, I was left feeling like I hadn’t properly shared one of my passions, Anti-Oppression (AO) work, with the other youth that I interacted. The reason why I am so inspired to work utilizing AO is that I believe that in order to make any sort of change we must all have the ability to be heard, to act, and to make the differences that we are called to. Climate change is a particularly large problem. It interacts with every part of our lives and, as such, means that we must remember that everyone is affected by climate change, but some more so than others. In this workshop, we discussed the role that privilege and oppression take within the environmental work that we do at home and then further discussed how these concepts are seen at the COP. Even though we had youth from nine different countries, we agreed that there were vast inequalities in terms of resource distribution between countries, the sharing of leadership roles by men and women, minority groups’ communities being used as grounds for energy extraction and production sites, and also the dynamics that come into play when we consider who is able to participate in this process.

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By exploring these two concepts, we started a dialogue about how to make the International Youth Climate Movement (IYCM) a more inclusive and thoughtful group of activists. I really wanted to emphasize that tokenization (a common and unfortunate trend in environmental work) of others should be avoided at all costs not only in our media work, but in our personal interactions. In addition, I felt it important to discuss how by saying “if only more people from the global south were here” and “why don’t more people speak up” is a tokenizing experience in itself. In order to have the strongest, most justice-oriented movement as possible we must first change the systems of oppression within our structures and create more open spaces for more voices and experiences to be heard. Why would those whose voices are only asked for when people need a spokesperson for one’s identity (or assumed identity) and not accepted as a necessary participant in all conversations?

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This was the point of the training: to open a dialogue about privilege and power dynamics and to emphasize that we should not wonder why people are not in spaces, but actively work to change the way people with more privilege take up space. Seeing that impacted communities are regularly tokenized, our workshop was to explain a) what tokenizing is b) how people can recognize and check their own privilege and c) discuss simple ways to make space.

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One individual rightly asked why our workshop was targeted towards folks from Western countries and whose primary language (or are comfortable using) English and did not have marginalized peoples in the space to direct the conversation and say what their needs are. I personally think that it is not the job of a person facing discrimination or oppression to constantly give answers or lead these conversations. Why should someone be constantly confronting the various levels of oppression in their life and having every conversation revolve around it? Another fear- when talking about these systems, isn’t it helpful to remove those with privilege from the opportunity to tokenize someone by asking them for their opinion as a spokesperson for their identity or to attempt being validated as not being [insert word here]-ist?

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These are my own opinions, experiences, and approach. I realize that there are many other valid ways of going about anti-oppression within and outside of the U.S. . If anyone has experience with AO at an International level and has an ideas or would like to collaborate, please let me know. (sidenote: Power Shift CEE/COY 9 was primarily composed of people from the “Global North” is this contextualizes the conversation about tokenization)

We ended with this quote: “The question is not just about what unearned privileges we have been walking around with but also about what it would take to change the systems that gave us these privileges in the first place. We must move beyond acknowledgement and guilt, panels and conferences, and start living, working, organizing, consuming, and loving differently.”

I firmly believe that it’s important for us to create an equitable, just, and powerful climate change movement. We need to take all of our experiences and knowledge to inform the changes that we’re making to get the best results. So the intention of the workshop was to open a discussion to discover how we can actively amplify the needs of those most impacted by being good allies that give space for others to speak and act, rather than us doing it in their place.

To see the handout from this workshop click here.

Workshop photos by the wonderful David Tong (thanks!) 

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Justice is Not Just a Word: It’s Life.

Last night, I had a dream that I went to the conference center where COP19 is taking place this year in Warsaw, Poland and they let me in without checking my credentials. I floated through security after getting my bag checked. I was able to go to all of the meetings I wanted to go to, participate in a solidarity action for the Philippines, and get a lot of meaningful work done with the women and gender caucus… but that was just a dream.

In reality: climate change induced Typhoon Haiyan has torn the Philippines apart, the negotiations are opening with false promises, and the entire conference being hosted to halt climate change is being sponsored by coal. Am I living a nightmare instead?

It’s a very odd thing to be sitting in my hostel, working on homework and blog posts while the rest of my friends, it seems, are inside of the National Stadium in Warsaw watching the COP open. Due to what the convention center is claiming as a limit in capacity, only 9,000 people were allowed into the negotiating venue this year. These cut backs have severely limited many delegations, especially from civil society. This has left many people wondering: is the UN trying to limit the voices of civil society as we head towards a 2015 deal in Paris?

My own delegation started off with a little over a dozen people planning on attending the conference. As the accreditation situation became more and more restricted, we saw one member at a time drop, drop, drop from our delegation. Yesterday, my delegation (who is now a group of 8 people; with only 4 of us going in each week), heard the news that the Polish government refused visas to 50 accredited people from Nigeria. Why? (Alleged) reasons varied from “accreditation was not reason enough to enter the country” to “no proof of sufficient funds to leave the country after the conference ends”. This is very upsetting to me personally for the blatant racism, classism, and overall injustice involved in why they didn’t receive visas. Why is Poland trying to keep more participants from African countries out? Where is the justice in keeping people from countries who are not among the top polluters out of the conference, hell- out of the host country?!

As long and tiring as the process of COP is, I’m glad that myself and other people who are just that- people– are still attending the conference to remind our negotiators that climate change is a matter of life or death. It seems, however, that the powers that be don’t want those of us who are most affected by climate change (women, youth, developing countries) to speak out and to remind negotiators that we are human not just a list of technical terms and statistics.

But we won’t be silent. We’re going to fight to be heard. Justice will be had.

More than ever, we need to make it obvious that we aren’t going to stand for corrupt governments driving the negotiations away from progress. We need to make it know that we are not okay with the intermingling between our environmental agencies and governments with the fossil fuel industry (cough- coal funded COP19- cough). We need to make it known that prejudice should not and cannot be a reason why people are kept from sharing their experiences, knowledge, and opinions at the international level.

Don’t just make a wish- let’s make it happen.

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