Last month, five KSEC leaders traveled to the Ohlone Territories in San Francisco to attend the It Takes Roots Solidarity 2 Solutions Summit, or Sol2Sol, to stand with those international indigenous and local frontline communities directly impacted by the devastating effects of fossil fuel extraction and deforestation. Together, we spoke out against the false solutions promoted by elected officials and business leaders at the Global Climate Action Summit hosted by California Governor Jerry Brown and advocated for the indigenous and frontline community voices whose leadership ought to be centered in these important conversations. The week’s activities included:
KSEC members Destine Grigsby, Olivia Harp, Lakyn Fulton, Sophia Dovenbarger, and Rob Morgan were there to represent the voice of the Kentucky youth environmental justice and climate justice movement. Several had never traveled so far from home, nor attended an action so large, creative, and inspiring. Read on to hear what Destine and Rob learned during the week and how they intend to bring these lessons to their organizing work back at home.
My week in California on the Sol2Sol trip involved a lot of firsts. It was my first time on a plane, my first time in the west coast. Most importantly, it was my first time seeing what I always thought was impossible.
The tour of Richmond, California, was the most impactful for me. We boarded a tour bus as if we were going to a large city, but instead we went around a small city of about 100,000 people and saw at all the work they were doing. We stopped at seemingly trivial places like community centers and street art, but what I took away was far from trivial.
The tour guides spoke of how they organized after a refinery explosion. A few years back, a refinery miles away from the city exploded sending toxic chemicals and smoke into the air. More than a thousand people were sent to the hospital with respiratory issues. The community now moved into a fight against the company, attempting to prevent something like this from ever happening again and to ultimately stop their dangerous practices. They did not completely win, but they were able to secure funding for the local hospital for years to come. Despite a subsequent string of losses, our tour guide still told stories of the community rising against their oppressors.
Richmond seemed to have so many obstacles: they face problems with environmental issues, affordable housing, gentrification, food deserts, and more. On top of that, they have an extremely diverse population. There are large Laotian, Black, and Hispanic populations all living in one city. However, they have managed to bring the community together despite their many differences.
Aside from the amazing organizing work going on, I was also inspired by the vast amount of civic engagement in Richmond. It seemed that even everyday people were involved in social justice, not just the middle class white folk that we see in Louisville. In everything they do, they utilize grassroots power, they never spoke of a single campaign without also talking about the canvassing that they did. Even their project on affordable housing involved canvassing. It is this type of desire to involve every community member in the work we do that social justice groups in Louisville need to adopt.
I never knew that it was possible for a community to be so involved, that it was possible for every single person in the community to care about what is going on. Richmond showed me that grassroots power is possible and necessary for the change we want to make.
I didn't know what to expect from Sol2Sol, but the week of action was more organized than I thought it would be. All I knew going in was that there would be over a thousand people involved. Anytime I’ve dealt with that many people, chaos ensues. A crowd of that size fighting for a common goal is a sight to behold. It brings hope back from those who are apathetic to the world around them.
The Richmond tour was one my of the most enlightening activities from the week. It took me through a community affected by the oil industry. If equipment fails, residents must seal themselves in their homes to avoid exposure to the deadly gasses coming from the refinery. I felt so angry knowing that fellow humans were forced to deal with this threat over their head on a daily basis. This made the fight for environmental justice feel much more real.
Seeing thousands demand that affected communities have a say in environmental issues was inspiring. We made our voices heard, even to the New York Times! It was a week of firsts for me: first march, first fight for justice, first time truly helping a community far from my own.
Back in Hopkinsville, I plan to get my campus group, Sustain HCC started doing our part. It may not be much, but we can help by planting trees, improving our recycling program, and getting people to vote. Fighting together, we can win against those who wish to profit off of a changing climate.
Check out a video below of the first several days' events:
Written by: Laura McAllister
The series of little rural roads that led up to the Lago Linda campground proved treacherous and stomach-churning, but the warmth, old friends, and vegan tacos that greeted me were well-worth the journey. After attending Catalyst this summer, the prospect of Fall Summit excited me, promising the same amazing atmosphere and lessons from which I benefited over the summer. At the end of the Fall Summit weekend, I knew that KSEC had created another fantastic event.
I slept in the dining cabin the first night, and woke up to the breakfast crew coming in to brew coffee. I enjoyed reconnecting with some of my friends from Catalyst while munching on a banana and peanut butter before we headed out into the freezing morning to establish norms and start training.
One of the things that has always struck me about KSEC events—and about the way that my campus affiliate, Greenthumb, operates––is the atmosphere of respect and inclusion, as well as compassion, that guides our time together. Learning about systematic biases and environmental injustice can be arduous and contentious, even among an ecologically-minded crowd, but our established norms allow us to carry on our conversations in a kind and safe way.
After setting norms, we read through KSEC’s literature, coming to better understand the way that we fit into the movement for a just transition (about which Cara Cooper gave an insightful presentation) in the commonwealth of Kentucky, and becoming more empowered to act. Other trainings throughout the day ensured that we had not only the motivation to act, but also the skills necessary to create meaningful change.
The blend of high school and college students allowed us to understand the stake young people have in our future, and I really loved interacting with people many years my junior who had done incredible things and were building conscientiousness much earlier than I ever had. It gave me a sense of hope, especially in the wake of a troubling UN report, to see all of these young people who were fighting for a change.
We worked through the Theatre of the Oppressed in the afternoon, facilitated by Tay Schulz. The activity, which encouraged us to use our bodies to talk about systematic problems and threats to our safety, summoned an indescribable emotion, making me feel loose and ready to take action. We came to trust one another more—even though I had never met most of the attendees before that morning—as we engaged in trust falls and developed images for the grassy stage. KSEC really has a way of bringing people together (and of providing vegetarian options that compel me to go back for seconds!).
Throughout all of the trainings and activities, we were given reminders to stay hydrated, take breaks when necessary, and enjoy snacks if we felt hungry. Over the course of the weekend, I felt like my needs were priorities for the people in charge and that I could take care of myself as I explored environmental justice issues that impact the lives of myself and many of the people I hold dear.
I also had the opportunity to speak on a panel on Saturday night. As I talked about Divest UK, an organization intent on pulling the University of Kentucky endowment out of fossil fuel investments, and listened to others telling the stories of their own success and strife, I felt a new sense of power, an immense urge to move forward even through the difficult moments. Sure, I spoke on a panel, but I was really there to learn from other student organizers and become more immersed in the coalition. Everyone who facilitated trainings attended others; everyone who spoke also heard. We were a group of young people working with each other, learning from each other, and lending one another our intentional, compassionate ears.
Sunday morning, a workshop in campaign planning put all of our new skills and motivations into practice. Greenthumb was able to develop a plan from the ground up, using some ideas we had touched on at Catalyst and giving them new life after our Fall Summit experiences. We packed up our bags and tents, not quite ready to leave, but certainly eager to return to our campuses and put our new education into practice.
I ended the weekend with a Fall Summit hike at Red River Gorge, which was about thirty minutes away from the campsite. There, we learned about how the Army Corps of Engineers had once planned to flood the area in order to create a zone for recreation, even though it is an internationally acclaimed spot for climbing and hiking with an impeccable landscape and immense cultural value. After trudging our way up the treacherous trails, we stood at the edge of the valley, perched on rock structures, and read the arches and the biodiversity that surrounded us. We headed back to ensure that we would not have to drive back in the dark. The cool dusk settling over the leaves soothed our souls and helped us move forward. From this excursion, I learned that the ecologically aware in Kentucky have been fighting to preserve its natural wonders for decades. In the twenty-first century, however, the fight is turning towards the basic health and rights of Kentucky citizens. As we move forward, as young people progressing into an unpredictably changing world, we must move strategically, but also with love, holding the land and its people in our hearts, listening as well as speaking, and creating a space for future generations so that we are the last people who have to deal with the treachery of their parents and grandparents.
The Young Kentuckian is a blog of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition where youth share their work and ideas for Kentucky's bright future.
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