In Detroit, you can find some of the country’s worst polluters (a coal plant, an oil refinery, a waste incinerator), several Superfund sites, and one of the nation’s highest rates of asthma among children. At the same time, Detroit is the site of an inspiring grassroots urban renewal — including a Zero Waste Coalition, recycling programs, and a growing food sovereignty movement, and a vibrant youth movement. The East Michigan Environmental Action Council is the anchor for the local alliance that is pulling various strands of work together into a unified local-to-regional expression of the Our Power Campaign.
Background: Community Resilience as Pathway to Local Living Economies
Detroit’s political landscape is full of nuances, challenges and hope. As a whole, it favors a business and corporate environment at the expense of the health, safety and security of the masses of poor, working and in some cases, middle class people. The hope for Detroit lies in its history of not laying down. In spite of the challenges and hardships, people on the ground are organizing and building resilient communities. Detroiters are fighting against takeovers, land grabs, lack of access to healthy foods, housing foreclosures and utility shutoffs. More importantly, Detroiters are fighting FOR a self-determined city with food security, quality education, places to live, and opportunities for employment. Each of the organizations listed in our local Detroit Climate Justice Alliance section (link to below), while representing different and overlapping struggles taking place in the city, also are just a fraction of the people advancing a vision for a resilient city.
At the Climate Justice Alliance’s national September 2012 convening, EMEAC committed to deepening its role in helping to build community resilience to climate change, while exposing the causes of extreme energy and the false solutions proposed by its industrial and corporate emitters. While thousands of Detroiters go without utilities and water, our power system as a whole is dependent on highly destructive and polluting sources of energy, such as mountaintop removal, nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing. This leaves frontline communities in places like Detroit vulnerable to toxic pollution and too often without consideration for evacuation, treatment or reparations for bearing the health burdens to provide power the entire society.
Detroit Climate Justice Alliance: Emergent Approach to Just Transition Vision & Strategy
In November 2012, EMEAC convened a group of key community members to begin conversations about the meaning of climate change, extreme energy, just transition, community resilience, and what they look like in the lives of Detroiters. This group grew into the Detroit Climate Justice Alliance. We believe in the power of collective process and relationship building as the foundation from which shared vision and strategy emerge. Through the Detroit CJA, we examined the ways that communities have already been grappling with the impacts of climate change –and defined what our work would look like over the coming year. In this first phase, the group is focusing on building common analysis in order to then develop a shared vision for a just transition for our city as well as a strategy to get there. We are currently dissecting such jargon as climate change, resilience, local living economies, and extreme energy dependence. The Detroit CJA members agreed take time to really understand the problems and are now raising awareness amongst our respective members and communities about dirty energy sources, their effect on our children’s health, and how burning oil and coal negatively affect weather patterns and food production around the world. Furthermore, a critical part of emergent strategy is for us to understand each other’s work, approaches, and successes. Through the strategic exchanges taking place in the Detroit CJA, we will align and collectivize our vision and solutions.
Detroit Climate Justice Alliance members include: Hanifa Adjuman, Education Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network; Shane Bernardo, Outreach Coordinator, Earthworks Urban Farm; Linda Campbell, Building Movement Detroit; William Copeland, Youth Director, EMEAC; Kae Halonen, Chairperson, Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice; Jerry Hebron, Northend Christian CDC and Oakland Ave Farmer’s Market; Charity Hicks, Eat4Health Fellow, EMEAC; Joel Howrani Heeres, Sustainable Communities Coordinator, WARM Training Center; Ife Kilimanjaro, Co-Director EMEAC; Joan Ross, Director of North End Woodward Community Coalition; Sarah Sidelko, Co-Founder, Fender Bender Detroit; Sam Stark, Jobs Committee member, Southeast Michigan Jobs With Justice; Kathryn Lynch Underwood, City Planner, City of Detroit Planning Commission.
Local to Regional Movement Building: Midwest Academy for Climate Organizing
In addition to working cross-sectorally with Detroit groups to build community resilience to climate change and combating false solutions, we aim to work regionally with frontline groups and communities to build capacity for long term movement building. We envision this taking the form of a Midwest Climate Organizing academy that engages participants in training on Climate and Our Power 101, direct action, leadership, and facilitation.