By Meghan Holmes
On Tuesday, May 7, hundreds gathered at Congo Square and marched to Mahalia Jackson Theater as part of the national Green New Deal tour.
The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and more than forty other local organizations sponsored the event, in conjunction with the Sunrise Movement, a group of youth advocates dedicated to advancing climate change legislation.
Indigenous and Black community leaders anchored the proceedings, with speakers highlighting the disproportionate impact environmental degradation and climate change have on communities of color, as well as insisting that future solutions to climate change honor Black and Indigenous communities.
“The purpose of this event is simple,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director with the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “We are here to honor Indigenous and Black leadership around caring for each other and caring for this earth; we are here to create a safe, inclusive, space so we can connect the dots between climate change, disaster and jobs, and we are here to launch Gulf South for the Green New Deal, a multi-state effort rooted in the unique reality of the Gulf South.”
The event began with drumming at Congo Square. Members of the Houma nation, as well as Mardi Gras Indians from the Golden Feather Hunters tribe both, participated, and Principal Chief August Creppell spoke first. “We are standing on sacred ground,” he said. “We did ceremonial dances here in the 1700s. We were the first people here, but we are all here as one people. We have so much power when we are together.”
After speeches honoring both Indigenous and Black traditions, event-goers marched to Mahalia Jackson Theater, where several speakers as well, as a panel of youth activists, discussed the Green New Deal and its potential impacts on the Gulf South. Several short films also played, one of which highlighted the impacts of industry in St. James Parish.
“This is not just about reducing carbon emissions,” Pichon Battle said. “We are at the intersection of climate change and environmental justice, and we want good jobs and restitution and reparations to the communities forced to live in this. We have to look at what oil and gas in Louisiana does to our communities. We do not just get to be proud of the jobs. We have to stand with the people of St. James Parish.”
At the national level, more than 90 congressional representatives and 13 senators support Green New Deal legislation. Current policy is nebulous but focuses on mitigating future impacts of climate change while also creating high-paying, sustainable jobs. Republicans and many moderate Democrats dismiss the plans, but youth advocates and more than 600 organizations across the country insist that action must be taken to stop the impacts of climate change.
“We want to make climate action rooted in racial and economic justice a national priority in every corner of this country,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, who spoke at the event. “We have known about climate issues for twice as long as the people on this panel have been alive, and our politicians have failed us, and are collecting profits from industries that are jeopardizing our future.”
Last fall, members of the Sunrise Movement went to Nancy Pelosi’s office along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demanding that the Democratic party embrace Green New Deal legislation. The movement has since begun traveling across the country and hosting events like the one at Mahalia Jackson Theater, encouraging communities to organize and demand action from local leaders.
“We have been here before,” said Flozell Daniels, executive director of Foundation for Louisiana. “This isn’t just Hurricane Katrina; this isn’t just the BP oil spill; this is decades of oppression and centuries of divestment and underinvestment in Black and Indigenous communities. Specific policies, especially those surrounding disaster recovery, make rich people richer, and poor people poorer. But, the good news is, because of this we have a history of resistance, and we know we have to protect marginalized people. Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue, there are consequences to tourism, transit, food access, and housing, as well as other sectors of our economy.”
Speakers stressed the Gulf South’s unique position in the fight to mitigate climate change and called on the community to advocate for Green New Deal policies to their local and national leaders.
“We rebuilt New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and we have learned what to do and what not to do,” Pichon Battle said. “We should be a leader rebuilding this country’s infrastructure, and creating millions of jobs while we do it.”
This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly.