Author: Manvi Bhalla (She/Her); Contributor/Editor: Janaya Campbell (She/Her)
When people ask about equity, they don’t want to only hear about your strategies to address the symptoms of inequalities but also how you commit to addressing the root causes of the deepest forms of inequity. For example, you need to have a platform on racism and you need to clearly outline transparency and accountability policies, for all those involved in your administration, including yourself. It’s crucial to be explicit on this; there shouldn’t be anything to hide with regards to your views on this topic.
You should be explicit in mentioning the intersections between racism, COVID-19, and the climate crisis. We cannot ignore that we are experiencing multiple intersecting crises that each impact the other and all disproportionately impact certain populations. You should be aware, and prepared to address, the impact of racism and discrimination on health outcomes. Black, Brown and Indigenous folx, to varying degrees, all face disproportionately higher negative impacts on their health/wellbeing/livelihoods as a result of systemic discrimination compounded with the pandemic. What will you do about this? You need a stance and a platform.
It’s paramount that you actively take up less space where you can, and offer more to centre underrepresented voices where possible. For example, in an environment where BIPOC are vastly underrepresented, you need to actively de-centre white voices, and instead reference the lived experiences of the folx you hope to serve as the inspiration and direction that informs your platforms. You need to engage in readings, and constantly seek opportunities to continually learn in order to be actively and visibly anti-racist.
You should have a strong sense of identity and be able to recognize your positionality, including all of the dimensions of privileges afforded to you, that are in play in any situation. Gender, race, age, disability, socioeconomic status - the list of intersections of identities goes on. How can you be sure you’re speaking for all people, particularly considering the individuals and communities that you represent? If you can’t speak to a perspective, support someone who's lived experiences better inform what the best approach is (more on this below). Importantly, you need to reflect on how your positionality informs your worldview, and your platform. You can create a positionality statement - a private one for yourself and/or one you feel comfortable sharing and acknowledging. This is a reflective exercise - once you develop one, you start building the muscle that knows how and when to navigate the world with knowledge that informs your actions. Think of it as a metaphorical red flag that pops into your mind that reminds you that, in any given context, your lived experiences may not offer you the full picture of this issue. We have a non-exhaustive resource on how to do this process, available here. Note that one’s positionality is not rigidly stuck - it has the ability to be contextualized depending on the context. It's best practice to always be reflexive, and reflect upon what informs your viewpoint(s) in every situation.
Recognize that you’re not the voice for the voiceless. You need to be a person who will use their platform to elevate the issues and take a community-centred approach to the issue. If you cannot speak for the issue personally and holistically, seek consultation to inform your views. This can involve research into namely non-white academics who have worked in those areas, quoting community organizers/leaders, or, if you’re able to speak directly to the communities you represent, their direct quotes/opinions. Always credit where this viewpoint is coming from and how much of it is informed by your own knowledge and experiences and how much of it is informed by the people you consulted.
Compensate all consultants, particularly youth and those historically (and presently) underrepresented/subject to systemic oppression and discrimination, including but not limited to womxn, BIPOC, gender-diverse, (dis)abled and LGBTQ2S+ folx. At minimum, all folx require recognition for their ideas and contributions towards making your platform stronger. However, given that these individuals’ intellect is being used to reach populations that will benefit your job and financial security, it’s important to offer financial compensation where possible. Mining for insight to better your campaign is a commodification of their ideas and without consent and/or fair compensation, it is a form of exploitation; many often “forget” or overlook this. Unfortunately, in our capitalist society, money is the means by which we assign value; although it is a vastly flawed, oppressive and racist system. Despite this, emotional labour should not/cannot go uncompensated, so, working within this cruel current framework, you must distribute wealth freely when it comes to seeking consultations with those who better inform your approach, particularly with respect to equity-centred approaches.
Always centre the lived experiences of the community first. Good leaders are able to say that they don’t know everything but that they will persist until the policy or platform has a strong “why” behind it, informed by the population of people most affected by the issue or those who have the most qualifications to speak on it. It is important to remember that Western/settler-centric education systems have not served everyone equally, nor have they been around since time immemorial. Challenge relying solely on the default narratives afforded by traditional institutional structures (often informed by solely white, cis, heterosexual men). Further, do not depersonalize issues that affect human beings, and whittle them down to “just science”. It is a disservice to ignore the reality of the effects that issues have on a human-level, and the very tangible impacts they have on quality of life. For example, understand that climate change is a geophysical issue but climate justice is the human-centred approach that aims to mitigate the impact on humans. Climate mitigation is necessary for the future of both our planet and all people, but the human aspect is overlooked by environmentalists concerned solely with the technology - who depersonalize the issue by removing the devastating impacts on actual human beings across the world, and importantly, who overlook for example, the sociocultural and spiritual dimensions of this issue.
We want to know you will actually do something beyond what you are promising. The days where folx were idolized just because of their connections/prestige/CV are fleeting. We need to see consistency in your approach towards caring for constituents, and a tangible dedication towards putting people over profit, above all else. For example, many politicians comment broadly on the importance of climate change adaptation and mitigation. But what are their actual views on it? What do they visibly commit to supporting? What past legislature do they think was a mistake, and what kinds of bills will they be supporting in the future? We are tired of tokenism and no actual action being taken. Don’t blame bureaucracy - been there, done that. You, as a key cog in the machine, need to put everything on the line. You need to consistently show up for causes when we ask you to do so, as our representative in decision-making settings. Systems-based reforms depend upon this.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again. Climate change is not a partisan issue; it is a scientific fact. Human rights and equity work is not (and should not be) bound by party lines.
SUTE was borne out of a need to stay vigilant in ensuring that those in positions of power are working for the best interests of the planet and all that inhabit it. As long as we are needed, we will be here. We will continue to shake up the establishment to ensure an equitable, liveable and sustainable future for us all.
Support individuals who we have had the honour to work with/learn from this year:
Future Ancestors (Black and Indigenous-owned, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and equity with a lens of ancestral accountability; in particular, we are grateful to Chúk Odenigbo who provided us with training and peer support this year)
National Anti-Environmental Racism Coalition (We are humbled to be a part of this initiative, which prospers under the leadership of Dr. Ingrid Waldron and Naolo Charles)
About the Contributors
Manvi and Janaya are the Co-Founders of Shake Up The Establishment.
Manvi's Positionality Statement:
I reside in the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, but more specifically, on land that is home to the Neutral, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples. The treaties of this land include the Haldimand Treaty and Treaty 3. I want to acknowledge, with pride, my ancestry as a Sikh woman from Punjab. Growing up in Canada almost all of my life, I find strength in using my lived experiences to inform my activism practice, and I find healing in maintaining connections to my ancestral roots. I often reflect upon the honour of being a woman of colour. As a community organizer, I recognize the duty I have to offer representation for others that share my intersections of identity. I want to acknowledge privileges I have, of both my access to post secondary education, and being able to volunteer my time for such work. There are many voices, of my Black and Indigenous peers and my fellow South Asian community members, that go unheard because they are working, living and thriving as best they can, in a world that doesn’t guarantee liveable wages, income, gender or racial equity, nor social security in all forms. While I am thankful to be given a platform, I do not intend on speaking on behalf of Black or Indigenous communities, nor communities of colour in general. My only goal is to use opportunities such as these to help the cause in the best way I can, which is through the education and empowerment of others, with knowledge that will allow them to become meaningful allies. I commit to continuing my own learning alongside these efforts, always. Working in the realm of environment and climate change in Turtle Island, I recognize (and work to engage others in the idea) that we cannot fix a problem that has its roots this deep in colonization. We need to decolonize our practices as researchers, educators and advocates. As such, I hope to continue to vocally and visibly support any initiatives that aid us in moving closer towards a collective liberation from oppressive systems. I move through this space guided by the practice of centring community voices. I lead by encouraging non-Indigenous allies that wish to help, to actively take up less space where we can, and offer more to the collective recovery of the land and all its peoples, us included, as we are all treaty peoples.