It’s safe to say that 2017 was a wild year for us all—but it was even worse for our planet.
In America alone, there were record-breaking weather events all year. 2017 was one of the hottest years on record, which intensified hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters to catastrophic proportions.
Add to that a president and administration who downplays the danger of climate change—removing any mention of the word from government websites—and has de-funded many of our federal environmental organizations, you get what looks like a pretty concerning year for the environment.
But like most things, a closer look will show a slightly different story.
Though 2017 may have felt particularly awful, environmental justice organizations all over the country did some amazing work, and most of them did so long before. Now, it’s up to us to uplift them this new year.
Many organizations are doing everything they can to fight for the environmental and climate justice in a time when we need it most. That didn’t change just because Trump got elected (though it gave them a pretty big common enemy).
They’ve launched new funds, projects and programs, empowered and educated the public. For this, they deserve our acknowledgment and thanks.
Here are 7 environmental justice projects and programs—some big, some small—doing everything they can to make 2018 a better year not just for the planet but all of us as well.
1. Run 4 Salmon
A 300-mile march along the waterways from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Winnemem. That was the goal of organizers and participants of Run 4 Salmon, a “prayerful journey” that took place over 15 days this past September.
Lead by the Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, a collective of Indigenous women, along with activists and allies brought attention to the state of the waterways, fish and indigenous way of life in California.
Over 70 years ago, wild chinook salmon (Nur) roamed free in the water the Winnemem’s ancestral watershed, but when the Shasta Dam was built it cut them off from their home waters. Not only that, it directly affected the Winnemem Wintu Tribe who have deep connections to the water, river and salmon. The Run 4 Salmon hopes to change that.
They’re helping undocumented residents displaced by the devastating wildfires that have been sweeping through California. Many residents have lost all of their physical possessions, their homes, cars and, in some cases, jobs from being away from work.
In response to the record-breaking wildfires, there have been huge amounts of assistance given to those residents who have been most affected, though funds and aid organizations. But the founders of Undocufund sought to fill an all-too-often forgotten group of victims: undocumented residents.
Undocumented peoples are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because they do not qualify for FEMA Aid and often speak little English.
“When there’s a crisis and there’s chaos, regardless of your documentation status, it’s disorienting,” said Mara Ventura, a co-founder of the fund and Lead Organizer with North Bay Jobs. “But if you already live in fear, in the shadows, and English is not your first language, there’s a fear of seeking resources.”
Undocufund is the only fund specifically dedicated to undocumented folks and mixed-status families and, through the support of thousands of donations, the mostly volunteer-run organization has been able to help over 400 people and more than 100 families get back on their feet.
Every city faces their own particular challenges in making sure residents have everything they need to succeed. In Jackson, Miss. (like many other cities) those challenges include income and racial inequality, healthcare access and a slew of other issues keeping the community from both environmental and communal stability. To fight back residents started Cooperation Jackson, both a movement and program, meant to combat these issues.
Through a network of local interconnected and interdependent institutions, the organization hosts programs and events to help educate their community on taking back their economic power and fight for equity in all of its forms. Last year saw a start in their journey to crafting a Just Transition for Jackson, Miss.
4. Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project
What does a just transition look like on the community level? To Oakland, Calif.’s Movement Generation, a just transition means healthy and resilient local economies and environments. It means a move away from pollution and profit, investment in our culture, labor and land; it means empowering low-income and people of color to lead.
Movement Generation is working to teach everyday residents how to play a more active role in the future of their communities. Small non-profit organizations like Movement Generation don’t have huge offices and enormous grants, but they manage to do a lot with a little and they need our support to help further that.
They’ve empowered activists, residents and participants to connect with their environment and the systems that impact them. In their Environmental Skills Training, the organization also helps Bay Area organizers and community members learn how to interact with, develop and restore the land around them. The organization also wrapped up 2017 with an extensive breakdown and framework for a Just Recovery, covering everything that impacted our environment this past year.
5. NY Renews
Made up of over 130 different New York community organizations, environmental activists, labor unions and more, NY Renews is using legislation to tackle climate change equity and reform through the “The Climate and Community Protection Act,” taking the climate change fight to senators’ doors.
The Act they hope to get passed in New York would not only push the state toward 100% renewable energy but also look to protect workers, create jobs and support those most impacted by climate change: low-income people and people of color.
“We aim to make New York State the nation’s leader in tackling the climate crisis while protecting workers and lifting up communities,” NY Renews said.
Whether or not the bill will achieve everything it hopes to still remains to be seen. Last year, the bill passed the New York State Assembly for the second year in a row. It has yet to pass the New York State Senate, but if it does it would be a groundbreaking change. Fingers crossed 2018 will be the year.
Started by the Transgender Foundation for America, the fund was originally meant to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. But as the disasters kept coming, the fund was opened up to help as many in need as possible, whether they were impacted by wildfires in California, earthquakes in Mexico or hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
The trans community is often underserved and particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Often emergency staff are trained in create inclusive and equality safe environments for everyone.
“Transgender people may not be able to access shelter appropriate to their affirmed gender identity or to receive culturally sensitive health care,” said National LGBT Health Education Center in their emergency preparedness resource.
7. Got Green
Climate Justice is about a lot more than climate change, and Got Green is proving it. It’s about those everyday issues that you may not realize are directly connected to your environment, such as your race, gender and economic status.
With a focus on food access, empowering young environmental leaders and battling climate injustice in all its forms, the organization is changing the narrative of the green movement, often thought to be white and wealthy.
Last year, Got Green hosted programs, panels and events on everything for tenant rights and climate resilience to food security. They successfully fought and won a battle to make Seattle the first city to use revenue from their Sugary Drink Tax to close the food security gap. They also launched the movement #DontDisplaceDove to support a local displaced resident and educate the community on how to fight displacement.
The organization has invested big time in its communities’ environmental education and power and it’s paying off.
I hope you’re as excited about all this amazing environmental work as I am.
Maybe you’d never heard of any of the organizations on this list, maybe you knew every one, or know even more (there are honestly so many!)
But just think about how wonderful that is. Despite our grim environmental status, there are so many great organizations doing important work. We need to remember that and support them in any way we can.
Last year was certainly rough, but just like the planet we live on, we’re resilient.
Maya Lewis is an Everyday Feminism Reporting Fellow. Maya is a 20-something Brooklynite, by way of Maryland. She spends her time writing about things she believes are interesting and finding ways to trick people into reading them.