In the spirit of justice

Jun 12, 2020
Sejal Choksi-Chugh
by Sejal Choksi-Chugh

Today millions of people are taking to the streets across the country with the energizing spirit of Juneteenth, Freedom Day, the day that commemorates the end of slavery. These millions are protesting injustice and bearing witness to the racial oppression that has shattered Black lives for centuries in the United States. And they're celebrating because Black lives matter!

For Baykeeper, the events of these past few weeks have inspired us to look more closely at the ways we conduct environmental advocacy, how our actions are rooted in privilege, and how we are reinforcing institutional racism. Yet against the current backdrop of coronavirus shutdowns, economic turmoil, and demand for justice around the world, Baykeeper's work defending San Francisco Bay and fighting for healthy Bay Area communities has never felt more urgent.

I know from personal experience that protecting the environment and supporting the people who live in it are inseparable. That's why the environmental movement must actively seek out racism and dismantle it, and build stronger alliances for justice all around us.

Justice is not the byproduct of doing the right thing—justice needs to be planted and nurtured with purpose. If every environmental advocate does that, from whatever our position or platform, we will all move closer to a safe and just world.

I heard from many of you in response to my last email, where I reflected on how the line between racial and environmental justice is really invisible. Thank you for reaching out. Your notes of support mean a lot to me and give me the spirit to keep going.

The Baykeeper team is committed to build an organization that advances a just future. And as we embark on that challenge, I'd like to share some of the thoughts and experiences that members of the team have found important, inspiring, and just plain moving.

Black Lives Matter!

Sejal's signature

Sejal Choksi-Chugh
Executive Director

Chris Len, Managing Attorney

I'm working remotely with my family in New Jersey, where my son's high school Black Student Union organized a rally and march both to protest the murder of George Floyd as well as to call out racial injustices at the school.

The students planned for four thousand attendees and sold stickers as a fundraiser. They exceeded their fundraising goals many times over, and they were astonished by the number of children, students, parents, and grandparents—all wearing their COVID facemasks—who came to witness the experience.  

My favorite part of the rally was when one boy performed an interpretive dance on the school lawn in front of what looked like ten thousand people. Here was this young man, expressing his beautiful, talented, and unafraid self for this huge crowd to see. I still have tears in my eyes writing about it.  

When he was finished, the crowd broke in two, one half marching north, the other south, in numbers so great that I couldn't see a beginning or an end. This was the first time when I thought just maybe, if we try hard and don't give up, we can make something out of this terrible moment that's as beautiful as that child's dance.

Jon Rosenfield, Senior Scientist

I keep thinking about the system of belief that makes it permissible to pollute our waters with toxic waste and kill off unique species if they get in the way of profit, and that this same way of thinking allows our society to exploit or kill black and brown bodies.

Then I found this article in Sierra Magazine that hits the nail on the head: "You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism."

Ben Eichenberg, Staff Attorney

My family participated in a Black Lives Matter protest on bicycles with my son's school. It was moving to see all the teachers, kids, and parents we hadn't seen for months due to sheltering in place, and joining them in solidarity to say "enough is enough." It was also powerful to experience the cacophony of horns serenading the protest as we rode by with our handmade signs. It’s my hope that the current momentum for racial justice influences the way people vote, spend and donate money, and engage in their communities from now on.

I've long felt that the first step toward healing racial injustice and making reparations in our country has to be convening a truth and reconciliation commission that makes official findings about our history of slavery and oppression. My congresswoman Barbara Lee is working on that. I continue to be inspired by her courage and leadership.

Léa Pfeffer, Development Associate

I'm really excited about the Radical Monarchs. They're a group of school-aged girls learning about social justice issues that affect them as girls of color. They work on Black Lives Matter, HERstories, Radical Beauty, Environmental Justice, and Pride. Their song goes, "We are the Radical Monarchs, we stand for justice, we are here to make things right!" As a society, we need more groups like the Radical Monarchs. When you see these badass girls marching down the street protesting you will know what they stand for: JUSTICE!

Mark Westlund, Communications Director

I went shopping at a supermarket in downtown Oakland, its windows boarded with protective sheets of plywood. I'm browsing the sundries aisle, and there's an older Black gentleman in a motorized wheelchair working his way along the other side. We're doing our best not to get in each-other's way.

I notice him torqueing upwards to reach something off the top shelf, and through my COVID face mask I ask if I can help him with anything. And through his own mask, he answers "no, but have you seen any bleach here?" I tell him I hadn't, and he powers off towards the front of the store.

I circle back to my shopping and there's the bleach, wedged between brands of dishwashing soap. "Here it is!" I shout down the aisle. He pulls on the brakes, and I bring him a bottle.

Then as I walk away, he turns back towards me, and over his shoulder calls out: "One love!"

"Darn straight!" I call back.

Nicole Sasaki, Staff Attorney

Lately I've been constantly challenging my own privileged perception of society, and trying to view the world through an anti-racist lens—and it's been mentally and physically draining. I am embarrassed to admit that after only a few weeks, I was edging toward burnout.

In just one tweet, Tatiana Mac taught me that I need to strategically pace myself to avoid burnout and be an effective ally for the long term. In Ms. Mac's words, "Activism is not a sprint to a finish; there is no finish, but rather a life-long marathon commitment to showing up every single day. Like running, it requires training and strategy."

Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director

This interview with Robert Bullard, the Father of Environmental Justice, gives me hope that the spirited calls for justice this time will make a difference: "you see young people out there from different economic groups, different ethnic groups and racial groups, there is an awakening unlike any that I've seen on this earth in over 70 years."  


Photo by Chloe Aftel

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