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GRIID interview with Urban Core Collective on the Climate Justice march in Grand Rapids

April 22, 2023

GRIID – Besides April 22nd being Earth Day, what is the focus of the Climate Justice march happening in Grand Rapids?

The focus of the climate justice march is to activate people to be part of something and to bring them together for them to hear from our speakers who will talk about actionable steps they can take, today, to own their own carbon footprint, use their voice and personal/institutional influence to help us push on key issues. Issues like:

  • the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood truck route, which is no longer a truck route but the GRPD refuses to enforce truck traffic that is violating
  • Shedding light no what a terrible company DTE Energy is as indicated by how they provide two levels of service to frontline communities, their shutoffs of peoples electricity, their sale of people’s debt to a 3rd party who is harassing people, and even how they’ve hired actors to make favorable statements at the Michigan public service commission hearings.
  • Work being done by local environmental justice organizers and organizations like the Community Collaboration on Climate Change, Grand Rapids Climate Coalition and Creston Neighborhood Association. 

GRIID – Will there be any demands made of the City of Grand Rapids, the private sector, or residents of Grand Rapids, in terms of what needs to change to have a livable future?

Multiple speakers will be asking for the City of Grand Rapids to pursue more aggressive goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.   The city just isn’t committed enough to reach these goals as is evident in their city budget, which was analyzed and presented to the public through the Reinvest GR campaign.

Speakers will be asking Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to improve on reliability, to stop slowing down the development of rooftop solar and distributed generation.

GRIID – I am aware that the Urban Core Collective is one of the groups involved in the April 22nd Climate Justice march. How does climate change impact BIPOC communities differently than white people, and why is it important for white people to follow the lead of BIPOC communities on the issue of Climate Justice?

BIPOC communities are disproportionately represented in low income communities and these are the communities who tend to live in industrial and flood zones.  This is where the cheapest dwelling units tend to be, so not surprisingly, these areas tend to suffer from disinvestment from municipalities. The aging and inadequate infrastructure and lack of tree canopy expose them first to the impacts of severe weather events like flooding, heat and cold waves, loss of power and are the last to receive aid.   As with any movement or enterprise, we must allow the experts to develop the strategies and to establish the priorities and pace of the solutions or to lead the movement.  In this case, BIPOC communities are experts in how climate change and environmental injustice affects them, not middle class folks from the suburbs who will engage with systems with approaches that have worked for them.

GRIID – At the federal level, the Biden Administration has committed more of the budget towards the Pentagon and militarism than on Climate Justice and renewable energy. In Grand Rapids, the City government commits more of the budget for policing than on Climate Justice. Why do you think governments are unwilling to spend more on Climate Justice than they are on militarism and force? How could the $60 million that goes to the GRPD on an annual basis be used for Climate Justice outcomes?

Short answer is Capitalism.  Our city prioritizes the interest of business and their doctrine of “what’s good for business is good for Grand Rapids” is based on neoliberal economic theories which are never tested.  We spend millions of dollars every year on giving tax credits to attract companies to our city with the promise of jobs which are never confirmed and an economic boost which is also never confirmed.  There is no accountability for those promised benefits. Climate justice means policy and ordinances which would regulate business and their carbon footprint and pollution.  It would upset business interests which have a powerful interest on our city department heads.

They can invest in tree canopy to bring neighborhoods like the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood up to par with wealthier communities.  They could establish a find to weatherize and insulate homes in GR. Insulation is not required by law in our city.  They could replace all lead pipes.  They can bring all drain infrastructure up to par with infrastructure found in downtown GR.  They can establish a fund and partnership with appliance and contractor companies to start switching BIPOC communities to electric appliances so that the cost isn’t an issue in the switch.  They can establish a fund that would front all costs for  programs which are based on rebates.  Folks can’t afford thousands of dollars up front.

GRIID – According to a report put out by the Indigenous Environmental Network in 2021, Indigenous-led resistance campaigns against pipelines in the US and Canada have reduced greenhouse gas pollution by at least 25% annually since these campaigns began. Will the Grand Rapids Climate march be advocating for Direct Action as a larger strategy to achieve the kind of systemic changes that are necessary in the Climate Justice fight? 

Currently this march is the largest action the partners involved are doing.  The environmental justice moments are at different stages of their development but all relatively young, especially those which are centering or are being led by BIPOC communities.  We are very much interested in bringing in training to build organizing capacity in community.   Reinvest GR is another collaborative stakeholder approach which may be part of a larger movement.  Our hope is to head in the direction of larger strategy for systemic change.  

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