MONTREUIL, France – In this Parisian suburb, just eight miles from Le Bourget – the site of COP 21 – another event took place on Dec. 5. called the People’s Climate Summit. It was host to a series of public forums where people could gather to discuss and exchange ideas on climate and environment. One of those forums featured the Jackson Just Transition Plan, in which activists, like those at a Le Bourget side event called Climate Generations, were using what they learned at the Paris climate conference and taking it with them back to the states.
Brandon King, a founding member of Cooperation Jackson, the community development organization that launched the plan, spoke to a group of listeners about bringing environmental initiatives into urban areas – specifically, Jackson, Mississippi, where members of the group believe that an alternative, clean energy economy can be achieved by empowering the underprivileged and unemployed sectors of the working class, with a heavy focus on black and Latino communities.
King is also a co-coordinator of Cooperation Jackson’s Freedom Farms Urban Farming Cooperative, which focuses on a desperate social need in Jackson: affordable and accessible healthy food. Utilizing abandoned lots, undeveloped land, and disused industrial and commercial sites, the cooperative plans to supply that food by establishing urban organic farms throughout Jackson, and it has already taken steps to do just that. In west Jackson, the organization is converting an impoverished food desert into an ‘eco-village.’ “The food we grow on our farm there goes to our cafés, and we’re also turning the area into an arts and culture space,” said King, who is a DJ and visual artist as well as an activist. “It’s a cooperative ecosystem. It’s also about combating gentrification, but it’s especially about creating a green space for living.” Regarding the plan’s relevance to the climate talks and civil societies taking place in Paris, he added, “It’s important for the global community to come together to show that we have the resources and power to create sustainable and just communities.”
The members of Cooperation Jackson also see environmentalism as the conduit through which myriad social issues flow. The idea of a just transition to a sustainable eco-village is based on connecting the dots between the economic and racial crises that have long affected the southern U.S., with climate change as the overarching threat that tethers the two together. The group sought to bring that narrative to Paris during the climate talks. Fa’Seye Aina Gonzalez, a member of the cooperative and coordinator of west Jackson’s Nubia’s Place Café, quoted Mahatma Gandhi, saying that “we must try to be the change we wish to see in the world.” She said the trip here would be the chance to “network, show our presence, make friends, and build allies.”
But Brandon King had more to add beyond the struggles that are taking place back home. Asked about his opinion on the climate talks, he remarked, “Being here is really important for frontline communities to express that we’re not okay with how the conference has been going. Since the first COP, carbon emissions have risen astronomically. Their meetings haven’t been effective, and there’s been international outcry about that fact.” (Notably, the COP 21 talks this year did finally result in a global agreement on climate, with many having mixed reactions.)
King also noted how Paris, unlike the U.S., is not so culturally divorced from environmental issues, nor are people here blind to the inextricable link between climate and other major world issues. Back home, he said, “It’s really unfortunate that there’s a disconnect between those things. I see the murder of black people every 28 hours in the United States as a direct signifier of ecological imbalance. Black people are part of the environment. Climate and violence are some of the most clear indicators of a society that is not working in ecological balance.”
On that note, he added, the cooperative has also been networking with migrant communities in Paris. “Connecting with communities that face some of the same xenophobia as those back home is a way of bridging some gaps. It’s very unfortunate that the Paris attacks happened, but it has made our analysis sharper in terms of understanding more deeply that the violence immigrant communities face needs to be a priority when we’re talking about climate justice. One of our objectives here, after all, is to build with other communities, toward a just transition.”
Photo: Brandon King. | Blake Deppe/PW