Last week, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota was brutally murdered by the police. His name was George Floyd. His death follows a history of state violence against Black people in this country. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and countless other Black people recently and throughout history are the direct result of centuries of systemic racism and white supremacism. As we grapple with our grief and outrage in this moment, we know that it is up to all of us, including those of us in the human rights and climate justice movement, to do everything we can to dismantle these systems to forge a just and fairer world.
I was dismayed to see Donald Trump deploy military forces against peaceful protestors this week in my adopted hometown of Washington, D.C., but sadly, I cannot say I was surprised. Since his time in office began, Trump’s administration has stopped at nothing to protect the interests of dominant white capitalist culture, silencing or diminishing any voices that questioned his racist, xenophobic, and pro-corporate agenda.
Over the past couple of days we’ve watched military personnel attack non-violent protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas. We’ve seen extraordinary examples of state-sanctioned violence against protestors and we’ve watched leadership at the highest levels escalate the violence. The right to protest and challenge abusive governments are values I hold close. As a youth activist during the student uprisings in my home country of Burma in the late 1980s, I joined the movement to speak out against the country’s totalitarian government and to fight corporate power. Like many others who dared to stand up for what’s right, I was imprisoned, silenced, and tortured. But injustice must never be met with silence and the right to protest and fight oppression is one of the principles on which EarthRights was founded.
This is a critical moment for the United States–one that illustrates why we must protect our basic right to safely protest without fear of physical harm or legal recrimination. EarthRights stands in solidarity with our allies in the Black Lives Matter movement and those who are bravely speaking out against systemic violence and racism. We denounce Trump’s empowering of the Drug Enforcement Administration to “conduct covert surveillance” on protestors, strongly condemn the use of force against protesters, and are committed to engaging in anti-racist work here in the U.S. and abroad. We will continue to uphold the right to protest through our participation in the Protect the Protest movement. Protesting is not only a constitutional right–it is often the only way to effectively demand change.
Beyond that, we’re calling on ourselves and others in the climate movement to apply a racial justice lens that is often lacking in our collective work. It is extremely important that we recognize the climate justice movement’s history of reinforcing existing power structures and the fact that the United States ascended to world power on land stolen from indigenous communities and on the backs of Black people. Simply put: Climate justice cannot exist without racial justice. It’s time to take actionable steps to make sure the climate movement is not only intersectional but follows the lead of frontline and indigenous communities. We’re committed to learning, listening, and fighting hate and racial oppression. Here are resources we’re getting started with; we encourage you to read and reflect on them too: