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Climate Hero Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Photo by Lane Hartwell for YES! Magazine.

 

With unemployment near 10 percent and the economy struggling to recover, how do you convince Americans to get involved in solving the climate crisis? Give them an opportunity to create a new, green economy, says Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, leader of the Oakland-based nonprofit Green for All. Green For All organizes minority and low-income communities to press for green jobs and mobilizes their grassroots power into a national force for an inclusive, clean-energy economy. This year, the group has had several big wins, helping to secure federal funds in the stimulus bill for green jobs training and other programs that offer a pathway out of poverty.


When you go into inner-city communities where unemployment numbers are well into the double-digits, how do you even begin talking about climate change?

The message we take to those communities is that the economic crisis on Main Street can actually be solved at the same time as we combat global warming.

I don’t think there’s anything more important than talking to people about jobs. Changing to a clean-energy economy offers so much opportunity for people who are struggling, and for their families.

What do you hope will happen when people hear your message?

Our goal is to make this movement real for people. On Main Street, people have to see that their lives can improve through a green economy. There is no more critical place to do that than in communities like Detroit, Atlanta, and Oakland, where people have been hit hardest by the old economy.

We want to empower people to make their world better—make the environment healthier but also create economic opportunities. At an event Green For All held in Portland recently, we talked about how homes are weatherized and how we can change patterns of consumption. I heard a woman say, “This was the first time I got to be part of the conversation about our economy.”

I met a man in Newark. Most of his friends were in prison, but he graduated from high school and went through a green jobs training program. It took him a while, but he finally got a job. There’s no more courageous human being than someone who says, “I’m making a choice because it’s the right choice.” What we have to do is lift those people up and make sure there’s opportunity.

How is this vision for a green economy inspiring new voices to speak out on climate change?

Organizations are coming together to advocate for employment opportunities for people in the communities where they live, like funding for the Green Jobs Act. The Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the NAACP, and the Coalition on Civil Rights were crucial to getting green job programs included in legislation this year.

We’ve joined with the Hip Hop Caucus, the NAACP, and other organizations that have not always been traditional players in the environmental movement, and created Green the Block, which gets people involved in environmental projects in their own communities. That program’s successes have shown us, in a short period of time, that when you mobilize communities of color and low-income communities, they really can make change in the environmental movement and also address the issues that are most critical to saving the planet.

On September 11 this year, we organized our first national day of service in remembrance of those who lost their lives eight years ago. We held Green the Block events—from organic farming to cleaning up neighborhoods—in cities across the country, and we saw that there is already an unstoppable movement. We’re just fortunate to be part of it. The environmental movement can’t win alone, and if we actually allow people to take leadership, they’re willing, ready, and eager.

How does your grassroots organizing influence your national policy work?

When we see what people are doing in these communities, with no support, we realize we have to take the boldness and fierceness that exists at a local level and translate that into national policy. We have to show policymakers that there are communities ready to turn the green economy into a reality.


Kate SheppardKate Sheppard conducted this interview for Climate Action, the Winter 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Kate covers energy and environmental politics from Washington, D.C. She currently writes for Mother Jones and was previously the political reporter for Grist.

 

Meet all our Climate Heroes:

kumi-Naidoo-mug.jpg   Phaedra-Ellis-Lamkins-mug.jpg   Sally-Bingham-mug.jpg   Marcus-Ryan-mug.jpg   Sharon-Hanshaw-mug.jpg   Lorelei-Scarbro-mug.jpg   Clayton-Thomas-Muller-mug.jpg

Kumi Naidoo

 

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

 

Rev. Sally Bingham

 

Marcus Ryan

 

Sharon Hanshaw

 

Lorelei Scarbro

 

Clayton Thomas-Müller

 

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