Environmental activism network brings important conversation to Puget Sound

By Molly Wampler

Last weekend, Nov. 11-13, The Cascade Climate Network (CCN) of environmental activism clubs from universities from across the Pacific Northwest gathered at Puget Sound for their annual Fall convergence, “Fall Flurry.” CCN puts on three such meetings every year, bringing in guest speakers and workshop facilitators from across the country. In attendance this year were around 57 students from Reed College, Western Washington University, Lewis and Clark College, Evergreen State College, University of Washington, Portland State and the University of Puget Sound.

Emma Farmer Casey, a co-leader in Puget Sound’s Environmental Campus Outreach (ECO) Club says in the past these trainings have been more broad, focusing on educating clubs on leadership or activism overall, but given the current turmoil in North Dakota, CCN chose to focus the theme of this year’s convergence.

Casey explained that this decision seemed obvious once planning began. “[We considered what was] most important for the environmental justice community at this moment, it became immediately clear that we needed to take a heavy focus on what’s going on in North Dakota with the Dakota Access Pipeline being constructed through not only Native, but sacred lands,” Casey said.

“Environmentalism a lot of times is a predominantly white movement and a lot of times the effects are differentially hurting those in marginalized groups,” Robby Murphy, a junior at Reed College and a member of Greenboard (Reed’s environmental club) visiting UPS for Fall Flurry, said, explaining the concept of environmental injustice.

“It is really important to shift the focus from this white savior complex…that white environmentalists might be exhibiting and push the conversation towards the individuals who are going to be the ones suffering most from these environmental impacts,” Murphy continued.

Educating attendees on theme of environmental justice was a primary goal of the convergence. Casey hopes participants “will first listen to how their presence and support can potentially cause more harm and further colonialism if they do not actually listen to the calls and desires of the native people.”

Recent narratives from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, through which the Pipeline is likely to run, have communicated victories in this context, but also has left room for improvement. “I think [Standing Rock] is a really good example of how native people are leading these movements because it is affecting them the most and not the white savior complex at play,” Murphy said.

Casey has a conflicting impression of the current dynamics in North Dakota. “Presently at Standing Rock, older white folks have shown up in solidarity and then co-opted prayer and spiritual rituals. They [have] spoken over, talked down to, and been oblivious of the needs and calls by the tribes there.”

“We are hoping to call our privilege in on this campus and make sure that those who wish to support and show up as allies understand what that looks like when it’s harmful and what it looks like when it is asked for and genuinely good,” Casey explained.

The huge issue of environmentalism’s “white savior complex” is an issue everywhere, and one that Casey and other Fall Flurry organizers kept in mind when scheduling speakers. “We felt really strongly [about] bringing trainers who could discuss their personal experience with the continuation of colonization within ‘environmentalism,’ and really explain the steps that we need to take as students, activists, and ‘environmentalists’ especially, to de-colonize our activism,” Casey said.

  These issues fall under the grand theme of intersectionality and privilege awareness. Murphy emphasized the importance of “checking your own microaggressions,” or small expressions of prejudice. “I think it’s really important to realize that when you are checking your own microaggressions you are not only helping fight racism but you are also helping fight for environmentalism, you are also helping fight sexism, you’re also helping fight capitalism.”

Casey sees great benefit in welcoming Fall Flurry to our campus this year, as it “will ideally continue the growth of this conversation and affirm to other colleges in the region that we are with them in our focus away from simply ‘green’ action, and towards climate justice.”