Edgar Franks is the Civic Engagement Program Coordinator at Community to Community Development (C2C), an SJF Grantee based in Bellingham, Wash. Edgar and C2C were early members in Front and Centered, a coalition of people-of-color led environmental justice organizations in Washington, which played a crucial role in the recent campaign for the clean energy initiative (I-1631) that was defeated in November.
How did C2C first get involved in the fight for a statewide clean energy initiative?
In all started back in 2014 when [Washington] Gov. Jay Inslee was trying to institute a climate plan based on California’s cap and trade plan. We had lot of concern since we had heard from allies in California who were excluded during that process. Basically, people most impacted by climate change were left out and we didn’t want the same thing to happen here.
Our friends at [SJF grantee] Got Green were part of a coalition coming together of frontline communities, communities of color, talking about real climate justice. We joined in with the desire to challenge and expand the conversation about climate change to include equity, inclusion, and participatory democracy. We were sick of tokenizing. Any potential solutions had to take into account workers, immigrants, tribes, and other communities.
Why was it important that C2C and Front and Centered participated from the beginning in the writing of I-1631?
We wanted to be part of the process; it was a political opening and opportunity for us to engage in a potentially groundbreaking climate and environmental justice initiative.
We had to make sure that rural communities and farmworkers were taken into account, that our perspective was being heard. We had already been taking on polluters in our communities, looking at solutions holistically and talking about “Just Transition.” [Just Transition is “a set of … principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy.”] It took almost three years but the conversation really did shift over that time and we feel like our perspective was taken seriously and included in the final product.
Paramount to this was the way in which groups that don’t often work together – labor, big greens, grassroots environmental justice groups, and others – created a genuine, functioning coalition that could serve as a model for other state or national level campaigns. Past climate initiatives – in California, British Columbia, Washington’s I-732 in 2016 – were exclusive, you had to be a supposed “policy expert” to be involved. This process was different.
As we all know, 1631 was defeated in November with around
43 percent of the vote. What was most frustrating in terms of how it all played out?
We built up good momentum in the final months of the campaign. But the propaganda of the oil industry was effective. Their misleading talking points – such as the “secret committee” that was to make all decisions if the initiative passed – swayed a lot of people. They also used fake endorsements, such as listing Latino businesses supposedly opposed 1631… but when we called some of these businesses they said they had never even been asked!
Clearly the fossil fuel industry was afraid, otherwise they wouldn’t have poured in over $30 million to defeat 1631. All the work of our communities forced their backs against the wall; the power of our organizing had them scared. And the only way to win was by lying to people.
What do you see as the biggest success of the I-1631 campaign? What was achieved despite the initiative losing at the ballot box?
Our campaign got a lot of attention around the country. Organizations and communities took note of what happens when you build strategic alliances, bring in diverse groups, and incorporate different approaches to solving problems.
We also took our outreach to places that are usually left out, i.e rural areas. People really feel that energy in places like Whatcom and Skagit Counties where we did a lot of canvassing. There is still a lot of momentum in these places to try to achieve something big around climate and the environment. Just because election is over doesn’t mean the organizing stops.
In the workshops and presentations we found that the framework of “Just Transition” really connects to people, especially the idea that local communities have the solutions. For example, we did a Just Transition training with Got Green in Mt. Vernon at the Steelworkers Hall. The popular education framework we used resonated with the young people.
We displayed a timeline of how much oil is being consumed, and that planted a seed about how our current system is not sustainable, and about the urgency for change. Some of the high schoolers who attended said they learned more about climate science in those couple of hours then they ever had from classes or books.
People in these community realize that it’s up to them to be the change. It’s not only possible but it can be done.
We’ll be gathering with our allies to evaluate our strategy and talk about the key lessons from the 1631 fight. And we’re continuing to work with young people, like the young people who canvassed so much of Whatcom and Skagit counties. They want to stay involved so we’re going to have a People’s Movement Assembly in Mt. Vernon this spring. The struggle continues!