By Emily Kerimian
Before my sophomore year at college, I considered myself a climate and social justice activist, but I had never heard of environmental justice. Following my semester in an Environmental Justice class, where I learned about how polluting industries are often purposely placed in Black and Indigenous communities, which then have to defend themselves and their children alone, while facing health consequences, the desire to commit myself to an environmentally-just world was ignited. I had understood the devastating effects of climate change and of racism, but until that fateful fall, the intersectionality of the two eluded me. Suddenly, a seed of voracity and passion was planted.
Soon, I found Earth Quaker Action Team to channel my drive for justice. EQAT has become an outlet for my commitment to environmental justice, or the idea that all people, regardless of race, or socioeconomic status, deserve to live in an environmentally-safe and healthy neighborhood, free of hazardous waste or other toxin-leaching plants or incinerators. They have been incredibly welcoming to me; the group cultivates inclusivity, solidarity, and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable opposition, like the corporations it pressures to do better on climate justice.
One thing that shocked me when I attended my first EQAT training was the number of seniors in attendance. I admit now that, due to my interactions with older conservatives, I believed the climate and environmental justice movements were being solely led by the young. I’m so grateful my assumption was wrong; I feel proud to stand alongside people of every age group, from many different walks of life at EQAT protests, knowing we are all bound by love of our natural world and a sense of duty to all people suffering unjustly due to environmental racism and a climate crisis they didn’t cause.
EQAT has launched a campaign to protect people and places from corporate short-sightedness and stakeholder greed. The investment company, Vanguard, promises their customers secure financial futures, while simultaneously being the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, refusing to take meaningful action to mitigate climate change. As part of the “Never Vanguard” pledge, customers are moving their money out of the company, while young people vow to never work for the company, unless Vanguard changes their stance on climate change, using their influence over the companies they invest in to get them to significantly lower their emissions.
Photo by Lee Smithey
Recently, I worked on a team to plan a youth action called “Vanguard, Don’t Rob Our Future!” The action at Vanguard’s Malvern, Pennsylvania campus featured students from various grade levels coming together with more senior EQAT members. We displayed handpainted signs, banners, and shared objects that symbolized the future we wanted to protect: presenting pine cones, tree branches, and stuffed animals, photos of family members, and books about climate activism and symbols of climate change resistance. Together, we sang songs and chanted, both to feel connected as a group and to make our voices and demands heard.
Actions like these can seem small to outsiders, but every protest is a wave joining an ocean of other protests, which can and do make change. I find this work incredibly fulfilling as a result. I believe that no matter your background or stage in life, it’s never too late (or too early) to pick up this mantle and join this fight. You’ll meet so many wonderful, passionate, empathetic people and be part of affecting real change.
Top photo by Rachael Warriner