On Thursday, July 19th, I gathered with over 300 supporters of climate and immigrant justice on the steps of the State House. Why? Because our legislators neglected to understand the urgency of two of the most pressing crises of our time.
Earlier that week, the House of Representatives failed to include a yearly 3% increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and solar equity into their climate bill. During the same week, legislators also managed to omit key protections for immigrants in the budget, leaving thousands of our friends and neighbors in Massachusetts to fear deportation every day.
Our fight for climate justice is incomplete without immigrant justice.
As climate change continues to make large swaths of land uninhabitable, threatening food and water supplies, the number of climate refugees will only increase. Meanwhile, racist immigration policies that undermine basic civil rights and human dignity will endanger those already at risk.
That is why we gathered with the MIRA coalition to hear from climate and immigration leaders about the critical need for legislation to safeguard the futures of Massachusetts citizens and noncitizens alike. We then marched in, first to the office of Representative Sanchez and then Speaker DeLeo. With hundreds of us thronging the hallway, Representative Sanchez decided to ignore us. To ensure he knew our purpose, we delivered hundreds of pictures of our loved ones to his office to show him the reasons why we won’t rest on climate or immigrant justice.
But we didn’t stop there.
We returned the following Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. In greater numbers every day.
For four consecutive days, we held vigils outside of the offices of Energy Conference Committee members, mourning the futures of loved ones put at risk by climate change. We also met with legislative aides, and in some cases the legislators themselves, to share our stories, motivations, sadness, and determination in our fight to build just solutions to the climate crisis.
Sarah Fadem, from San Jose, California near the Santa Cruz Mountains, described how the fire danger signs in the forests used to change every day when they were young. One day the sign would read “moderate,” another day “high,” another day “low.” Now every time they visit home, the only signs they see read “high.”
Sarah’s story is one part of a large crisis. Sarah is fighting for climate change solutions because they don’t want to see the places they call home devastated by wildfires. Wildfires which have and continue to wreak havoc on the homes and livelihoods of thousands in California. In fact, as you can see below, six of the most destructive wildfires in the history of California have occured in the last year alone.
I heard similar stories from many folks about homes ravaged by storms and flooding. We shared our stories every day in greater numbers, until on Thursday we had over 50 people holding concurrent vigils at the offices of all Conference Committee members, as well as Representative Sanchez and Speaker DeLeo.
We concluded our vigils by gathering on the Grand Staircase, marching together in song to the front steps of the State House as the first few drops of rain began to fall outside.
Donning life preservers, rain jackets, and umbrellas, we capped off our action with a rally in the pouring rain. We heard from environmental, faith, and immigrant leaders about why we were here, and as they spoke we raised a banner symbolizing the rising seas higher and higher above our heads. With the storm raging around us, we visually represented the disastrous consequences of state inaction on climate change.
Reverend Ian Mevorach then spoke about the need to create a world founded in love and cooperation. Citing the corporate influence in our politics and the need for racial equity, he declared that “a partial democracy is not a democracy, and partial equality is not equality.” A society that prioritizes corporate interests over people and only protects those most privileged is not a functioning society.
Let us take these words to heart as we continue our fight for climate justice.