How Covid-19 Made it Easier to Talk About Climate Change

You’ve been both a political insider and outsider — working for candidates and as a researcher and organizer. Where do you get the most traction?

I sometimes feel that it is easier to do my work outside of the system, because it’s easier to be myself. The work I do is stressful, and the ability to look in the mirror and recognize myself and to act in ways aligned with my values is really important to me.

What parts of yourself have you had to quiet while working inside political institutions?

The way I dress. My aesthetic is “just dropped off my kids and going on a Target run,” but I also have a half-sleeve tattoo and a nose ring. I’ve never seen a person on the inside, like a chief of staff or legislative director, with a sleeve tattoo. I’m very open about calling out white supremacy. And I have mental health issues: I have PTSD, anxiety and depression. I have yet to see a leader, that is someone on the inside, talk about that. The closer you get to the inside, the more the models of leadership and professionalism become exclusionary and focus on a dominant white male leader. I’m at this point in my life where I’m not willing to become a narrower person in order to gain power.

Speaking of people on the inside, Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, hasn’t fully endorsed the Green New Deal, but he did just release a sweeping set of climate policies. You’ve been critical of his new platform. Why is that?

I think it has great elements, but it tries to be transformative while keeping the power relationships that we have in our economy. I think returning power to marginalized communities is very important as part of climate action. For example, if Indigenous communities had the rights that they deserved, if their treaties were respected, we wouldn’t even be thinking about a Dakota Access Pipeline.

Some climate experts say there is a connection between women and environmental action. Why are women more likely to bear the brunt of climate disasters?

Actually, gender is a place where we need to strengthen our analysis. We haven’t done enough thinking about the care economy. Care jobs are green jobs, in the sense that they are low carbon emission jobs. And with Covid, it has become clear how broken our care economy is. On the child care side, it could very well be decimated. Family child care providers are closing and won’t have the support to reopen. With the Green New Deal, we elevated manufacturing jobs and construction, which are important, but it often feels like it’s about saving men’s jobs and the women don’t appear. When there was a gender gap in the original Green New Deal, the Feminist Green New Deal Network stepped in and started thinking through its impact on women. So I’ve been in conversation with them more and learning so much.

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