Personal Reflection: Selma Anniversary a Call to Link Climate Justice and Civil Rights

This blog was written by Amelia Shenstone, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | March 7, 2015 | Climate Change, Events

As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL leading up to Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I’ve been thinking more than usual about the connection between the Civil Rights movement and the movement to address climate change.

As Adrianna Quintero explains in the Huffington Post:

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, the extreme weather events of last year and early 2015 do not visit economic, psychological and health-related damage upon all Americans equally. We have seen for decades how racism, poverty and other forms of marginalization negatively impact our experience of environmental issues such as pollution and extreme weather.”

Naomi Klein also eloquently connects climate action and the #blacklivesmatter movement in a recent article in The Nation:

“…if wealthy white Americans had been the ones left without food and water for days in a giant sports stadium after Hurricane Katrina, even George W. Bush would have gotten serious about climate change.”

On March 4, I had the honor of attending “Remembering Selma, Reaffirming Our Call,” an event in my faith community honoring African Americans and their allies who paid the ultimate price during the civil rights movement, particularly Jimmie Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo. The Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, a close friend and lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King, was guest of honor and I had the pleasure of meeting him afterward (left).

Rev. Reeb was a white Unitarian minister serving in the Northeast. He answered Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to come to Selma and march for voting rights, to stand as an ally with the oppressed. He never made it to the Edmund Pettus Bridge before he was felled by violence.

In the face of such terror, Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Rev. Reeb’s love for humankind led him to reach across boundaries of race to stand for justice, at great cost.

For me, working to bring clean energy to the South and address climate change is my calling, and I strive to do it with love. That means reaching out to people across boundaries of history and culture so that no one is left out and that those most impacted by our changing climate are heard and involved. I’m celebrating the Selma anniversary by getting to know civil rights heroes better, reading their books, and lifting up climate justice champions like the ones holding a tribunal in Selma this weekend. Please read about their efforts here. I’m also learning how I can be a better ally, for example by recognizing unconscious bias in myself and how to constructively point it out in others so we can grow together.

Whether you’re able to get to Selma this weekend or not, I hope everyone will take a moment to pause and remember those whose shoulders we stand upon when we take a stand to make the world better. Who is left out at your table? How are you called to help?

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