What A Trump Presidency Means for Environmental Justice Leaders

By Yessenia Funes Nov 24, 2016

With less than two months before the inauguration of Donald Trump for president on January 20, movement leaders are working non-stop to organize. This includes environmental and climate justice activists who must face the possibility of campaign pledges becoming realities, including Trump’s promise to dismantle the EPA and revive the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition, post-election, Trump is looking to energy lobbyists and climate deniers to head environmental agencies.

Colorlines asked environmental and climate justice movements leaders for their personal reactions to the upcoming administration, as well as what their organizations are planning and how everyone can contribute.

Madeline Stano
Staff Attorney, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment

Stano works at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment with low-income and communities of color who live near oil and gas developments in California’s Central Valley.

Her biggest concern: The safety of immigrant communities and families—both documented and undocumented—with whom she works, especially the youth enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The federal government has information on these children largely as a result of this program, which was designed to help them.

Her source of strength:  The environmental justice community’s anti-racist history has given it the experience, knowledge, strength and passion it needs to combat the racism which is becoming more transparent within federal institutions.

Her advice: Direct material support to individuals within your network or to organizations, especially those in rural areas that lack resources. Stano also emphasizes self-care, saying it is essential to enrich yourself, mourn if you need to and ask for help from people you trust.

“A lot of [environmental justice] communities are currently living under policies and rhetoric that [Trump] advocated during the campaign. Deregulation. Suspicion over different identity groups. I do think the environmental justice movement in particular, because it is holistic, is poised to lead during this presidency. We work in small towns across the Central Valley in places like Bakersfield, and that’s certainly the president-elect’s platform. We have figured out strategies that work and know how to be successful in that environment.”

Cindy Wiesner
National Coordinator, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Wiesner has been active in the grassroots social justice movement for over 25 years and also co-chairs the Climate Justice Alliance. Her organizing experience spans many grassroots and labor organizations including HERE Local 2850, POWER in San Francisco, Generation FIVE and the Miami Workers Center.

Her biggest concern: The possible divide that could come between the labor and environmental movements. "Jobs for the sake of jobs is something we have to be really careful of," Wiesner says. "We have to think about issues like climate jobs and ask what are the things that people actually need—also, what do our communities, states and nation need? [Answering those questions] begins to creates a different paradigm of jobs so that we don’t fall into a trap."

Her source of strength: The solidarity that rose from individual and community attacks on communities of color after the election, as well as the response from young people, undocumented students and anti-racist Whites.

Her advice: Today, we have the Internet—a luxury people didn’t have 25 years ago. She urges using it to find local organizations and get organized.

“There’s a saying: An organized community is a safe community. That is something we have to talk about. I know there’s a disorientation or feeling of isolation or terror … [but] I think [it is important] to have community, have conversations, find like-minded people to be able to talk about the vision of the world that we want. And we got to fight back like hell, but we also have to build. That’s the opportunity now.”

Kandi Mossett 
Lead Organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network

A woman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Mossett focuses on creating awareness about the environmental and social impacts of hydraulic fracturing on tribal lands at IEN. Her local work is complemented by international advocacy work.

Her biggest concern: Trump’s unwillingness to listen and learn.

Her source of strength: The revolution resulting from his presidency. "If we don’t band together, it can only get worse," Mossett says. "I think people are realistically thinking in terms of, ‘It could be a rough four years—and it could be a detrimental four years,’ unless we stop him from making horrible decisions."

Her advice: Embrace your emotions (even the negative ones) and your surroundings, including family.

“Each individual has to reaffirm their own connection with the sacred. It’s not something that can be taught, a person has to do that on their own. They have to go outside and connect with the earth: lay on it, stand on it, take your shoes off. They have to be able to see the stars at night, and they have to be able to see the systems of earth and how they operate and how we’re a part of that as human beings.” 

Anne Rolfes
Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Rolfes was born in a small Louisiana oil town. While in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, she learned about the poverty the oil industry creates and began working with oil-polluted communities. She continues that work today in her home state as the founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. 

Her biggest concern: The disinterest Trump and Pence have in understanding race, the history of racism or the disparities that come from race.

Her source of strength: Where she lives. Her state is where the largest slave revolt in U.S. history occurred in 1811, when more than 200 men and women who chose to die rather than remain enslaved. Through this, Louisianans breathe the air of resistance, Rolfes says.

Her advice: Act where you are. "It doesn’t do good to march into a neighborhood you don’t already know or have some sort of relationship with," she says. "There’s challenges in every single place, so figure out where they are locally and dive in."

“You want to look at a reason why Trump won? The absolute incompetence and lack of action on our environment is certainly one reason why some of these middle-class White voters who live next to environmental hazards voted the other way, because they’ve never been helped by the government on the environment.”

Michael Leon Guerrero
Executive Director, Labor Network for Sustainability

Guerrero has 30 years of community organizing and alliance building under his belt. He was national coordinator of the Climate Justice Alliance for two years before his current position, where he bridges the divide between labor and the environment.

His biggest concern: Trump will roll back regulations on coal and dirty energy that protect communities of color. Many of these same communities—like immigrant families—will also have to face the possibility of deportation.

His source of strength: The local victories during the election (including Joe Arpaio losing his seat in Arizona, women of color taking over the Senate and Montery County’s fracking ban in California), which serve as a reminder of the organizing and resistance already happening.

His advice: Start meeting with folks and talk about how you’re going to protect your communities. Self-organize or connect with organizations that already exist.

“I don’t think we should have any illusions with the Trump administration. We’re going to have to be very bold and creative. I don’t see that there’s any kind of inside game or interesting compromise in terms of Trump, and it’s going to have devastating effects on our communities for many years to come, so we have to fight and organize.”