OPINION | The fight is not over: On Manchin and exhaustion

To meet the challenges of the global climate crisis, we need bold ideas and to speak truth to power. That’s the idea behind Climate/Justice, a Planet Detroit opinion column written by Detroit-based environmental justice activist Michelle Martinez. Martinez writes not only as an activist but as a mother and fourth-generation Detroiter. Martinez will be donating all proceeds from this column to Black to the Land Coalition, and she urges readers to donate to the organization via CashApp at $blacktotheland. Follow all of Martinez’ columns here.

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Yesterday’s news of Sen. Joe Manchin’s about-face on a climate spending package capped a summer of disappointing and depressing events for climate justice activists. 

For the first time, Manchin’s deal sets the stage for some real climate legislation and investment toward carbon reduction. And although the surprise turn of events is cause for some celebration, it comes against a backdrop of recent court decisions that have removed our fundamental rights, weakened our government’s ability to protect us and failed to hold power accountable. 

The fight, my friends, is not over.

When the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated charges against the criminals who poisoned Flint last month, I was texting with my comrade and homie, Nayyirah Shariff. 

Nayyirah and I have been at the frontlines of the environmental justice fight over the last decade. As the Executive Director of Flint Rising, Nayyirah has been rallying to protect the lives of Flintstones since the 2011 appointment of an Emergency Manager and subsequent robbery of democratic rights from people in Flint, leading to nearly 100,000 people being poisoned by lead. No one will be held responsible for the lives of Michigan residents this generation or the next. 

Not long after I texted with Nayyirah, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I drove with my mom downtown to support the protestors who stopped to block the international crossing. She cried in the passenger seat, grieving the loss of rights for pregnant people and the lifelong battle to keep them. When will birthing parents’ lives count, and their voices matter, in the face of life-altering decisions in the age of climate?

Then just a few days later, we had the EPA v. West Virginia decision from SCOTUS. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) no longer has the power to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. Greenhouse gases, as you know, are the culprit for climate change, now threatening all life on the planet. 

Nayyirah wrote this about the decision’s impact on Black communities: “The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms that corporate polluters in Black communities hold more power than the Black people in those communities — and their decision will have lasting and deadly impacts on our health.”

The logic that SCOTUS has exhibited through all these decisions is this: A fundamental right to life, the liberty of choice within that, is not the business of the federal government. Period. 

Wow. Just wow. 

I’m getting text message after text message from the Democratic Party asking for donations from candidates across the country — with urgency, a five o’clock fire alarm, the hurricane siren. Most millennials, like me, are looking at the President, House and Senate, all full of Democrats, many of whom are supporting pro-life or greenwashing candidates. 

Befuddled and resentful that our governmental trifecta is so inert on immigration, police violence, educational debt, or reproductive rights — polls show that Millenials and GenZ, like me, are losing faith in Biden.

But we know the long arc of justice is not borne within SCOTUS, Congress, or the White House. 

The passion for liberation, choice, survival of other humans no matter where they come from or who they love, and the care for more-than-human lives, our water, our furry and finned relatives — it doesn’t live in a ballot box or an email petition. These are just tools, some of which served us in the past but are now falling dreadfully, catastrophically, short.

Love of life and this Earth stems from the faith, imagination, and dedicated transformation of our lives, our relationships, and labor to bring forth the vision for a better world. This is NOT the peacenik, ooh-la-la, hippy-dippy shit our fore-mothers dished — it’s an all-or-nothing wager for survival on this planet.

Climate justice activists will be taking a look at Manchin’s deal with a careful eye. We’re looking for how it impacts climate justice, not just carbon reduction. Because there is a difference.

For now, we pause to celebrate. This is a real step forward. Our labors have borne some fruit. 

But this work is a steady drumbeat — it doesn’t stop just when we get to a crescendo. 

Because we know the fight is far from over. It’s time to build on this win. It’s time to make some good trouble. 

Whether it’s local fights against energy poverty, water affordability or clean air — Detroiters are standing up against injustice. Voters are rallying to keep our champions Andy Levin and Rashida Tlaib in power against dark money interests, with The Squad, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in Pontiac July 29! 

Nationally workers are fighting for rights at Amazon, Starbucks, in hotels, cafeterias, and airports. Around the globe, movements are rewriting Constitutions and electing leaders that are taking a stand for the Rights of Nature, like in Chile and Colombia. The labor of love is in doula-ing our collective future. 

As thinkers, lovers, activists, caregivers and parents, we are charged with finding our role in birthing a just future. We must take control of our choice, our lives, our future with collective action. Do not despair, nor put your faith in false idols — we are our own sheroes, and our ancestors are lighting the way. 

Find a good fight, and get in.


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