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Activists of color staged a hunger strike at the White House. Why they demand Biden focus on climate justice

DeArbea Walker   

Activists of color staged a hunger strike at the White House. Why they demand Biden focus on climate justice
  • Activists of color are holding a hunger strike indefinitely outside the White House.
  • They demand President Joe Biden kept climate provisisions proposed in the Build Back Better Act.

Historically communities of color have been left with environmentally decrepit infrastructure, high levels of pollution, and are completely ill equipped to handle winter freezes, torrential rainfall, and tenacious hurricanes.

That's why 18-year old Ema Govea, is taking part in a hunger strike outside the White House gates.

As one of five youth climate activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting, the high school student argues that "the climate crisis impacts communities of color way worse."

"When disaster strikes we've seen that communities of color are left behind and left to fend for themselves," Govea told Insider Monday. "And that's just when there is a disaster."

The activists are on day eight of a hunger strike, part of the Sunrise Movement's efforts to raise awareness of the fight for climate justice. Their demands are that President Joe Biden pass all climate provisions he ran his campaign on in 2020.

"We're just asking Biden to stick to his agenda," Govea said. "We don't want cuts to climate justice."

Activists told Insider their goals are to center historically marginalized communities in their efforts to obtain climate action, with the hunger strike ongoing indefinitely.

Youth activists demand clean energy climate provisions, carbon emissions be placed back into the Build Back Better Act

Govea is motivated in part by "having family who lives near Flint [Michigan]."

Adding, "they have been harmed by this system that we live under and ignored. We need to move forward where those communities are first."

Activists outside the White House are asking for all aspects of the $3.5 trillion over 10-years from Biden's Build Better Act to be kept intact. All climate provisions are in that package.

Among priorities Govea says are the Civilian Climate Corps, a $10 billion jobs program tailored to address climate change and its impact on public lands.

They're also calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies - instead demanding 40% of all block-grants be allocated to marginalized communities.

Related Article Module: More people of color and women are jumping into politics. How protests inspired activists to run for office

Growing up in Appalachia and Detroit, Dr. Mustafa Ali, says pollution is a huge problem, with highways and buses being in close proximity to neighborhoods resulting in serious health effects.

"In our communities we've got these crazy rates of asthma that's going on, lung diseases and a number of other diseases," he told Insider.

The former chief at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama says the biggest aim the bill can accomplish is ensuring that historic harms to Black and brown communities are rectified.

Some of the initiatives he wants to stay in the bill are the slashing of carbon emissions by 2030,Civilian Climate Corps, block-grant program which will fund a green economy and the over $20 billion that's set aside for addressing highway pollution.

"We have a chance to do good and do well," Ali added "That means, lowering the emissions so that our communities are no longer being disproportionately impacted.

Another solution, he added, is the federal government making "sure we are not continuing to put bridges that break up communities, or roads and highways that do the same thing."

The EPA and the White House did not respond to Insider's inquiries on if the bill will include all climate provisions.

The Build Back Better Act still needs support amongst Democratic Senators

The Build Back Better Act is now waiting on a vote in the US senate.

Two Democratic lawmakers, Senator Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema are not on board with the bill in the evenly split senate. Vice President Kamala Harris will be the tie breaking vote.

Manchin opposes the Clean Energy Performance Plan, which will reward companies who switch to clean energy and penalizes companies who don't. Manchin has deep financial ties to the coal and natural gas industries.

The bill has now been cut to be between $1.5 and $2 trillion over 10 years.

"Based on the way Biden has been negotiating with [Senator] Manchin, cutting potentially trillions from the bill, it wasn't enough" Ezra Oliff Libermann, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, said of the group's initial advocacy.

The demonstrators say they have spent a lot of time over the last six months pushing for all parts of this bill to pass, including phone calls, meetings, social media posts, sit-ins, demonstrations and emails.

"We needed to do something more," he told Insider, noting the strike was selected to signal that the stakes of this particular issue are too high to ignore.

They haven't heard much from the White House, however. Instead, they say they were thanked and told "good luck" while attempting to stop and engage with Deputy White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi and John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

The Sunrise group viewed the officials' responses as dismissive.

"We would love for someone from the administration to come down and talk to these young people," Libermann said, noting however that "they don't have to."

"They can always just do what they promised."

Govea and many experts predict there's less than 10 years left before the impacts of climate change bring "irreversible damage." That is why she and her comrades are choosing this moment to take the activism to drastic levels.

"This is life and death," Libermann said.


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