“The issue of environmental justice is intersectional in nature, so we work to build strong, caring coalitions in order to win this fight,” Jacqueline Tsai SC ’25, an organizer of the annual Environmental Justice Conference, said.
The 2023 Environmental Justice (EJ) Conference took place across Scripps College and Pitzer College campuses on Saturday, April 15. The EJ conference was spawned out of Thomas Kim’s Power, Justice and Environment (PJ&E) course at Scripps College by students focused on building an on-campus political community.
The 2023 EJ Conference included a wide array of grassroots organizers, including 5C affinity groups, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, 5C Leftist organizations and local urban community gardens. This shared community space offered guest speakers, workshops which centralized the intersections of the EJ movement, a climate tour of Scripps and a mutual aid dinner at the Pitzer Grove House.
The organizers of the event wanted to cultivate a central space for leftist movements at the 5Cs.
“Since all of us organizers are in different political spaces on campus, we wanted to be able to come together under the cause of environmental justice to build community within the 5C leftist community and foster a larger coalition of climate-based activists at the 5Cs,” River Rafferty SC ‘25, one of the conference organizers, said.
“Since all of us organizers are in different political spaces on campus, we wanted to be able to come together under the cause of environmental justice to build community within the 5C leftist community and foster a larger coalition of climate-based activists at the 5Cs.”
A prominent theme of the event was exploring the necessity and expansiveness of environmental justice to interweave social movements.
“By highlighting speakers from food sovereignty groups, immigrant justice networks, the Stop Cop City movement and others, we aimed to make explicit the intersections between seemingly disparate political movements,” Rafferty said.
For instance, there is a significant overlap between frameworks of prison abolition and issues of water pollution.
“Prisons are sites of rampant water contamination; they host toxins and pollutants from nearby facilities and destroy the land they occupy,” Rafferty said. “Therefore, organizers fighting for the freedom of incarcerated people and those fighting for a stop to environmental injustices require solidarity and mutual struggle.”
The all-day conference began at The Motley Coffeehouse with an introduction which set the stage of EJ and Climate Justice (CJ) knowledge frameworks.
The Motley opening in particular featured a land acknowledgement of the Tongva land the 5Cs occupy and an empowering speech from community organizer Allison Vu from ACT-LA — a local transit justice organization — that emphasized the importance of building meaningful coalitions to further the climate justice agenda.
“As soon as we start intersecting our fights and grounding them in EJ/CJ principles, we become an even stronger bargaining unit, “ Tsai said.
Vu also spoke of her expertise of what liberation resembles in the context of EJ and how EJ/CJ is an issue from which no one is separated.
Johns Hopkins University sophomore Olivia Richardson Bozzo, an attendee of the conference, felt Vu’s speech provided major takeaways from the conference as a whole.
“I really appreciated the power of community life offered to us by Alison Vu from ACT-LA,” Richardson Bozzo said. “Collective liberation does not come until we lift all, specifically those most disadvantaged and harmed.”
Another crucial idea from the conference was the climate walking tour of Scripps, led by a previous cohort of PJ&E students. According to Tsai, the tour provided a sense of important reflection of the role of the Claremont Colleges in sustaining climate injustice.
“The tour gives a brutally truthful perspective on the climate-harming behavior Scripps College continues to uphold in order to maintain outward beauty,” Tsai said.
The climate walking tour also provided a more holistic view of what natural spaces embody. The walk sought to shift the narrative that humans are indeed separate entities from nature.
Richardson Bozzo appreciated an Immigrant Justice workshop at the conference which led her to reflect on the positionality and role of 5C students within the Inland Empire community.
“Environmental justice requires recognizing that the environment is not sublime natural parks nor the abstract concept of the planet or atmosphere. Rather, it is right here where we all work, live and play everyday,” Richardson Bozzo said.
Perhaps the most important intention of the conference was to challenge the existing narrative of on-campus organizing efforts towards more inclusive and transformative change.
“The nature of the Claremont Colleges makes it so that all current organizing spaces on campus are heavily saturated with white folks, logics and needs,” Tsai said. “This conference expanded who we viewed as ‘belonging’ to the organizing space, de-centered the white voice and recentered voices of color … our voices are not only essential, but central to radical work.”
According to Rafferty, this contributes to the larger discussion surrounding the essence of EJ to denounce all means of oppressive social structures.
“EJ means abolishing the forms of domination that allow anthropogenic climate change to rapidly degrade our planet,” Rafferty said.
The conference emphasized the scope of environmental justice existing beyond mainstream climate activist discourse.
“EJ framework requires an extremely critical lens that looks beyond the capitalist constructed carbon footprint’s individualist logic and instead is a movement beyond the capitalist structure to truly fight for environmental liberation,” Tsai said. “[I]nstead of individual consumer shifts, we demand system-wide change.”
“EJ framework requires an extremely critical lens that looks beyond the capitalist constructed carbon footprint’s individualist logic and instead is a movement beyond the capitalist structure to truly fight for environmental liberation. [I]nstead of individual consumer shifts, we demand system-wide change.”
Finally, the conference organizers provided some advice on ways in which 5C students can take an intersectional approach to environmental activism. Rafferty suggests signing letters to Shut Down Adelanto, giving to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund and, if you’re an organizer of color, to fill out the interest form for the 7C Coalition for Racial Justice.
“If you are interested in practicing environmental and climate justice, look further beyond just consuming what big corporations label as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly,’ Tsai said. “Instead, turn to your neighbors and your friends and build sustainable communities that focus on uplifting one another.”