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Lessons from the coal industry: Using vs. engaging communities of color

Crossposted from JackandJillPolitics.com – August 5th, 2009

Lisa Jackson and Phaedra Ellis-LamkinsThis week revealed some of the best and worst moments in the role of people of color in the struggle over our nation’s energy and economic future.

First, fraudulent attempts by coal lobbyists to defeat clean energy legislation, by faking support from communities of color, were uncovered.

Then, just yesterday, Green For All, the Hip Hop Caucus, and the Obama Administration announced a new campaign centered around bringing clean energy economy to communities of color: Green the Block.

The contrast between these two efforts illustrates the difference between deceptively using and genuinely engaging communities of color.

The Coal Lobbying Forgery

It started when Congressman Tom Periello’s (D-VA) staff was surprised to see identical letters from local Latino and African American organizations in opposition to the House of Representatives’ clean energy bill (officially called the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or ACES). So, they called the groups (the local NAACP chapter and Creciendo Juntos), only to find the letters were fakes sent by lobbyists for the coal industry.

(Photo courtesty of ThinkProgress.org)

Investigations over the last week have revealed that the lobbying firm Bonner & Associates sent a dozen forged letters to Congress, urging Representatives to oppose ACES. Bonner was subcontracted by another lobbying firm, the Hawthorne group, which was hired by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity group, a coal industry group.

Considering that ACES only passed with a vote of 219-212, this foul play threatened to effectively destroy the push for federal clean energy legislation – legislation that could create millions of jobs, revitalize U.S. manufacturing, and transition America to a clean-energy economy.

Perhaps the coal lobbyists thought they could get away with their forgery because of the misguided assumption that communities of color are generally disengaged from politics, and from issues related to the environment and climate change specifically.

In fact, the opposite is true.  People of color and groups that work with them are, now more than ever, taking a leadership role in the push for clean energy and bold climate policy.

Green For All, the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and a number of other civil rights groups with deep roots in communities of color were instrumental in strengthening the bill with more access to jobs and economic opportunity for low-income communities. Once these provisions made it into the bill, these groups successfully pushed to help pass ACES.

And these organizations continue to lead now, as the Senate crafts its version of climate and energy legislation.  The Climate Equity Alliance, a coalition of civil rights and economic justice groups including Green For All and the NAACP, has been active in pushing for climate and energy legislation that works for disadvantaged communities.

Born out of that ideal comes the Green the Block campaign.

Green the Block
Yesterday I – along with Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. and several Obama Administration officials – announced the Green the Block campaign at the White House (check out photos). Green the Block is a campaign from Green For All and the Hip Hop Caucus to mobilize and engage communities of color and low-income communities in the movement for a clean energy economy.

Green the Block is based on the principle that lasting change will come only to communities that are active in their own transformation.  It’s about engaging people of color in the effort to bring a thriving clean-energy economy to communities that for too long have been broke and broken. And it’s about ensuring a fair share for these communities in the economic, social and environmental benefits of clean energy.

To successfully combat poverty and pollution, we need a vibrant, popular movement for change – one that will easily defeat any “astroturf” stunts in which corporate interests fake popular support for their agenda.

We need a clean energy economy rooted in the values of shared prosperity and opportunity for all – and we need to engage, not use, communities of color to make it happen.

That’s one of the many things that corporate coal lobbyists will never do.  And it is exactly what Green the Block is all about.

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