SheFly Amplify Series: The Intersectional Environmentalist

SheFly Amplify Series: The Intersectional Environmentalist

In continuation of the SheFly Amplify Series that we introduced in February, we looked to Environmentalism as a nod to Earth Day, celebrated this month on April 22nd. The SheFly Amplify Series is focused on sharing a story, voice, or initiative that we believe is working towards the betterment of the social, environmental and other critical issues of today. In using our platform to spread the word, we hope to grow community support through actionable steps.

This month, we are featuring the Intersectional Environmentalist (IE), a climate justice community and non-profit organization centered around BIPOC voices in environmental contexts. Their Instagram platform is a collection of environmental influencers, products and resources designed to educate the public on being better environmentalists, allies and social justice heros. IE spreads stories of leaders fighting for environmental justice, organizations working to create a more inclusive space in the outdoors, BIPOC owned business and so much more. This non-profit is making it clear that amplifying the voices of historically under-represnted populations is the only way that the battle to climate justice will be won. 

How did Intersectional Environmentalist Begin?

When Leah Thomas shared an earth-toned graphic with 16 lines of the phrase “Environmentalists for Black Lives Matter” on her personal Instagram (@greengirlleah), she had no idea how many times her post would be shared across the internet. This marked the beginning of a revolution working to dismantle the systematic oppression in the Environmental Movement.

In June 2020, Leah Thomas, Diandra Marizet, Sabs Katz and Phil Aiken founded the IE movement. There was so much happening at once in the summer of 2020 - the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, the Black Lives Matter movement was loudly addressing police brutality, and the world was facing the uprising of historic issues all while being stuck in a government-issued quarantine. The co-founders turned to the online community of Instagram to create an organization they hoped would address the intersection of these concerns. 

After her post, Thomas received many direct messages (DMs) from fellow environmentalists, and soon enough the co-founders connected and the community grew. They developed the IE website, defined their mission, and assembled a shareable platform on Instagram.

The founder’s goal was to to mobilize activists, young people, BIPOC members and their community to get behind environmental solutions with intersectional roots. They all felt that there was something missing from the Environmental Movement, so they built a way to fix it.“We believe conversations about the climate crisis must be addressed and be led by those most impacted by it, black, indegiounes and POC communities,” said Leah Thomas in the second episode of IE’s podcast, Dismantle

What is Intersectional Environmentalism?

The formation of IE was inspired by the work of Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. In her 2016 Ted Talk, The Urgency of Intersectionality, Dr. Crenshaw defines intersectionality as a framework to understand the intersection of identities. In her work, she uses examples of the gender and race crossroads as a way to see the issue of being impacted by multiple forces of oppression. Intersectional Theory gives name to a problem that can be hard to see and talk about. The founders of IE used Crenshaw’s work to frame the issues of oppression within environmentalism.

Leah Thomas coined the term “intersectional environmentalism” and defined it as “an inclusive approach to environmentalism that advocates for the protection of both people + the planet.” This framework became vital to seeing the reality of the climate crisis within the whitewashed solutions associated with environmentalism. 

How is IE approaching their mission?

It is clear that IE is here to serve their community: “IE offers training + consulting, creates resources + activations and more to deepen awareness about environmental justice + the role diverse voices play in environmental history + current environmental solutions.” Their website is central to connecting people to movements in their local communities, consulting other non-profits, organizations and educational institutions, and empowering BIPOC activists by highlighting the intersectional identities of environmentalists. We believe that this sort of organization and the way it is structured in which many different people are collaborating to educate and share perspectives, uniquely positions it to address the problems at hand for the following reasons:

  1. Necessity: In a world at constant threat of destruction - environmentally, socially, globally, etc. we are clearly overwhelmed by an intersection of issues, so a community that addresses these intersections is precisely what we need.
  1. Recognition of Environmental Racism: Communities of color often live in the most polluted areas and have less access to green space and other public lands. This reality—aptly termed environmental racism—has long excluded people of color from conversations around conservation and sustainability, IE is actively working to dismantle this reality.
  1. Structure for Growth: When Thomas, Marizet and Katz began their movement, it was just a few Instagram posts and ideas tossed around on the internet - they did not expect it to take off like it did. Because of the platform, however, the much needed concept spread like wildfire. Shares, likes and comments took IE to the next level.
  1. Addressing Issues and Solutions: While we may perceive a one-stop-shop answer as the easiest way out of the environmental hole we’ve dug ourselves into, IE recognizes that there is no one-right answer to the environmental movement. Instead they are connecting the issues, and finding creative and connected solutions.

Actionable Amplification

I will stand in solidarity with BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and Disability communities and the planet.

I will not ignore the intersections of environmentalism and social justice.

I will use my privilege to advocate for Black and brown lives in spaces where their messages are often silenced.

I will proactively do the work to learn about the environmental and social injustices these communities face without minimizing their voices.

I will respect the boundaries of BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and Disability friends and activists and not demand they perform emotional labor or do the work for me.

I will share my learnings with other environmentalists and my community.

I will amplify the messages of BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, and Disability justice activists and environmental leaders.

I will not remain silent during pivotal political and cultural moments that impact targeted communities.

  • Make a donation to Intersectional Environmentalist via their PayPal
  • Buy and Read The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet by Leah Thomas 
  • Show up, get educated and do what we can. We don’t have to be the best and most knowledgeable environmentalists, or the perfect, zero-waste, vegan, hippy environmentalists we see on social media. Each person’s relationship to environmentalism can be different and we think it’s important to celebrate every person working towards a more holistic and inclusive environmental movement. 

Leave a comment