Authors: Maritza Martinez, Fellowship Program Manager Class 4 Fellow Tania Pulido will be recognized as one of seven Brower Youth Award winners by the Earth Island Institute next month. Tania is being honored for her leadership in community development and food security in Richmond, California. She not only has dedicated herself to improving her community through her work at Urban Tilth, but also documents community struggles and solutions through media at Youth Movement Records' program at the RYSE Center. When Tania joined Urban Tilth, she had little experience working in a garden. The organization recognized her incredible leadership ability and hired her on as the site coordinator for Berryland Garden, a neglected stretch of the Richmond Greenway. With some positive energy, a willingness to learn and a lot of hard work, Tania is now growing 18 varieties of berries, numerous herbs and even a fig tree in Berryland Garden. She has engaged teens from the community to take ownership of the garden to ensure that it will not fall into disrepair again, and uses the garden as a classroom to increase their knowledge of global environmental issues. The food grown in the garden has supplied the teens and their families with healthy and nutritious options. Tania uses video and community journalism as tools for social change, uplifting the voices of youth in Richmond.
Media is a very important tool for activists and organizers, because it allows them to inspire and empower people who usually don't get to hear stories about their neighborhoods and their communities in a positive light.
We congratulate Tania for being selected for this prestigious award and wish her continued success with her work in Richmond. Watch one of the videos Tania worked on with Youth Movement Records:
Authors: Green For All Ietef Vita, a.k.a. DJ CaveM Moetavation, is a Green For All Fellow straight out of the garden, representing the historic Five Points district of Denver, Colorado. He describes himself as an O.G. – Organic Gardener, "teachin' HIP HOP history and how to grow greens."
DJ CaveM is the definition of HIP HOP: "Higher Inner Peace, Helping Other People." He is also an award winning activist, founder of the Brown Suga Youth Festival, "b-boy", and midwife. This vegan chef is producing more than just "beets," harvesting two albums: Deep Rokc and The Teacher's Lounge, in collaboration with other renowned hip hop artists Dead Prez, Digable Planets, KRS-One, and Bun B, to name a few.
Behind the Video: "Wheat Grass"
Ietef Vita - Denver, COIetef Vita is a Denver, Colorado native, hailing from the historic Five Points. He has been a long time community activist due to an early awareness of inequity in his neighborhood. At age 24, Ietef Hotep Vita is DJ CaveM Moetavation, an internationally known HipHop artist, writer/producer, deejay, HipHop Yogi, Afro-Latin percussionist and environmental and youth advocate.
Authors: Uduak Ntuk, Green For All Fellow, Class 4 I felt a sense of anxiety and excitement leading up to our first official meeting after coordinating with dozens of groups for the past two months to make the evening happen. The Engagement Meeting was my opportunity to bring together the key stakeholders of a multi-ethnic environmental coalition based in Bakersfield in order to work towards making positive environmental change. My goal was to reach across sectors, think in an interdisciplinary way and advocate for local municipal policies that will advance an inclusive green economy. As a Green for All Fellow, my role was to introduce the organization's work and provide structure for the group. There were three focal areas I prioritized: connecting existing members of the environmental community, educating each of our constituents, and advocating for policy changes from our local government officials in Bakersfield to create good local jobs.
We met at the California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) in the Dezember Leadership Center. Approximately 15 people attended the meeting, including members of the CSUB Student Government, Sierra Club, Bakersfield City Council, a Small Business Owner, a Congressional Intern, a State Senator Field Representative, a Bakersfield City School District Board Member, a Dolores Huerta Foundation representative and Bakersfield College students. After introductions, I shared a presentation on the environmental challenges facing the Bakersfield area, and held breakout sessions to flesh out ideas for solutions and allow the group to get to know each other better. The meeting produced not only an energized coalition of like-minded Bakersfield residents but also laid the groundwork for our continued work together, including a listing of projects going on in the community, areas of focus for the coalition, and increased commitment levels of attendees to participate in the future. Building this coalition allowed me to reach the key groups I have been targeting through my term of service, collect actionable information, and establish credibility with key community stakeholders.
I felt a great sense of relief as the evening ended. You never know how an initial meeting of a very diverse set of organizations is going to go, especially when the participants hardly know each other. The meeting generated a new list of events and items to plan for as our next steps. There was interest in setting up a "Green Drinks" Networking Event to bring in more people, an invitation to the CSUB Associated Students, Incorporated executive meeting to engage the student body as the get ready for their Green Week, and several interested volunteers for the upcoming Great American Cleanup & Green Expo. We all left with a very positive attitude and resolve that through working together we can find ways to build the coalition and select local public policy changes that will create real demand for local green jobs in Kern County.
Uduak Ntuk - Bakersfield, CAUduak Ntuk is an engineer with one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies. He is a technical professional that believes the economy and the environment are not mutually exclusive. Committed to protecting the environment and promoting sustainability, he has volunteered with the non-profit Alliance for Climate Protection since 2006 where he was personally trained by Nobel Laureate Al Gore. Read Uduak's full profile »
Authors: Maritza Martinez, Fellowship Program Manager Green For All Fellow Pandora Thomas is an environmentalist, permaculturist and greenbuilder, curriculum developer and teacher, entrepreneur and much more. Growing up with a strong understanding of her parent's love for the planet has allowed her to develop a career where she is sharing that love with a variety of different communities. This summer, Pandora not only worked with a group of international youth from mainly Iraq and Indonesia to green their world through the Global Youth Village but she also taught environmental literacy to men inside San Quentin as part of The Green Life Program and co-facilitated a social entrepreneurship workshop to college students along side Dave Hopkins. With over 25 years of combined professional experience in business, media, education and environmental sectors, Pandora and her business partner, Green For All Fellow Zakiya Harris started EarthSeed Consulting LLC to reconnect people of color to the earth and inspire community transformation. They leverage their broad networks to foster collaboration and ensure measurable success. Whether successfully delivering Toyota's first African American Green Initiative (TGI), integrating permaculture and environmental literacy into San Francisco Unified School District (ESLI), producing an original urban green living television series or training youth to produce the bay areas largest solar powered hip hop music festival, their work represents a new model of engagement at the intersection of culture, media, environmental awareness and sustainable solutions. In addition, EarthSeed manages G4G Mobile, a state-of-the-art solar-powered trailer that can be used to power public and private event such as lectures, concert and festivals. Pandora strongly believes that environmental change can only occur through culturally relevant and inspirational models linked to real life experience within the natural world context. In her work, she describes the idea of being green as a lifestyle and understands that there are many healing opportunities within the movement, not only in terms of physical health but for mental health and job creation as well. This philosophy guides her work with corporate partners, community members and students.
We are the experts of our own stories, we meet an individual or a community where they are at, but we don't stay there.
She believes that "we are all experts of our own stories, we meet an individual or a community where they are at but we don't stay there." With The Environmental Service Learning Program her work insured that young people "are not only the next generation but the now generation." As part of her work with YouthBuild, Pandora co-wrote Shades of Green, a green building guide for constructing and rehabilitation affordable housing. Shades of Green was adopted by the Department of Labor as their official green building guide. Her activism and training also extends beyond the boundaries of the US. In 2010. Pandora also worked with the Global Women's Water Initiative in Ghana to train women from throughout West Africa to implement technologies that test and treat contaminated water in their communities.
Not only do we care about the environment but we also care about many other things we have to deal with daily.
Pandora has dedicated her career to bridging the gap between communities of color and the environmental movement. She believes that within all of our traditions exists an ethic of environmentalism that we can reconnect to and build upon. This is where culturally relevant and inspiring stories and projects are key. At Tedx Denver Ed, Pandora described the disconnect she felt as a deeply passionate college student who cared about both her community and the environment and saw them as completely integrated. Her mostly white classmates in the environmental club would ask her why African-Americans didn't care about the environment. "I knew deep in my core that that wasn't true. Not only do we care about the environment but we also care about many other things we have to deal with daily." Pandora recalls. This belief has guided her work ever since.
Pandora Thomas - San Francisco, CAPandora Thomas is Director of the Green Career Program at Global Exchange. This program creates pathways for communities of color, youth and lower income people to access jobs and healing opportunities within environmental fields. Pandora is completing an M.A. in Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. She received her B.A. in Religious Studies from Youngstown State University and a Teaching Credential from the New College of California. Read Pandora's full profile »
Authors: Anna Rondon, GFA Fellow Candidate, Class 5 Whenever my family traveled from Richmond, CA, to our Navajo homeland, we would pass by San Francisco Peaks. My mother would tell us then to bless ourselves by breathing in four times – to breathe in the powers and strength of the Peaks into our physical and mental being. This mountain is one of the four sacred mountains in Navajo culture. We always honor these mountains. We are the mountains and they are us as Dineh.
On August 25th, I had the honor of helping to organize the Protect the Peaks protest in Albuquerque, NM. The protest was held in order to prevent the desecration and destruction of San Francisco Peaks, sacred to 13 Native American Nations. We indigenous peoples have to say enough is enough! We are protesting the construction of a pipeline to the Snowbowl ski resort, which would carry sewage water for snowmaking. Construction crews have already cut down 40 acres of rare alpine forest and cut a six-foot wide and six-foot deep gash into the Holy Mountain, where medicine men gather herbs for healing. Runoff from the snow made with this wastewater will be harmful to plants, animals and humans who inhabit the mountain. "The strength of our heart and our spirit is our prayers, the strength and heart of our prayers is our mountains, and the strength and heart of those mountains is our great spirit," Navajo grassroots organizer Norman Brown told the protesters. "That's how we are tied in to this land. That's how and why we've never given up." We refuse to accept this destruction for recreation at the cost of cultural genocide! The Peaks are a beautiful place, a fragile ecosystem, and home to rare and endangered species of plants and animals. Our sacred mountain is under attack. In addition to our protest in New Mexico, three other groups held solidarity protests at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices in California, Montana and Colorado. The USDA - Forest Service is putting the financial gain of one man ahead of centuries old traditions and beliefs held by native peoples as they destroy our sacred mountain. Please visit truesnow.org to see how you can help!
Authors: John Moore, Green For All Fellow, Class 2 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is helping grow the green economy in the greater New Orleans area. Last week, EPA Region Administrator Al Armendariz announced $487,500 in funding to support local organizations in providing job training and environmental education. This is a huge shot in the arm for a region that is struggling to take its stand amongst the national leaders in green job development. This grant funded, in part, a job training program associated an energy efficiency program called NOLA Wise. This program is a partnership created by the City of New Orleans, the Southeast Energy Alliance, Global Green, Green Coast Enterprises and the Department of Energy. When I worked for the City of New Orleans, I was able to create this program by leveraging several million dollars in stimulus funds from the Department of Energy. In addition to this program, I also invested additional dollars into energy efficient libraries and LED street lights. The NOLA WISE program will allow low-income home owners of New Orleans to weatherize their homes while helping to develop a strong green workforce. This program was recently given national attention when leaders from Green Coast Enterprises and Global Green were invited to the White House to present on their work. It was a pleasure to work with these groups to bolster the City's green job market and to significantly expand on energy efficiency efforts.
The grants announced on last Wednesday will create jobs in an economy where nationally the unemployment rate has continued to rise. Of the almost $500,000 investment in the city, the Louisiana Job Corps was granted $300,000 to train low-income residents for jobs in energy efficiency and green building; solar and/or solar thermal system installation; and materials reuse, deconstruction and recycling. The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) was also awarded $30,000 to provide local youth with training to monitor air quality in eastern New Orleans. The grants will tackle environmental education and job creation in a variety of communities, including New Orleans East, The Ninth Ward and industrial areas in southeast Louisiana, and work on a variety of environmental problems including air quality, energy efficiency, recycling and more. It is exciting to see green jobs expanding in a city that exists in a state that was ranked 47th in the nation for green job development. I applaud the efforts of the EPA and their expansion on the work that we have been tirelessly putting into this industry here in the gulf coast region.
John Moore - New Orleans, LAA native of New Orleans, Green For All Fellow John Moore began working on environmental issues in Atlanta several years ago before returning to his hometown after Hurricane Katrina. He is an energy rater, working to help rebuild New Orleans on a green footing. Frustrated by the lack of support for low-income communities, John has been working with two non-profits working to introduce youth to jobs that can help them to be more engaged in environmental issues in their own communities.
Authors: Eric Mathis, Green For All Fellow, Class 3 After five long years of hard work, myself and many others have intentionally developed a proactive platform for "community action" and the new face of success for Central Appalachia in the coming years signifying a shift from an issues-based to a solutions-based approach. The hard work that went into making these projects happen is not just limited to the time frame of my short lived residency in West Virginia; these projects were made possible by many initiatives and projects that were present long before my arrival. For instance, if it were not for a visionary local doctor's dream of revitalizing the Williamson Redevelopment Authority and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation supplying funds to make Dr. Beckett's dream a reality, Williamson would not be on the cutting edge of developing some of the most innovative approaches to Sustainable Development today. Moreover, before I had the privilege of meeting ex-coalminer Earl Long, Founder and CEO of Angel Winds Renewable Energy LLC, he was already building a new dream for his home state – developing "mom and pop" wind farms across West Virginia. The fact is, the further I tried to trace the cause of my successes the more complex the mosaic becomes. My message to emerging leaders across the nation today is that among the many struggles that I have had in developing projects during my lifetime the biggest struggle has been to maintain a collaborative/creative atmosphere where:
- Mistakes are viewed as a process of growth;
- Oppositions are viewed as opportunities;
- Assessing overlaps in organizational expertise are far more productive than assessing individual interests;
- Following through with promises holds far more value than building a perceived reputation among experts and established leaders;
- As my mentor Keith Pauley has suggested, building relationships becomes the cause and the projects become the effect;
- The "them" in the all too destructive "us against them" view of the world are typically made up of rational, willing, and often times profoundly ethical human beings.
Although the projects in the video can be seen as a victory for some, more importantly they presently serve as a stepping stone for West Virginia and Central Appalachia as a whole to transcend one of the most destructive mechanism known to them today; A mechanism which is paradoxically maintained by the recent documentary "The Last Mountain" were the only form of local "community action" is a crude example of direct action, a series of symbolic marches/rallies and a misleading wind study which arguably do more harm to West Virginia coal communities than good. These collective (re)actions typically paint a dark and often conspiratorial portrayal of a region marked by corruption, abject poverty, disease, a blatant disregard for the environment and most importantly - conflict. You have to ask yourself, what would happen to Silicon Valley's economic environment if Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition took on the same strategy as other environmental coalitions in our region, that is, attempted to shut down the very industry that maintains a large portion of the state's budget in which they reside? Moreover, how would the employees of the solar industry, Google, Adobe, Facebook, etc. react? With the above reactive forces at play, it is our hope that through building our projects with a long tradition of creative visionaries such as Kent Spellman and his organization's collaborative projects (e.g., CAP, WVSC and WVFFC), we can begin to build a richer picture of a region that has and still is creating innovative approaches to collaboration – an essential ingredient to sustainability. Just this month, we finalized the installation of a 60-meter meteorological tower to measure the wind for Angel Winds Renewable Energy, the 1st locally-owned community wind farm in Central Appalachia. So in the same tradition of Buckminster Fuller, I along with thousands of West Virginians pronounce through past, present and future successes that "you can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, [one must] build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." The JOBS Project has been featured in: BBC World News, NPR's State of the Reunion, Appalshop, Bloomberg Businessweek, and most recently in the June issue of Photon International: PV in Coal Country and Career Change.
ERIC MATHIS - Williamson, WVEric is a committed entrepreneur who has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to new market-based approaches to sustainable development. Throughout the various projects that he has participated in and/or spearheaded, he has remained true to his commitment of promoting diversity by way of sustainable development through various means which include organic farming, institutional development, education, economics, and more. Read more »
Authors: Carmen Llanes, Green For All Fellow, Class 4 National news and political debates today are full of reasons why the "mainstream" way of American life is in big trouble. Many people are less interested in the national picture because real solutions seem so few and far between. Where is an inspiring story of victory? As it turns out, little victories are happening now. When it comes to the economy, solutions can come locally, and they don’t always make the news. We can pull ourselves out of this mess, but we have to reach close. We must grab each other at arms length and start supporting our own communities on a business level. There, we may find more solutions than we ever expected. In fact, much of our recession can be attributed to the lack of input from workers and small businesses. Our economy has been at the mercy of too few hands over the last several decades. Now many folks are using whatever skill they have to get by in a world with fewer local jobs and many, many underemployed people. Those still clinging to jobs in corporations and bureaucracies find themselves in smaller staffs, tasks and responsibilities stacked higher up on employees whose compensation hasn’t improved, and neither has their tolerance for top-down management. Why should so much talent go to waste? This is a perfect opportunity for a cooperative economy. There are countless skills among those who are currently unemployed and underemployed and those who have been laid off during this recession. Considering the disproportionate struggles faced by women and people of color during a recession, the cooperative economy presents an opportunity for all people, to leverage more power by making themselves the bosses, sharing ownership, and taking a collective approach to good management. Many people have already been let down by a top-down corporate or non-profit model in a recession-ridden society. Now is the time to rebuild the system, and build a society founded on justice, dignity, and respect for people and the planet.
Finding Opportunity in Crisis: Inspiration From the Road Ahead
I was really inspired by the power of community in supporting local economies through a recession when I first visited Detroit in 2008 and again in 2010 for the US Social Forum. There is much more than a depressed economy in Detroit. There are pockets of vibrant community. There is food growing. There are queer-owned, women-owned, cooperatively run businesses getting together. And while there may be great stretches of empty blocks, between them, there are farmers markets, and neighbors who talk to each other. There are older communities and advocates working alongside young and aspiring activists and entrepreneurs. This is what I think of when I hear Detroiters refer to "opportunity in crisis." Austin's economic landscape is distinct from that of Detroit. But Detroit's lessons are for the world. When it comes to competition in a cutthroat time of depressed profit and wages, women, immigrants, and people of color are getting the raw end of the deal left and right. Many in the city feel underemployment, under appreciation or both. In this sense we are primed for an alternative. And the good news is, while any big, social or economic grassroots movement is a "marathon", so to speak, we are witnessing big change over the last couple of years.
Austin has already birthed several worker-owned and democratically run business, among them:
But in the last two years, three new organizations and businesses have emerged in Austin, and they are creating a wave of fresh energy and ideas in the movement to shift our economic and environmental landscape.
Third Coast Workers for Cooperation is an organization helping to develop green, worker-owned business and promote awareness of the cooperative movement. They also assist businesses transition into more democratic management. TCWC offers free and low-cost assistance to emerging worker coops, and promotes existing coops. The local support system offers more sustainability than the disconnected, global, corporate alternative. Much like the cradle-to-cradle ideology protects our natural resources, keeping our money in a cyclical change of hands that stays in our community and promotes justice and sustainability, is the way we will change the world, one town at a time.
Black Star Co-Op Pub & Brewery opened doors in the summer of 2010, with a large banner outside that reads "Community-Owned Beer." A consumer cooperative (owned by the community it serves) and also a worker-coop (run by its employees), Black Star is attracting a full house of business seven days a week, and assists Third Coast Workers for Cooperation in fundraising and education.
Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery has launched this year and is making donuts with local and organic ingredients. Their donuts also happen to be vegan, but the target audience includes meat and dairy eaters, since anyone can enjoy a good donut. The founding women of Red Rabbit used to work at a major grocery store chain bakery. They decided to take their skill set elsewhere, and make decisions collectively, so as to be truly appreciated as workers and owners Their demand is growing, and they are in the process of opening their own storefront, a green, worker-owned bakeshop. One of the most beautiful things about building the movement for worker-owned businesses is that cooperatives, on principle, work to support each other. The women of Red Rabbit received training from Third Coast’s Cooperative Business Institute before completing their business plan. While Red Rabbit started small, with donuts, they are expanding to breads and other goods, and now sell sandwich loaves to Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery as the Pub's menu expands. Black Star Co-op supports the work of Third Coast Workers fundraising and sponsoring events. And Third Coast, of course, promotes everyone in Austin to support these great businesses. All three organizations strive to make every element of the work green, local, and sustainable. Black Star uses byproducts from their brewery to produce dog biscuits. They are sold at the pub and at farmers markets and stores around town—green and delicious products for people and their pets. Red Rabbit uses all-natural, vegan, locally and organically derived ingredients, and using sustainable, environmentally friendly practices to create delicious donuts now being distributed all around town. Third Coast Workers focuses outreach and education on connecting economic challenges to environmental solutions.
The most exciting thing about discussing this work right now, is that more folks are realizing that this model can apply to their situations. Again, skilled people, underemployed, who know these businesses, are the perfect candidates to get together and organize their collective skills into local, economic power. It could be a valet company, a restaurant, a bike rental business, a car body shop, a construction team, insulation team, house-cleaning cooperative. The possibilities are endless, and in a town like Austin where the service industry employs a huge sector of our population, the possibilities stand to be lucrative. Without getting bogged down by gloom and distance of national news, we must dare to dream up a new reality at home If we can immerse ourselves into transforming local business, then we can address movement building from a much more inclusive and meaningful place. When our communities are empowered by belonging to a movement that they see is growing with success, then we will be even more ready to plunge into the national dialogue. But this time, we will be empowered by our own local successes.
It's our time, our turn for green collar and green cufflink jobs and that is what we are trying to build.Tony sees LRAM as a social justice organization that does environmental work. He wants to make sure that residents of low and modest income communities understand how the environmental condition they live in affects their health and what they can do about it. Tony notes "80 percent of people of color live within 30 miles of a coal-fire plant." Communities are breathing in toxic air but often don't realize how these toxic businesses are linked to health concerns such as asthma. Tony asserts, "We lost in 2010 because we didn't do a good enough job of telling people how they are part of this work." Tony sees his role in this movement not only as an educator and a builder of green collar jobs but also as the creator of "green cufflink" jobs. By arming students with the tools and knowledge to tackle the problems facing communities, he is preparing them to be future leaders in this movement. Since graduating from Morehouse College, Tony has grown LRAM into a multi-city effort that has expanded to include water conservation kits and installation of low flow toilets. LRAM recently received funding from the Kendeda Fund to allow for further expansion. Tony and his team have moved out of his bedroom-office and into a commercial space with a warehouse to store all their CFLs and other supplies. They have partnered with Citgo to install 22,000 CFLs this year and will be creating a toolkit to help other community groups create their own Retrofit Day of Action – including a 5 X 8 trailer filled with all the supplies necessary. In September, LRAM will revamp their brand to reflect their growing work and introducing a new name for the project: Let's Retrofit A Million Education Fund.
Challenging Corporate Greed and the Private Prison Industry: A New Narrative of Flourishing, Worker-Owned Economies
Authors: Carmen Llanes, Green For All Fellow, Class 4
Across the state of Texas, many of us just breathed a sigh of relief. In the immigrant rights and human rights arena, we had a close call with Senate Bill 9, an Arizona copycat bill targeting "sanctuary cities" like Austin. Among many other destructive propositions, it would have made voluntary police programs like "Secure Communities"—which has led to the deportation of 1,900 people from Travis County since 2008, the vast majority with no crime or extremely minor offenses—mandatory for the whole state.
Some so-called allies in the business community, who rely on cheap immigrant labor, were against this bill, until Governor Rick Perry conveniently removed the part about E-Verify, the controversial and spotty new technology used to scan a person's work eligibility. Many of those would-be allies suddenly faded from the debate, as a Republican majority closed in on what we thought would be a terrible legislative turn for anti-immigrant activists and representatives. Much larger than the small business voices opposing anti-immigrant laws, is the powerful, for-profit prison machine, which benefits directly from these policies. All of this, to us, is more proof that an alternative business model is essential to preserving our communities.
But, something incredible happened. Thousands of calls, letters, emails, and powerful testimonies from individuals, organizations, law enforcement, and local business chains caused internal debates among Republican representatives. Countless hours were spent in the capitol building, including weeks in a heated special session, one that unleashed some of the ugliest anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric we have seen, spilling not only from the mouths of anti-immigrant activists, but also from some of our own representatives. That special session went on as hundreds of people gathered to recognize World Refugee Day on June 20th, denouncing S-Comm, Senate Bill 9, and the construction of a new, for-profit immigration detention center in Karnes City, south of San Antonio.
"Corporate greed is out of control." We've heard this and said this again and again. Our planet and our people have paid the high price. The private prison industry has become one of the most profitable businesses in the country, sucking up billions of dollars in tax money, to keep millions of people locked up and separated from their families.
We denounce the business of private prison corporations, because we know that most of these people come to work. In a public reading of the ICE's definition of the word "refugee" as defined by the US, we pointed out that there is no designation for "economic refugees." That category would encompass a huge sector of our population that migrates for work, just as US citizens do all the time, moving across state lines, sometimes to other countries where work takes them.
Economic refugees represent a significant piece of our economy. Innovative immigrant and family-owned businesses have built the greatness of our cities and counties for centuries. Here is where we start to re-write our narrative and reclaim our history.
If the pain and suffering we oppose is the profit made from separating families and incarcerating workers, then our solution, not just for immigrants, but for all of us, could mean much more than just ending detentions and deportations. Could our solution to the economic and environmental crisis that we're in, now, be one that proves that immigrants, and people of all backgrounds, have a crucial role to play in reviving our economy and saving our planet? This new narrative celebrates local businesses, innovation, and management for and by workers that treats them with dignity, and this includes everyone.
We can cooperate. We can create a different kind of economy.
So how do we build these two movements together? Imagine a world without a private prison economy, one that eliminates the incentive to swallow up of our youth of color, the poor, and immigrants. We would eliminate the drain on our society, because it costs thousands of dollars per person locked up. And if these people were outside, able to work, they could actually be contributing to our economies. In fact, most of them still do, but with non-citizen status, many find themselves vulnerable to unfavorable working conditions.
Having served as a huge portion of our workforce, immigrant workers possess a variety of skill sets. They also possess experience that has taught all of us the importance of dignity and autonomy in the workplace. While this is true in all kinds of business sectors, two recent examples are in the cleaning industry and in the construction industry.
While many women who clean houses work for top-down companies, there are already a variety of cleaning cooperatives in the US, in fact, several share the bay with Green For All. These women can band together, as the women of Red Rabbit bakery, here in Austin, did. They can get together and change the game, make decisions collectively, make higher wages. We are close to seeing the newest of these here in Austin, as immigrant workers who have banded together in worker solidarity, begin to put the pieces together to start their own business. Why demand better pay and treatment, when you can be your own boss? Why beg for transparency in the workplace, when you can collectively make decisions with your peers about the way work goes? Wouldn't many of us rather pay ourselves and and our compañeros a living wage, instead of begging for crumbs from a top-down management that may or may not be sympathetic to our needs? Furthermore, why hide our political beliefs, when the workplace can also be a seat of organizing and advocacy power, collectively giving rise to new ideas for how to engage the business world in policy debate?
And it gets better. Green construction is also a popular topic in the green economy. Austin is a fast-growing city, even despite the real estate crash, so this especially applies. Workers Defense Project is a local organization that rallies construction workers and others together to demand stolen wages, and they even succeeded in getting a city ordinance passed to increase worker safety. At the May 1st and immigrant rights rallies, they represent a powerful delegation with their membership. Now, organized construction workers are discussing the possibility of creating Austin's first, green, worker-owned construction cooperative, managed by the very workers who make it possible. Suddenly, we are talking about a movement that feeds a business model, and a business model that can feed the movement, as a business!
This is just the beginning. And this is far more than an immigrant movement. It also goes far beyond bakeries, cleaning coops and construction companies. We have seen how local businesses can save communities. It is as visible in Austin during a recession, as it is in the pockets of Detroit where bodies and minds thrive on organically-grown food and locally-owned bookstores and grocery shops. We have seen how sustainable practices can create real profit and substance for a community, when bright people collaborate and make decisions collectively.
It is time for immigrant movements to expand beyond the "migratory status" debate. It is time for worker solidarity to expand beyond stereotypes about "White Socialist Movements." Private prison abolition is not a people of color movement, it is a human rights movement, and our local economies depend on it. As is becoming increasingly clear, we are all in this game together, regardless of our race, income, or migratory status. Local, green businesses and jobs with dignity benefit our entire community. Let's write this green economy narrative together, and give our future generations a reason to be proud.