Most of the interactions that a person of my color has with the police are fraught with tension. Yet, just before the start of the winter break, I chose to be stopped outside the White House to call attention to free voting. And when I showed my grandmother a video of my arrest on a cell phone, she smiled proudly and nodded.
My grandmother was born in 1934, in Jim Crow, in the countryside south of Athens, Georgia. I will never forget the joy she had when she voted for the first black president. And now the state of Georgia has cracked down on initiatives to help people vote so badly that it’s illegal for someone to give her a cup of water while she’s in line to vote.
Today the franchise, racial justice and the environmental movement are more closely linked than ever. The climate crisis affects us all, but not in the same way. Black, brown, indigenous and working class communities are disproportionately exposed to health and economic impacts. We cannot meet the demands of science and justice without including our communities in the political process.
We are on the front lines of climate change, both as the places where fossil fuels are mined and processed, and where adverse health effects strike first and worst. Today’s restrictions on freedom to vote are crushing voters to protect the industry that hurts them.
Take Texas, which produces more oil and gas than any other state in the United States, and more than any other country in the world except Russia and Saudi Arabia. The oil and gas industry also sucked up $ 1.8 billion in grants from the Texas government in this latest state legislative session, then showered Texas elected officials with $ 3.2 million in political donations. after the end of the state legislative session.
This year, Texas lawmakers passed legislation designed to create deliberate barriers to voting, which the governor enacted after months of political clashes and deadlocks. The legislation makes it harder to vote early, to vote by mail or to assist voters with disabilities, and to relax restrictions on partisan “election observers”. The new law undermines innovations implemented by the City of Houston and the County of Harris that have helped improve voter turnout, especially in black, brown and underserved communities.
Just up the Harris County Interstate, Port Arthur is home to the country’s largest oil refinery, some of the biggest sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, and a host of petrochemical refineries that, for the most part, do news only when fueled by climate change. hurricanes stopped them. Blacks are 75 percent more likely to live near polluting facilities like these, and those in Port Arthur and neighboring West Port Arthur are no exception.
The towns are in Jefferson County, where 89% of the population who voted in the 2020 election did so by voting early. The county has recorded its best voter turnout since 1988. Innovations that helped increase voter turnout are now curtailed under the new law.
But Texas, which is the nation’s leader in burning fossil fuels for power generation, is not alone. State number two, Florida, generates 80% of its electricity from fossil fuels. In April, Florida passed a broad set of restrictions that limit the freedom to vote, then tried to bar legal experts at the University of Florida from testifying about the impact of the restrictions on communities of color.
This year Arizona, which produces only 11% of its electricity from renewable sources despite the solar power potential of its vast desert landscapes, restricted access to mail-in and mail-in ballots while expanding the power of local governments to remove people from electoral rolls. after missing a recent election. Last year, the state, which has a population of 45 percent of people of color, recorded its highest level of voter turnout since 1980, a record that will not be broken if new barriers to voting are not met. questioned.
Over half a century ago, people participated in civil disobedience to assert their freedom to vote. They were thrown in jail, mistreated, sometimes beaten, for simply refusing to leave the courthouse until they were registered on the electoral roll. These people, heroes like Diane Nash and Faye Bellamy-Powell, inspire me and their courage helped calm my nerves while the police took me away. My grandmother has seen progress in her life, but we still fight for a right long denied.
We need to overturn these new anti-election laws and stop the next crop of bills before they take hold. The Freedom to Vote in the Senate Act and the Advancement of John Lewis’s Voting Rights in the House of Representatives Act would reduce the flow of massive donations to politics, reduce voting restrictions, provide new protections for voters, and would end gerrymandering, so that constituencies will not be drawn to reduce the voting strength of communities of color.
A healthy democracy, which responds to the urgent demand for racial justice, is a prerequisite for a healthy environment. It is not just an isolated problem; the climate crisis hits us all. And at the heart of the storm is the fossil fuel industry; the only way to remove their deadly grip on our democracy is to uphold the freedom to vote safely and equally. For me, it’s worth putting my body in danger, risking the violence of a police arrest to make this point. Others have risked more, and many more remain at risk if we don’t change.
Ebony Twilley Martin is Co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA.