From Executive Power to People Power on Climate
For the next four years, it will be a "People’s To-Do List" to which we are all accountable. The world deserves nothing less.
Tensions permeated in millions of people as they watched election polls draw to a close, votes painstakingly counted and processed as the 2016 presidency came closer to existence. It was late evening in Marrakesh, Morocco, as three SustainUS delegates at this year’s UN climate talks- myself, Dineen O’Rourke, and Benjamin Goloff- pulled an all-nighter finalizing an arts banner for our post-elections actions.
The messaging? The “Presidential To-Do List”, our core demands for the incoming leader of our country at the end of a particularly ambivalent election.
It was a sickly irony. As we struggled to source late-night materials to transcribe the banner (involving a cyclical use of spare toothbrushes, paintbrushes with bristles too big made smaller by rubber bands and hair ties, and thick black oil paint when our Sharpies ran out), we anxiously joked about the potentiality of the Trump presidency as the prospects looked menacing. Hours passed by as the massive “Presidential To-Do List” became daunting, our demands initially in mind for Clinton dwindling away as the percentages leaned red and to the right.
“New York Times calls a likelihood of a Trump presidency at 95%,” Ben Goloff laughed away nervously at 2:00 a.m. As the night dragged on, the morning moved toward the skies above. Anxiety mixed with the brisk cold.
I finally fell asleep on a shift between the three of us, shaken awake in early morning by the sound of our delegation leader, Morgan Curtis, crying out in despair in our dew-soaked roof of the riad. Trump had won the Presidency.
After we grieved as a delegation, we showed up at COP22 and led two beautiful actions, both inside and outside the climate negotiations, centered on the repercussions of the Trump presidency on global climate justice and communities on the frontlines of human rights struggles. In addition to U.S. youth, speakers from both the global north and south spoke—spanning places as varied as Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, and Vietnam—on the global impact of this electoral decision.
Immediately afterward, by the international display of flags, we gathered for a healing circle to honor the grief held by the communities and identities most impacted by the election results. Combining song and cathartic performance, we sang a powerful climate justice anthem- a 90+ foot long interactive arts scroll spanning visual depictions of the diverse struggles our movement faces, created by Rachel Schragis, and a stirring closing performance by children of the Green School in Bali. If only for a moment, creative expression brought solace to the bleak situation.
What began as a seemingly joke reality TV show has become a shocking reality for the United States. A misogynist, racist, and climate denier, among other equally horrible things, has become our president-elect. In addition to human rights concerns surrounding Trump’s messaging around LGBT people, Muslims, Mexicans and women, our global friends and family will also feel the varied impacts of at Trump presidency.
“My mother is from Colombia, my dad is from Mexico, and we have family working in the USA. The American country was founded by immigrants, and we want to stand up for them, for them to have justice…” Ricardo Moyano, a volunteer with the worldwide YMCA, faltered as he spoke. “Sorry, I’m just really emotional. I just want to say we are with you young people, for you are people like us, standing for immigration justice, for climate justice.”
While the prospect of Donald Trump emerging as our commander-in-chief, with access to our nation’s militarized forces, executive decision-making and an inherent symbol of what the United States of America represents is absolutely horrifying, I believe his presidency unearths the painful but necessary conversations around white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and the illusion of industrial growth marking success. Donald Trump has gained the foothold in federal power as multinational corporations gain the stronghold on their exploitation domestically and globally.
If we are to see real climate progress, it will start and end from the bottom-up- from people nurturing the grassroots and centering agency on the frontlines. For the next four years, it will be a “People’s To-Do List” to which we are all accountable. The world deserves nothing less.