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In the history books yet to be written about the 21st century, the title of this chapter will be, “The Movement for Black Lives Saves the Planet.” 

Black people in America are once again stepping forward to exert the moral leadership that’s been lacking in this country to heal the wounds that have divided our nation for over 400 years. We are going to defund the police and use that money to build a sustainable and healthy society.

How? Gimme a minute, I’ll take you there. First I gotta talk to my Black people for a second. (Everybody else, you can listen in.)

Like so many of us, I work at a predominantly white-led institution with a troubled history around racial justice: the Sierra Club. It’s not always easy, but I do it because my work at the Sierra Club is an expression of my love for Black people. Because if we don’t build ourselves a world where Black people can thrive through the climate crisis, no one will. Black people have to build our own solutions that will work for our own communities. We are leading and we are asking that white people fall in line.

Every Black leader I know in the climate justice movement shares a simple understanding: we do this work because we’re clear on the fact that our lives depend on it. Most Black folks will only survive the next 50 years if we can end white supremacy and anti-Black violence before we get into the worst of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis will exacerbate every stress, worsen every social ill. Our health systems will be overwhelmed. Our infrastructure will be besieged. Our society will be tested.

If this, what we have today, is the version of American society to be tested by the climate crisis, we will fail that test. The climate crisis is one big Hurricane Katrina barreling toward us at full speed.

All right, kinfolk, (white folks, that means you too) you can come back now. Listen carefully, because there’s something I need you in particular to understand.

Black people have the solutions to our own problems.

Did you hear that? Let me say it again.

Black people. Have the solutions. To our own problems.

When I go to work at Sierra Club every day, I’m building Black solutions. I’m creating policy proposals and projects that will help Black people survive and thrive through the climate crisis.

Just like there are Black solutions to the climate crisis, there are Black solutions to the crisis of police violence. Those are the solutions you should be listening to right now.

Black folks leading the movement against police violence are converging around a single demand: Defund the police.

Close your eyes. Can you hear a new world emerging? Can you feel it?

Just imagine: if we didn’t spend our tax dollars on dominating and controlling Black communities through the police, we could spend those dollars on building communities that are healthy and interconnected enough to survive the climate crisis. With just half of what we spend on the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department every year, we could build affordable housing surrounded by parks in every neighborhood. We could invest in energy efficiency upgrades for people in danger of having their utilities shut off. We could create union jobs in community solar programs, giving those opportunities to Black folks who have been shut out of economic gain in this country.

We could fund a Green New Deal that centers Black folks with just a fraction of the money we waste every year on over-policing and surveillance that doesn’t make anybody in this country any safer.

In fact — we will. The movement to defund the police in this country is ascendant, and we will rise. And when we take the money we’ve been wasting on tanks and flak jackets and turn it into jobs and parks, the whole world will be less violent.

In the end, everyone in America will thank Black folks for transforming what public safety means in this country. Best believe, y’all.

This transformation won’t come at the expense of your family’s safety. Because the police don’t make us safer. Just read what the M4BL wrote about how cops make our communities less safe, not more. Or this study that says cops in riot gear, slinging tear gas are more likely to inspire property damage than prevent it.

Police funding has been rising dramatically for decades, at the expense of public investments in housing, education, health care and climate action. If people understood that we’ve been defunding education in this country for 30 years, maybe they wouldn’t think defunding the police was quite so radical.

So, you know what to do: follow Black leaders in this moment if you want to survive. We have to shift our public resources, invest in communities and reject the status quo of militarized violence. We are trying to save not only ourselves, but the entire planet.