This article is one in a series being published by the Roundtable during Climate Week (Sept. 21 – 28) to bring a spotlight to the climate crisis and its solutions.
On March 13th, as the world shut down, a lightness flooded through my chest. As sick as it sounds, I was relieved to hear that school was ending, that my daily life was cancelled. Most of all I was relieved to see that the world could drastically change in such little time, in reaction to a crisis.
For the previous eight months I had been throwing myself into climate activism. I was fatigued from clawing my way through bureaucracy – the meetings, trainings, protests, press conferences and petitions. Our team, Evanston Sunrise, was pushing and the small changes we made were almost devastating when compared to the enormous amount of work and energy we dedicated to the movement. Change was sickeningly slow.
I had entered a mindset where everything I saw reminded me of what was happening to the planet. I couldn’t enjoy a bag of potato chips without thinking of the oil that had gone into the plastic manufacturing, the transportation, the monoculture, the water. Everything I consumed felt at the cost of other people’s livelihoods.
I was climate obsessed. Every time I read the news, or learned something new in my Environmental Studies class or in a Sunrise Movement training, pessimism dragged me deeper down. It preyed on me. Fossil Fuel Billionaires were too good at hiding the disaster they had caused. Nobody seemed to care about the end or the world. I seemed hysterical yelling to anyone around me about the climate crisis, as people carried on their normal lives without seeming to have a care in the world.
When the pandemic came, I volunteered with Sunrise School, a virtual school that taught newcomers about the Sunrise Movement, the Green New Deal, and our plan to win. In Sunrise School I learned about the parallel between the New deal from the 1930s and the Green New Deal of today. The Spanish Flu contributed to the Great Depression, and the country was at an all-time low. It was this low that triggered people to demand a better, fairer future.
The New Deal was achieved by hard working, everyday people organizing and demanding change (although our history books would give all the credit to President Franklin Roosevelt). The New Deal brought welfare, free lunches, and crucial services to the U.S., but it failed to achieve real equity for Black and Brown people.
Flash forward 90 years, and here we are again, in the midst of a pandemic and an economic depression. It was at this point in the training, that the Sunrise leaders began to talk about “Militant Optimism.” Optimism is what brings people into movements. We can create a future where money is not prioritized over people or the planet. It was then that I realized that optimism wasn’t a personal preference, but a crucial responsibility to the movement.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t keep space to grieve and to hurt. The darkness is there. We are living in extremely bleak times. But I believe that sending the message that a fair, healthy, connected future is possible, and taking the time to envision that good future, is essential to making it possible.
The Green New deal embodies Militant optimism. In its essence, a Green New Deal is a plan to transition to 100% renewable energy, providing millions of new jobs while prioritizing frontline communities. It is truly the only way that we can beat the climate crisis, and pull ourselves out of this dark hole. The Green New Deal embodies the future that all of us want to see.
Militant optimism has empowered me, and although I still feel sick to my stomach when I hear about so many heartbreaking truths right now, perpetual killing of black and brown people at the hands of police, the loss of so many lives to COVID 19, the fires in California, or the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I can hold those truths while believing in, and fighting for a better future.
Evanston Fight for Black Lives co-founder Maia Robinson poignantly states, “Pessimism is a tool of white supremacy. We are conditioned to believe that our dreams for a just, safe world are not achievable. We must continue to imagine an extraordinary future for the wellbeing of us all.”
Bella Hubbard is a 2020 graduate of ETHS. She has deferred enrollment at Pitzer College and wrote this article from Puerto Rico where she is working on organic farms with her friend Maia Robinson.