Sunrise Movement Baltimore: Public Reckoning and Reflections on White Supremacy within Our Movement — 8/25/2021

“My approach is to be honest — really honest — and consistent. That is what any growth will take. It is an issue I think the [young] generation can be courageous enough to comb through.”
— Michaela Angela Davis

Introduction

This letter serves as Sunrise Movement Baltimore’s written response to the many ongoing conversations happening within the Sunrise Movement about the ways we’ve allowed racism and classism to go unchecked. This perpetuation of the very systems our movement aims to abolish has not only caused harm to our members, our communities, and our vision of the Green New Deal, but also directly undermines our work to create the multiracial and cross-class movement needed to achieve real change. In light of the public reckoning occuring at the movement, organization, and hub levels, Sunrise Baltimore is releasing this letter to reaffirm our dedication to dismantling white supremacy and classism within our hub and the Sunrise Movement as a whole, as well as express support for the Black Sunrise Caucus demands stated in the Do What Must Be Done letter.

Sunrise Movement is composed primarily of volunteers working in independent hubs in cities and towns across the United States. However, it is the comparatively smaller body of paid Sunrise employees, known as Sunrise National, that handles the overarching public narrative, long-term action strategies, and fundraising for our movement. Recently, a few members of the Sunrise staff released the Do What Must Be Done letter. The letter identifies ways in which Sunrise National has and is currently perpetuating white supremacy by maintaining a majority-white leadership team, fostering a conflict-averse culture, and demonstrating a lack of democratic decision-making. This culture has contributed to the loss of staff/volunteers of color.

At Sunrise Baltimore, we see this as a moment of reckoning and an opportunity for transformation for the national movement and for local hubs. As always, though we organize as Sunrise, the Sunrise Baltimore hub is an independent body, and our actions and decisions are our own. We demand continued clarity and transparency from Sunrise National about how they are addressing the Do What Must Be Done letter and racism and classism within the movement as a whole.

We believe that the National team is capable of transformation as long as it is led by BIPOC and working class leaders with a truly liberatory vision for the Green New Deal, and local hubs are respected and treated as partners. There is currently a team at Sunrise National dedicated to addressing the demands put forth in the letter and the larger conversations that have arisen from it. While this is an important first step, we also call for a democratic process that includes the voice of volunteers in addressing these issues and all future decisions made in the name of the Sunrise Movement. We stand by other hubs who feel they and their partner organizations have been mistreated by National regarding anti-blackness, lack of respect and communication for local organizers, and lack of meaningful input from the base.

We also echo the statement released by the Black staff at Sunrise that “our common cause for revolutionary change against capitalism, racial violence, and climate emergency will take all of us doing the hard and honest organizing to build a multi-racial and cross-class movement to match the scale of the crisis.” Ultimately, Sunrise Baltimore believes that the founding vision and the people power generated by the Sunrise Movement is worth preserving. Within our own hub, we are listening to the demands of BIPOC in our movement and committing ourselves to building a stronger liberatory movement, and we demand that Sunrise National does the same.

The following sections are a reflection on the ways in which we can do better in creating this movement in Baltimore. The first section thanks the Black Sunrise Caucus and BIPOC Sunrisers who have amplified the flaws in our organizing, and also the BIPOC Sunrisers who have continued their work for this movement in the fallout since the Do What Must Be Done. The second section is an acknowledgement and an apology for the ways that our hub has perpetuated white supremacy in the past and into the present. The third section states our initial plan to create a fundamentally anti-racist hub in Baltimore that fights for a liberatory Green New Deal.

Part 1 — Gratitude Statement

We would first like to say thank you so much to members of the Black Sunrise Caucus and other BIPOC Sunrisers who took on the tremendous work to collect, reflect upon, and make public your concerns about the white supremacist and owning class culture within the leadership of the Sunrise Movement. Your work strengthens this movement. You deserve to be cherished, celebrated, and welcomed within this movement. Climate justice is racial justice, period. The fight for racial justice is never in conflict with the fight for climate justice, and it should never be treated as such within our movement. We also thank the BIPOC Sunrisers (namely Black women) who, since the release of the Do What Must Be Done letter, have continued to show up everyday to build, repair, and transform the movement.

We understand the immense personal and emotional sacrifice that comes with all of this work, and we honor you as we build on that work to transform our hub in Baltimore.

Part 2 — Public Reckoning with Past Harm

The vision of a truly liberatory Green New Deal only works if we can completely transform our society for the better, which includes dismantling white supremacy and exploitation at every turn. White supremacy is one of the most dangerous and poisonous ideologies on the planet. Both the United States and the climate movement in the States are steeped in white supremacist culture. We must actively work against this foundation to create a new vision of our country and climate justice. The Baltimore hub has not lived up to the anti-racist vision of the Green New Deal, and we cannot move forward without identifying the harm we’ve done in the past.

We are a majority-white hub in the majority-Black city of Baltimore. This is the clearest marker of white supremacy within our hub. To all of our Black and brown hub members, we cherish and thank you. To all of the Black and brown Baltimoreans who were interested in our movement but felt uncomfortable, unsupported, or otherwise excluded by this hub, we apologize. As stated in the Do What Must Be Done letter, “white leaders need to carry the weight of repairing racial harm.” With the intent of full transparency, we have compiled an incomplete list of specific harms we have committed in the past, and we deeply apologize for the damage done to individuals and our community.

(a) We were part of a coalition effort in early 2019 with Chesapeake Climate Action Network, United Workers, Clean Water Action and other groups in support of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) in the Maryland General Assembly session. We were not aware that United Workers and its grassroots members had agreed to participate in this campaign on the condition that a provision to remove trash incineration from eligibility for renewable energy subsidies would be retained as part of the legislation, and that coalition members would not support its passage without that provision. As it turned out, that promise was broken, and to this day, trash incineration, including incineration at BRESCO Wheelabrator, now renamed “WIN” in the latest rebranding attempt, continues to receive subsidies that were meant to support clean renewable energy like wind and solar. This was the result of our inexperience and ignorance at the time, and underlines the importance of close relationships with most-impacted communities who are best positioned to represent the environmental justice principles of campaigns like that one. We have since worked with United Workers and now the South Baltimore Community Land Trust on additional work toward a zero waste future for the City of Baltimore, but we regret that we did not advocate for justice in the CEJA fight as we might have, had we fully understood what was at stake.

(b) In late 2020, Sunrise Baltimore members responded to a statewide call by STOP Additional Brandywine, MD Power Plants to participate in the public comment period of a Maryland Public Service Commission virtual hearing related to the construction of Mattawoman Energy Center, an energy project that had already received initial approval for development and construction in Brandywine, MD. We joined local activists in objecting to the project during the online hearing. In January 2021, a local Black-led group called Brandywine TB Southern Region Neighborhood Coalition announced on Facebook that the company had decided to abandon the project, a post that was reposted by STOP Additional Brandywine, MD Power Plants. We then posted to congratulate both groups on this win, and tagged both groups. In doing so, however, we inaccurately described what led to this outcome in Brandywine, and mischaracterized the role of BTB, the Black-led organization that originally posted the news. After a phone conversation with a member of BTB to better understand the objections to our post, we posted an apology. The first post from us is here, and the follow-up post with apology is here.

(c ) Many of Sunrise Baltimore’s monthly in-person meetings have been held in the White L. This has excluded people living in majority-Black parts of the city who could not make it to meetings due to lack of transportation or lengthy travel time, and it prioritized those living in the whiter, wealthier parts of the city. Before the pandemic, we had begun to hold meetings all across Baltimore, including in West Baltimore (No Boundaries Coalition) and Curtis Bay. We will continue that practice as we start meeting in person again.

(d) At the beginning of all our meetings, we’ve included a land acknowledgement recognizing the Piscataway and Algonquin tribes whose land was colonized to create Baltimore. However, we have not ensured that the people presenting that land acknowledgement have been fully prepared or educated, which has led to mispronunciations and other microaggressions. Additionally, we have not backed up this land acknowledgement with meaningful contributions or relationships with indigenous environmental justice work in our area.

(e) We have perpetuated elements of white supremacy culture in the day-to-day workings of our hub, including an over-reliance on the right to comfort, conflict avoidance, perfectionism, and a sense of urgency. Additional elements may have been present, but we didn’t know how to look out for them or counteract them. Leaders in the hub are educating ourselves on white supremacy culture and committing to dismantling it in the future.

Part 3 — Commitments to Become a Liberatory Hub

We have held several hub-wide, democratic discussions about how to move forward with a commitment to true justice, equity, and anti-oppression within Sunrise Baltimore. The following long-term commitments have been pulled directly from the Black Sunrise Caucus demands referenced in the Do What Must Be Done letter, and the short-term and mid-term commitments are steps to get us there. Concurrently to these time-bound goals, we are redoubling our efforts to be an empowering and safe place for BIPOC/working class organizers, and working to bring BIPOC/working class organizers into leadership positions.

Short-term commitments:

  • On June 25th, 2021, we held an anti-racism reflection and discussion among the Baltimore hub’s leadership team.
  • We are planning a hub-wide anti-racism training that will be held by the end of 2021. That will be the first of many regularly held anti-racism trainings and discussions within the hub.
  • An internal JEAO (justice, equity, and anti-oppression) team will continuously monitor Sunrise Baltimore and ensure our actions are always in alignment with fighting for a truly liberatory Green New Deal.

Mid-term commitments:

  • Reshift the hub’s priorities in order to commit more time, money, and energy to building deeper relationships with Black-led, indigineous-led, and working class environmental justice groups in Baltimore.
  • Develop a strategy to utilize our members’ social and monetary capital for mutual aid and reparation efforts in Baltimore.

Long-term commitments:

  • Clarify our purpose and do not waver from it: we fight for an anti-imperialist and anti-racist Green New Deal that views this climate emergency as a moment to lift all peoples and communities into liberation. We will NEVER stand for a green transition that merely replicates the existing exploitative power structures.
  • Develop more strategies for civil disobedience beyond on-the-streets protesting, and train members in strategies of direct community revitalization. These could include creative disruption, debt strikes, food banks, boycotts, advertising, raising awareness of previous anti-Black propaganda, etc.
  • Set quarterly mutual aid, local political action, and community revitalization goals. This will ensure a sustained connection with Baltimore-based environmental justice activism.

If you have any further questions or comments, please email us at general@sunrisemovementbaltimore.org. If you’d like to join us in dismantling white supremacy within the climate movement and fighting for a liberatory Green New Deal that leaves no one behind, sign up to join our hub. We are a people’s movement, and we are in this for the long haul. We believe that we will win.

With love and solidarity,
Sunrise Movement Baltimore

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“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another, the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw

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