Communities of color have typically been left out of the conversation about economics, dominated by a homogeneous group of white, male theorists. You may be hard pressed to name a famous economist of color, even in the most progressive circles.
But people of color have and continue to be out front in calling for and visioning a new economy and have the most at stake in making the shift. Communities of color are on the frontlines of a badly designed economic system that today produces everything from child farmworkers in Skagit County, WA to reduced life expectancy from pollution in South Park, Seattle, located at the crossroads of fumes from of Washington State’s trade dependent economy.
This summer communities on the frontlines of environmental and economic injustice are organizing and claiming their place at the center of the debate over the next economic system by calling for a ‘Just Transition.” Under the banner of the national Our Power Campaign a Just Transition Assembly just concluded in Bellingham, Washington organized for and by people of color in the Pacific Northwest. The Just Transition concept has been around for a while, but is being used in new ways.
Just Transition recognizes that communities on the frontlines of the extractive fossil fuel economy will be most impacted by the move to a sustainable economy. You may think loggers, refinery, and auto workers, but beyond the obvious candidates, Just Transition acknowledges the importance of local, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and the need for justice throughout the economy. For a truly Just Transition, simply turning oil workers into solar panel installers is not sufficient while racial and economic injustice persists; and will not solve our planetary ecological crises. The Assembly had a whole track for ‘false solutions’ that addressed the symptoms of climate change or racism, but perpetuated the underlying grow-at-all-costs extractive economic approach that drives these outcomes in the first place.
The participants in Bellingham represented groups like the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Hip Hop Congress, Cooperation Jackson, Got Green (Green Economy), and Community to Community (Farm Worker Right and Food Sovereignty).
While the language varies, a Just Transition vision for a sustainable economy has much in common with other frames coming from the Degrowth, Commons, and Solidarity Economy movements. Just Transition, as carried forth by the Our Power Campaign, ties in a powerful vision of justice married to recognition of the need for local living economies. Given the record of top down, wealthy, white led global economic models (see neoliberalism, extractive capitalism, communism, etc.), the time is ripe for communities of color to lead the conversation about what prosperity should look like and how we get there. Indeed the conversation is already underway.