Photographer: Markus Spiske

In Pursuit of Climate Justice

A look back at a year of major accomplishments in the face of big challenges.

By Dionne Foster, Senior Program Officer, and Elizabeth List, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

One day early last June, a group of journalists of color from newsrooms around the country gathered for the first time—on a Zoom call, naturally. The gathering marked the inaugural convening of the Environmental Journalists of Color (EJOC), a transformative network dedicated to advancing the careers of journalists of color who have historically been underrepresented in environmental journalism. Convened byGrist, a Seattle-based media organization focused on climate solutions and environmental justice, EJOC began taking shape last year, aiming to bring critical and fresh perspectives to the field while building collective power and confronting the inequities of racial representation in environmental media.

The June convening brought together more than 30 journalists representing Crosscut, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The Verge, Gizmodo, Grist, and more to strategize about how to best support other journalists of color in this precise moment and make plans for the months ahead. Across their diverse platforms and geographies, the group shared a determination to change the way we talk about climate—explicitly to make climate justice and its disproportionate impacts a central tenant of the climate narrative—and a belief that by adequately highlighting these impacts, we might start to build policy to sufficiently address climate inequity. The group also shares a common belief that people of all backgrounds must see themselves represented in the story of climate change; that in a representative democracy, media must be representative of our democracy. Their conversations brimmed with possibility.

Grist and the EJOC are among the 13 inspiring grantees that received a total of $925,000 in funding as part of Seattle Foundation’s Climate Justice Impact Strategy this year. All of these organizations are doing work at the forefront of the climate justice space and each of them concentrates on one or more of our priorities:

Each of the 2020 Climate Justice grants builds on our 2019 partnership with the grantee. With donor support for the Climate Justice Impact Strategy, Seattle Foundation was able to increase 2020 grant sizes for our grantees and increase the total amount granted out by $250,000, compared to 2019. Particularly this year, this larger investment is important to us. It allows us to deepen Seattle Foundation’s relationships with these organizations while providing stability during a volatile time. We want to be the kind of funding partner that holds fast during challenges, the kind of partner community-based organizations can count on. This commitment requires flexibility, recognizing that the expectations we may have had for our grantees, and the expectations they had for themselves, would need to shift to accommodate needs and limitations created by the pandemic. Beginning in March, each of our Climate Justice grantees showed great creativity in responding to this moment and continuing their work. They did not go dormant as our community, country, and the world reeled from a multitude of accumulating difficulties. Far from it.

Despite the pandemic, Got Green—an organization that builds community power in South Seattle at the intersection of racial, economic, gender and climate justice—graduated 60 people from its Movement School. Movement School develops the capacity and voices of young leaders of color so they can be their own climate advocates, empowering them as leaders in a space that has historically has not included them. In some of its other programming, Got Green adapted to changing circumstances. When it became impossible to roll out a planned door-knocking campaign, the organization redirected its focus toward other timely efforts, including distribution of air filters to help people cope with wildfire smoke, mobilization of an Emergency Justice engagement series, and advocacy for $5 million in food vouchers from the City of Seattle. Got Green also continues to play a crucial leadership role in the push for investments in Seattle’s Green New Deal, in addition to progressive taxes and deep funding of a social safety net.

Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) made strides this year as the leader of the Clean and Just Transportation Table, a coalition made up of labor, organizations based in communities of color, and mobility, health, and environmental organizations. Through the Table, TCC is working alongside a wide array of partners to increase equity, safety, accessibility, and environmental justice in all transportation across Washington state—using its long history as a green organization to increasingly tackle racial equity issues.

TCC made a particular impact this year in its transit access work and efforts to reform fare enforcement, which disproportionately harms Black and brown people as well as low- and no-income riders. In 2020, TCC’s work helped secure meaningful improvements from Sound Transit, moving away from punitive criminalization of non-payment and redirecting efforts toward connecting riders with low-income fare programs. Today, Sound Transit is adopting new signage with clearer payment options, adding a Fare Enforcement Program Manager, and piloting a replacement of the traditional fare enforcement approach with a Fare Engagement Ambassador Program focused on rider education. Ambassadors in this program will wear uniforms less like those worn by police and will receive anti-bias and de-escalation training. As part of its pursuit of mobility justice, TCC has also successfully fought for similar improvements to ridership regulations during severe weather.

Grist, Got Green, TCC, and all of our Climate Justice grantees are doing powerful work, demonstrating their expertise and ingenuity every day, even when faced with the daunting complexities of 2020. As you consider your end-of-year giving, we hope you’ll support the Climate Justice Impact Strategy and join us as we fund innovative, effective organizations creating a healthier, more sustainable future for our community and our world.