Tag Archives: decolonial

10 Anti-Racist Actions for the U.S.A.

whitemilitaAs long as we are doing away with the Confederate flag, here are some other anti-racist actions that we can take in the USA

People are talking about Racism and white supremacy in ways they were not talking about last year, or the year before. Dylan Roof killed Black people in a church and made clear that his intentions were explicitly aligned with a politics of White Supremacy.  The usual “but why?” that we come to expect from the media gave way to a swift call to action to remove symbols of historic American White Supremacy

With the stream of white noise as filtered through the unfettered facebook feed and 24/7-news coverage, the immediate moment once again drowns out the vested understanding.  Its time for anti-racist action, based on ideas that have been kicking around longer than last week.10antiracistblog

People are seeking to understand how the culture of white supremacy is related to the violence that we keep seeing over and again. What is missing from the analysis of white culture and the confederate flag is something missing from the American discourse on race as a whole.  Culture is material.  Culture is in a constant state of being produced. It is structured by what we inherit; it is also fluid insofar as it embodies the qualities of our world – it changes.    When I say produced, I am not talking about memes. I am talking about physical, corporeal, environmental and economic effects.  America is racist and this needs to change.

We cannot use the word “change” in a nebulous Obamafied manner.  Others want change too, but not the kind we want.  White-supremacist nationalism has emerged as a menace to American ideals.  The change sought by many in this country is to revert to brute exploitation and away from governance, oversight, justice, peace or any idea that we could place our hope in.  The vast armed movement of White Supremacist, anti-government, Right-Wing militias in the Southwest have called for open war against immigrants and People of Color.  They intend a genocidal campaign, and have not been scared to say so.  However, these are not the actions of a fringe, but a reflection of a historic political legacy this country owns.10antiracist2

Symbols of Racism and Antiracism

In our era we focus too much on symbols.  We forget, or are led to believe, that these are representations of lived experiences. I have heard calls to remove statues, change names, stop using words and take down certain flags to a much higher degree than I have heard calls for redress to the lived conditions that these symbols represent.  I have seen slogans to either increase or limit insignificant bureaucratic oversight of everything from banks to prisons to elections – but I have seldom heard proposed solutions to these problems taken seriously. I have seen college kids protest frat parties for making fun of the treatment of undocumented immigrants, but not protesting the actual government policy incarcerating the immigrants.  We are accustomed to focusing on the phantoms – we miss the much more nefarious beasts.

I would rather see Obama disarm White Supremacist militias than ban symbols of racism.  The confederate flag looks and feels racist, and makes many People of Color feel trauma.  It is nice to know who the white supremacists are though.  Walmart will not sell any more White Supremacist emblems, but they will continue to sell White Supremacist killing machines.  Not exactly comforting.

As long as we are doing away with the Confederate flag, here are some other anti-racist actions that we can take in the USA:

  1. Disarm the KKK, the Minutemen and all other white supremacist militias.  It is a good time to implement the 2nd amendment right to a “well-regulated militia” and regulate all militias to the same standard as we hold for flags.
  2. Stop detaining and deporting immigrants.  People who clean up after you, take care of your kids and elderly, and build everything should not be kept in cages or treated like animals!
  3. Tear down the border wall.  A violation of our territory that is used to make money for the worst of all our people.
  4. End all foreign military operations.  Imperialism is another form of racism.  We should focus on caring for our own people – not controlling others.
  5. Stop supporting Israel.  Few countries enforce segregation based on race and ethnicity.  Why does the US support the most egregious contemporary example?
  6. Kick the White Supremacists out of the military and police forces.
  7. Give back all contested Indigenous lands. From The Black Hills to the recent government acquisition of Oak Flats there is ample room to begin land reparations to Natives.
  8. End mass-incarceration and the Drug War.  America has more imprisoned people than any society in history.  This is largely due to non-violent offenses.
  9. Redistribute wealth.  The 1% richest have way too much money.  Make them give it up!
  10. Free all political Prisoners.  We know the institutionalized racism has been wrongfully imprisoning people.  Let’s keep our hands off Assata and Free Russell Maroon Shoats

I’m sure I’m missing many more.  Feel free to add to the list



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SEXism & The City

 Binders Full of Women Take Issue with Isolated Incident

Austin City Manager Marc Ott apologized recently for something “sexist” happening at City Hall.  It was the softer side of patriarchy expressing regret for an uncontrolled outburst.  Like a hung-over frat boy, the chief city bureaucrat is real sorry about his behavior last night; and he is making a case for forgiveness so things can go back to normal.

Honey, we need to leave this dirt bag – not Ott – but patriarchy behind us.

The incident in question has blown up the over the last few days.  The office of the city manager, under direction of Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes, offered a training called “The Changing Dynamics in Governance: Women Leading a Local Government”.  Two speakers came from Florida, former city manager Jonathan K. Allen and professor and consultant Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart. They addressed a room of mostly women on what differences occur when women, instead of men, are in charge in the workplace.  Burt-Stewart took the lead presentation about gender differences in the workplace.  Allen described the growing trend of women as majorities in the public sector.  One of his main arguments as to why this is important was that women care more about communities than numbers, and that men need to change to accommodate this.  However his style and vocabulary was not in sync with white Liberal professional culture.

The media produced a public uproar about the training, framing it as sexist.  Articles came out in local and national papers (see links below) that shamed the city manager, his staff, and the speakers.  There has been repetition of the same narrative by every news source available.  Virtually none seem to reference the training, but only the initial news article’s interpretation of the training, which ignores Burt-Stewart completely and takes Allen out of context.  Two days later the women of City Council, the Mayor and the City Manager responded with a press conference expressing their disappointment of the “sexist” presentation.  Ott apologized in the midst of calls for his ouster. A day later Assistant Manager Snipes was suspended over the incident.  This is how the public narrative currently stands: sexist men were shown the door, girl-power, go back to work.

“There is some cultural thing going on that we’re not aware of,” said Garza in her response.  Adler added, “we need to understand how we got here.”  Apparently, they’ve never heard of patriarchy – a word that we have not seen mentioned in any news article about the situation (including snarky “feminist” blog) or by any official responses.  Instead everyone has been using the Liberal safe words “diversity” and “difference”.

Before everyone goes quietly back to work, we might address the opportunity we have to advance gender equity in our city right now and what this will look like.  We might also notice how when members of historically disenfranchised groups achieve status, they spend most of their political careers playing defense, moving to the “center” and molding their politics and behavior to align with the dominant social group. The “controversial” trainings appear to be a perfect opportunity to move against patriarchy – but council’s response was to NOT talk about gender.  I respect the women on council enough to take this more seriously and rise to this potentially feminist occasion.

Somebody has some serious Mansplaining to do

Ott mansplained his way out of charges of sexism by claiming that the speaker is in no way representative of the “culture, philosophy or approach” to how he manages the city.

So, the city of Austin operates as a passively matriarchal  organization via culture, philosophy and approach and NOT as a patriarchal organization rooted firmly in treating women as if they do not have power?  I don’t think so.

The problem with the training was not that it had an “outdated message” as the council claimed.  The problem is that despite women taking representative power in city government, management in our society remains rooted in patriarchy.

Instead of talking about patriarchy, everyone followed Ott’s framing that “the city respects diversity”.  Sound familiar?  It should.  We are in as much of a post-patriarchal society as we are in a post-racial society.  Adler’s public comment that “this kind of misguided ‘training’ does not represent Austin and its inclusive values” is the opposite of our sentiment:

“Oh, the most segregated city in America is in Liberal denial about structures of oppression and thinks “diversity” challenges power? Yeah, I guess that would apply to gender as well as race.”

Despite having a non-white president as our image of an anti-racist America, racist violence against people of color has increased under Obama.  This actually makes sense when we understand how power works:  When White-Supremacy is challenged at the institutional level, people who rely on white-privilege to claim power in society look to re-establish their dominance through violence.  We have seen this unfold in regards to sex and gender over the last generation – something often overlooked among feminists.

Patriarchy is a hierarchical social system where masculinity is associated with agency and represented by “male bodies” (mostly penises) and femininity is associated with submissiveness and represented by “female bodies” (mostly wombs).  Key to the function of patriarchy is that power is reserved for men within families and government through the control of the women’s sexuality and labor. Women are property in some patriarchal societies, in others they have no agency, and in others they simply are treated as inferior to men. Patriarchy does more than give power to penises, it associates dickish qualities with agency and strength.  Therefore domination is considered power because men dominate, not because it results in good governance.

Sadly, the feminist movement has not made way for enlightened men to share power.  The erosion of patriarchy also coincided with the rise of neoliberalism (basically capitalism as a culture; hyper-individualism with no clear values). While under patriarchy, women are treated as objects of value; under neoliberalism they are treated as objects with considerably less value.  Now that women work, men have not stepped up to do more domestic work, they just play more video games.  Men now struggle for dominance with hyper-masculine woman hating. The misogyny that we have seen on the rise in recent decades should not be seen as just more patriarchy – it is distinct. It is a direct result of an unstructured confrontation over domination with men rejecting the patriarchal values of family and leadership.

While some Conservatives respond to misogyny by calling for more patriarchy (“we need to protect women”), Liberals have responded with calls for more individualism (sisterhood, diversity, Beyoncé, feminism is whatever you want it to be).  Neither of these paths will bring us liberation from the hierarchy of gender norms. Culturally we view power and order as masculine and so accept patriarchal behavior as the best way to govern.  It is not.

Under second-wave feminism, women responded to patriarchy in the workplace by acting more domineering and patriarchal.  While this is a product of an important push for liberation, it has not eroded male-dominance, only admitted women to the dominators club.  The problem isn’t that not enough women are assholes, it’s that too many men are.  In a similar fashion, Oprah and LeBron don’t empower communities that suffer under racial inequity – they only benefit from exploitation like white people have traditionally done.  We don’t need a more multicultural elite – we need less of an elite altogether.


Gender isn’t about diversity – it’s about power.  Women politicians have been viewed in the West as an obstruction to the perceived natural order of power and generated fear..  Responses have ranged from patriarchy (women should stay in the home), to misogyny (they deserve to be raped).  Second wave feminist responses to this sexism have been that women can be like men, too.  This has been transcended in practice. Today’s feminism neither reinforces a gender binary or rejects gender.  Much like race, gender is complex, and socially constructed around power.  The goal is to undo the hierarchy – so why can’t we talk about it?

You know who talks about gender? – Sexists!

The city council women’s public response to the training was entrenchment of second-wave feminism. I have to wonder if we watched the same video.  Garza, Kitchen, Houston, Tovo, Poole, Troxclair and Gallo all said how outdated the messaging was, and were backed up by Ott and Mayor Adler.  They were disgusted and appalled by the assertion that women and men are different. After all, they wear power suits and get shit done as well as any man.  One of them is even a firefighter for Pete’s sake!

Let’s not pretend that “women are just as good as men.”  In reality, women are BETTER than men are.  We do not say this towards feminist male-deprecation – we  mean that most men exercise male-privilege and are therefore: less sensitive to others, more distant from genuine experiences of injustice, and more likely to be attracted to hypocrisy and corruption.

The differences between men and women was the core of the presentations.  For example, “men use a ‘dominating’ management style/women use a “compromising” style” illuminates a positive quality for a public servant and associates it with femininity.  The point that was not explicit and sorely ignored by all is that men have traditionally not made the ideal candidates for democratic leadership.

Kitchen came close to making this point: “asking questions is strength” (that was actually the point that the presenters were making by the way),  but then she linked this back to Liberal diversity saying that “both men and women do it.” Then she went on to talk about how good women are at numbers.  What is missing here is that management = patriarchy.  The very culture of managing other people is based in domination.  This culture can still be addressed by our woman dominated council, but it is unlikely to happen when we ignore power.

 The most explicitly criticized element of the presentations was the idea that women take longer to act.  Instead of simply shutting this down, we might engage this critical question: why with added elements of oppression would any group take longer to do things than another group?  Furthermore, how is the value of doing things quickly (effectively) related to oppression?

Intersectionality gives us the answer to these questions.  Understanding the roots of patriarchy and colonialism can make this a simple equation: power rooted in exploitation is intrinsically dehumanizing; this hierarchy (white-supremacy/patriarchy) is based on a falsehood that some people are superior; those who benefit and operate according to this falsehood have less reason to ever know the truth;  knowledge of reality is therefore more readily accessible to those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and most distant to those on the top.  This is likely why so many of the greatest theorists are queer women of color – they are socialized to see truth more readily than others. This is also why the stupidest and most powerful people are white, hetero, cisgendered men. [This line of reasoning is paraphrased from, and influenced by, Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought (1990) – a fantastic read!]

“Women are from Omicron Persei 7, Men are from Omicron Persei 9”

Dr. Burt-Stewart’s presentation was more feminist than many of the responses from the women on city council.  We suggest they watch the video.  We would even argue that, as a Black woman, Dr. Burt-Stewart possesses intersectional knowledge that most members of council do not.  In the end, her presentation and this knowledge, has been erased in the public narrative.

Burt-Stewart asked her majority female audience to “openly acknowledge gender differences.”  She was careful to avoid talking about patriarchy directly, but she was alluding to it throughout her presentation. Ideas like “men act on facts, women act on emotions”, “men have egos”, “men recluse to solve problems while women seek support”, “men want individual acknowledgement, women want to be more of a team” and “women are not heard by men” were spoken as positive qualities about women.  She was seeking acknowledgement for management becoming more feminine. Most of her presentation was about Emotional Intelligence, and how women score higher than men.  The presentation was not about gender binary, it was about moving towards a more matriarchal culture.

The ‘good ol boy system is coming to end; Burt-Stewart and Allen both lauded this sentiment. Their treatment of gender difference was a blatant stereotype.  Burt-Stewart repeated the words “typically” over and over again to refer to gendered behaviors.  Only when she was careful to not upset any men did she add, “not one is better than the other”, appealing to the safety of Liberal Humanism.  If only she were more brazen to directly confront patriarchy, there would have been little to critique.  Her speech, much like Allen’s, should have used words like patriarchy and power – that would have made them radical.  Instead they used words like “diversity” and “difference”, and no one took them seriously.  Unfortunately, giving people the benefit of the doubt remains uncommon to everyone reporting on this story.

Women in power means taking more time to hear constituents, more care in concerning other viewpoints and making compromises instead of hiding in cooked-up numbers.  This is not happening in all aspects of our society.  Allen noted in his presentation that Women make up 3 percent of businesses executives and less than 1 percent of CEOs, a reverse dynamic than in public sector.  Racism and capitalism provide enough structural imbalances in our society.   In seeing how far we have to go, it is frustrating to see backwards steps. Let’s move beyond patriarchy.  I look forward to having more conversations like the ones began by Burt-Stewart and Allen, but conversations that take patriarchy and dominance seriously.  Perhaps then, we can all take steps towards a decolonial matriarchy.

by: Dr. Tane Ward & Rockie Gonzalez

Thanks to my mother, daughter, sisters and all of my woman relatives for encouraging my feminist voice and allowing me to speak. Thanks especially to my wife and duality, Rockie Gonzalez for collaboration and guidance.

-Dr. Tane Ward

“Women rule the world.  We do.” -Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart,  controversial speaker

“The first thing that I did was recognize that I need to change.” -Jonathan K. Allen, controversial  speaker


statement from trainers in response to controversy

Dr. Burt-Stewart Presentation

Statesman “warned to expect more questions”

Wonkette (snarkyfeminist blog post)

Ott statement

Austin Monitor


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Happy New Year

Happy New Year ATX!

“Happy New Year, Dr. Tane Ward, Equilibrio Norte.”

     That was how I signed off a recent letter to the Austin Chronicle. My name stayed in print, but they took out the name of my organization, my title* and the “Happy New Year.”  The rest of my letter was published, and that’s nice, but I feel that my intention of good will was subdued by this omission.  So I want to put it out there – Happy New Year, Austin Texas!

     Austin has received a gift this New Year season – single member district representation, aka Democracy.  For the first time in history Austin will have official citywide politics.  It’s nice.  Not because every district earned a unique champion to represent them but, because for the first time we can look at our city and see the politics that really lie beneath the liberal image: no more gentleman’s agreements, no more West Austin dominating the rest, no more pretending that there are no Republicans in the city.  Instead, we have genuine opportunity to work through the city’s real issues. This is also known as Politics.
While I am very happy about the victory of my very own representative – Ora Houston, I am quite disappointed about the defamation of hometown heroine Susana Almanza. I am glad to see the money come out into the open, to see who was willing to back whom, to hear people talk about the working class.  I am eager to get to move forward from the point at which we now find ourselves.  It is time to map out where we are as a community, dig in, and work to build a more equitable Austin.
If you haven’t seen the outcomes of the recent city elections, I suggest looking up who your district councilperson is; I then suggest doing your best to form a good relationship with this person that combines support, accountability and good intentions in equal measure.

Representative democracy is often an obstruction to movement-based politics.  Change to Austin’s city council signifies a rupture in the status quo that has stifled political agency in Austin for decades.  There is opportunity to reestablish community led, place based and justice oriented politics.  However, this will also be an opportunity for conventional powerful interests to maneuver, and we should expect this.  There is a clear opening for movement, and we should all be ready to engage on this political front.
In order to push our movements forward, we need a better system. The restrictive government system we have will only become something better by critical activists working with the new system and our newly elected officials.  Those who fight for justice may choose to use democracy, or not.  However, at all levels of political engagement, now marks a moment when it is important to understand our city, and our place therein.
What has the recent election taught us about our city?  I think we have learned a great deal about what has been previously concealed through the oversimplified cultural identity of Austin as “liberal” or progressive.”  Specifically issues of money, party politics, race, class and the culture of the city have risen to the surface to engage by our movements on the ground and in the new council stage.
I address the overarching themes of money, party politics, race, class and the culture of the city with the intention of overcoming the structural problems that our society faces at the local level.  The institutional racism that is rearing its ugly head in our mainstream political discourse, the recent legislative takeover by Republicans, and the widespread move to privatize public services all affect our city, but are most often digested as national issues. The facebookosphere is loaded with articles upon articles about things people should know or think about race and racism, but there is little information that aids in addressing racism in our cities and in Austin in particular.  The same is true with discussions on neoliberal policy and capitalist driven inequality.  I believe that we can and should address larger social issues by working through them in our city from the ground up.

In the mayoral race, Adler trounced Martinez – I think this surprised a lot of people.  While Adler seems nice enough, the two decisive factors that he brought to the political races were money and experience (having lots of one and not much of the other).  We would be wise to pay close attention to how money influences city politics – not only addressing rich candidates running, or how campaigns are funded, but also addressing the types of economic development that are being promoted and those that remain in the margins.  There is money behind the money, and behind that money is power.  Big players in the Austin economy fought to win in this election – they gave money, endorsements and reassured their bases.  The economic direction we take as a city has the chance to change now and while this scares those who financially gain from the previous system, the status quo, again, has cracked.
race mapAdler was not shy about hitching on to the national trend of rejecting incumbent politicians, which was a leading Right-Wing tactic this year.  Republicans have stepped up in Austin, as they have all over the country in taking power through reiteration of the dominant political ideology of the USA – capitalism, meritocracy, xenophobia, and the impotence of government.  Austin for years has voted solidly Democrat and is considered a blue island in a sea of red.  This smokescreen has done well to obscure city trends towards regressive economics, racism and exploitative development.  This is perhaps the greatest gift we have received from our single member districts; the area of the city that had the highest percentage of candidates and voters in the at-large system is solidly Republican in the 10-1.
An interesting exposition of party politics appeared in attacks calling Steve Adler a “Republican”.  Adler is a Democrat – a rich, white, male Democrat millionaire turned politician.  There are tons of them in the Democrat party.  Let’s not pretend this is otherwise by mislabeling Adler as GOP.  Instead, why don’t we eschew the mainstream two-party system and instead look to build coalition based in the values we share.  The difference between West Austin and the rest is not dissimilar from Adler and the rest of us – it’s about money.  I hope we can find ways to reach out to our new mayor, and push him to represent our whole city and not just the class he belongs to.  This may be the first step in doing something similar on the state and national levels.  An open challenge to the dominant political system is in order – this is not an attack on a politician or on a political party – it is an attack on an economic system of inequality.  We are unlikely to have such an opportunity again; I say we make the most of it.

Another key structure that we cannot ignore is that this city is divided along class and race lines (who knew?).  The initial electoral map of the three primary mayoral candidates grafting upon a veritable identical map our ridiculously segregated city was quite impressive.  This was not so neatly affirmed in the run-off; although the city is roughly 30% Latino, which is about the percentage of votes that Martinez received.  I don’t mean to suggest uniform political ideology fits neatly into racial categories, but because race and racism are such tense and visible matters in the public sphere, we are wise to consider how racism operates in Austin, and the opportunity we have to undo it.  
Historically Austin has been legally, politically and economically segregated in a colonial pattern of White privilege and Black and Indian genocide.  In more recent years, the longstanding Black and Latino communities in East Austin have been displaced through gentrification.  The displacement of working-class East Side residents has been subsidized by the city to the advantage of upper-class developers, and middle-class homeowners.  Efforts to revitalize the existing East Side communities have not received the same support from the city.  Racism does not drive gentrification, capitalism does; but racism is the outcome of gentrification, it is the effect.
Anti-racist practice, as opposed to anti-racist ideas, is when privilege is subverted and subjugated people rise.  Anti-racist practice has been stifled and silenced in the mainstream political mouthpieces of this city and in the actions of the previous council.  I sincerely hope that the incoming council does more than confront the abstract idea of racism, and instead move to confront the structures that keep racism in place  – namely gentrification and exploitative development.
I encourage the new city council to take the Undoing Racism Austin training, and mandate it for all city staff and public servants.  People of Color should be encouraged to defend their territory and right to exist.  White folks in Austin, especially the newly arrived, should be willing to forfeit their privilege, and understand that anti-racism begins with justice.  Anti-racist work is not just for People of Color, however; it speaks to the larger culture that drives these politics.
What values are produced through gentrification and new urbanism: white-privilege, hipster cynicism, free-market capitalism, apathy?  What can our justice-based movements offer to the lost people who are moving to this city in droves?  How can we present the cultures of this city, in ways that will allow them to survive, and allow us to survive materially, in this place?  People of Color on the East Side are willing to share their land with new comers who respect where they have landed.  Sadly, most newcomers resemble the colonial spirit of manifest destiny, where the pilgrims who arrive are interested in only promoting the economic system that privileges their existence; in the contemporary case this is mainstream capitalist consumerism.

Development should be structured towards justice, not exploitation.  Justice means that communities come before individuals, poor before rich, women before men, children before adults, elderly before the young, disabled before abled.      We have invested in the opposite expression of this value – the unending unsustainable growth of condos, trendy festivals and elite services instead promote individualism, capitalism, and the subsidization of young, rich yuppies from the Coasts who move to Austin, while poor people of color are forced to leave.  This trend is not the inevitable result of the invisible hand of the market – it is tied directly to city policies and a cultural silencing of those negatively affected.
The tendency to represent Austin, as an open, artistic, tourist destination is in desperate need of change.  An economy rooted in justice will lead to a city that is equitable and prosperous.  Key to how we produce our overall culture in Austin will be directly linked to the survival of the East Side as a cultural territory of historically rooted People of Color.

     When our movements on the ground meet with the structures of power that exist in this city, we will have the potential to move forward.  This goal is reason enough to celebrate.  The New Year renders constant change and growth – the forces that allow us to continue.

Onward to justice
Peace to the East Side
Peace to the people of Loston
Happy New Year

-Dr. Tane Ward
Equilibrio Norte

*The Austin Chronicle has repeated the omission of the title “Dr.” from my name three times.  In a recent article when my name was mentioned, the title was missing, even though the reporter contacted me earlier that same week for a quote and apologized for not addressing me properly – so, they know it should be there. Personally, the omission of my title is of little consequence, I prefer the informal. However,  the Chronicle has consistently disrespected people of color from East Austin that the elders here have encouraged professional Chicanos like myself, to speak up and be heard.  My initial letters to the Chronicle were intended to defend the legacies of some of these very same elders.  It feels offensive to them, and to the larger community for the omissions of my title and organization.

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Decolonizing Environmentalism: Step One

ClimateChangeMarch-09_0Last week the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world hosted the first step in decolonizing environmentalism. The People’s Climate March in New York City saw Four Hundred Thousand people and hundreds of thousands more marched around the world. Various frontline communities – indigenous peoples, the urban and rural poor and simply those most affected by climate change – led the march, demonstrating that people are beginning to understand Global Climate Disruption as an issue of environmental justice.

Climate justice is social justice. Those most affected by global climate disruption are those least likely to have caused it, and those most likely to have caused it are those most likely to avoid its negative effects. This is the same equation that describes environmental injustice as a whole. Pollution and displacement affect impoverished communities and people of color disproportionately throughout the world, while the industry causing pollution and displacement benefit people in the elite urban cores that are dependent on resources extracted elsewhere.

There is a historical connection between political inequality and environmental destruction, from the conquest of Native America by Europeans to the contemporary extraction of natural resources in the Third World. Human cultures have always built relationships with territory, but colonialism is an exploitative economic and cultural system that subverts peoples’ connections to territory through displacement, land and resource theft, and subversion of native culture. The modern worldview justifies colonial domination of lands and peoples through the classification of all things within a hierarchy. Colonial society perpetuates hierarchies of “modern” people over “savages”, humans over animals and “man” over “nature”. Present day resource extraction follows this same logic, as peoples in the Third World seldom have political power over their land and resources, which are exploited to serve the expansion of global capitalism. Resistance to colonialism is best expressed by indigenous peoples who maintain cultural territory through a productive and non-exploitative connection to their ancestral lands.

Historically, the groups that have been given the power to decide who lives where and what resources to use have done so for their own benefit. Settler colonial society is founded on the idea that white settlers enact power and control over land. On the other hand, people of color have been acculturated to receive precisely the opposite message – they have been historically denied the political power to decide what happens on their cultural territory. Whether through displacement, slavery, genocide, land theft or xenophobia, non-whites throughout the world have been denied political or legal power over their land and resources.

As beneficiaries of colonialism, western environmentalists have been acculturated to believe they have dominion over nature. Environmentalism is rooted in a colonial logic because it suggests that the natural world is separate from the social and political world and needs to be protected. Decolonizing environmentalism rejects the colonial concept of “nature” and instead focuses on peoples’ relationships with their cultural territories. The inability for mainstream environmental politics to reach beyond a certain demographic has, in the past, reflected the imbalance of power established through colonialism.

It is easy to see injustice within global capitalism; and the anger levied at Wall Street and imperialism is well warranted. However, it can be hard to grasp the implications of challenging “the system” as a whole. A prominent narrative on the rise insists that global capitalism is incapable of providing justice or sustainability and is causing irreversible harm to the world. If we immediately jump to “Stop Global Warming”, or “end industrial capitalism” we miss the intermittent steps of establishing what it looks like to “not cause global warming”. Energy consumption in the US continues to rise as it has done for fifty years. The economic system that we comply with in our daily lives is exploitative to peoples and lands all over the world, whether we wish to admit it or not. Gasoline, coal, cheap electronics – your car, your lights, your cell-phone, and your computer – is all produced through colonial exploitation of lands and peoples.

One key problem with the traditional environmental movement is that it seeks solutions from the very demographic that is most complicit with causing and benefiting from exploitation and environmental degradation. Whether expressed as ideologically anti-capitalist or anti-global warming, those who assume the power to decide what happens to the world and what is best for the global society remains with settler-colonial, capitalist society. However, if we look to sites of resistance to global capitalism, we are likely to find people defending their cultural territories from exploitation, who offer real alternatives to environmental destruction. It is precisely these communities who have emerged to steer the environmental movement in a new and exciting direction.

Privileging indigenous and other frontline communities is the first step in moving towards justice and against global climate disruption. Communities that maintain their existence without exploiting other peoples and lands should be the standard for our conception of environmentalism. Indigenous struggles for land and resources throughout the Third and Fourth worlds challenges how all peoples connect to land. Framing capitalism as “unjust” and global warming as “devastating” can render action to the abstract plane of the “global”, when attainable solutions to these problems thrive at the local level. Justice and cultural territory are precisely the answers that environmentalists have been seeking.

Decolonizing environmentalism does not mean diversifying the existing movement. Decolonization is a process whereby the movement eschews its colonial roots and is remade from the ground up by those with the most at stake. The history of the world is diverse. Peoples are diverse. Land is diverse. The problem, however, is universal. Separating people from land, in order to control land and people is colonial, unjust, destructive, and divisive. Colonial exploitation must go, but so must the treatment of land as an object, the treatment of others as inferior, and the arrogance implied through a settler-colonial led solution. Decolonization is a diverse process too. It means something different for those who maintain ancestral territory, those who have been removed from their homelands and those who do not even understand what territory means. For some, the immediate response will be an empowered resurgence of their cultural values. For others it will be a slow process of learning. For still others, it will mean a sacrifice of their exploitative lifestyle. The next step for all of us will be to establish whether or not we are ready to teach, learn and act. The first step has been taken.

Dr. Tane Ward


To learn about other decolonial environmental movements, check out these links:




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Decolonizing Environmentalism

On Sunday, along with local environmental groups including The Sierra Club, ACAN (Austin Climate Action Network), Sheild The People and Alma de Mujer, Equilibrio organized The People’s Climate March: ATX.  This demonstration in solidarity with the Climate March in NYC produced a list of demands for city council on local city of Austin policies that relate to climate justice and this communiqué, penned by Dr. Tane Ward. Participants used #climatemarchatx to share photos and video of the event.

Designed to highlight the intersection of struggles, the poster above visually represents the Texas/Mexico border and a teepee spirit camp in South Dakota.


This Thursday, Sepetember 25 at 1PM at Huston-Tillotson University, Dr. Ward will be presenting “Decolonizing Environmentalism” at the First Annual Building Green Justice Forum. The Forum is organized by Ecology Action of Texas’ Director, Joaquin Mariel, in association with The Dumpster Project and Green Is The New Black.  Dr. Ward’s presentation will be followed by a workshop: “Horizontal Organizing Methodologies” facilitated by Equilibrio Co-Founder and Field Organizer, Rockie Gonzalez. The workshop will focus on developing an anti-racist approach and organizing in East Austin.  This event is free and open to the public. RSVP here to attend.



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