words by willow defebaugh
Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.
“As we seek this healing, let us do so with the knowledge that oneness is not sameness. It is the transcendence of our differences and the weaving of our diverse expressions into a tapestry that is harmonized and aligned with common purpose.” —Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset
There were many memorable moments from this week’s VP debate. Most notable among them were: Vice President Mike Pence using ‘Joe Biden wants to solve climate change’ as an attack, the realization that the Green New Deal seems to have struck fear into the hearts of both parties, and the immaculate grace and poise that Senator Kamala Harris maintained while being continuously interrupted and gaslit. As many commentators have discussed by now, she had the impossible task of being a Black woman on the political stage—needing to appear strong but not aggressive, kind but not weak, passionate but not emotional. And she was flawless.
Perhaps the most notable moment of all, though, came in the form of a question from an eighth grader named Brecklynn Brown: “When I watch the news all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”
While the sentiment is certainly there, this question ultimately draws parallels to the dangerous “why can’t we all just get along” argument that is often used in conversations about racism. In both of these scenarios, this argument turns a blind eye to history: namely that this country was built on a multi-party system of diverse views, and that our founding fathers had no problem recognizing and weaponizing race when it came to enslaving other human beings.
The “why can’t we all just get along” argument ignores not only the past, but the present. It is unjust to tell one party that it has to hold hands with another that has chosen a white supremacist as its leader. Of course many of us would like to return to a world in which the partisan divide was not so strong in this country, but did that world really exist? More than our divisive president, this division was caused by our denial of this country’s past and present—our refusal to recognize racism and celebrate diversity.
I say “our” because the environmental movement is undoubtedly guilty of this as well, having been whitewashed and white-led for years—despite the fact that it is communities of color who are impacted most by the climate crisis that so many of us have dedicated our lives to combating. And for those who still don’t understand why racial justice is climate justice, who don’t understand why anti-racism work is your work too, I’d like to remind you that the “bio” in biodiversity stands for life. How can you fight for the sanctity of life while excluding humankind from it?
It’s for these reasons and so many more that I can’t wait for you to read The Frontline, the new environmental justice newsletter that our brilliant climate editor Yessenia Funes is launching next week. It features interviews with environmental justice leaders, investigative reporting on how the climate crisis is impacting frontline communities, and how you can advocate for them. Once you sign up, it will arrive in your inbox every Monday–Thursday, and then you’ll end your week with The Overview on Fridays.
To revisit Brecklynn’s question, I do believe unity is possible. More than possible, it’s imperative—for the climate crisis is one that requires a united front. But as Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset says, even as we align ourselves with a common purpose, we must do so with the understanding that oneness is not sameness. For a picture of perfect unity, we needn’t look further than nature itself: a singular tapestry, a whole that is woven by countless diverse threads.