Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Mountain Justice celebrated their victory in stopping climate change yesterday, after persuading all institutions in the world to divest from fossil fuels simultaneously. Exxon Mobil, BP, Chevron and other large energy corporations signed a binding agreement last week to convert all oil rigs, pipelines and containers into windmills and solar panels. The United Nations General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to reduce carbon emissions by 90% under the threat of sanctions. “The looming disaster of climate change has been averted, all thanks to the hard efforts of Mountain Justice,” President Barack Obama said in a joint session to Congress.
However, there were some at Swarthmore who were uneasy at the backgrounds represented in the environmental activist group. Notably, the presence of white people in Mountain Justice’s executive board has attracted criticism.
“The White Savior Complex is at play here. Stopping climate change, averting rising sea levels, preventing unparalleled natural disasters, and securing our earth for generations to come is simply a way for rich white men to appropriate the struggles of people of color in frontline communities,” Matt Samuelson ‘17 said.
Even though much of the group’s time is occupied with solving the global issues of the 21st century, Mountain Justice leader Julia Lin ‘18 believes more can be done to enhance the social justice engagement of the group.
“We have failed marginalized communities when we stopped climate change without first acknowledging the tactics of a 1932 sit-in of a previously uncontacted Amazon tribe in protest of logging. By not explicitly citing the brave efforts of the Amazons in our activist efforts, we have effectively caused the erasure of the struggles by frontline communities. We have continued the neo-colonial oppression of the Global South. We must now take a break from providing solutions to the world’s most pressing issues and instead focus on allyship and intersectionality,” Lin said.
After canceling a meeting with international leaders to create a global carbon cap-and-trade program, Mountain Justice has responded to criticism by co-hosting a spoken word performance in the Intercultural Center to address intersectionality in environmental justice.
“Although MJ has succeeded in stopping climate change, it is important to stand in solidarity with other social justice groups and take leadership from the frontline. If your efforts to save the world are not intersectional, what kind of world are you saving?” asked MJ critic Taylor O’Stevens ‘19.
The spoken word performance explored systems of oppression and marginalization.
“Their logo features four tall smokestacks, symbolizing a level of development that only exists in rich, white countries. ‘Mountain’ is a geographic feature that does not exist for many communities that are close to the shore or are in a flat desert. The naming of MJ needs to be as inclusive as possible to avoid feelings of exclusion,” O’Stevens said.
A round of finger snapping ensued. Another point of criticism was the tactics used by Mountain Justice.
“Having inaccessible protest techniques like sit-ins reinforces the able-bodied supremacy inherent in environmental activism,” another speaker said.
Next week, Mountain Justice will host a discussion titled “(Re:)Subverting the Narratives of Intersectional Environmental Activism: A Semiotic Critique of the Environment(al)-Industrial Complex with Professor Brun@ Axstyn”.