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Conference Snapshots: Takeaways from the Just Future Summit 2023

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Oakland, California — Through SACE’s collaboration with Towards Equitable Electric Mobility (TEEM), I had the opportunity in October to attend some sessions at the 2023 Just Future Summit hosted by The Greenlining Institute. This event brought community, industry experts, innovators, creatives, and thought leaders together to share knowledge, establish key connections, and gain needed inspiration for the task of forging a roadmap toward a more just world.

image from the just future summit panel titled Centering Joy to Sustain our Movements

From left to right, Maurice Mitchell, Linda Sarsour, and Solana Rice are pictured participating in the open plenary titled “Centering Joy to Sustain our Movements” at the 2023 Just Future Summit in Oakland, CA.


Known for its long history of activism around issues of justice and equity, the city of Oakland was a fitting background for discussing and envisioning a just future for all. This year’s Summit was a standout gathering, as it also doubled as The Greenlining Institute’s 30th anniversary. Greenlining Institute was established in 1993 as a non-profit organization with a mission to ensure “race is never a barrier to economic opportunity,”and is built upon the foundations of the founders’ earlier informal, multi-racial, intersectional coalition that created the concept of ‘greenlining.’ According to The Greenlining Institute, the concept of greenlining is “actively constructing a prosperous future that channels investments and opportunities into our communities.”

This concept of greenlinling is a major influence in TEEM. Under the TEEM framework, SACE joins organizations from Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia to collaborate as a peer-to-peer community of advocates committed to advancing racial equity in electric mobility and climate change goals. Understanding the impact of transportation pollution on low-income communities of color that are rooted in historical redlining and discriminatory policies is vital to our efforts to ensure the equitable approval, funding, and implementation of innovative electric mobility programs. But to start addressing a redlined history and push for a greenlined future in anything, the cultural adoption of justice-forward thinking has to be learned and cultivated.

Here are five memorable highlights from the Summit that left me thinking and inspired about actualizing a just future built on the concept and culture of greenlining.

1. “It’s not just about fighting for justice ourselves… It’s about fighting for justice for everyone”

— Dolores Huerta


This was spoken day one by Dolores Huerta, 93-years-old and Founder & President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Huerta is also known for her work as a labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the United Farm Workers Association and created one of the most well-known rallying calls, “Sí se puede.” She was seated as a speaker alongside activist, political strategist, and social media content creator Olivia Julianna, 20-years-old, on a fireside chat titled “Why Build a Cross-Generational Movement”.

Huerta shared her thoughts and experiences on the importance of centering intersectionality in our advocacy spaces when mobilizing for a just future, and how striving to consider everything and anything that can marginalize people is crucial in acquiring collective attention and action on important issues. Both Huerta and Julianna gave various real-life examples of how communities and organizers of all shades and life stories have come together to get work done. Delightedly seeing intersectional solidarity in real-time, Julianna revealed that Huerta was actually one of her biggest inspirations for getting into justice work.

It was not only inspiring to see the generational impact Huerta has, but it was also insightful to see how the speakers’ different methods in achieving justice intersects. Huerta’s long history of in-person activism experience and Julianna’s explosive influence in digital activism came together to form a unique and impactful message that reverberated through generational lines in the audience. It was a needed and important reminder that if we want to build a better future, we cannot do so by looking only to the next generation, but we must look to all generations.

2. “Joy is making meaning in the unfathomable journey and still deciding to chose one another”

— Maurice Mitchell


One of the major scene-setting moments of the Summit was the open plenary titled “Centering Joy to Sustain our Movements.” The speakers were Maurice Mitchell, Organizer & Director of the Working Families Party; and Linda Sarsour, Racial and Civil Rights Activist and author of “We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love & Resistance.” In a space often filled with gloom and a hyperfocus on addressing and learning about the negative, it can be hard to make room for anything uplifting. Mitchell and Sarsour challenged this notion by discussing the use of joy in our advocacy work.

The question Mitchell posed was how can people connect to joy when there’s so much suffering? The answer he gave was that joy and suffering are a shared experience. He reminded the audience that throughout all the years of suffering humans have faced on this Earth, humanity still moves forward and finds capacity and space to create and connect. Joy is not simply defined by laughing and smiles, joy can also be the act of finding meaning in existing. For Mitchell, joy is connection, whether that’s connecting with other people or connecting to the meaning of something.

This intention of centering joy in our advocacy is vital to the sustainability of our work, as the speakers reminded the audience that our work will not be done overnight. To hone in on this point, Sarsour shared some Indigenous wisdom, “you work for seven generations to come.” We may not see the fruits of our labor for a better world fast or even potentially in our lifetime, so that means we have to find ways to continue pushing when we know we may not see the results. This panel implored to let joy be used as the fuel to keep the energy of the movement burning.

3. “Instead of saying you or me, let’s say ‘let’s get together’”

— Linda Sarsour


Another powerful quote from the Summit comes again from the “Centering Joy to Sustain our Movements” plenary. Sarsour has studied the ideology and strategies of many justice leaders, including the non-violent advocacy of MLK, and how a culture of division created by a history of white supremacy has transformed and seeped into many aspects of how society functions and treats each other. For Sarsour, joy is not only how we connect to the work of building a better world, but also in how we work together to build a better world.

She emphasized the need to recognize that, even within the non-profit and community-based sectors, organizations can be influenced by the same divisive and acquisitive elements we aim to fight against in justice work. To avoid this unintended and harmful influence of historical systems of oppression, it is essential that organizations align their internal culture with their approach to justice work and the outcomes they seek.

One example she highlighted was how the competitive nature inherent in seeking grants might be hindering more impactful projects due to the ‘you vs me’ dynamic it introduces. Sarsour suggests that organizations transition away from individual project ideation and applications, instead favoring collaborative project ideation and applications. For instance, if there are ten organizations in a city addressing the same issue, these ten entities should unite, pooling their resources and capabilities to pursue a single, comprehensive project proposal that seeks greater funding.

Sarsour believes the scarcity mindset and action around funding can hinder the movement towards a just world. In such a critical moment in history, she says, working in good faith together with grace, patience and joy, and not in competition and division with one another, has to be the north star when pursuing justice.

4. “How does it land differently?”

— Lenore Anderson


One of the Summit’s undeniable strengths was its ability to give sage advice to leaders of all types, from community grassroot organizers to big industry players. One panel session that stood out was “Working Well: The Importance of Self-Nurturing in Creating Lasting Societal Change.” This panel was focused on the health and well-being of people in justice work and the self-care strategies they utilized. The session featured Lenore Anderson, Co-founder and President of Alliance for Safety and Justice and Brian Martin, Founder of BriSTAR Collective.

“How does it land differently?,” was a concept Anderson gave to the audience about remembering that how you react may not mean someone else will react similarly. One way this concept can be practiced is being considerate and intentional when working together with people who have lived experience related to your organization’s advocacy causes, internally and externally. For example, if your organization is collaborating with community members or have community- representative staff persons on an awareness campaign about the health detriments of living in or near polluting industries, there is going to be a very different experience happening between those who are speaking from lived experience and those who are only speaking from education.The emotional labor will always be heavier and more difficult to navigate for the people who have real-lived experience of injustice. By understanding and being considerate of how this work may land differently emotionally and physically for others, we can prioritize the well-being and respect the experience of all partners in advocacy work. Keeping this concept in mind can go a long way in building trust internally and externally for organizations and organizers when doing this important but complex work.

5. “It’s up to us to figure out what does that change mean”

— W. Kamau Bell


“A Conversation with W. Kamau Bell” was one of the most highly anticipated plenaries of the Just Future Summit. W. Kamau Bell, an award winning stand-up comedian, director, and executive producer to many projects, including CNN’s United Shades of America, spoke about his thoughts and perceptions on a just future. One of the topics Bell covered during his time on stage was recognizing the pivotal time we are living in. He noted his belief that currently (he proposes that it may have begun in 2020) humans have entered a period in time that future historians will hyperfocus on. There are clear signs that change is happening and it is up to us as people living now to guide what that change will look like to them.

For Bell, doing his part to guide that change means telling stories that deserve better crafting. He feels a responsibility to truthfully tell communities’ stories and actively develop content that is uplifting and disrupting incorrect narratives. He urged the audience that it is all our responsibility to figure out how to pass on a lighter baton to the next leaders. So when historians do look back on this time, they can say, “And that’s when they made it better.”

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The 2023 Just Future Summit lived up to its reputation as a gathering of great minds, pushing the boundaries of innovation and knowledge sharing within the justice work space. The anticipation for 2024 is already building for me, as I look forward to another summit full of transformative moments.

For more information and to access resources from the conference, visit https://greenlining.org/category/just-future-summit/ and stay tuned for updates on next year’s event.

The post Conference Snapshots: Takeaways from the Just Future Summit 2023 appeared first on SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
 
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