What's Up?

The Energy Democracy Leadership Institute [EDLI] has been a long time in the making, so we’re thrilled to announce that last month, the first cohort of 16 Black and Indigenous leaders from Eastern NC graduated from our new eight month grassroots organizing program. EDLI is a collaborative program between NCCJC and NC WARN that trains emerging leaders to organize for a just and renewable energy future for their communities. Toward that end, EDLI graduates are calling for an end to new fossil fuel projects and forest destruction from wood pellets.

One recent EDLI graduate and Fellow--Chasity Hunt--is a member of the Lumbee Nation who is fighting against many energy injustices threatening her community in Robeson County. For her, EDLI has been a pathway to take on corporate polluters like Duke Energy. In North Carolina, our energy system has been in the hands of electric monopolies like Duke Energy and Dominion for far too long. Chasity is fed up with the way these companies “spit out words like safety and sustainability but continuously fail and harm [our] communities...Indigenous peoples need to stand up in NC against corporations taking and giving nothing back to our communities. Look at coal ash...long term, 20 years down the road, what is [Duke Energy] doing to our community?…Where does the waste go? In our rivers! We are the people of the dark water.”

A world where we have energy democracy means that Black and Indigenous communities don’t have to worry about or fight toxic companies building fossil fuel projects in their neighborhoods. Inspired through EDLI to stand for energy democracy not just in her own region but as part of “a planet-wide movement,” Chasity hopped in her truck last month and drove to Minnesota to join action camps there. She wanted to learn direct action tactics and “see the complete picture; the knowledge of how [other indigenous leaders] organize and take over spaces.”

Led by Indigenous leaders, the action camps aim to stop Enbridge’s LIne 3 pipeline from being put into the ground. Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion that would build a whole new corridor to bring tar sands from Canada through lakes, wild rice, waterways and treaty territories; the existing Line 3 is old and corroding and Enbridge just wants to abandon it (currently there are no regulations for abandoned pipelines!) Many Indigenous leaders, including Winona LaDuke, are calling for accountability for companies like Enbridge to clean up their messes and for investing in green jobs and infrastructure that actually serves First Nations.

Chasity offered ground support to make sure the action camps ran smoothly and helped ensure that people were taken care of while participating in daily protests.

Alongside actions to end the construction of Line 3, Chastity took part in the protests around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) to raise awareness of the multiple harms pipelines bring. Pipeline projects cause a sharp increase in violence against Indigenous women and girls because of the establishment of “man camps” of temporary housing for (mostly male) workers near a pipeline construction site. “Enbridge is trying to sell this pipeline to the people as something good. [We] need jobs but everyone here is out of state,.” said Chasity. It is never about localized energy choice or local permanent jobs or community safety; for the fossil fuel industry, profit is the only consideration. Chasity gained first-hand knowledge about the dangers that these “man camps” pose and how they violate many rules established for the protection of local communities.

Now that Chasity is back home, she is putting all she learned from the Line 3 Indigenous action camps into her next phase of activism as an EDLI Fellow. Over the next 6 months, she will be working to stop the construction of Duke Energy’s new liquified natural gas facility in Lumbee territory. Though the struggle may be difficult, EDLI has given her a strong sense of solidarity and support among frontline leaders from eastern NC: “I was put in all the right circles after I made my stance. I found my circle [in EDLI], I found my people. I need to learn all I can about energy democracy.”

As luck would have it, though I work with farmworkers in Florida, during the historic 2020 election season I found a home in North Carolina. As part of a statewide coalition effort, I helped the North Carolina Climate Justice Collective to make early voting locations into Safe Sites. Amid reports of voter intimidation incidents throughout the country, Safe Sites offered the opportunity for all voters to cast their ballots without fear for their personal safety.

The project aimed to create an atmosphere that would curtail any kind of problem between voters with different points of view before a potential situation could escalate. When I volunteered to help, I imagined myself being part of a human wall staring down would-be intimidators. However, the volunteers – including members of NCCJC, the Down East Coal Ash Environmental and Social Justice Coalition, and Friends of the Earth – created an environment reminiscent of a festival that worked more effectively to dissipate tensions that might arise.

For me, the experience was fun as well as insightful. I made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I got to visit parts of rural North Carolina I had not seen before. More importantly, in the time I spent offering bottled water, masks, and guides to voters, I saw in unfamiliar faces the familiar air of the folks I grew up with and the ones I work with now. I saw rural America struggling with the legacy of racial tension and economic inequality, and at the same time hopeful for a brighter future. Perhaps my vision of a brighter future for North Carolina, Florida, and the United States is different from that of many voters, but then again, perhaps it is closer than I imagine. The most valuable lesson for me is that despite our differences, the best democracy is the one where all citizens can freely exercise their right to civic engagement.

Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli

Farmworker Association of Florida

I have always had an interesting relationship with triangles. The groundedness of three sides resting on one another to embody strength and resilience in one shape appeals to me.

I've always considered myself more of a circle gal, though. A circle inspires movement and togetherness in my spirit, somehow. Power shines out of the whole circle image without separating a side or point of view. When I was in grad school, the professor that impacted me most, Janaki Natarajan, used shapes to interpret the complexities of people coming together, and the triangle often represented hierarchy or capitalism. Looking at the triangle, the top smaller part represented the smaller percent of people that owned economic and cultural power, while the majority was represented by the larger parts of the triangle, keeping the whole intact.

This piece is about the contradictions that come when we separate our material selves from our spiritual selves. When this happens, the natural world suffers and is caught in between. I am inspired by the NC Climate Justice Collective because it offers tools for me to create and embrace traditions that merge the metaphysical, cultural and communal (back) into our ecosystems. I hope that “The Earth Between Us” inspires you somehow, too.

Bevelyn Ukah,

Bevelyn is a member of the Collective's Leadership Team. She created this piece in response to an invitation to reflect on one of the collective's four approaches to our work, "re-imagine."