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Silence Is Consent: Solidarity With All People Fighting Oppression

In 1967 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon in which he said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.

In my new role as the Director of Equity, Inclusion and Justice at the Sierra Club, I have a lot of conversations that begin with questions like, “Why should the Sierra Club get involved in issues outside of the environmental movement? Why are we speaking out about Black Lives Matter, or the Fight for $15? What does this have to do with us?”

Whenever I hear these questions, I reflect on Dr. King’s quote. What does it mean to stand silently by while members of our community are suffering? For me, silence is consent.

That’s why the Sierra Club can’t and won’t be silent. This is more true than ever in the wake of an election that has left the progressive movement reeling, and people with marginalized identities in fear for their safety.

As an organization, we do not consent to the violence visited upon the bodies of Black people in the United States. We do not consent to the exploitation of workers, or to attacks on voting rights for disenfranchised people, or to the theft of land from indigenous people. We do not consent to injustice or the oppression of any people, anywhere.

We also do not consent to the normalization of white supremacy that Donald Trump’s election represents. As a person of color living in the United States, I do not labor under the illusion that the virulent hatred Trump has unleashed is a new phenomenon. This ugliness has been part of our community all along – the election just exposed it to the light. Regardless, the Sierra Club will not sit idly by as our volunteers, our staff, and our friends and neighbors are deported, persecuted for their religious beliefs, or denied control over their own bodies and lives.

The Sierra Club strives to be in solidarity with the powerful network of activists and organizers united in the fight against oppression. We are working inside the Sierra Club to become a more inclusive, equitable, and justice-oriented organization, and we seek to learn from the experiences of others on this path.

Our mission statement says that the Sierra Club will “enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.” On November 8th, the human and social environment in which we live got a whole lot less safe and healthy for a lot of folks. Donald Trump’s election threatens the safety and social support of millions of our friends and neighbors. It is our mission, our obligation and our moral imperative to speak up, to lend our resources, and to show up in solidarity with people fighting for justice wherever we can.

This is a dark and difficult time for many of us. It would be easy to retreat, keep our heads down and focus narrowly on what are traditionally known as “our issues.” But justice, equity, and inclusion are our issues. We have a duty to stand with those who are facing persecution on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or other marginalized identity. Solidarity is our only hope of creating the world we want to live in.

If you, like me, don’t consent to oppression, racism and hatred, then don’t be silent. Educate yourself about how you can show up for the LGBTQ community. Find your local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice and attend a meeting or a rally. Challenge hate speech when you hear it. Write to your local elected leaders and ask them to stand with immigrants and undocumented people in your community. Leverage the resources, influence, and power of organizations in your own life to lift up equity, justice, and inclusion. Now is the time to engage. We don’t have a moment to waste.

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