The finger snapping started at an unlikely moment, in a session called “benchmarks for racial and economic justice.” OK, not an obviously inspiring name. But as the ambitious political demands popcorned around the room, the energy surged, and the snapping reached a crescendo.
- “End corporate welfare as we know it.”
- “Get the combustion engine off the roads within 10 years.”
- “A massive expansion of public housing, built on the principle of development without displacement.”
- “All 5,000 diesel trucks servicing the port upgraded to locally manufactured electrics, financed by a new public bank.”
As the afternoon sun danced in the courtyard fountain of the Audubon Center at Debs Park, 60 movement leaders from across the city—and from a sparkling spectrum of causes—gathered to share their wildest dreams of a different Los Angeles. This was the founding meeting of a new coalition, gathered to draft a document called the “L.A. Leap Manifesto”: a vision for a carbon-free city by 2025. Over two days, a clear picture emerged of a city that values all of its residents, as well as the natural systems—water, soil, air—that we all depend upon to thrive. No one and no place to be treated as disposable.
As Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz aptly put it in his kick-off for this historic gathering: “The record heat, hurricane and wildfire seasons show we are living in a climate emergency of shocking proportions we never expected so soon. Yet the answers can create jobs, save us money, make our neighborhoods cleaner and healthier, and transform the economy. It’s time for a true climate-justice mobilization starting right here in Los Angeles…and it’s time for all of us across the city to set aside our differences, find commonalities, and do it now, for all of our sakes.”
Faith leaders caucused with trade unionists. Food-justice and zero-waste evangelists brainstormed with housing activists fighting oil drilling in city neighborhoods. Physicians and environmental-justice advocates hatched plans with Tongva elders. What united us was a shared belief that as we make the deep changes required to battle the climate crisis, we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to build a much fairer, more inclusive society at the same time. “LA was built on oil; it was built on inequality. We have an opportunity to create a new economy right now,” as Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility–LA, put it.
Yet underlying the excitement was also a current of fear. Because in recent months there have been vivid examples of the opposite phenomenon: responses to climate change that actually deepen and exacerbate existing inequalities—between migrants and citizens, rich and working poor, workers and employers.