As the sun moved higher in the sky, beating down on the shadeless space in front of the Lincoln Memorial, speakers at the 60th-anniversary celebration of the March on Washington repeatedly commented on the heat.
“It’s hot!” said award-winning TV host Nick Cannon. “I didn’t get the memo — I drove up from the South in all leather, so you ain’t gonna have to play the music on me, I might pass out before this minute and a half goes up.”
Cannon, like most other speakers who remarked upon the weather, didn’t mention that this past month was D.C.’s 15th-hottest July ever recorded, or that much of the U.S. — including the South — has seen numerous heat records broken this summer.
While climate change isn’t at the forefront of thoughts at civil rights marches, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus, told The Informer that needs to change.
“We must connect the dots and break the silos,” Yearwood said during his remarks at the March. “Racial justice is climate justice. And climate justice is racial justice.”
Climate change impacts — from extreme heat to fossil fuel-related air pollution to storm damage — hit Black, brown and Indigenous communities “first and worst” in the U.S. and internationally.
The day after speaking at this year’s March on Washington, Yearwood said in a later interview, he traveled home to Louisiana, where he helped lead a commemoration for those who died or were displaced in Hurricane Katrina, including some of his own friends and family. It was the hottest day ever recorded in New Orleans.
“We were there at the levees, at the breach,” Yearwood said. “Here we are remembering those literally who lost their lives 18 years ago, but we’re also fighting the climate crisis before us — in a place, New Orleans, that has never been 105 degrees [before].”
Climate justice has clear links to other critical issues raised at the march. For example: extreme heat poses a major threat to many in working-class jobs, from farmworkers to warehouse employees. Labor organizers have recognized the threat — in fact, UPS workers made extreme heat safety measures a key demand in their strike earlier this summer, which last week ended with a contract that included air conditioning requirements for new trucks.
Yearwood said that the climate justice conversation “links to” conversations around health justice, economic justice, criminal justice and educational justice. And he pointed out that it goes both ways, too.
“We can’t stop the proliferation of fossil fuels and petrochemicals and curb climate change without also restoring voting rights, or including health rights or queer justice or other issues — I think we have to see it as an intersectional environmental moment,” he said.
But the climate justice conversation does not always get high enough priority within the wider civil rights community, Yearwood said. At this year’s 60th anniversary March on Washington, he was the only speaker invited to specifically address climate and environmental justice. His two-minute time slot came between 8 and 8:30 a.m., before much of the crowd had gathered.
Yearwood used those two minutes to call out “organizations and politicians who have said that climate change is a hoax” and discuss the connections between climate justice and “voter suppression and healthcare and education.”
He also called for an end to fossil fuel and petrochemical expansion, a ban on the toxic chemical vinyl chloride and an emergency declaration on climate from the Biden administration.
“Two minutes for climate is all I had to get all that in,” he said later, with a laugh. “And there’s so much more we need — we need much more than two minutes on climate.”