“What is our call to climate justice?” townhall; Lincoln, Nebraska
Over 60 people gathered on the lawn of First Mennonite Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 1 to meet the climate riders and hear from local politicians about what they are doing to confront climate injustices. At the first in-person event of the Climate Ride, the four panelists, including two riders and two local leaders, discussed the ways they answer the question “what is our call to climate justice?”
Bennie Shobe, a member of Lincoln’s city council, shared about the city’s recent climate initiatives. Lincoln passed a climate action plan this spring, and Bennie looks forward to following through with projects like switching the city’s vehicle fleet to hybrids, installing solar panels on city buildings and helping community members make buildings more energy efficient.
Not everyone in Nebraska is on the same page about climate change, Bennie said, but he believes the key is meeting people where they’re at. “You have to approach people where they really care,” he said, “and in Nebraska it’s water.”
Ken Haar, a former state legislator, tried for years to get a state climate action plan passed. While that has yet to happen, Ken shared what he learned from the experience: “You don’t quit even if people get in there and change what you’re doing,” he said.
Ken said he isn’t optimistic about a state climate action plan, but he does find a lot of hope in the new Lincoln plan. Now that he is retired, Ken looks for ways he and others in his age group can support climate initiatives.
What retired folks have, Ken said, is time and “retirement funds that can be repurposed not to support fossil fuels.” One of his passions is teaching friends and neighbors about Tesla’s electric vehicles.
Samantha E Lioi, one of the climate riders and a pastor in Buffalo, New York, talked about climate justice issues she’s witnessed on the ride and what she can do about them. Samantha pointed out the ways Native American peoples have been erased from much of the land she rides through not only through land acquisition by westerners, but also with the way places and roads are named.
“The people we highlight and remember are white people,” Samantha said, “and the way we tell the story often erases who native people are or portrays them in ways that are less than respectful.”
During their visit to Devil’s Tower, the climate riders met members of the Northern Cheyenne nation who told them that the site’s original name in their language is “Bear Lodge.” Learning and using the Native American names for places is something Samantha can do to address injustices done to Native Americans.
The fourth panelist, climate rider Elizabeth Miller, is a recent graduate from Eastern Mennonite University. She believes that finding context-based solutions to climate injustices is the best way to make a difference.
Liz grew up on a conventional farm in Ohio. After listening to Sarah Augustine speak about returning land to Native American peoples at a Climate Ride event the week before, Liz began thinking about her responsibility as the heir to land that was once stewarded by the Potawatomi.
“I think about the way that I have a generational wealth of farmland in my family and what can I do to pass that on to those who the land originally belongs to?” Liz said. But she reminded the audience, “it’s contextual, so what are things in your own context that you can do?”
The event was moderated by Kat Woerner, a student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln who is involved in the Sierra Club, does organic gardening and started her own consulting firm.
Kat said: “How amazing this story is, 18 students riding over 3,700 miles from Seattle to Washington DC to talk and educate people about the climate crisis. That is amazing, that is inspirational. My peers are definitely giving me hope.”