Women of Color Speak Out at PSU

Portland State’s Environmental Club hosted the event “Climate Change and Systems of Oppression” in conjunction with Seattle-based activist group Women of Color Speak Out on Friday, April 14, in Smith Memorial Student Union. The event presented a series of lectures on climate change and its contributing factors, which ended with a Q&A.

The event featured the Seattle-based activist group Women of Color Speak Out. The group is a collective of four women of color whom, according to the group’s website, “[work] to educate and inform our communities on the climate crisis.”

WCSO connects various issues, such as capitalism and racism, to climate change. “The root causes of climate change are capitalism, colonialism, racism and patriarchy,” said Zarna Joshi, WCSP member. “This presentation will explain how each of those systems of oppression are connected to each other and to climate change.”

WCSO formed as an activist group in 2015 during the “No Shell Movement” in Seattle, Washington. The “No Shell Movement” was a protest of the Port of Seattle’s decision to host Shell’s offshore arctic oil drilling fleet. “We were all part of the movement in various different areas of it,” Joshi said. “We were all women of color in the movement and what we noticed was the environmental movement was extremely white, which makes no sense considering the fact that people of color are on the front lines.”

The group began as an attempt to incorporate people of color in order to avoid the observed marginalization taking place in contemporary environmental activism. “The number one thing that prevents [people of color] from getting involved [in the environmental movement] was racism, then time, and then there was [lack of] hope,” Joshi said. “That tells you a great deal about the challenges that people of color in different communities have in engaging in this movement, and so we began our group in order to do outreach with our communities and create a safe space for our communities to engage and lead in this movement.”

Arlene, an Environmental Club Officer, decided to have the Environmental Club host the group after viewing a WCSO presentation in Portland. “[The presentation] left me really inspired,” Arlene said. “I learned a lot of things and I was hoping to share it with PSU.”

Arlene said she chose to host the group as a way to share the voices of people of color in the environmental movement. “Portland is very big on environmentalism and sustainability, and it’s becoming an increasing issue that more people are becoming aware of as we see the direct impacts,” Arlene explained. “One thing that has been consistent is the disregard for people of color and women of color and their voices in the movement. I thought that it was very important to make sure those voices are being heard.”

The audience appeared to be eager to learn about climate change and the factors that contribute to it. “I am interested in climate change and systems of oppression as I myself am a women of color,” said PSU student Anika Ghirnikar. “I thought it would be really interesting to hear about these women and what they have to say about this.”

“We hope [PSU students] learn from this that there is no waiting,” Joshi said when asked what the group hoped to accomplish with its presentation. “Don’t wait until you graduate. Don’t wait until you’re financially secure. Don’t wait until you have a family. The time to act is now. The time to act is always now.”

More information on Women of Color Speak Out can be found at wocspeakout.org.