Reflecting on Tropical Storm Irene as we build a movement for people and the planet

Three years ago today, Tropical Storm Irene came roaring across Vermont, bringing heavy winds and so much rain that most of our rivers spilled their banks.  Roads, bridges, and homes — in some cases, entire neighborhoods — were washed out by the floods, isolating many of our communities for days as neighbors worked to support each other through the crisis.  Irene had a devastating impact on so many of our lives and livelihoods, through lost homes, posessions, traumatic experiences, and financial hardship.  But many of us also carry with us the amazing stories of communities coming together, like the residents of Weston mobile home park in Berlin, who mobilized to demand equality and fairness in the wake of the storm.

A year after the Irene, the VWC offered this reflection:

"Tropical Storm Irene both exposed and deepened the economic and human rights crisis people in our communities face every day — a crisis of injustice. Many people in Vermont live on the edge of economic crisis. All it takes is a single environmental crisis to push thousands of people over that edge. A large proportion of homes destroyed by Irene were mobile homes residing in floodplains, and belonging to low-income Vermonters who are least likely to have the resources to rebuild their homes and lives after a disaster. 

Irene showed how in Vermont -- as around the world -- poor and working class people are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can and must solve the climate crisis while simultaneously improving the lives of poor and working class people by transforming the systems that currently exploit and degrade people and the planet."

Now it’s three years later, and those patterns have only become clearer and more grave.  From the impacts of Superstorm Sandy on low-income urban neighborhoods in New York, to the series of devastating typhoons which have displaced thousands of rural poor communities in the Philippines, we're seeing how the people least responsible for the global climate crisis are the hardest hit by the storms, droughts, and extreme weather associated with its impacts.  

In the face of this crisis, we’re taking action to link our struggles for economic, social, and environmental rights into a powerful movement for people and the planet.  Earlier this month, the Workers Center partnered with Rising Tide Vermont and 350-Vermont to host a Northeast Climate Justice Gathering, which brought together 250 people from the US northeast and eastern Canada to explore opportunities for collaboration, especially between the labor and environmental movements.  Also in early August, VWC member Amanda Sheppard represented the Workers Center at the Climate Justice Alliance national convention in Richmond, California, which brought together community-based groups organizing for a just transition towards local, living economies.

Reflecting on her experiences, Amanda said, “Spending time with community members living adjacent to Richmond’s massive Chevron oil refinery opened my eyes to the ways our current economy exploits both resources and people, all for the sake of profit.  We need to take advantage of opportunities demonstrate our collective power, and lead from the grassroots in building an economy for people and the planet.”.  

Looking ahead, the VWC is joining over 850 labor, faith, environmental, and community-based organizations in calling for a massive Peoples Climate March in New York City on September 21st, coinciding with a major United Nations summit on climate change expected to draw heads of state from around the world.  The Workers' Center is working with a number of organizations to coordinate round-trip buses from Vermont to New York -- Click here to join a bus, or email keith@workerscenter.org for more information about this mobilization!