John Doe

Aug 17

Storytelling, Activism, Civilian Climate Corps

Sunrise Climate Stories

Sunday, June 20, 2021
past event at the museum
Partner: Sunrise Movement Houston, moderated by Marco Garcia
Text by HCJM
photographs by Rachael Warriner / @rayephoto

John Doe

Aug 17

In partnership with Sunrise Movement Houston, we co-hosted an evening of climate stories and conversation with speakers from several local environmental groups including West Street Recovery and Houston Youth Climate Strike. The event was held in part to celebrate ‘Generation on Fire,’ Sunrise Movement activists as they completed a 400-mile climate march from New Orleans to Houston. They continue to demand bolder action from our political leaders in addressing climate change and urge for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps as part of the Green New Deal.

Houston’s Poet Laureate Emanuelee 'Outspoken' Bean delivered powerful poetry about Cancer Alley and expounded on the idea of waste as a man-made construct. With this as the week where Juneteenth was officially established as a federal holiday, Bean also performed his poem about his awareness and fondness for his 'black.'

For Bean as a child, the long stretches of freeway between Texas and Louisiana offered a sense of wonderment for the seemingly endless downtowns that would appear and be lit throughout the night. Wonderment soon turns to an awakening when knowledge sets in of the petrochemical refineries that are responsible for the lights and the burning. One then has to reconcile the simultaneous comfort, disturbance, and the dependence that we all have on the polluted grounds that are our home and our creation.

Bean goes on to ask us to place ourselves back into an ecosystem where we have separated and manufactured an idea of ‘waste’ - which was once inextricably part of a continuous cycle:

Our fecal doesn’t matter

Science proves that it has a stale quality and it can’t be used

Our fecal doesn’t matter

We treat our shit

Like Shit

So for miles we fill lands with it

By the piles

Our fecal doesn’t matter

We choke ourselves to death,

And hope to revive us back to life


Houston's 2021- 2023 Poet Laureate Emanuelee "Outspoken" Bean

Chanté Davis, 17, who organized the 400-mile trek, shared her personal experience of having been flooded out and dislocated by both Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, and more recently affected by Winter Storm Uri. Lucia Urreta, a fellow teenage climate activist, pointed out that youth activists are praised as being 'brave' and 'resilient' for what she suggests should be the base level of empathy and care needed for families and communities as they face the consequences of climate inaction. Gulf South marcher and Sunrise Movement Houston member Roshni Khosla spoke about the lasting effects of political dormancy on climate issues:

Climate change is entering a new and more dangerous phase, the primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels. A hotter, less predictable climate will cause economic, political, and social chaos and systemic failures worldwide. Because of the long-lasting time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the massive amounts of heat now stored in the oceans, matters of physics and chemistry, this is not a short-term crises, but a long emergency, measured in the time required to re-stabilize the climate system and restore the earth balance. - Khosla

poster for event designed by Felipe Sanchez
Sunrise Movement Houston member Roshni Khosla pictured speaking to the audience
Houston Youth Climate Strike activist Lucia Urreta
Sunrise Movement marcher Joshua Benitez leads the audience in a grounding exercise to envision our better worlds


So says the Sunrise march sign that Joshua Benitez holds, 'A Better World Is Possible', and he leads the audience in a grounding exercise: he asks us to envision what our better world tastes like, what it feels like. As a climate marcher, Benitez felt more anger surfacing by walking the 400 miles, when prior he had hoped the journey would allow him time to reflect on and process the trauma from climate disasters. Benitez describes what some of the marchers experienced: while picketing in solidarity with ExxonMobil workers striking for safer working conditions - they find out that workers are well aware of the 15 years they are potentially taking off of their lives just by working in the plants; along the march, petrochemical refineries would occupy their lines of sight for days and days and cause them concern about their own health; and a handful of youth activists who are already using their bodies as their voices, they meet nightly to strategize ways to demand even greater action for their political representatives.

You need to step up, step out, and get involved with something.

This is the call to action from lifelong activist and advocate Doris Brown who has called Houston home since 1955. We hear her chronicle a past where the fights for racial justice and environmental justice have often intersected: beginning to march for civil rights at the age of 14, Brown witnessed the opening up of her Northeast neighborhood to people of color and then the eventual 'white flight' that would leave her and her BIPOC neighbors fewer and fewer natural barriers and resources in the face of severe weather events. The eventual flooding from Hurricane Harvey 50 years later has entangled Brown and other community organizers in ongoing battles with government officials and agencies as they try to ensure that their underserved and forgotten areas receive priority funding. As the co-founder of Northeast Action Collective and a recent staff member of West Street Recovery (WSR), Brown embodies the WSR mission: the key to securing a more resilient community future lies in empowering those most affected by events like Harvey, and as they better understand their own needs, they will continue to come together to build on their collective power.

In the short story ‘Cars Don’t Float,’ Felipe Sanchez illustrates for us the Sisyphean task of building infrastructure to keep apace of climate disasters: we speed readily to ever-greater heights, only to induce ever-stronger weather events. And in the end we are brought right back down to a world where we can no longer outrun our fates and the sea covers all that we had ever built.

Marco Garcia guides us through a philosophical engagement with justice. For the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, a world of abundance and balance would render obsolete the 'virtue of justice' and we would be occupied with the pursuits of higher pleasures in life. However,

"in a world of scarcity and imbalance, the 'strict laws of justice' would be suspended and replaced by the 'stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation.' Confronted with an uninhabitable world, wherein 'the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from extreme misery,' justice would give way to division and hostility...

In truth, a habitable and flourishing world is also the most just.

- Garcia

Lifelong activist Doris Brown speaks about changes in her Northeast neighborhood and involvement in West Street Recovery and advocacy
Sunrise Movement Houston member and storyteller Felipe Sanchez
Sunrise Movement Houston hub coordinator and moderator of the evening's event, Marco Garcia
Sunrise Movement members and Sunrise Movement UH faculty advisor, Keith E. McNeal