Badass Women in Green Profile: Nicole Taylor on Social Justice and the interwovenness of CA’s frontline communities and international environmental advocacy.

by Devin Murphy

Badass Women in Green Profile: Nicole Taylor on Social Justice and the interwovenness of CA’s frontline communities and international environmental advocacy.

This blog is a part of a four-part series highlighting our phenomenal Badass Women in Green recipients who will be honored at our ceremony on November 13 at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA. You can purchase your tickets here.

Nicole Taylor is a badass woman in green. A former teacher and now philanthropic leader of one of the largest community foundations in the nation, Nicole has empowered hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people to take their role in fighting for climate action. We caught up with Nicole and asked her a few questions before her speech at our Badass Women in Green Awards on November 13th.

CLCV: What brought you into the fight for environmental justice/climate action?

Nicole: Social justice brought me into the fight for environment justice. When I began my career, I taught in West Oakland; one of the first classes I taught was environmental science. As part of the curriculum, I taught middle school students what was happening with their neighborhood and our cities, and things they could do to make our own school more environmentally-friendly, covering topics like recycling. At the same time, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake struck, the freeway came down; honestly, we were hearing about dead bodies for days and students were talking about this for months. This was also the same year as the Oakland hills fire. These two events were traumatic to West Oakland. Ash was flying in the air, there was soot and ash all over the school and school yard. I thought it was wrong for these kids to be out in this air at school. We started to delve into the larger context of social justice.

We know that it’s the poorer, Black, Indigenous, and other communities, places like Oakland and San Francisco’s Bayview district, that end up with the waste treatment plants, refineries, electric plants – and it’s those residents-their children- who suffer environmental harm more than in other neighborhoods. At the school, our student population had a high incidence of asthma, which is unfortunately common and pervasive in urban areas. In my classes, we had conversations about the injustice and how students can work with teachers and their families to advocate for themselves.

CLCV: What environmental issue is most compelling to you and why?

Nicole: It’s a toss-up between clean air and clean water for me. I had asthma when I was younger growing up in the 70s in Los Angeles where the air quality was very poor. My son has asthma. Our lungs were very vulnerable to Oakland’s air quality when we were living there. And it’s even worse in the Central Valley where the Bay Area wind blows our bad air. Unlike water, we can’t filter air when we are outdoors. My family is Jamaican, and my mom grew up in a home that did not have running water, and they had to capture rainwater in a well.

As I grew older, it seemed unconscionable to me that in cities around this country, the water supply is worse than the water supply was in a developing nation like Jamaica back in the 50’s and 60’s. Too many Americans who live in poorer, urban communities have tainted water. It’s unbelievable that here in United States there are many places where our water is undrinkable! In the end, how we treat poorer communities, in terms of the water and air, is very much a social justice issue for me.

CLCV: What is your proudest accomplishment in your fight for climate justice?

Nicole: First of all, let me acknowledge that there are many people who have been fighting this fight harder and longer than I have. For me, this is a quality of life issue for poor communities – and it goes back to environmental justice. It’s not one singular thing; everything is interrelated. If we don’t address transportation, we can’t improve our air. If we don’t have affordable housing in our communities near our places of work, we have to get in our cars, drive (and pollute). It’s always the poorer communities who suffer the most and the hardest. The most disenfranchised. My work is not on the front lines. We all have different roles we need to play. I am proud to work with politicians who can shift policies and resources, and philanthropists who want to provide resources to improve environmental justice and literally save lives. I am humbled as someone who is working behind the scenes; so many put themselves directly on the front line.

CLCV: Where do you get hope and inspiration in this movement?

Nicole: From the same source I imagine everyone is inspired by right now. It’s our young people. They are engaged and unstoppable. We have to do better by them.

CLCV: What do you think is most important for our movement's leaders to focus on?

Nicole: We must figure out how to slow down climate change! It must happen on so many levels: industry, community, government and individual. We all must play a part.

CLCV: What role do women need to play in this effort?

Nicole: I believe it is women who hold this planet in their arms. We are the holders of our homes, communities and cities. I say that if you want to do something, you have to deal with us first! We are the ones who bring families and neighbors together, who volunteer in our children’s schools and local events, and who carry values – like climate justice – front and center. What we still need to do is recognize our power. Greta Thunberg is such a great example. We don’t need to wait for anyone to stand up today for justice!

CLCV: What do you think is most significant about the work CLCV does?

Nicole: Your work to educate and engage voters, particularly younger voters, including your work to lower the voting age. Young people are standing up and are ready to make changes, while some of our politicians continue to stonewall and refuse to face reality. It is when we have all come together, young and old, white and brown, women and men, that we have overcome resistance and accomplished great things – like the Civil Rights Act and the Clean Water Act. Here in California, we continue to advance despite federal policy to the contrary. I believe we can continue to progress both here and nationally; we just need everyone who can, to vote. That is why I believe voter engagement – especially among youth – is very important work. We have an amazing upcoming generation that is ready to lead the way! Let’s support them!

CLCV: What else should we know about why this work matters to you?

Nicole: Our world’s fate and climate change are driving so much of our political climate around the globe. Communities need to be able grow the crops that support their families. People migrate from countries because of drought conditions or lack of clean water. This is a time when the livelihoods of tens of millions are threatened and we are facing the political disruption it’s going to cause. Just look at the civil wars about land, basically about people being able to grow their food and survive. If we don’t wake up and figure out some solutions and slow climate change, there is just going to be more destruction. We have the power to make change – and it’s us and the next generations that must educate, mobilize and advocate!

You can see and hear more from Nicole at our Badass Women in Green Awards on November 13 at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. Read more here for more details.

Posted on October 28, 2019 in Groundswell Blog.

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