Last week, we shared the story of Kay Cuajunco and the California Environmental Justice Alliance as part of a series on 2016 ReFrame mentees working to win climate justice and stop the climate crisis. Here’s Part Two, on Hodan Hassan and Got Green in Seattle. 

For 2016 ReFrame mentee Hodan Hassan, her communications a-ha moment came when she was asked, “Who’s telling your story?”

That question, posed to her during her interview for ReFrame, led her to realize that groups like Seattle’s Got Green where she is the climate justice organizer, “don’t have control of the narrative around climate justice.” “That ended up being the Big Greens,” Hassan said, referring to the historically White-led mainstream environmental groups. As she put it, “We have to wrestle it back from them.”

That’s exactly what Hassan and Got Green have done this year in their campaign against a ballot initiative in Washington that had quickly gained the support of the state’s largest environmental protection and climate change organizations. And in doing so, they have fostered a growing awareness that any climate change policy must put communities of color at the forefront.

Initiative 732 (1-732) was introduced by the group Carbon Washington earlier in 2016 and will go before voters this November. I-732 would institute a revenue neutral carbon tax in Washington, with the goal of reducing emissions from the state’s top polluters.

I-732 quickly gained the support of many of the state’s largest environmental protection and climate change organizations, from the Audubon Society to the Sierra Club to, who invested a lot of resources to get it on the ballot. But for groups like Got Green, rooted in communities of color whose mission and vision is centered around a just transition framework, the fact that I-732 was revenue neutral — meaning any of the taxes raised from polluters would be offset by reductions in other taxes — led them to conclude that they couldn’t support the initiative due to its negative impacts on the state budget and the lack of investment in communities of color.

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As Hassan noted, I-732 was created “by people who want to solve climate change, but without talking to any communities of color, without making sure that people who are the most impacted are getting any of the benefits.”

But how to come out against an initiative that urged everyone to “act now” on one of the most pressing issues of our day? Got Green is part of a statewide coalition of people of color in Washington state, working class, and indigenous organizations called Front and Centered, which crafted a communications strategy that addresses why I-732 isn’t the right solution, especially for communities of color in the state who bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. “We only have one chance to get it right, and if we get it wrong, there will be no going back on it,” Hassan said, referring to statewide climate policy. ​


To that end, Hassan has been leading some of the communications work around the initiative, doing interviews and drafting op-eds that tell the story of why people of color will be voting no on I-732 come November and making the argument that what communities of color need is climate change policy that will lead to investments in their communities around housing, transportation, and more.

This communications strategy is already paying off, with several of the initial backers like the Sierra Club as well as Seattle’s chapter now reversing their support, and with some of the state’s largest progressive organizations like Fuse Washington  coming out against the bill, due largely to the fact that the carbon tax doesn’t take into account the needs of communities of color.

According to Hassan, the communications work has been key in making the compelling argument for a different solution. “I never really thought of myself as a communicator,” Hassan said, “but that is the bulk of the work.”

Do you want to join the next generation of communications strategists? Apply for our 2017 cohort today:

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