The streets of DC and other major U.S. cities have been filled with people demanding radical transformation. (Credit: Jean Su)

We Have No Option But Radical Transformation

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the most heartbreaking outcome will be that nothing changes.

Based on the history of this country, that won’t be surprising. The relentless carnage of Black lives — and the white apathy toward it — has persisted almost effortlessly in my lifetime, as it has done for four centuries.

It’s at moments like these that I look for signals that change is possible. It would seem like a miracle for transformation, yet signs of that possibility reveal themselves by the day and even hour.

Protesters lied down, chanting “Mama,” for almost nine minutes, as long as police kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. (Credit: Jean Su)

I live in Washington, D.C. and protested in Lafayette Square the day that Donald Trump lodged a tear gas attack on Americans that would have otherwise been outlawed in war. I was there to lie down with thousands of Black, white, and other people of color on Pennsylvania Avenue for eight minutes and forty-six seconds choking on the words “Mama” that we chanted together in honor of George Floyd’s final words, as military tanks and unidentified soldiers with vests full of ammo lined the streets. And I marched with what can only be described as an endless ocean of people — people of all races, and of a youth that makes them raw and responsive to the horror of Black murder by the police. The jadedness against injustice has not sunk in yet, and maybe therein lies the miracle we need.

But to ensure that transformation is realized, we all must commit seriously to lasting action. The kind that doesn’t disappear after the protests do. In particular, people who benefit from the status quo — including myself as an Asian-American woman in the white-set racial hierarchy where the fluidity of my placement on the totem pole has fluctuated in COVID-19 and World War II and the railroad era — must do everything in their capacities to overthrow the system of entrenched racism that we have all been birthed into. No one is exempted from this system. For me, taking serious action is a question of profession and person.

In my professional life, I am very fortunate to fight for energy justice at the Center for Biological Diversity. That justice is sought both for communities of color and the planet. It is at once a moment of alignment, but at its root, a war against injustice itself.

We fight for a future where communities of color are powered by community solar instead of fossil fuels, where they are empowered to reject the fracked gas plant assaulting their bodies’ cells, and where they have a fighting chance to hold onto their life-saving electricity through decentralized, resilient power systems in the face of climate-fueled heat waves, hurricanes and fires. This visionary future is the one we need to save the planet from the violence of the climate emergency, and to safeguard our public lands and species with energy built within communities.

Energy justice is racial justice. At the outbreak of COVID-19, the massive wave of unemployment exacerbated the already-existing crisis of utility shut-offs across the country. In normal times, nearly 15 million families per year are at risk of facing electricity disconnections due to difficulties in payment — and these families are disproportionately Black and low-wealth. The coronavirus has severely widened that crack.

Our team has mobilized a federal campaign urging Congress to enact a nationwide moratorium on utility shut-offs with Black and civil rights, labor, and faith groups, and this moratorium was successfully included in the HEROES Act. The Movement for Black Lives demanded the same moratorium on utility shut-offs, and our work continues in solidarity in protection of Black lives and for energy justice.

On a personal level, we are challenged to fight a world enraptured in a racism that is implicit, explicit, structural, institutional and systemic. Angela Davis has said: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” That act is personal. It is a practice. It is and should be deeply uncomfortable for those who have benefited from the status quo. And if it isn’t, we are doing it wrong.

We have no choice but transformation. And this country hungers for — and deserves — a deeply radical one.



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Jean Su

Jean Su

Energy Justice Program Director & Staff Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, based in Washington, D.C.