Opinion: Is clean energy racist? It doesn't have to be
Portland wants and needs clean energy and clean energy jobs. Our planet demands it.
But there's more to the story.
A friend asked, "Did you know clean energy is racist?" I thought about it, and I said, "Yeah. It is. But it doesn't have to be."
What we meant is that clean energy is something low-income people can't even think about — and many Black and Brown people are low-income. When you can't afford the car repair and the childcare to get to your job, you're sure not thinking about installing solar panels and getting a sweet deal on a whole-house battery.
That's a White folks thing. But it doesn't have to be. It can be for all of us.
Portland Clean Energy Fund is working to make clean energy, carbon reduction, a healthier environment — and maybe most importantly, good paying jobs — a reality for low-income Portlanders. I know because PCEF invited me to participate early in the process. I think that's the key to PCEF's success: they came into communities of color, into low-income communities and asked, "How do we make this work for you?"
PCEF held numerous community meetings. In fact, I first met PCEF's Sam Baraso and Janet Hammer when they invited me to speak at a community event. The event was held at Self Enhancement, Inc. which is a Black-led nonprofit. I shared that you have to have supportive services (like helping with that childcare), and you have to have mentorship. Low-income folks face a lot of barriers not just in getting jobs, but in keeping jobs and advancing in their careers.
My organization, Constructing Hope, helps unemployed, low-income Oregonians who are predominantly people of color move into good-paying construction careers.
I'm a Black woman. I know what people are going through. PCEF made a point to find out directly, from the source, what low-income Portlanders, people of color, women and people with disabilities need. That's how PCEF can cast a new model for government-led programs.
I cannot write this without giving recognition to Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Long before she was Commissioner Hardesty, she had a vision. A vision where clean energy could come together with high-wage job creation to serve people of color and the city's poor. A vision to build coalitions led by communities of color and inclusive of all Portlanders. She held to that vision until it became a reality.
Constructing Hope was fortunate to receive PCEF funding this year. There will be another application later this year and then every year. The pool of funding is growing. If your nonprofit is led by people of color and was not selected or could not apply, please do so next time.
Portland is building a model for empowering people of color, women, people with disabilities and low-income community members — a model that benefits all Portlanders through a healthier environment and more good jobs. PCEF shows us how this work can be led by the communities served but inclusive of all people. Through community empowerment, we can build a more inclusive city that truly meets our needs.
Pat Daniels of Northeast Portland is with Constructing Hope.
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