Green Jobs – Ella Baker Center

Now for one of the most inspiring organisations we visited – the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Who was Ella Baker?

The Ella Baker Center is named after an African American civil rights and human rights activist whose career spanned over five decades. She worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the twentieth century, including Martin Luther King. She was often at odds with the celebrated leaders of the civil rights movement, however, questioning the gendered hierarchy of the civil rights movement, pushing for “participatory democracy”, and for the mobilisation of students and youth. She said:

You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.

The Center

The Ella Baker Center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign focuses on the state of California. The campaign advocates for the creation of “green-collar” jobs (defined as quality, career-track, skilled, hands-on jobs in industries like renewable energy, water and energy-efficiency, green building, habitat restoration, sustainable agriculture, and more), especially for low-income communities and communities of color. The Ella Baker Center works statewide in California, as well as in Oakland and the surrounding Bay Area. They run some other brilliant campaigns called Books Not Bars, Heal the Streets and Soul of the City – check them out here.

The Three P’s and the Three M’s

The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign is brought to you by the letter P:

  • Partnerships: They build vibrant, cross-sector coalitions that include leaders from unions, green businesses, environmental organisations, social justice groups, and education and training institutions.
  • Policy: They craft and win cutting edge policy solutions.
  • Pilot Programs: They champion groundbreaking demonstration projects that prove what’s possible.

and the letter M:

  • First you start with Mobilisation..
  • which leads to Media attention..
  • which can generate Money to help you achieve your goals.

A few reasons why they started a Green Jobs Campaign

  • African Americans in Oakland suffer from 40% unemployment.
  • African Americans in California are also twice as likely to die in a heatwave than their white counterparts, so are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and poor energy access to operate air conditioning.
  • They were granted $250,000 seed funding from the City of Oakland to run their pilot project, the Oakland Green Jobs Corp.

Successes

  • The EBC, like so many of the organisations we met in California, have got it down when it comes to mixing policy and organising. When they heard the City of Oakland was developing an Energy and Climate Action Plan, they built a coalition to feed into it. Instead of waiting for the authority to create a plan and then give feedback on it, the coalition effectively wrote an entire plan together and gave it to the public works department. The writing process was collaborative, as they hosted community workshops in the most impacted communities. As a result of this pre-emptive action, the final Energy and Climate Action Plan ended up lifting a third of the EBC’s proposed plan word for word – the City of Oakland has some of the highest GHG emissions reductions targets in the country, and there are plenty of measures included related to equity and affordable housing, renter protections, and transportation. The plan has now passed the council and is waiting to pass at state level. In the meantime, the coalition is working to implement the parts of the plan that they don’t have to wait to start. Emily Kirsch, lead organizer on the campaign, said this was an example of approaching people with solutions (a ready-written plan) rather than complaints, to achieve your goal.
  • They organised with the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice to green California’s nail salons, to minimise health impacts on nail salon workers.

Challenges

  • Again, the numbers are really small. Out of the first class of 40 trainees in 2005, half got job placements and a handful of those were in green jobs.
  • And that was in 2005, before the recession. Green jobs are a much harder sell now than then. Apprenticeship programmes that were taking 50 participants are now taking 10.

Lessons

We could be disheartened by the small numbers (I’d be lying if I said we weren’t). But there are a few things to take from this:

  • The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, and its spin-off organisation Green For All (update to come) got a lot of media attention, but is still relatively young. They are almost playing catch-up with themselves to deliver on their rhetoric, and I’d still say it’s too early to fully evaluate the programme, especially in the current economic climate.
  • They are playing the long game. ECB is about human rights and civil rights. Anything they advocate for is about decency and dignity. They are not trying to create green jobs for the sake of it, or for the purely environmental aspect of it. Ensuring that the jobs they do create are decent, unionized (ideally) and provide a career track is a much harder thing that teaching someone to install a solar panel in 3 weeks and leaving them to it. I think this is really important and is at the heart of what we want a green economy to look like.
  • People might not go into green jobs immediately, but it’s good to remember that what they go into is a start and not an end place. Realistically, if we want to train people to have a decent, well-paid career, we can’t just provide training in clean tech or energy efficiency. They need a skillset that goes beyond solar installation or insulation, if it is to be a career path. See the Richmond Build programme as a good example of this, where construction is 9 weeks training, with solar at an additional 3 weeks.

These are all thoughts that are going to feed into an overall “what I learnt” post to wrap this up in a few days. Hopefully it will be useful and try and propose a way forward for the UK!

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