Interview: Greenpeace Campaigner Shares Her Stories After Winning Award From NAACP
by Guest Blogger
January 16, 2015
For anyone who's packed up their things and moved to a whole new part of the country to make a difference, meet Greenpeace Field Organizer Monica Embrey. In October, Embrey was awarded the Distinguished Service award from the NAACP for her true leadership through the service to the Charlotte, NC, region. Greenpeace sat down with Embrey to talk about the award, campaigning with Greenpeace, and the role of race in future activism.
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For anyone whos packed up their things and moved to a whole new part of the country to make a difference, meet Greenpeace Field Organizer Monica Embrey. In October, Embrey was awarded the Distinguished Service award from the NAACP for her true leadership through the service to the Charlotte, NC, region. Greenpeace sat down with Embrey to talk about the award, campaigning with Greenpeace, and the role of race in future activism.
Q: Congratulations on your award from the NAACP! What was the award for?
Thanks. I feel deeply honored to be recognized in this way. Ive partnered closely with the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP since I moved to Charlotte to work for Greenpeace almost four years ago.
A big part of that partnership was the Moral Monday movement. On many Mondays of last year, Greenpeace activists traveled to Raleigh to stand shoulder to shoulder with teachers and students, doctors and patients, workers and the unemployed, LGBTQ and allies, Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American and White activists to call for moral policies from the North Carolina legislature.
Our message was simple: The same elected officials who slashed funding to NC classrooms, denied the expansion of Medicare, and cut benefits to the unemployed are the ones who give companies a pass to pollute. We wanted those same politicians to listen to the people, not companies that could afford to bankroll politicians campaigns.
The Moral Monday movement was a huge success. Greenpeaces partnership with the movement continued for the rest of the time the NC legislature was in session, and its spread to close to a dozen states.
Q: You won this award as a Field Organizer for Greenpeaces campaign on Duke Energy. What is that campaign and how does it relate to the award?
Greenpeace works to tackle the most egregious polluters of our time, and for North Carolina that is Duke Energy. Duke is the largest utility in the country, with a fossil fuel heavy fleet that is one of the main contributors to global climate pollution. Duke is also a big contributor to local pollution, predominantly in low-income communities, and yet the company constantly is allowed to increase electricity rates on those same residents.
In the fall of 2011, I was knocking on doors in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Charlotte and I met a woman named Andrea. She told me that she had recently moved into the neighborhood becausebetween paying for her daughters asthma medication and other household expensesshe could no long afford her ever-increasing Duke electric bill. The expenses finally forced her to move into her current home, a place where her electric bill was still high, but slightly more affordable.
I heard stories like Andreas over and over in conversations with community members in Charlotte. This prompted me to build the No Rate Hikes for Dirty Energy coalition along with the Charlotte NAACP and other social and economic justice organizations. Together, we effectively fought against three Duke Energy rate hikes, reducing the increases by over half.
Q: What is your favorite campaign moment to date?
Two years ago I met Sara Behnke who told me that she could see one of Duke Energys coal plants, Riverbend Steam Station, from her living room window. She was worried about the health of her two young children, and wanted Duke to stop polluting her community by shutting down and cleaning up the Riverbend Coal Plant.
Sara got her friends and neighbors together to participate in activities including circulating petitions at swim practices, holding house meetings to educate her neighbors, and even testifying at public hearings. Her daughter Anna and she even pleaded directly to Duke Energys CEO Jim Rogers at one of Dukes Annual Shareholder Meetings. While Duke made no commitments the first time they asked, within a year the Riverbend Coal Plant was shut down.
I have no doubt that our campaign efforts have contributed to shutting down not only Riverbend, but 6 other NC coal plants which retired years ahead of schedule.
Q: Youve been a field organizer with Greenpeace, but youve just become a campaigner. How does that change your role, and what things are you working on right now?
Field organizers are responsible for working with and empowering people in their local areas to make the changes they want in their community. That means things like recruiting volunteers by knocking on doors, training community members to take actions such as gathering petition signatures, public speaking at rallies, and leading teams of other volunteers to advance the campaigns.
My new role as a campaigner means that instead of only focusing on making changes in North Carolina, I have a more national focus. I work with organizers and coalition partners in different parts of the country to help develop campaign strategies, media opportunities, and share lessons learned.
Now our campaign work has expanded from stopping dirty coal plants to also advancing clean energy solutions. This past summer, Greenpeace was part of an effort to advance affordable rooftop solar in North Carolina through a program called Solarize Charlotte. We signed up more than 600 homeowners for solar energy assessments, and as a result, more solar panels are popping up on roofs in Charlotte.
Q: The #BlackLivesMatter Movement has put race issues at the top of our national dialogue. How do you see that movement impacting your work?
The crisis that is unfolding is waking up many Americans to the systemic racism still present in this country. I believe that advocates for social change need to be at the forefront of these conversations, and that definitely includes the environmental community.
All too often the toxic facilities that we are fighting disproportionately impact communities of color. The good news is that the renewable energy solutions that we advocate for can not only reduce pollution, but alleviate other social challenges such as the need for jobs and affordable electricity.
Even if the connections arent as clear in the beginning, I have learned from my engagement with the NAACP in the Moral Monday movement that our struggles are more similar than they are different. It is time for us to unite and move all of our communities forward together.