CARBONDALE — More than 250 people from around the country are expected to attend an event in Carbondale that aims to “build a broad, united movement that can resist the wholesale war against the Earth,” organizers said.
The four-day event at Touch of Nature Environmental Center will feature keynote speakers and breakout panels, but its organizers stressed that it’s not a “conference” in the traditional sense.
Even the name — The North American Forest and Climate Movement Convergence — reflects this spirit.
“This is not another conference,” the event’s website proclaims in bold. “This is a call to action to radically transform the economic and political systems that drive climate change, forest destruction & commodification of life.”
The event begins Friday and concludes on Monday, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday that celebrates and honors Native Americans. Those who have registered to attend are from several different states, and represent a broad cross section of environmentalists, social justice and climate activists, artists and authors.
“There’s a lot of excitement about this,” said Steve Taylor, the event’s spokesman. “There’s been a lot of anticipation surrounding this. People have been working on this extensively for some time.” The decision to hold the event in Carbondale is apropos, Taylor said, given that the efforts of activists three decades ago resulted in a moratorium on logging in the Shawnee for 17 years, and forced the U.S. Forest Service to adopt a new land management plan.
“That history is going to be on a lot of people’s minds,” Taylor said of the weeks-long protests at the Fairview timber site in rural Jackson County and subsequent legal challenge to the U.S. Forest Service. “It impacted forest management over the past several decades, and something that cannot be ignored.”
The event is billed as an opportunity to bring together people working on the interconnected issues of “forest destruction, climate change, indigenous sovereignty, racial and gender oppression, corporate domination, fossil fuel extraction and social and environmental injustice.”
Planning has been underway for the past year and a half by various volunteers, frontline community members and three core organizations: the Global Justice Ecology Project, Indigenous Environmental Network and Shawnee Forest Defense!
“The goal is for us — activists throughout North America — to come together and use our collective intelligence and spirit to effectively act to protect more forest and to try to do what we can to abate this climate change catastrophe that is clearly in our future,” said John Wallace, of the Shawnee Forest Defense! group, which he describes as a loose knit group of people who have come together to oppose logging in Southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest.
The Indigenous Environmental Network is a network of indigenous, grassroots environmental justice activists, primarily based in the United States. The Global Justice Ecology Project focuses on the intertwined root causes of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination.
The four-day convergence features numerous speakers at the forefront of forest and climate activism. That includes Jayden Foytlin, and her mother, Cherri Foytlin, who are the scheduled keynote speakers for Friday evening, the convergence’s opening night. Jayden Foytlin, 16, of Rayne, Louisiana, is one of 21 plaintiffs suing the U.S. government for its alleged failures to address climate change. Foytlin and the case have been highlighted in local and national media reports, including by Vogue, CBS’ 60 Minutes and The Guardian. In November 2018, she was named to Teen Vogue’s “21 Under 21,” which “spotlights young women, girls and femmes making waves in their industries or passions of choice.”
Cherri Foytlin, is an afro-indgenous organizer, writer, speaker and mother of six who lives in southwest Louisiana. She is the author of “Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion.” In the spring of 2011, a year after the catastrophe that killed 11 and dumped more than 3 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, she walked more than 1,200 miles from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the need for reform.
Other speakers and panelists include Winnie Overbeek, the international coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement; Barney Bush, a Shawnee/Cayuga poet and indigenous activist from Herod; Anne Petermann, co-founder and executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project; Mike Africa, Jr., a member of the MOVE black liberation organization, and a conscious hip-hop artist and motivational resilience speaker; as well as several others.
In addition to hearing from guest speakers, attendees will also participate in brainstorming sessions around key topics such as: industrial infrastructure and development; what they describe as false “renewable energy” solutions that adversely affect the environment; “forest health” schemes that they say threaten forests; building and supporting youth movements and creating concrete plans of action.
Event planners wrote on their website that with last year’s release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report calling for urgent action, “coupled with the deadly global rise in fascism, it has become undeniable that a revolutionary movement centered on ecological integrity, climate mitigation and the rights of all peoples is needed.”
Members of the public are welcome to attend the keynote addresses on Friday and Saturday, even if they are not registered for the convergence, Taylor said. Sunday and Monday’s activities are reserved for registered attendees.
“We’re facing a climate crisis and the idea of this is convergence is to bring people together who are working on a variety of interests and strategizing about how to move forward in a way that can make real change,” Taylor said.