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Building a Just Hub Guide

How hubs can build a just and equitable movement

from the document Building a Just Hub Guide

In Sunrise, we believe in the worth, dignity, and equality of all people. And yet we know that our society tells us lies about this—that some people are worth more than others. Built over centuries, oppression runs deep in our society, and it is a fundamental threat to the movement and to the society we are trying to build. Our hubs are currently majority white and majority middle class and owning class. We also have amazing leaders of color and leaders who are poor and working class or come from those backgrounds. This is because of the following.

As a movement fighting to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process, we must actively wrestle with the legacy of mainstream environmentalism that has historically left justice out of its approach. Mainstream environmentalist and conservationist groups were and remain predominantly populated by white people and middle-class or owning-class people*. This means that mainstream environmental movements have been shaped by the biases and cultural patterns particular to white middle- and owning-class culture and have not been movement spaces that welcome or center Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC)*, or people raised poor or working class. The environmental justice movement has been championed primarily by African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans, and the environmental justice movement addresses a statistical fact: people who live, work, and play in America's most polluted environments are commonly people of color and the poor. Environmental justice advocates have shown that this is no accident. Communities of color, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts—say, a landfill, dirty industrial plant, or truck depot. The statistics provide clear evidence of what the movement rightly calls “environmental racism.” Communities of color have been battling this injustice for decades. Because of that, these movements have often ignored or even worked against the interests of those communities, ultimately perpetuating systems of white supremacy*, colonialism*, and classism*. For the climate justice movement (of which Sunrise is a new and vibrant part) to be successful and to act justly, it must not only “include” BIPOC and low-income people, but actually have BIPOC and low-income people as integral and valued members and leaders—not as tokenized* representatives of underrepresented groups, but as essential constituents and shapers of the movement.

As we build a movement for a Green New Deal, systems of oppression will work to divide us. This may happen through the wealthiest and most elite people in this country intentionally welding tools of racism, classism, etc. to tear us apart, and it may also happen because we have internalized these systems and manifest them in our work. They will use every trick in the book to tear us apart along the lines of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, class, ability, disability, and so much more. They will tell us that one community has to suffer for another to thrive. They will say some children must breathe toxic air so that others can have electricity. They will say climate refugees from other countries are simply not our concern. If they succeed, our movement will not. And if we don’t do this work, we can too easily fall prey to harming each other, not trusting each other, and tearing each other apart.

In the face of these attacks, it is our responsibility to remain united—to demand a dignified and livable future for all people. We can only win by building a movement that spans class, geography, and race.

We are not going to pretend this is easy, but it is necessary. We are up against decades of entrenched power, and society has not given us tools to tackle this. At the same time, this is not a task that we can shy away from; we all have a stake in creating a just society regardless of our identities. This is difficult and beautiful work, but this guide holds simple tools that will take our movement a long way.

Racism, classism, and other forms of oppression operate on 5 interlocking levels in our society spanning across the individual, the interpersonal, the organizational, the structural, and the ideological.

We are trying to unite this country in a single great aim to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. The Green New Deal would be the largest project that this country has ever undertaken. While taking on decades of entrenched racism and classism, we aim to create a common sense of deep equality and shared dignity beyond what our country has ever seen. We go up against the most powerful people in history and the system that they have built to protect themselves. Fundamentally, Sunrise’s project is a structural one: we are rebuilding and reimagining the very fabric of our society.

White supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and all systems of oppression prop up and support each other, and they are deeply intertwined. It’s impossible for us to dismantle one without dismantling the others. To stop the climate crisis and transform our economy, we must dismantle racism, classism, and all forms of oppression.

Because hubs are mini organizations of their own, this guide is primarily meant to address the organizational layer of oppression in our movement. Building a just organization means that an organization is recruiting and welcoming people of all backgrounds, creating room for difference within the organization, and developing frequent and supportive pathways to leadership for all members. As such, the framework that underpins this guide is the Recruit-Retain-Develop Framework. Although many useful tools elaborated below touch on interpersonal and internalized layers of oppression, that is not this guide’s primary aim (see the “Retain” section for resources that more directly address these layers).

When it comes to who is in your hub, there are three core organizing practices: recruitment, retention, and leadership development. In each of these practices, you have the opportunity to build a more diverse base and develop diverse leadership. We have choices about who we invest in and the community we create.

We’ve found that often when people try to tackle oppression within hubs, they get stuck. It’s easy to feel that you can’t intervene in one core organizing practice until you’ve perfected another. And it’s true that like a triangle, each of these stages relies on the others—you can’t ignore one entirely or only work on one at a time; the three need to be growing at the same time in order for this to work.

We don’t need to strive for perfection—a hub doesn’t need to retain everyone before developing people, or have a super diverse leadership team before beginning to recruit people of different backgrounds. All three of theses steps need to be happening at the same time. It’s more important to take a leap forward and begin implementing the strategies below!

There are dozens of ways that a hub could intervene at any of these stages. We’ve brainstormed a few ideas to help you get started, but we invite people to play with this framework as we build out just and powerful hubs!

Note: because building hubs that reflect the communities they live in is about relationships and trust, it’s difficult to set hard and fast guidelines for what hubs should strive for. This work is deeply context-specific and will look different in everyone’s community.


What are the specific obstacles to recruiting a diverse group of people into Sunrise? There are three major obstacles to recruiting low income, poor, working class, Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color into Sunrise.

  1. Well-founded suspicion
    1. Many BIPOC and low income people know that the historic and current composition of the environmental movement has created spaces that are effectively hostile to them, and so they are hesitant to show up to those spaces.
  2. Segregation and biases of white and/or upper class members
    1. Since movements grow through social networks, white and/or middle/upper class members of the environmental movement are mostly segregated from BIPOC and/or working class people in their social and professional lives and therefore don’t recruit outside of their own circles or Facebook friends.
    2. Many white members of the movement operate with an inaccurate assumption that BIPOC “just aren’t interested in environmentalism” and don’t even try to recruit these communities into our movement. In fact, people of color are more likely to perceive climate change to be a crisis and believe that it will negatively affect them personally. They’re also more likely to be impacted by environmental injustices. Additionally, many BIPOC haven’t been asked due to this bias.
  3. More pressing priorities
    1. Many BIPOC and poor or working class people prioritize working on defending themselves from white supremacy and on surviving in the face of economic marginalization. The fact that some people prioritize matters of shelter, survival, or safety over climate action doesn't mean that they aren't interested in fighting the climate crisis; many people are simply making strategic choices about how to allocate their limited resources. And in some cases, they just haven’t been asked.
  1. Direct recruitment efforts toward communities of color and low income communities.
    1. For example, in the Boston hub, recruitment leaders realized that they were fielding many requests from majority white organizations whose leaders knew about Sunrise because of social networks. Nothing wrong with this—except they were spending all their time doing presentations for majority-white organizations and not reaching out to majority-POC organizations! They changed their strategy and are now launching a series of presentations in high schools and colleges with student populations that are majority-POC and majority working-class. They are turning down or postponing invitations to present to majority white organizations and instead simply respond by inviting those organizations to show up to hub meetings and actions.
    2. Canvassing our communities (usually this looks like knocking on doors or “spot-canvassing” by standing in a public place and speaking with the people that walk by) is one way to break out of our own personal networks (which, due to how segregated our society is, tend to be made of people of similar backgrounds as ourselves).
      1. Listening Works: this organization has a video series on how to do a more relational type of canvassing known as Deep Canvassing
      2. NEW Canvassing Guide (from Sunrise)
    3. In the Boston hub, the partnerships team realized that many youth organizations are protective of their members’ time commitments and that the hub should not try to recruit young people who are already committed to an organization. Instead, they invite organizations to partner on events and only recruit new members from school presentations and canvassing. This example lends itself to the guiding principle, “Organize people, not organizers.”
  2. Explicitly and proactively name white supremacy and classism and Sunrise’s commitment to addressing it both in the policy arena and within our organization. Talk about our recognition that Sunrise as a whole is still predominantly white and middle/upper class and that we’re actively developing our policies, practices, and culture to work for racial and economic justice.
    1. Openness and honesty about where we are in our internal process can allay some of the reasonable suspicion that many BIPOC feel toward climate organizations regarding the organizations’ internal culture. Something Sunrise is doing to open communication is hosting State of the Movement Calls. State of the Movement Calls are large internal calls for active leaders within the movement to discuss our work, ask questions, and align on high level strategy and updates. We're launching these State of the Movement calls to increase transparency and promote more horizontal connection within Sunrise.
    2. Making clear our commitment to the Green New Deal’s intersectional solutions to the climate crisis may lead some BIPOC to decide that it is worth their time to work on climate justice with an organization that is also working to advance anti-racist and pro-worker policies.
  3. Train the people doing recruitment in your hub in liberatory frameworks* so they recognize the ways they are influenced by structures and patterns of white supremacy and instead are equipped to choose liberatory anti-racist approaches when attempting to recruit BIPOC. Liberatory approaches include taking the time to listen, treating the people you’re interacting with as people rather than as numbers or signatures, and doing consistent and prolonged canvassing in the same geographic area.
    1. A few possible training frameworks and resources can be found in the Hub Resources Directory under the “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” section.
  4. Make whatever you’re recruiting people to as accessible as possible. Is it accessible in terms of timing and location? Is it close to public transit? Are you able to provide support getting to the location? Is it handicap accessible?
    1. Our class experience and the kind of job we have can impact when we work. Some hubs have been able to become more accessible to people that don’t work traditional 9:00-5:00 jobs by holding engagement opportunities that occur at a variety of times throughout the week and day. For example, their hub meetings might be every Sunday at 8pm, but they’ll hold volunteer opportunities or actions at different times during the week.
    2. One other thing you could do is rotate where your meetings are held! Change the location of your meetings to increase accessibility.

Signs that efforts to recruit people of marginalized identities are being done in a way that is leading to tokenization: When we don’t understand why it’s morally and strategically necessary to do outreach to people of marginalized identities, we end up striving to fill hollow diversity quotas and treating people as numbers. This can look like asking people to hold particular roles solely because of their identity instead of because of the interests and gifts they bring to the movement.

The above recruitment practices lead to tokenization when we aim to fill the room with people of diverse backgrounds without making them feel welcome or providing pathways to develop those people as leaders. That’s why the following two sections—Retain and Develop—are equally important as the one above!