SPRINGFIELD — Immigration and climate change — hot button topics in the 2016 presidential campaign — took center stage again Saturday, as community organization Arise for Social Justice sought to highlight links between the two issues.
The group, which is dedicated to addressing housing, environmental and public health issues, among other things, explored the connections between immigrants, refugees and climate change during an afternoon panel discussion and mini-conference at Springfield Technical Community College.
In addition to underscoring the interplay between the high-profile topics, the event featured workshops detailing actions Springfield-area residents can take to speak out against racism, organize for immigrants and address the health impacts of climate change.
Ann Ferguson, coordinator of Arise Springfield’s community resource board and an organizer of the event, said she hopes individuals who attended the panel discussion and workshops walked away with a better understanding of how these issues connect, as well as how to get involved with local groups that are already organizing around them.
She noted that the decision to focus on links between climate and immigration issues came partially in response to the 2016 election.
“Obviously things have taken a turn for the worst in the country when we have a climate denier for president and someone who’s really put out this draconian ban against immigrants and visitors even from Muslim communities in the Middle East — and drastically cut back the number of legal immigrants that can come to this country,” she said in an interview. “We’re upset with that and we think that needs to be challenged.”
Ferguson, a former University of Massachusetts Amherst professor, said she believes that people need to organize “not just against (President Donald) Trump, but against all those tendencies that he represents that will really take us back.”
Vijay Prashad, a Trinity College International Studies professor and author who spoke as part of the panel discussion, however, argued that the issues transcend partisan politics and the sitting president.
Contending that Americans need to acknowledge the role “imperialism” has played in U.S. foreign policy, Prashad said Democratic and Republican presidents alike have played a hand in shaping current issues related to climate change and immigration.
He urged attendees to focus on “doing something about what we’re already doing” in terms of foreign policy.
Arise Executive Director Michaelann Bewsee, Philanthropy for Change Founder and Director Ravi Khanna and Martha Nathan, of the local organization Climate Action Now, also spoke as part of the panel discussion.
Joelle Million, 70, of Longmeadow, said she and her husband decided to attend the event to learn more about the connection between immigration and climate-related issues — a link which she said is often overlooked.
“The conference, I think, is making a connection that a lot of us don’t between what is going to be happening even more so with climate change and the displacement of populations,” she said. “I think that’s something that the public needs to become more aware of: if we think we’ve got a refugee problem now, just wait to see what’s going to happen.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Climate Action Now, the Markham-Nathan Justice Fund, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Jobs with Justice and the Springfield Unitarian Universalist Society.
The Pioneer Valley Interfaith Refugee Action Group, Western MA American Friends Service Committee, UMass Social Thought, Rosenberg Fund for Children and Political Economy Program and the UMass Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program also signed on as sponsors.