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Markey discusses climate policy, racial justice with Rev. Yearwood of Hip Hop Caucus

Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.
Damu Malik Photography
Hip Hop Caucus
Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey held a virtual talk about the intersection of climate change and racial justice with Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. today.

The Democrat hosted the conversation with Yearwood in honor of both Black History Month and the anniversary of the Green New Deal, which Markey released alongside New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez three years ago to the day.

“We’re in the midst of a systematic attempt to suppress the Black vote in America," said Markey. "And maybe you could talk a little bit about how those fossil fuel, Republican efforts to suppress the Black vote will effect our efforts to combat the impact of the climate crisis and its effect upon those who are most vulnerable, those who are poorest, those who live in those neighborhoods that obviously have the highest rates of asthma or other diseases that are directly related to the climate crisis.”

“The reality is, if folks’ voices are not being heard, then we cannot have the policies and safe policies that we need to do that can save lives," responded the reverend. "And so it is very scary right now, we’re in a very scary time.”

Yearwood has been involved in politics since the turn of the century, describing himself as key architect of P. Diddy’s 2004 “Vote Or Die” campaign. He was the National Director of the Hurricane Katrina advocacy group the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, and has led anti-war and voter registration efforts through the Hip Hop Caucus.

“There are those who are putting roadblocks, particularly against people of color, to make sure that their voices aren't heard," said Yearwood. "They're literally bringing back Jim Crow-type laws. They're bringing back, in essence, poll taxes and the things that were so very disgusting in our history, they’re bringing those things back in many different forms. They're gerrymandering, they're doing things to isolate and cut up votes. They're putting up roadblocks to voting. They're doing many things right now. And this is why it is so important that we that we pass laws to stop voter suppression in this country.”

Yearwood said racial justice and climate policy are inseparable.

“Too long these fossil fuel industries whose business plan has been a death sentence have looked at particularly Black and Brown and the business in poor communities as sacrifice zones, and they have literally figured them to be the path of least resistance,” he said.

The Reverend praised Markey’s climate advocacy.

“What you're doing in regards to this legislation is critical," he told the senator. "Never give up, never give in. And I know it's tough, but literally, I'm telling you, I bury Black babies in cities. I've had to fight mothers getting into caskets because their children died because of asthma. I need you never to give up hope. I need you to keep fighting. The fossil fuel industry is probably the worst and most powerful force we've seen, but you have got to fight.”

Yearwood also had a message for the young people listening in.

“I want to commend you so much for what you're doing, because people need to see other people doing this work," he said. "And when other young people saw other young people and allowed them to know they were not crazy, they understand this a crisis, and they want to be a part of this. I commend all the young people for not giving up and staying in the course to ensure that we get through this climate crisis.”

You can find out more about the Hip Hop Caucus and its work here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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