Visionaries Project: Ebony Ava Harper on Radical Inclusivity and Intersectionality

In the fourth installment of the Visionaries Project, we speak to activist and community organizer Ebony Ava Harper.


The Visionaries Project is a new subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of radical activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.

Ebony Ava Harper is an activist, philanthropist, writer, creator, life and world-changer, advocate for marginalized communities, and a tremendous inspiration to many. As an openly Black and trans woman and an advocate for environmental justice, prison reform, and so much more, she has done incredible work to fight for her communities, forging a path to a better world in the process. She is currently head of California TransCends, a statewide organization that works to promote the health and wellness of transgender people in California, and she's the recipient of the 2019 Stonewall Four Freedoms Award and the among other achievements (none of which could come close to adequately recognizing all of her marvelous work). We spoke about resilience, environmental justice, community organizing, and more.

1. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where are you from, and what were and are you passionate about?

I was born in Prince Georges County, Maryland, to a family of Jamaican immigrants. I believe I'm the first American born in my family. My parents migrated from Maryland to Los Angeles, CA when I was just a baby, so all I know is growing up in Los Angeles. I spent the first 27 years of my life mostly in Los Angeles, and then I moved to Sacramento. I've been in Sacramento for some time now, and I consider this my home city.

I'm passionate about dismantling systems of oppression and dismantling my own oppressive behaviors. I'm passionate about loving the unlovable. Flipping that negative into a positive and improving not only my quality of life but the quality of life of all living beings (plants and trees included).

2. How did you first get started with activism, and what movements are you most involved in now?

I'm a Black trans woman that came out early in life, so I always say I came out fighting for survival from the gate (from the start). I was born an activist. I had to fight and speak up for myself to simply be... I'm a decedent of Jamaica, and if you listen to our music, you'll hear a lot about love, peace, "getting up, standing up, fighting for your rights." I would say I hit the ground fighting with all these intersections I embody. I also hit the ground loving and having empathy for others. My inner indignation against injustice and my tender Jamaican roots inform who I am today and my activism. My activism has transitioned along with me. I feel like we're all transitioning in some way. I have transitioned away from just relegating myself to being a trans activist, I'm a human rights activist. I fight for all oppressed peoples. Social oppression is even showing up through this current climate crisis.

I'm involved in Gender Justice, Climate Justice, Disability Justice, and Race Equity!! They all interconnect in my life.

3. A lot of your writing seems to focus on internal and community-wide restorative efforts and resilience, whether in terms of health, the environment, or the spirit. What does human resilience mean to you, and for you?

I love this question! It's a big question. I came from some harsh beginnings: All I know is resilience. I'm an introspective person, so as I have aged, I think about resilience on a much larger scale than the marginalized groups that produced me or my sole experience. I think about all the times life itself was on the brink of total catastrophe, and boom.... It rebounds. Resilience means to rebound from something that could've taken you out. It means hope for the future, it means another chance, another road, another shot. I'm a descendant of slaves and a descendant of those that have walked this trans path: All I know is resilience. I wish to share my struggle with others in hopes that they may be inspired not to give up. You know, "If that big ole queen can make it, so can I." That's the seed I want to plant when I'm sharing on any platform.

4. You wrote an amazing piece for Forbes in which you discuss feminism's failure to address "inequities of human injustices caused by colonial, capitalist, and social oppression." You also addressed this in your Sacramento News and Review piece in which you wrote, "Trans people, particularly our black women and femmes, were on the front lines of the Stonewall Rebellion, yet we're on the back lines of the gay and lesbian liberation." Feminism and many, or really most, social movements suffer from such a lack of intersectional and trans recognition. Where do you see that need for change manifesting itself?

I think social justice movements don't always think in terms of intersections, or they fight for things that will serve them in that particular moment, never really seeing how all this suffering intersects. They'll have all the language right, but their actions will be about that one topic. We need to remove the berries and realize an injustice to a Black trans woman is the same as an injustice to a cis woman. An injustice to a Black trans woman is an injustice to the Black community as a whole. There's no separation; Black trans issues are multidimensional and are relatable to any social justice issue today. You have to be radical and intentional about inclusivity to Black trans women.

5. Are there any trans leaders, writers, or figures you're particularly inspired by at the moment?

Too many to name here, but I'll name just a few. Valerie Spencer inspired me as a young trans kid. We have Black trans philosophers, and I would say she's one of our great philosophers. Aria Sa'id is a young Black trans woman that has contributed so much to our movement at such a young age. She's Executive Director of the first Trans Cultural District in the nation, and she's smart as hell... Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd, from Alabam leading the charge for trans health equity throughout the South. Elle Hearns, one of the founding members of Black Lives Matter that just so happens to be a Black trans woman. Omega West, a Black trans man who, like me, came from some rough stuff and is out here fighting for our rights daily. Last but not least, my translatina sister, Bamby Salcedo, who's a national treasure in our community fighting for our freedoms every day.

6. You're vocal online about a lot of environmental issues. Do you see the environment as intertwined with queer, trans, and Black and Brown community issues? What does environmental justice mean to you?

It's absolutely intertwined! The factories in impoverished neighborhoods, access to clean food, clean water, information around health all are linked to poverty. Extreme poverty is linked to these marginalized groups that live on the fringe of the fringes of society. No resources, so capitalism exploits them. We have to look at what's affecting those at the bottom and work from there, while fighting these big corporations that are siphoning the life out of the planet.

7. What changes (spiritual or societal or both) would you like to see most in the near future? What does your vision of a better future look like?

Green renewable energy. No more wars. The end of capitalism! Love abounding on the earth like never before. Total freedom to just be without judgment.

8. Are there any organizations or initiatives you'd like to promote?

I'm the leader of the new statewide initiative, California TransCends, in partnership with the California Endowment and California Public Health Advocates. California TransCends promotes the health and wellness of transgender people throughout the state of California. I'll be doing a statewide assessment of the needs of trans people living in rural communities, trans people of color, and our trans elders. We'll be working with local policymakers to see what we can do to make trans lives a bit more bearable. We're engaging other trans organizations that are leading statewide work to form a statewide and national coalition that will work in one accord on issues that need our rapid response. Lastly, we'll have micro-grants available for coalition-building conferences for trans people of color. I'm also one of the directors for the newly formed Employment Equality.

9. You're doing so much amazing work—how do you balance it all? What do you do for self-care and for fun?

I take a couple of days a week off and recharge. I have a small circle but good friends I can call when I'm going through a tough time. I have a spiritual community, The Center for Spiritual Awareness, that loves and supports me. This is my combination for staying afloat.

10. Do you have any advice for activists, or any lessons or mantras that you follow?

Don't become the same evil you're fighting! It's easy to fall into the trap of anger and vengeance. When fighting injustice, you have to make sure your approaches are balanced, or you'll perpetuate the same injustices you're fighting.

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I'll admit it, I should do more to save the planet. Although I recycle and refuse to use plastic straws anymore, I'm constantly looking for new ways to be more environmentally conscious.

I always wanted to switch to a sustainable energy alternative but was afraid that it would be expensive or time-consuming to sign up. Like, I want to go green, but I can't afford higher utility bills. Recently, I was talking to a co-worker about the amount of plastic waste our office produces, and she told me that she feels guilt-free since she'd signed up for Arcadia Power. It's a free service that partners with your current utility provider to connect you with sustainable energy options.

She went on to tell me that signing up for an Arcadia Power account is a breeze and can be done entirely online. Best of all, it's lowered her utility bills. I politely nodded, assuming she'd gotten it wrong. But after checking out their site, I was shocked to see that it's not too good to be true! Here are 5 things I was surprised to learn…..

Same provider! Arcadia Power switches out where the power is being sourced, not your energy provider. You have the security of staying with the company you've been with for years.

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Green energy is cheaper than fossil fuels! Major energy providers have no financial incentive to source renewable energy. So Arcadia Power does the work for them.

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I'll admit it, I should do more to save the planet. Although I recycle and refuse to use plastic straws anymore, I'm constantly looking for new ways to be more environmentally conscious.

I always wanted to switch to a sustainable energy alternative but was afraid that it would be expensive or time-consuming to sign up. Like, I want to go green, but I can't afford higher utility bills. Recently, I was talking to a co-worker about the amount of plastic waste our office produces, and she told me that she feels guilt-free since she'd signed up for Arcadia Power. It's a free service that partners with your current utility provider to connect you with sustainable energy options.

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I never imagined that green energy could be so easily attainable, let alone affordable. But Arcadia Power's process is simple. I logged into my online utility account, provided basic information about my location, and they identified green providers in my area. They'll implement changes to your monthly bill only if they find clean energy that costs less. Arcadia Power is a convenient and effective way to make a real difference. Save yourself some money, while saving the world.

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Experts Urge "Unprecedented Changes" to Prevent Environmental Disaster

A U.N. panel recommends "rapid, far-reaching" overhauls to prevent global catastrophe by 2030.

When responding to a disaster, the last phase is containment. The latest report from the world's leading experts on global warming is urging world leaders and policy-makers that that time is now. In order to prevent the earth's temperature from rising any more than another .5 ˚Celsius over the next 12 years, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" are necessary.

The report is the latest from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which draws from thousands of publications and reviews of data on climate changes to assess and measure "increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level." In the past five reports, the IPCC has gone from investigating if and to what degree global warming was taking place to finding it "unequivocal" that global warming was an ongoing disaster with a 5% chance of being caused by natural climate change and a 90% probability that society's emissions of greenhouse gases were perpetuating the damage.

Environment and Human Being

Now, the IPCC is no longer concerned with spreading awareness or recommending practices to prevent damage from global warming, but to contain the coming destruction. The latest report cites that global temperatures are already 1 ˚C higher than in pre-industrial times; if temperatures rise more than 1.5 ˚C, environmental damages will put hundreds of millions of human lives at risk.

Furthermore, Earth's temperatures are expected to rise to the catastrophic 1.5 ˚C as early as 2030, unless "unprecedented changes" in transportation, agriculture, and energy are implemented. The IPCC's report verifies that carbon dioxide emissions have not been hampered by existing environmental policies, or lack thereof, recommending "rapid and far-reaching transitions" in society that leave some doubtful of its feasibility.

Skeptics include Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, who stated, "Even if it is technically possible, without aligning the technical, political and social aspects of feasibility, it is not going to happen. To limit warming below 1.5 ˚C, or 2 ˚C for that matter, requires all countries and all sectors to act."

The rhetoric of environmentalism has been deemed alarmist and even fear-mongering in the past, but one reason skeptics remain unmoved could be due to a history of sanitized language. Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, doubts not only the IPCC's radical changes but their words: "If you're expecting IPCC to jump up and down and wave red flags, you're going to be disappointed. They're going to do what they always do, which is to release very cautious reports in extremely dispassionate language."

Scientists involved in the IPCC hope that the newest report will counteract that history of apathetic fatalism, urging that the present risk should merit the global, united response it will take to scale back potential disaster. "It's a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now," affirmed Dr. Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC's working group on climate impacts. "This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilizes people and dents the mood of complacency."


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


Trump Administration Admits Climate Change is Real

But plan to enact environmentally destructive policies anyway.

Amid the media frenzy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, you may have missed another recent development in the world of politics: the Trump administration's admission that climate change is real.

According to the Washington Post, "In public, President Trump and his deputies have downplayed or outright dismissed rising sea levels, more frequent droughts, and other effects of man-made global warming." Contrastingly, in a 500-page environmental impact statement released last week, the Trump administration projected that on its current course, the planet will warm seven degrees by 2100. According to scientists, that kind of increase in temperature would be disastrous; resulting in extreme heat waves, acidic oceans, and high sea levels.

But, shockingly, the report was not intended as evidence to support funding to combat climate change, but instead meant to defend President Trump's decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and cars built after 2020. The report asserts that though this policy would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the fate of the planet is already sealed and fuel efficiency standards make too small of an impact to be consequential.

Michael MacCracken, who was the senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002, said, "The amazing thing they're saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they're saying they're not going to do anything about it."

The report states that the world would have to make massive cuts in carbon emissions to avoid this warming and that, "would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today's levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible."

A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, would exceed the goal set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, from which Trump is withdrawing the United States. According to the Washington Post, "At those temperatures, scientists describe nothing short of catastrophe." The Guardian sums up the administration's argument well with, "You might as well argue that because you're going to die eventually, there's no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day."

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.