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Earth Day 2021: Climate Justice Alliance engages 74 grassroots organizations working at the forefront of the climate crisis


Editor’s note: On Thursday, April 22, Climate Justice Alliance will join Kresge for an “Earth Day Social Media Takeover.” CJA will #TakeOverKresge’s Twitter + Instagram feeds. Use hashtags #EarthDay or #EarthDay2021 to join the conversation. This feature story is part of a series from Kresge’s Environment Program to spotlight equity-focused organizations working to achieve climate justice. Supporting climate justice advocates is a priority for Kresge. Our partners are helping to advance local work while also contributing to the national environmental justice movement on Earth Day, and everyday beyond.

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is a unique coalition of 74 frontline grassroots organizations, networks and base-building groups working at the forefront of the climate crisis. Its members are multicultural, intergenerational, and prioritize leadership among women, gender-nonconforming and persons of color. CJA takes pride in having representation from traditionally underrepresented constituencies, including Indigenous Peoples, Black, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and low-income communities.

The populations impacted by CJA’s work are often located near toxic, polluting industries such as oil refineries, fracking wells, coal mines, power plants and pipelines. Additional priority neighborhoods are located near rail lines, ports and other major transportation corridors; landfills and incinerators; and industrial agriculture.

“Frontline communities hold unique and compelling wisdom, solutions and organizing power deeply informed by their lived experience with the very industries causing climate change and inflicting harm on their bodies, communities and the environment,” says Holly Baker, Climate Justice Alliance philanthropic partnerships director. “Frontline communities also hold the vision to connect the dots between our interlinked economic and climate crises – from root causes to solutions.”

For decades, grassroots organizations – those of, by and for frontline communities – have produced outsized social change impacts, despite being chronically and severely underfunded. In a recent study conducted by the Building Equity and Alignment for Impact Initiative and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School, the research team found between 2016-2017, of the $1.34 billion awarded by 12 national environmental grantmakers, only 1.3% ($18 million) was granted to environmental justice organizations.

To help solve this challenge, there are equity-centered solutions in place that support channeling more resources directly to grassroots organizations leading the movement for climate justice. They include:

  • Intermediary funders, such as the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice and The Solutions Project who grant exclusively to grassroots organizations and whose inclusive practices engage frontline leaders in decision-making.
  • Grassroots alliances, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, which has developed and integrated transparent, participatory resource-sharing processes into its organizational practice to move funds to frontline organizational members.

“Grassroots alliances hold deep relationships with their members and key knowledge of their work toward a Just Transition,” says Luis Gonzalez, funder relations associate with the Climate Justice Alliance. “Both of these types of mechanisms serve as a bridge between foundations that have the capacity to grant large dollars and grassroots organizations who need and deserve the resources.”

Download a resource from the CLIMA Fund: Why Fund Intermediaries?

Success stories that drive policy change

A historic environmental justice (EJ) bill out of New Jersey more than 10 years in the making was signed into law in 2020, thanks to the diligent organizing work of CJA member Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) and a team of allies from around the state. ICC is based out of Newark, NJ, the state’s largest and most diverse city. NJ S232 (20R) requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to deny permits for power plants, incinerators, landfills, large recycling facilities and sewage treatment plants in already-burdened EJ communities.

“These communities are comprised of Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, and low-income people who have long seen their neighborhoods host a disproportionate amount of such industrial facilities and the resulting contaminants with deleterious impacts to human and environmental health,” says Gonzalez. “The new legislation is the product of the relentless advocacy by ICC and their allies, who regularly introduced the bill before the legislature, but were met with industry and labor opposition. With the onset of the pandemic laying bare inequalities in public and environmental health, and racial justice uprisings demanding an end to police brutality, it became clear that leaders at all levels of government needed to address systemic racism throughout our society.”

Another success story comes from CJA’s Our Power Loan Fund (OPLF), which was developed as a vehicle to move capital into a regenerative economy that shifts control to people, advances ecological restoration, drives racial and social equity and re-localizes production and consumption.

Organizations can be awarded a loan through the OPLF after completing an extensive application process. The loans include technical support for business planning that examines their organizational values, the equity they bring, their finances and their financial viability.

The first loan recipient, Earthbound Building, Farm & Forestry, is a natural building cooperative of skilled craftspeople and farmers who design and construct sustainable farm infrastructure, buildings and landscapes.

“With a non-extractive loan from OPLF, Earthbound has been able to reduce their overhead and raise efficiency by purchasing their own truck to transport supplies, equipment and workers,” says Gonzalez. “Over the course of the application process, CJA supported Earthbound in varying capacities to strengthen their business plan, thereby improving their loan-readiness. Earthbound has begun repayment of their loan. These funds will ultimately be recirculated to support other Just Transition projects.”

Reaching voters to achieve climate justice

As part of a large cross-sector alliance of the Portland Clean Energy Fund, CJA member Organizing People Activating Leaders (OPAL) was successful in getting the Portland Clean Energy Initiative onto the general election ballot in 2018. Residents voted overwhelmingly to pass the initiative, which established the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) and is projected to raise as much as $60 million per year from taxes.

The money collected will then be distributed every year in a clean energy fund for renewable energy, energy efficiency, job training, green infrastructure, and future innovative projects that prioritize low-income residents and people of color. OPAL and their coalition partners have been working together with the City of Portland since the passage of the initiative to implement a successful and standard-setting grant program that faithfully reflects the will of Portland voters.

Fresh, locally-grown food delivered to families during COVID 

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, CJA member Urban Tilth began receiving additional requests to provide fresh produce for families in need from their community gardens and urban farms.

Contra Costa County declared Urban Tilth’s operations essential work. To meet the increase in requests, they needed to scale up their sustainable local food production and distribution. Drop-off locations were closed, so their operations began including deliveries within communities.

In addition, the health department required Urban Tilth to adapt their farm processing area to meet hygienic requirements with simple, yet pricey, equipment upgrades. Despite mounting challenges, Urban Tilth labored on, delivering an average of 200 boxes of food per week to families in need.

CJA’s mutual aid network brought Urban Tilth needed supplies for their work, which was further supported by rapid response funding from CJA. More importantly, the fresh, chemical-free, locally grown food delivered by Urban Tilth was packed with nutrients to support families’ optimal health.

“Staff have been on the farm working during the pandemic and supporting the local mutual aid network to get groceries, medicine and other supplies to those in the community who are elderly, immunocompromised and/or with other limitations and challenges,” says Gonzalez. “As the months have passed and we continue to deal with the uncertainty of COVID-19, the work of Urban Tilth is both an inspiration and an essential support system for the Richmond community.”

Fast facts about CJA

  • The vast majority of CJA member organizations are led and staffed by persons of color and women who come from the communities they serve and organize.
  • Member formation examples include: Our Power Communities (OPCs) and Just Transition Regional Hubs, led by environmental justice and climate justice organizations.
  • Working groups and campaigns include: Energy Democracy, Food Sovereignty, Just Recovery, Green New Deal, and Reinvest in Our Power.
  • CJA Board of Directors composition: 29% Latinx, 29% Asian Pacific Islander, 21% Black, 7% Indigenous, 14% white.
  • Staff composition, including fellows: 30% Latinx, 22% Black, 22% Asian Pacific Islander, 9% biracial, 17% white.

Learn more about Climate Justice Alliance by visiting


Kresge’s support of the Climate Justice Alliance aligns with our commitment to the Donors of Color Network Climate Funders Justice Pledge. Through this new effort, we are vowing to invest at least 30% of our climate change funding in Black, Indigenous and people of color-led climate justice organizations and committing to even greater transparency in our overall funding. Several additional organizations including the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, The Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, the Solutions Project, the Fund to Build Grassroots Power, the BEA Initiative, NDN Collective and others are using similar models to regrant funds from large foundations to grassroots organizations led by Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Over the coming months, we will spotlight the work of several grantee partners working in this space on