What is “Intersectionality” and Why Does it Matter So Much Now?

December 15, 2016

Intersectionality rainbow

E Pluribus Unum

Why should environmentalists care about racial justice? Why should defenders of LGBTQ rights care whether there’s too much money in politics? And what does Black Lives Matter have to do with Native Americans protesting a pipeline in North Dakota?

The simple answer: we’re all in this together.

Leaders and activists like Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace (and a member of our independent Board of Directors), are realizing that nothing we care about will ever get done if we don’t stand united and fight together. 


Intersectionality Looks Like This in Practice

Last April we marched at Democracy Awakening in Washington, DC, along with thousands of others who were fighting for our democracy to be restored. And though there were many remarkable things about that gathering, one thing that stood out perhaps most to us was the diversity in organizations and movements that were all coming together to fight the same thing: big money in politics and a broken political system.

Environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace marched alongside religious organizations, who helped make signs shoulder to shoulder with groups representing people of color such as the NAACP, who came together with science organizations such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, who stood alongside groups fighting for worker’s rights, immigration rights, LGBTQ rights, and hundreds of others. (Oh, and there was one little ice cream company there, too…)


Because it’s all Connected.

Annie Leonard explained to us that for a long time most organizations worked on policy in relative isolation. But “in recent years, groups all across the political spectrum, groups working on civil rights, racial justice, LGBT issues, the environment … started to realize we can’t advance the things we care about because our democracy is not working.”

Democracy Awakening was the result of this breakthrough in thinking. It was founded on the idea that, no matter where we come from or what issue matters most to us, our goals and priorities intersect, and that the only way to make progress is to unite and demand change with one, very loud, voice.  


Speaking in One Loud Voice = Intersectionality

There are some ideas so powerful that it’s hard to imagine how they were ever not seen as true. Intersectionality is one of them. First coined back in the 1980s by Kimberlé Crenshaw to address the ways in which gender and racial discrimination overlapped, especially with respect to black women and the feminist movement, intersectionality has taken on a life of its own over the past three decades. It now speaks to the ways many seemingly disparate interests and issues intersect.

In other words: there are many things that we, and the issues we care about, have in common. And the more clearly we see this, the more likely we are to make change happen.


A Shared History, A Shared Future

Many wondered, for example, why representatives from Black Lives Matter spent time a few months ago with the Standing Rock Sioux and their allied tribes and supporters in the ongoing, and increasingly violent, protests against the North Dakota Access Pipeline. After all, how are those groups really connected?

But take another look: the issues of racial justice, environmental justice, and Native American rights and sovereignty intersect if you step back and see the bigger picture. To cite just one recent example, haven’t the residents of Flint, Michigan, experienced environmental racism too? Don’t we all have the right to clean air and clean water? And aren’t poor communities, indigenous populations, and people of color most at risk when it comes to pollution and climate change?

When we see what issues unite us, and the challenges that face us, then we gain strength. Then we’re that much closer to victory.


“People Power”

Leonard was trained as a scientist, she told us, and was convinced for many years that “the truth would set us free,” that carefully and persuasively presented facts and figures would convince policymakers to do the right thing. “After 30 years of trying that, I see it is not facts, science, expertise, and truth that’s going to win this—it’s people power.”

As she put it, “There are two sources of power in the world. One is money, which [corporate donors and lobbyists and the politicians they support] have, and the other is people, which we have. So if people get up get off their couches, get out of their houses, get away from their computers…like we’re doing right here, right now, we can take back our democracy.”

We’re going to need that sort of energy every day over the next four years.


Now We MUST Stand Together

Fighting for the health of our planet, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, and racial justice is now more important than ever. The danger to a fair, just, and functioning democracy has never been more clear and present. This is where everything we love and care about the most intersects.


And It’s Up to Us

It’s up to all of us, no matter our background, no matter what cause inspires us, no matter our race or economic class or sexuality or education or anything else. It’s up to all of us to raise our voices and raise our fists and demand justice. Our democracy can and must be strengthened.

“We need to fill the streets like we’re doing right here today,” Leonard said. “We need to force our government to listen to us. That’s what’s going to make the difference and turn things around.”


Will You Join Us?

We are unwavering in our values as a business, and this year we will double down our efforts in fighting for social and economic justice.

Please join us and 100 women of color leaders working together to defend our values. Take the #Our100 pledge!

And check out the video below to hear more from Annie Leonard: