Emma Kemp ’20 | Assistant News Editor
Divest Smith hosted a panel discussion titled “Climate Justice and Migration” last Friday afternoon in the Campus Center, led by Gabriella Della Croce ’11 and Andrea Schmid ’17 from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and Professor Rick Lopez from Amherst College. Friends greeted each other as more chairs were pulled out to seat a full audience from both the Five College and greater Northampton communities. Conversation centered on the enormous effects of climate change on marginalized groups.
Divest Smith is a student organization fighting for complete dissolvement of Smith’s investments in the fossil fuel industry while also raising awareness of climate change on campus. The discussion was hosted with the support of Students for Justice in Palestine, Smith Democrats and the Smith Food Recovery.
Della Croce and Schmid were welcomed back to Smith, where both received their undergraduate degrees. Della Croce is an organizer and educator, focusing her efforts on food systems, food access and environmental justice. Schmid is a facilitator for the Springfield Worker’s Committee.
Climate change and migration are interrelated themes; as Lopez pointed out, one leads to the other. For instance, in the rainforests of Ecuador, the oil company Chevron caused an oil spill when they dug trenches through the rainforest instead of placing them underground. The spill contaminated the water, hiked cancer rates and left pools of oil in riverways. This case went to court and was ruled last September in favor of the oil company.
Lopez also brought attention to the melting glaciers in the Andes Mountains and the ramifications of mining throughout Latin America, something he referred to as “environmental warfare.”
The impact of environmental degradation is far reaching, influencing international relations. More and more, people are fleeing their homelands, seeking refuge from the effects of climate change. “This means that countries now are struggling with how to support refugees,” Lopez explained.
Schmid and Della Croce’s work focuses on supporting these underrepresented and targeted groups. Schmid works largely with Guatemalan immigrants in Springfield, many of whom work 70 to 80 hours a week in the summer to provide for their families. Often, the conditions they work in are deplorable — they lack water, they aren’t paid overtime wages, wage-theft is commonplace and people don’t report workplace injuries because they fear their bosses.
Schmid noted the predominant sense of isolation that many people in these communities face. “The things these immigrants are dealing with — the journey is alienating, and to come here and still be alienated … Sharing their histories is so important,” she said.
And, yet, there is something about these farmworkers’ love for working in nature that prevails, despite the conditions they are subjected to. Said Della Croce, “After having interviews with farmworkers, I was struck, when speaking of their work and the atrocious conditions they face, [by] how much they still love the green plants and growing things.”
Through the efforts of people like Schmid and Della Croce, a sanctuary act called the Welcoming Community Trust Act passed in Springfield, making it illegal for Springfield police and municipalities to share people’s immigration status to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “People can travel through their communities without fear,” Della Croce explained. This act, ratified in December 2018, lowered the perpetual threat of deportation.
Climate change is a threat, the enormous effects of which communities in Latin America are already feeling, and there is a long way to go before migrant communities are treated justly. Friday’s discussion brought together three local activists determined in their mission and strong in their vision for the future. “What’s happening at the local level is arguably more important because it allows movements on the national level to flourish,” said Schmid. “If we can elect these people on a local level, that’s one way to bring about change.”
Divest Smith meets every Thursday at 8 p.m. in room 204 of the Campus Center.