"We Stand as Allies in the Shared Struggle to Shape a Livable Future for Ourselves"


Ben Davis has organized for a sustainable future since his college days. He shares his thoughts on how solidarity across movements is key.

Reading time: 8 minutes
headshot of ben davis in front of green, leafy background

This interview is part of our Labor & Climate series.

How did you get started with climate or labor activism? What convinced you to take action?

When I look back at growing up, the valuable lessons of community service and the importance of mutual support stand out as fundamental. Raised within the context of Secular Jewish tradition, I gained a core understanding of actively participating in and giving back to one's community. Giving my grandfather a helping hand in his garden and soaking in his wisdom about the intrinsic value of the natural world and fervor for conservation was just as foundational. These experiences, and that formative connection between community and conservation, led me to where I am. In my mind, it was clear that political advocacy was the path I wanted to pursue.

I saw the pivotal role politics plays in shaping a world reflective of my values, so it wasn’t too long until I started to make a home for myself in Washington, DC. I became more involved in campaigning, student organizing, and advocating for climate and environmental policies. As the gap widened between the dismissive political rhetoric regarding climate change and the immediate and necessary actions that climate scientists and young people across the world were demanding, my own personal activism in these areas, too, started to grow.

There is a clear connection between some of the most pressing crises we face in the United States. In addition to climate change, you see similar crises around racial justice in the United States as well as a crisis of economic inequality, where the top 1% are hoarding more of this nation's resources at the expense of working people across the country. It is apparent to people of my generation that these issues are intertwined and are essentially parts of the same overarching battle. Working across these intersections as a part of a larger movement that lifts all boats for environmental and economic justice is what makes the BlueGreen Alliance such an effective coalition. By ensuring that working people are at the forefront of the new, clean energy economy, we can and are building a better future.

Why do you think it’s important for climate and labor to work together?

The future we need to create to address climate change must be driven by equity and justice and must bring along working people of all sectors. We cannot recreate injustices of the past while building out a new clean energy economy. Without intentional policy creation that centers worker representation in climate investment, those injustices are very well likely to continue.

We need to address the growing concern of a rapidly warming planet in a way that ensures America’s manufacturing class is part of the solution and in a way that makes a significant dent in the increasing economic inequality of the past forty years. Achieving this requires a collaborative effort between environmental groups and labor unions.

When climate leaders and labor leaders work together, working people are represented at the table to help shape the creation of a clean economy that can put us on track to meeting our climate goals. We must drastically reduce emissions—there's no doubt about that. But we cannot turn our backs on an entire set of workers who have built communities, families, and livelihoods within the framework of the fossil fuel economy. Instead, these are the vital energy communities across our nation that have the expertise and the on-the-ground knowledge needed to shape a new and clean economy.

What can the labor movement learn from climate activism? And vice versa – are there any lessons from the labor movement’s history that are relevant for climate activists?

When I reflect on this topic, my first thoughts immediately gravitate toward the labor organizers from the early 20th century in the United States. These pioneers faced astonishingly fierce opposition from their employers (and often the government) as they demanded fair treatment and safer working conditions. Their unwavering unity and solidarity, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in their quest for fair treatment and the rejection of an exploitative status quo, is truly remarkable. It’s important to note that, unfortunately, excluding individuals of color and women during that era meant solidarity was confined largely to white male workers. So, in the clearest of terms, solidarity was undoubtedly conditional.

Today, I see a burgeoning sense of solidarity across the climate movement, the labor movement, and all progressive fronts. This unity extends beyond racial and gender boundaries. That lesson, a fairer and more equitable picture of solidarity, is one that leaves both movements much more well-suited for success in the future. Recognizing that your battle is also my battle, and vice versa, that we stand as allies in the shared struggle to shape a livable future for ourselves and generations to come, is the cornerstone of effective climate and labor organizing.

Both the climate movement and the labor movement face challenges that seem insurmountable at times. What do you look for in terms of inspiration that your goals are achievable?

The past seven years have been extraordinarily contentious in the United States, and a lot of previously untapped energy has been channeled into political action. Young people are increasingly pushing elected officials to take their demands seriously, and across the age spectrum, there is energy that was not present in previous years. I've personally witnessed the incredible influence that organized and impassioned communities can wield when they collaborate.

I recall the groundswell of grassroots organizers that swept the nation in 2017 to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a movement that ultimately succeeded in safeguarding healthcare for millions of Americans. The energy across the country in that fight was inspiring.

Similarly, when I reflect on the Inflation Reduction Act, I'm optimistic that we can make its passage one of the biggest wins for climate and economic justice in American history. What truly ignites my inspiration, however, is not the bill alone, but the political organizing and community-driven efforts across the country that secured victories in presidential, House, and Senate elections, and ultimately led to the Inflation Reduction Act. Despite the immense challenges that defined 2020, witnessing people of diverse backgrounds—yet shared values—unite to elect representatives and a president dedicated to addressing climate and labor issues and constructing a brighter vision for the future fuels my inspiration. This energy and spirit persist, and I firmly believe it can continue to shape positive change.

Activism – both professional and as a volunteer – can be draining. How do you recharge, and what tips for “activist sustainability” do you have?

I'm a huge proponent of having boundaries in your life and knowing what spaces are for work and what spaces are for play and rest. I love spending time with my friends and family, relaxing, hanging out, and having fun. I love to stay active and be outside as much as possible. But more than anything, I just enjoy having a community that I can relax with and know that the day-to-day activities can fade away into the evenings as we just enjoy our time together.

Is there something happening in the climate or labor space that you think isn’t getting the attention it deserves?

Easy. There is no doubt that, as a nation, we are center stage in a clean energy transformation that, if done right, will bring American manufacturing roaring back, and reimagine existing sectors as we look to build out new and advanced technologies—floating offshore wind for example in the Pacific coast states. There is a significant lack of attention given to the immense wave of federal investments underway across the United States —spurred by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

These federal investments are poised to make a significant impact on local economies, the national economy, and the climate alike. The transition towards a robust domestic clean energy sector in the United States represents a dramatic departure from the energy economy of the Reagan-to-Trump era. While some recognition has been given to this transformation, it remains woefully inadequate.

President Biden has effectively reshaped the landscape of American manufacturing, ensuring that well-paying jobs remain within the nation's borders. The investments directed toward research and development will translate into employment opportunities for workers right here at home. This shift in approach is a significant move towards a more sustainable and self-sufficient future.