While the week was dominated with giddy speculation over the true meaning of the word ‘covfefe’, a bigger story deserves our attention: namely, President Donald Trump announced moments ago that the United States will withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord.
Negotiated in 2015 by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris climate agreement is the world’s first international attempt to slow global climate change by voluntarily limiting the greenhouse gas emissions of member countries. The agreement was set to become effective once 55 countries that emit the majority of the world’s greenhouse gases had signed the treaty; that milestone was reached in April of 2016 when the United States and China — who alone contribute more than 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — joined the Paris climate accord as signatories.
Climate scientists largely agree that the planet is quickly reaching a point-of-no-return when it comes to climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is roughly 400 ppm, ~30% higher than it was in 1950 and at levels never before recorded in the Earth’s history as determined by ice core measurements. Over the last century, the earth’s air and water have both noticeably warmed, and global sea levels have risen 8 inches due in large part to disintegrating polar ice. These changes are predicted to threaten coastal ecologies and urban centers, increase the frequency of extreme weather events, and devastate the world’s food production. While the Paris climate accord will not alone be sufficient to halt and reverse man-made climate change, it is a necessary first step that will likely slow global warming compared to if global gas emissions continues unchecked.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the nation’s youngest and first Indian American Surgeon General, was asked to resign on Friday by President Donald Trump, just a little more than halfway into his four year term.
Murthy served just over two years as US Surgeon General after being appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013; however, Murthy’s Senate confirmation faced stiff resistance due in part to Murthy’s public position that the nation’s epidemic of gun violence is a public health issue. Murthy was finally confirmed in December 2014 after over a year of political bickering and delays from Senate Republicans, and he took the office of US Surgeon General on December 18, 2014.
While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served. The role of the Surgeon General is traditionally to share wisdom with others, but it was I who learned so much by listening to your stories in town halls and living rooms. In a remote fishing village in Alaska, a church in Alabama, an American Indian reservation in Oklahoma, a school in Virginia, and in so many other places, I watched the grit and grace with which our fellow Americans live their lives.
It is unclear why Trump had Murthy removed from his office as US Surgeon General. By all accounts, Murthy was a successful US Surgeon General, with clear vision for how he had planned to use the office to advance American public health.
That means that due to his hateful and intolerant policies, President Trump has in the first three weeks of his presidency just lost 80% of his Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
On inauguration day, you promised your commitment to “resist any attempt the President makes to dismantle the progress we’ve made” on issues of health care, immigrant rights, civil rights, and economic justice. The next day, you joined hundreds of thousands of women and supporters at the Women’s March in D.C. — tweeting: “Aloha trumps hate & we will not back down”.
These admirable sentiments are all the more powerful coming from you, our first Asian American woman senator, and a longtime advocate for Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. But in these times of political crisis, we know that every single vote counts.
That’s why I was so disappointed to see that on January 20, the same day you promised to resist Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, you used your vote to help confirm his nominee, John Kelly, as Secretary of Homeland Security.
When I first heard about a planned march to amass the nation’s women to highlight women’s rights and in protest against the Trump administration on the day after his inauguration, I was initially hesitant. In originally billing the event as the “Million Women March” and advertising it as the first street protest of its kind, organizers overlooked the original “Million Woman March” successfully organized by Black feminists two decades ago. When this appropriation of Black feminist history was pointed out by feminists of colour, event organizers were dismissive of (and even hostile to) the critique. Instead, (White feminist) event organizers and early supporters offered the same familiar, callous, and white-washing refrain: that feminists of colour were being divisive in raising the spectre of race, and that we should put aside racial differences to provide a united feminist front in opposition to the misogyny of Trump.
Never mind, of course, that we were being asked to rally in unity under the banner of White feminism, which too often overlooks and deprioritizes women of colour and other marginalized women through its uncritical universalization of the lived experiences of Whit straight abled cis-women. Over the years, I have been lectured at countless times by White feminists who resent and reject my brand of non-white feminism; I had no interest in voluntarily exposing myself to that kind of toxic and intolerant space yet again.
But then, something about the event changed. In response to criticism, event founders re-named the march the “Women’s March on Washington” and invited prominent feminists of colour to organize the event. The Women’s March began to embrace a more intersectional framework for its feminism. Organizers acknowledged the March’s relationship to Black feminist history and took steps to acknowledge and commemorate the earlier work of Black feminists. White feminists were reminded that even within feminist spaces, they should do the work of being better white allies to feminists of colour; and that there is never a time when they can or should stop reflecting (and respecting) more and “whitesplaining” less. When some early White feminist supporters spoke against the efforts to make the event more inclusive of women of colour, they were actually told they were wrong!
With these developments, my fears were (somewhat) assuaged. It seemed increasingly clear that while White feminism still has a long way to go, the Women’s March on Washington (and its many satellite events in local cities) was taking steps to be a safe(r) space for feminists of colour and other marginalized feminists.
And so, I have made the (cautious) decision: I will march on Saturday in the Women’s March in New York City.