This letter was emailed to CUB’s network on June 8, 2020
The murder of George Floyd and the events of the last two weeks have brought to the surface what we already knew to be true. Our country – and Minnesota, in particular – has serious problems with racial equity that we need to deal with.
Racial justice is inextricably tied with CUB’s work for affordable and clean energy for Minnesotans. Black people, indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC) disproportionately bear the unaffordability of energy bills, the lack of access to energy efficiency programs, the health impacts from fossil fuels, and the effects of climate change. The people who run the energy sector overwhelmingly are white. They have designed programs and policies that serve the largely white, upper-middle class communities that they know; these systems are not well designed to serve BIPOC communities. Add to that the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. And the physically and emotionally draining reality of racism. CUB cannot do our job and defend Minnesota consumers without addressing racism.
This is a time for me and for CUB to listen to the words of our partners and other leaders from black communities, indigenous communities, and communities of color. I hesitated to even make a statement, because the attention does not need to be on us right now. But at the same time, we can’t stay silent.
I have been listening and thinking deeply about our role to address these systemic inequities, as has the rest of our team. We have often discussed that CUB has the benefit of learning from the mistakes of nonprofits who came before us, a responsibility to build our organization in a way that does not replicate the injustices of the systems in which we work, and a responsibility to use the privilege we have in our spheres of influence to work for justice. That responsibility has always been present. It goes without saying that no one should wait for another tragedy to react, to do the work that makes a difference in changing the conditions that plague our communities, or to reach out to communities of color. This must be ongoing work at the personal and organization level.
At our last retreat in February, CUB’s board of directors had a long conversation about racial equity and stated clearly that addressing inequity is a guiding priority for the organization. Here is some of what we are doing so far.
- Aligning our advocacy priorities to addressing historic inequities that exist today. For example, we’ve heard clearly from Twin Cities community organizations that utility energy efficiency programs do not work for BIPOC communities, low-income households, and renters. In the past, CUB has made a conscious decision not to use our limited time and resources to intervene in energy efficiency program design. However, if we want to see the kinds of real changes that our partners tell us they need, we are going to need to reprioritize our work.
- Similarly prioritizing our consumer outreach staff time and resources to address historic inequities. We are working to strengthen partnerships with BIPOC organizations with whom we collaborate on special projects and outreach events and to build new relationships.
- Evaluating our own name. The Citizens Utility Board name comes from a movement that dates back to the 1980s that created CUBs in states around the country. It calls upon the notion of a “citizen” that denoted a higher duty: a citizen is someone who takes some control over their democracy. But the term “citizen” can be equally exclusionary. It has a specific legal meaning that excludes many of the people with whom we work, their families, and their communities to the degree that CUB staff sometimes introduces ourselves with an explanation that, when we say “citizen,” we mean everyone in Minnesota. We are honoring our history but reevaluating our name.
- Going through diversity, equity, and inclusion training with our staff and board of directors.
And we will continue to listen and to learn how we can use the power that we have to work for justice in our sphere of influence. What we are doing may be a small start, but it is not enough.
Words right now are not sufficient. What makes a difference won’t be this message; it will be CUB using our resources to start to dismantle systemic racism and to build up an equitable Minnesota energy world. As executive director, I commit us to this work.
If you have time, the energy, and the inclination, I very much welcome your input. You can email or call me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org or on my cell at 612-568-5707) or talk with any board or staff member.
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