Left-wing Green group that targeted Keystone pipeline plagued by accusations of ‘white supremacy culture’

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350.org, a left-wing green group focused on grassroots efforts to fight climate change, is being plagued by accusations of “white supremacy culture” within its own organization despite efforts it claims to have undertaken to increase diversity amongst its staff, as well as the climate change movement. 

According to Politico, 350.org, which was largely responsible for the staunch opposition by climate change activists to the Keystone XL pipeline, “struggled to overcome its founding by a group of white people” when it followed efforts to hire more people of color with mass layoffs and increased workloads amid financial struggles.

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The struggles for the group began in 2019 when executive director May Boeve announced an increase in the annual budget to an amount more than the organization had ever raised in a single year. Included in the new budget were plans to hire nearly 130 new employees. 

The plans eventually broke apart with the organization failing to meet the required financial needs, which led to a fallout that included “mass layoffs, departures, exhaustion, distrust and a protracted labor battle.” 

“The hiring spree intended to make 350.org look more the part of the global organization it wanted to become by adding staff from more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds,” Politico reported. “Its struggles mirror those of many leading environmental organizations … which are wrestling with internal dissension at a crucial juncture in the fight against climate change — problems shadowed by the movement’s historical lack of diversity and its urgent need to bring activists of different backgrounds into the fold.”

Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Jan. 26, 2021. (Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Pipes for the Keystone XL pipeline stacked in a yard near Oyen, Alberta, Canada, on Jan. 26, 2021. (Jason Franson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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The leaders of 350.org, whom Politico kept unnamed as sources, acknowledged the financial mistakes and said that it needed to do more to “to create a more inclusive workplace.” They also said they had implemented measures “to improve equity in hiring.” 

Politico noted that 350.org’s founder, Bill McKibben, sought “to pass the torch to a younger generation” and eventually left the organization in 2020, but that the power of the organization still ran through White officials. 

It cited current and former staffers in claiming that the organization’s lower ranks were filled with people of color. 

“The complex dynamic over race, diversity and equity that enveloped 350.org — and the quest to empower people of color to make consequential strategic decisions — reflected broader challenges in the environmental movement. White, wealthy liberals have dominated green groups for decades, coloring environmentalism with a reputation for elitism,” Politico wrote, going on to describe efforts the group said it previously took to diversify its team before the financial struggles hit. 

Marchers participate in a climate change awareness rally, in Denver on April 29, 2017.

Marchers participate in a climate change awareness rally, in Denver on April 29, 2017.
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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Following the major downsizing and restructuring, concerns over diversity returned with claiming that programs managed by non-White employees were being set up for failure over a lack of funding. 

“While the 2019 hiring spree had brought more workers of color to 350.org, some felt the resulting layoffs disproportionately affected those workers, too,” Politico wrote, noting that a group of staff members concerned over the layoffs had written to the leadership team that they had “perpetuated many of the aspects of white supremacy culture” they were working hard to combat.

According to Politico, a June 2020 external consultant’s report backed up those claims. 

350.org leaders claimed, however, that out of 25 people who lost their jobs, 20 of them were White. 

Demonstrators protest a cap-and-trade bill aimed at stemming global warming at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Feb. 6, 2020.

Demonstrators protest a cap-and-trade bill aimed at stemming global warming at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Feb. 6, 2020.
(AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

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Despite the claims criticizing 350.org’s culture, Boeve told Politico that she sees “a more diverse and equable organization in the future.”

“Not just our organization — in big green groups, but also in Fortune 500 companies and government agencies — are really trying to grapple with this moment of racial reckoning that is long overdue,” she told Politico. “I hope that that grappling makes us all better. Because of our staff of color pushing inside 350 and a lot of our partners outside 350, I really think that we’ve made some significant changes that I am proud of.”

President Biden vetoed the Keystone pipeline’s permit immediately after taking office last year. 

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