Dispatch: Berkeley Climate Emergency Town Hall

Everyone in the room was well aware of how great an effort it takes to achieve even small victories in this fight for a safe climate. Each of us had at times felt hindered by this sense of powerlessness. We had all grappled with our own limitations: the borders of our jurisdictions, the availability of resources, the particularity of our institutional purpose, and most profoundly the perception of our own personal smallness. The towering figure of climate change — this omnipresent existential threat to life as we know it — seems to throw a shadow over all of us, a shadow so dark that often the pathway forward appears opaque.  

By Isaac Silk 

In the hazy morning hours of August 24, 2018, mayors, city council members, volunteers, sustainability directors, and activists filed in to the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, California. Named for the disability rights activist who played an integral role in spreading the independent living movement across the globe, the site was an appropriate setting for a town hall meeting that aimed to jumpstart a revolution.

Stakeholders from around the nine county Bay Area gathered at the invitation of the city of Berkeley, which months before had declared a climate emergency, taking radical responsibility for solving the global climate emergency. By unanimously passing Vice-Mayor Cheryl Davila’s resolution, the city council had called for a just mobilization to end greenhouse gas emissions and begin drawing them down as quickly as possible — a goal that would require a coordinated regional effort. The town hall was billed as a first step toward a Bay Area Climate Emergency Mobilization and Just Transition Effort. To put it plainly, this is not your average local climate action planning process!

From the outset, there was a clear sense of urgency based in science and the need for justice. Vice Mayor Cheryl Davila welcomed the crowd and framed the event: “The 2050 timeline has been rendered irrelevant and we’ll need everyone on board to give humanity a fighting chance.” She noted, “Our vision and mission is to lead the region in a mobilization effort unlike anything we’ve seen since WWII right in our own backyard.” Corrina Gould, representing the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone, kicked off the event with a blessing, welcoming the guests to her ancestors’ homeland and centering the history and environmental knowledge of indigenous people to the efforts that would be discussed.

 The first panel was tasked with exploring the intersection of the climate emergency and justice. Dr. Patrick Brown of Stanford University made it clear that the decisions of those that are alive today would be those that decide the fate of the next 150 generations of humans. Crystal Chissell of Project Drawdown argued that many of the strategies that will end the era of fossil fuels and begin removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere already exist; they just need to be implemented.  

Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan of Movement Generation made an impassioned case against the extractive economy, making it clear that any transition without justice was doomed from the start. Andres Soto of Communities for a Better Environment described the horror of living in close proximity to the Chevron oil refineries and the intense dedication it takes to fight for the basic rights of at-risk communities.


Then came the city officials. Representatives from Oakland, Richmond, Marin County, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Santa Rosa, and beyond spoke of strategies that their municipalities were implementing to end the climate emergency. There was discussion of public banking and innovative financing mechanisms, transportation infrastructure development, land use reforms, and more.

A sense of excitement from the panelists and the audience was palpable and growing. The need for more coordination and resource sharing was clear.

Dr. Paloma Pavel, president of the Earth House Center, presented on the interrelation of race, poverty, and the environment. Taking a Big History view of humanity in which we are seen as the Universe evolved to explore and study itself, she urged, “we’re 13.6 billion years old, let’s start acting like it.” Councilmember Paul Koretz gave an update on the progress of climate mobilization efforts in Los Angeles. He noted that “there’s one silver bullet that can take on all the crises [that governments face] . . . a worldwide emergency mobilization started at the local level and with the lens of climate justice.”

Elected officials were invited to sign an open letter to Governor Jerry Brown and other public officials calling for them to “take decisive action at GCAS [the Global Climate Action Summit] by committing to declare a climate emergency… and by committing to immediately initiate a rapid just climate mobilization.” [And since the town hall, at least 25 elected officials have signed this open letter!]

In California, the evidence that we are in a climate emergency has become impossible to ignore. Each year fires spread further and faster; the water crisis in the Central Valley threatens global food security; sea level rise, dust bowl conditions, resource extraction, and the housing crises are a constant and growing danger to frontline communities.  

Everyone in the room was well aware of how great an effort it takes to achieve even small victories in this fight for a safe climate. Each of us had at times felt hindered by this sense of powerlessness. We had all grappled with our own limitations: the borders of our jurisdictions, the availability of resources, the particularity of our institutional purpose, and most profoundly the perception of our own personal smallness. The towering figure of climate change — this omnipresent existential threat to life as we know it — seems to throw a shadow over all of us, a shadow so dark that often the pathway forward appears opaque.  

But, as the town hall came to a close, a sense of beautiful clarity and purpose alighted upon the Ed Roberts Campus. This diverse group of people had come together to envision an emergency mobilization and just transition through unprecedented collaboration, guided by a moral commitment to stewardship, justice, and rapid action. Sitting in the room that day, one could catch a glimpse of that vision as reality, like a vast network of fungi and roots spreading in every direction up and down the Pacific coast, outwards to the Central Valley, and to the lands beyond.

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Kristen Cashmore

Senior Director
Kristen brings more than 25 years of social justice advocacy to Climate Mobilization. Her previous positions at human rights, public health, environmental justice, and clean energy organizations inform her work with the variety of stakeholders she is engaging with to bring an accelerated response to the climate emergency. Kristen earned a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from UC Berkeley, where she was a teaching assistant in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.

Malik Russell

Communications Director

Malik leads Climate Mobilization’s press and communications strategy. He formerly served as Communications Director for the NAACP. He is a journalist, author, community-based educator, and former lecturer in the Department of Strategic Communications at Morgan State University. The former editor of the Washington Afro-American newspaper, he has worked as a journalist in the Black Press for over two decades.He has a BA in American history from Brandeis University and earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Baruch College in New York, where he was selected as a National Urban Fellow.

Ezra Silk

Deputy Director

Ezra is co-founder of The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. He authored The Climate Mobilization’s Victory Plan, an influential exploration of how the federal government can organize and implement a mobilization to save civilization from the Climate Emergency and ecological crisis. This document directly shaped the demands of the Extinction Rebellion movement and the Green New Deal framework. Ezra was also a lead author of the climate emergency declaration resolution introduced in Congress in July 2019. A former newspaper reporter, Ezra has a BA in history from Wesleyan University.

Matt Renner

Executive Director of The Climate Mobilization

Matt has worked as a nonprofit executive in clean energy, climate policy, and journalism for over a decade, focusing on the near-term social and economic impacts of climate change. He leads organizational expansion and works closely with the communications and organizing teams. Matt earned a BA in political science from UC Berkeley, where he was deeply inspired by the work of Professor George Lakoff.

Laura Berry

Research & Policy Director

Laura brings over a decade of experience to Climate Mobilization in climate advocacy, organizing, research, and policy. She has worked on climate, environmental, and sustainability issues from local to global scales with organizations including the Stockholm Environment Institute, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, and 350.org. She is passionate about deepening democratic engagement in response to the Climate Emergency. Laura has a BA in human ecology from College of the Atlantic and an MSc in global environment, politics, and society from the University of Edinburgh.

Rebecca Harris

Organizing Director

Rebecca leads Climate Mobilization organizing efforts. Along with a history of social movement organizing, Rebecca he has worked as a journalist covering equity in Chicago public schools. Most recently, Rebecca worked as Development and Communications Manager at Latino Union of Chicago, an immigrants’ and workers’ rights organization. She is a 2017 graduate of the Reframe Mentorship in strategic communications and a 2019 participant in the Anne Braden Organizer Training Program.

Marina Mails

Operations and Community Manager
Marina manages operations and volunteers for both The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. She brings broad experience working in non-profit organizations, health care settings, and running her own private counseling practice. Before joining Climate Mobilization, Marina maintained a practice focusing exclusively on climate-related emotional coping, helping people make bold choices for lifestyle and professional change in response to the Climate Emergency. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Wake Forest University and a Masters in Counseling from UNC Greensboro.

Sydney Ghazarian

Digital Organizer
Sydney leads digital strategy for The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization project. She is also a founder of National Democratic Socialists of America Ecosocialist Working Group and worked to establish climate as a primary focus of the American Left. Sydney has previously worked in journalism and in academic research. Sydney received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California San Diego.

Cris Lagunas

Strategy Director

Cris is helping to grow the Climate Emergency Movement by supporting creative campaigns and extending the reach of the movement’s message. Cris is a co-founder of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, an organization dedicated to using direct action tactics to expose, challenge and dismantle the immigration detention system.Cris got his start in organizing when he was 15 years old, getting involved in a local group of fellow undocumented youth.

Margaret Klein Salamon, PhD

Founder and Board President

Margaret is the founder of The Climate Mobilization (TCM) and Climate Mobilization Project (CMP) and helped catalyze a worldwide climate emergency movement through her work with both organizations. Margaret now serves as Climate Awakening Program Director. She is the author of Facing the Climate Emergency: How to Transform Yourself with Climate Truth (New Society Publishers, April 2020) and several influential essays. She is also a member of the Climate Emergency Fund’s Advisory Board. Margaret earned her PhD in clinical psychology from Adelphi University and a BA in social anthropology from Harvard. Though she loved being a therapist, Margaret felt called to apply her psychological and anthropological knowledge to solving the Climate Emergency.

AriDy Nox

Organizational Development and Engagement Manager
AriDy brings creativity, enthusiasm and a tremendous capacity for organization to her/their role, assisting the executive director with travel, communication and fundraising. AriDy Nox is a multi-disciplinary black femme storyteller and social activist. They have served as a national representative for The Young Women of Color Leadership Council, the Millennials of Color Leadership Bureau, and held writing positions with Advocates for Youth and RH Reality Check. She has worked as an administrative and executive assistant for a myriad of organizations including the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch School of the Performing Arts at NYU, the Youth Engagement Fund and the Community Resource Exchange.