Building a Movement Led from the Grassroots

Moving toward racial justice means developing intersectional and grassroots movements that center the voices and experiences of the most impacted. The UCC Council for Climate Justice is doing just that as they cultivate a partnership of solidarity with Honor the Earth, an indigenous led environmental justice organization.

From the time it formed and developed in 2016, the UCC Council for Climate Justice has made a central commitment to “addressing the root causes of climate-related pollution as it relates to factors such as race, class, and global inequality.” In 2021, this Council of more than 70 members began a process of discernment about how to best pursue its central purposes. This process ultimately led to a decision by the Council to focus its energies and attention for the coming year on solidarity support for Honor the Earth, an Indigenous environmental justice organization led by Winona LaDuke.

The discernment process began when the Council devoted part of a meeting to watching a video of the veteran community organizer N’Tanya Lee discussing the importance of grassroots movement building that is rooted in working class communities of color. Lee asserted, “If you want a new society, you need to figure out a strategy where the people in leadership are the ones who have the most at stake in changing the society, the ones who are going to be the least satisfied with little victories.” In arguing for organizations focused on this type of grassroots movement building, Lee also spoke to the need for other organizations to develop genuine relationships and authentic partnerships with those engaged in struggles at the grassroots.

As a group with many European-descended and middle-class members, Lee’s guidance set a course for the direction of the Council and a plan soon developed. The Council set out to identify and learn about grassroots environmental justice organizations with whom it could develop a relationship and offer dedicated solidarity and support. After much discussion and research, the Council ultimately voted to reach out to Honor the Earth. The Rev. Nellis Kennedy-Howard from Honor the Earth met and worked with the Council in pursuing two immediate aims: (1) a list of five actions members of the UCC could take in solidarity with Honor the Earth and  (2) a fundraising initiative on Giving Tuesday that ultimately raised $46,000 for Honor the Earth. Further discernment and further acts of solidarity are to come for the Council as it seeks to advance climate justice with an intersectional movement led from the grassroots by the most impacted.

– Rev. Brooks Berndt, PhD, Minister for Environmental Justice, United Church of Christ, National

Learn more about Honor the Earth.

Read the Rev. Nellis Kennedy-Howard’s commentary written for the UCC on her call to environmental justice ministry and the work of Honor the Earth.

Questions for Reflection

  1. As you think about your and your community’s antiracism work, whose voices and experiences would you need to follow if you were to follow Lee’s strategy “where the people in leadership are the ones who have the most at stake in changing the society?”
  2. What does it take to build “genuine relationships” and “authentic partnerships” as you move toward racial justice?
  3. How would you define solidarity? How do you think someone with less access to resources and opportunities than you have would define solidarity?


Emanuel, God-with-us, we praise you for the radical solidarity you demonstrated when you became one of us, holding together all of what it means to be human and divine.  Strengthen our spirits when we are the ones whose voices need to speak and lead. Humble our spirits when we are the ones whose hearts need to listen and follow.  We pray this in the name of all that is Holy, Just and Compassionate, so that we might persevere in the struggle and be guided by those who are imagining a way out of no way.  Amen.


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