Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah) is an intersectional environmental activist on a mission to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement. Her personal platform Green Girl Leah was born out of a space that lacked representation of Black people in the outdoors and spoke to her passion for getting people started on their environmental justice journey. Her quest for self-authenticity, environmental justice, and sustainability created the momentum for her educational page, Intersectional Environmentalist, to go viral. In this episode, Leah drops gem after gem: how destigmatizing cannabis use for Black and Brown people relates to the environmental movement; how making our environmental efforts inclusive and intersectional benefits everyone; and how expanding our understanding of Indigenous land protectors makes our environmental impact more effective.

This blog post was modified from the Nomads At the Intersection Podcast. Find all of our podcast episodes here.

Noami:

Diversify Vanlife presents Nomads at the Intersections podcast.

Noami:

Hello all you beautiful humans. It’s your girl, Noami. We are back and very excited to have you join us for another episode of Nomads at the Intersections. We left 2020 in the dust. Hallelujah! And I don’t know about y’all, but I am so thankful for that big reset that brought us into this new year. I am ready for this, and I really hope y’all are too. I just love the opportunity to start fresh, to turn a new chapter, a clean slate, some may call it. And I’m so thankful for all of you for supporting this podcast.

Noami:

Here with me as always is my amazing co-host, Anaïs. Hey Anaïs, how are you doing?

Anaïs:

Hi. I’m great. How are you?

Noami:

I am doing well.

Anaïs:

Well, hopefully by the time you all are hearing this episode, we have a new President of the United States successfully moved into the white house. I cannot imagine another four years of what we just went through. So we wanted to take some time to dream, however scary that might be, or that might feel and just think about the future.

Noami Grevemberg headshot

There was a lot of quote-unquote “progress” made over the summer of 2020 in terms of racial justice, diversity inclusivity, but there’s still so much left to be done.

Noami Grevemberg

Noami:

Yeah, I hear this. There was a lot of quote-unquote “progress” made over the summer of 2020 in terms of racial justice, diversity inclusivity, but there’s still so much left to be done. So Anais, keeping in mind that progress is not always perfect, what are a few things you want to see progress in the next four years?

Anaïs:

Everything, does that count as one? I can add on to that? All the things. Uh, progress, uh, gosh, like what is progress? Incremental progress? I really don’t want to see that I want to see radical change, but I would really love to see slavery eradicated in this country and everywhere once and for all, because prison is slavery. And Joe, Mr. Biden, I’m looking at you. I don’t think it should be privatized for profit. And you know, like Angela Davis is constantly teaching for decades, it should be abolished altogether. It’s barbaric, and it shouldn’t be braided together with our schools because it is in a very real way. So that’s one for sure. The green new deal, I’m still learning about that, but I think we should definitely move radically in the direction for the sake of climate change and just our home. Federal reparations, a federal reparations bill, not a state one. Because I just don’t understand how like slip and falls can get reparations every day and Black people can’t.

Anaïs:

So, you know, and cannabis also deserves a federal bill and that records should not only be expunged, but you know, I feel like non-violent offenders deserve reparations as well. And it should be funded by the white people who are capitalizing off of the industry. Immigration is another one that, you know, we’re in travel, borders are genocide. So immigration is another thing that I’m learning a lot about, but that needs radical change immediately. I don’t want to say cause that’s four right. So I don’t want to use the vaccine as my fifth one because that needs to happen like ASAP, but like, that’s like a given, I feel like the government needs to get there. They need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Anaïs:

Um, so my number five with that aside is protecting safe spaces at all costs. I think we were in dire desperate need of safe spaces in 2020. And I think we need to come together in a real way and not a performative way on that. I love people otherwise I wouldn’t cry for them as I have, or as much as I do. But if diversity and inclusion is only happening on paper, then it is performative. And then that work becomes the burden of anyone that you tokenize and put in the position of your diversity hire. And inclusion means that I’m being welcomed into this space and not into a space where I’m going to be intentionally overlooked or ignored or harmed, because that means you’re not doing the work. That means you’re doing racism. And little things like that has happened to me where it’s little when you try to bring it up and explain it, it feels diminished and it feels little, but things like, like critiquing my accent in a workplace. I don’t think that ever needs to happen and drives me nuts. And it also gives this notion that I can’t be layered in the way that I express myself. I remember the first time that I really stopped that whole like, not code switching in front of mixed company. But as soon as I saw Obama dap up the homie, the way he did in front of everyone else, I was like, Oh, I’m code switching at work, I don’t care anymore.

Anaïs:

But yeah. So what about you? What would be your top five?

Noami:

Yeah. Well, I mean you, you said it right there. I agree with so much of that. And yeah, my list is very long. It’s so hard to just pick five, but I’m gonna try. Cause you asking me to. I think for me, one of the number one would have to be universal healthcare because there is absolutely no reason why the wealthiest nation in the world can provide healthcare for all its citizens. Obamacare was a step in the right direction, but we need universal healthcare. And I feel like that has to be top priority this year. You mentioned immigration reform. That’s a big one for me. I am an immigrant needI say more. I can vouch for how shitty and difficult the immigration system is and it needs to change now. We cannot abide families being separated and kids locked in cages ever, ever again.

Noami:

Another one I think, I guess I would have to say Indigenous land agreements being honored because we now have the first ever Native American Cabinet Secretary, Deb Haaland, appointed as interior secretary. You know what I mean? This is huge because the Interior Department oversees the federal government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples, as well as the conservation and management of our natural resources. So I would say that this is a big step in the right direction. You mentioned the green new deal. That’s another one that’s been on the top of my list because climate change and white supremacy are the two greatest threats we face. And we all know climate change disproportionately affects the BIPOC. We took a lot of steps back in the past four years. So this one, I feel needs to be prioritized. And I think a lot of people would agree with me on that.

Noami:

Free college tuition and student loan debt forgiveness. This is two-fold right? Free college tuition is one of the most substantial ways we can close the wealth gap in this country long-term. So I feel like your income level on your family’s wealth should not be a deciding factor in the education you have available to you. And not only would this help lift people out of poverty, but it would benefit the economy as a whole. I mean, how could anyone say that having more highly educated Americans is a bad thing. You know what I mean? And then student debt forgiveness, because no one should have to go into debt in order to get an education, period. And I know you asked for five, how many was that? Was that five? Because I mean, this just fires me up. I mean, I mentioned I’m an immigrant, but I won’t benefit directly from this. You mentioned it earlier, federal reparations bill. And I feel like this is so crucial if we are to heal from the deep wounds of slavery in this country.

I think we were in dire desperate need of safe spaces in 2020. And I think we need to come together in a real way and not a performative way on that. I love people otherwise I wouldn’t cry for them as I have, or as much as I do. But if diversity and inclusion is only happening on paper, then it is performative.

Anais Moniq

Anaïs:

Yeah. I mean, yeah, you said so much there. Thank you for mentioning the kids in cages. Cause I can’t, I know it was happening under more administrations than just this one. I know. I also know it was done differently in this one in particular,. But then when I first heard about that, it was just like, Oh my God, like we are literally concentration camps. Like why aren’t people calling it what it is. That’s what it is. Craziest thing I’ve probably ever thought I would see in this country or be made aware of because there’s so much. But that one gave me the chills in particular, when I first learned of that, that absolutely needs to change. And what you said about land back, what you said about federal reparations bill. I think those things people are, and when I say people, I mean white people. I think people are afraid to really address those things because it does need to happen on a global scale, both of those things. And so you start to get in such big tasks like that. People literally feel like you’re taking from them, but reparations is reparations. There is a damage done and it needs to be repaired.

Noami:

Yeah. My feelings exact. That’s like going to church!

Anaïs:

So, Noami, when lockdowns are finally lifted and COVID is under control, what is the first thing you want to do?

Noami:

That’s hard because there’s just so much that I want to do once lockdowns are lifted and it’s safe to get out and about. But I feel like one of the first would be visiting my family and my country, in Trinidad. It’s been really scary not to be able to visit my loved ones. I really miss them. I miss my siblings, especially my sister and my niece and nephews. And of course my mom, she went back to Trinidad just before COVID was declared, and she’s been stuck there ever since. She’s high risk. So she’s been quarantined at home in our village. So thankfully it’s in a remote part of the country and she’s able to stay safe, but it’s still really hard. I just want to give them all hugs and play with the kids and feel the warm tropical breeze. It’s those little things that I really miss because I mean, no matter what, Trinidad is home to me and the uncertainty of not being able to visit when I want to has been really hard.

Anaïs:

Pre COVID, how often would you go back?

Noami:

At least every year, maybe sometimes twice a year. You know, my mom would come visit me. She would spend months here.

Anaïs:

Yeah. That’s really hard. I’m wrestling with the same thing with my mom. It’s been really, really difficult, really difficult, and I really wanted to make my way across country to go there for the holiday. But you know, just with everything just doesn’t feel smart, at least not until after inauguration.

Noami:

Yeah. I hear a lot of people talking about their post-inauguration plans, so yeah, we’ll see.

Anaïs:

Yeah, we’ll see. That would probably be the first thing too for me is making my way back to Atlanta. It’s scary even though, you know, as much as I want to go visit my parents, I’m like, can y’all come here because Atlanta is scary right now. Everything’s wide open at least at the time that we’re recording this. But I think they’ve been open for a while.

Noami:

Another thing that I’m looking forward to when it’s safe is live music.

Anaïs:

Mm Hmm.

Noami:

I love live music. I mean the band on stage, the feel of the drums, the energy of the crowd. I really, really miss it. So that’s definitely top of my list. I mean, I haven’t indulged in some virtual concerts and I’m really glad that we have the ability to support the music industry and local musicians in that way. But it’s definitely not as satisfying as seeing some of my favorite musicians live. I remember the last show I went to live, it was Rüfüs Du Sol, all the way back in February 2020, before COVID was declared. And yeah, that was the last time I was in a crowd of people. So I’m really looking forward to that whenever the time is right.

Anaïs:

Yeah. I’m glad that you mentioned the last time you said it’s kind of like, I saw some cool pictures of you at Burning Man. I can’t wait for something like that to happen again. Cause I’ve never been. Yeah. So these vanlife gatherings, I’m going to be all about it.

Noami:

I hear you. Yeah. You know, even, even the smaller gatherings, I’m really looking forward to that. Cause I miss sharing campfires with people and maybe we can even have a Diversify Vanlife meetup where we can have music and share stories around a late night campfire. I mean, I really miss the in-person connections like we used to have in the good old days. Remember that?

Anaïs:

Barely. I only just started. I had like two seconds to be in vanlife pre-COVID. But it’s all good. No, I’m really looking forward to it. I mean, we need like a full moon festival vibe with all the trimmings. Yeah. I’m really looking forward to that.

Anaïs:

So today’s journaling prompt, inspired by Green Girl Leah is, what lessons will you carry with you from 2020? You know, we learned so much in 2020, we learned about rest being radical. We learned about intentional inclusivity. We learned about protecting safe spaces. We learned that just being is enough. But there’s so many other things that we learned. So what will you be carrying, Noami, with you from 2020?

Noami:

You mentioned rest. I feel like that is a big one for me. And I feel like it’s also one of the best lessons that I learned that rest is radical. It’s something that has been said over and over in 2020. And to be honest, it’s a perspective that I hadn’t really thought of in my own life. I grew up conditioned to always be doing something. If you’re not being productive, you’re being lazy. I am a descendant of slaves on my dad’s side and from East Indian indentureship on my mom’s side. So the colonialist ideal of work work work was ingrained in me as a child. Plus who got time to rest when there are mouths to feed, talking about my parents here. So the idea of rest as a radical act is new to me. Again, it’s that rewiring that needs to happen. I read an article some time back in 2020, and I’ll definitely share that in the show notes, but it said that we should think about sleep and rest as a part of reparations.

Noami:

And when I say we, I mean Black people. And to quote Audrey Lorde, caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. So yeah, I’m centering healing with the understanding that I am not my productivity. And as a Black woman, using rest as a means of self care and setting boundaries is a way to prioritize that. I remember being back in college, I was in a relationship with this guy who would come around, expecting me to show up for him whenever he needed, whether it was help with classes or to cook a meal or whatever. And I worked two full-time jobs and I was in school full-time so I had a really, really full plate. And I always showed up for him even when I was dog tired. Until one day I just couldn’t do it anymore. And I told him about it. Then he turned to me and apologize saying that he didn’t see it because I’m always so strong and I make it look easy. Anais, that was a rude awakening for me, because I was being boxed into that strong Black woman stereotype. And here’s the thing, it’s not selfish to prioritize rest and we got to stop feeling guilty for it. It’s important, especially for historically marginalized individuals.

Anaïs:

I love the way you put that, historically marginalized individuals. Yeah, cause I feel like people always want to remove the context of things and it’s like, you can’t, you literally cannot tell the story without it.

Noami:

How about you? What are some lessons you will carry with you from 2020.

Anaïs:

Rest is a big one. You were right on the money with that. I instantly thought of The Nap Ministry as you were talking. Cause I remember when I first saw their account, and I’m so glad they blew up, I was reading it and I was just like, take a nap? Like that is not activism. Come on people.

Noami:

I think I had the same reaction. I really do. I was like, what is this?

Anaïs:

The more they like, they just kept coming with the quality quotes and reasons and research and just the content. It’s great. And they’re absolutely right. And as you said in the same vein as Audrey Lorde. I think even more so than rest for me, I learned a lot about being an empath. Probably not enough because just surviving was enough of a task, but I learned probably more than I ever have. And boundaries are mandatory for an empath’s survival. Because if you don’t have them, I mean, God bless you, but you will go to the depths of yourself in a real way. So really making sure that you exercise your emotions, but you also have in-place coping mechanisms and distractions and you know, the self-care routines and the rituals and the prayer, just everything, because everything is thrown at us all at once at everyone. And we are all capable of feeling empathy. But if anyone listening is an empath, you hear me. Boundaries was a major lesson for me this year because it’s not necessary for you to feel that deeply. And you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Just because it’s not happening to you directly doesn’t mean that your feelings aren’t real. But yeah, that’s what I learned this year. That’s what I’ll carry with me to not to carry the guilt about the way that I feel and then setting boundaries so that I don’t come out with scars.

Noami:

Yeah. Boundaries is such a big part. Yeah. That’s definitely a big one for me as it pertains to my rest and my Black joy and my self care, I mean it’s basic guidelines of how you want it to be treated. So I feel like, yeah, that’s a really, really big one and it’s definitely something that I’m carrying with me from 2020 as well. So yeah. Thank you for sharing that.

Anaïs:

Yeah. Thank you.

Intersectional Environmentalist Leah Thomas

Interview With Leah Thomas

Anaïs:

In this episode, it was a pleasure to align with our guest, Leah. She is unafraid of imagining a global environmental justice effort that is radically intersectional.

Noami:

Yes she is. I loved our conversation. So make sure to listen all the way to the end of the episode because Leah drops many, many beautiful gems throughout our chat together.

Anaïs:

Leah also took the time to collab with Noami and I on our official playlist for this episode. Check that out in our show notes as well as our journal prompts and other exclusive extras.

Noami:

You are listening to Nomads at the Intersections podcast.

Noami:

Welcome back everyone. I’m really excited to introduce you to our guest for this episode of Nomads at the Intersections. She’s the founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, but you may know her as Green Girl Leah on Instagram. Hi Leah, welcome to the show. How are you today?

Leah:

Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m just stoked to be here and I’m stoked to just talk to you. Thanks for inviting me on.

Noami:

Of course. We’re so happy to have you on the show. And congratulations on Intersectional Environmentalist’s new podcast, Dismantled, which actually launched yesterday at the time of this recording. Right?

Leah:

Thank you. Yeah, that was like, you know, I’ve always wanted to do a podcast for a little while, so it was really fun to like, keep it a secret and then just be like, bam, it’s here.

Noami:

It’s funny that you say that, but you know, I talk to my partner about Intersectional Environmentalist. I mean, I’m always on Intersectional Environmentalist’s page, like every day, I’m checking to see what updates you guys have. And I told my partner, I’m like, I hope they have a podcast coming. I just felt it. So I’m really, really excited. So for all you listeners, y’all got some episodes to check out. I know I’m really excited.

Leah:

Yes.

Noami:

So Leah, can you tell us a little bit more about the podcast? What do we have to look forward to?

Leah:

Absolutely. So dismantled, it’s kind of a play on our slogan, which is dismantle systems of oppression and the environmental movement. I know that’s a pretty like heavy slogan to have, but we really just like to break down different issue areas of environmental justice, diversity and inclusion as it relates to environmentalism. And I’m the host for this season and I just get to talk with some pretty cool people in this space, all about identity and environmentalism and representation. And I love that they’ve let me be really unfiltered in the way that I talk. So I get to be myself and it’s just, yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

Noami:

Man. I can’t wait. I’m going to be tuning in and anxiously await into here every episode. And it’s so awesome to have that extra platform to share your voice. So I’m looking forward to hearing you.

Leah:

Thank you.

Noami:

And I’ve been such a fan of yours for a while now.

Leah:

It’s mutual. A hundred percent.

Noami:

Thank you. I just love your page Green Girl Leah. It’s been one of my favorite follows on Instagram for a few years now. Can you share a bit about Green Girl Leah, how it came to be and what was your inspiration behind it?

Leah:

Absolutely. So I started Green Girl Leah, I think in 2016 or 2017. And it was actually called Green Girl Food at first. And I honestly was trying to be somebody that I wasn’t because I was trying to post these recipes of smoothies and acai bowls. And I was like, I never eat acai bowls. Like I really don’t. So I was like, let me just be me.

Leah:

So then I changed it to Green Girl Leah and I just started talking about everything I care about. And initially when I made that switch, it was because I was like, you know what? I like going outdoors. There are a lot of other Black women who like being outdoors and doing cool stuff. But when I was on Instagram, you know, I wasn’t seeing a lot of people that were posting about it. So I just thought, you know, what if there’s a girl like me in middle school or high school, and maybe just having imagery of me being outside can help build community and inspire other people to just get outside and explore. So that was really the reasoning behind all of it at first posting pictures of me outside, because I wanted to prove that there are a lot of Black outdoorsy people and it was really cool way to build community.

There’s a bunch of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color doing cool stuff outdoors. And I feel like we just needed a community and a place to be and a place to get together and talk and also show other companies there’s no excuse, we’re here.

Leah Thomas

Leah:

And also I was doing a lot of product reviews talking about sustainable manufacturing. And then later on I started to get a little bit more involved in the activism side, especially with the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and just really wanting to advocate for environmental justice a bit more. So it’s been a journey of just talking about a bunch of different things and it’s kind of funny because that’s what it is now. A lot of people are like, are you an activist? Are you an influencer? Are you a traveler? Like what do you do? And I’m just being myself and that’s a whole lot of stuff in one and yeah, that’s what Green Girl Leah is.

Noami:

I love it. That’s such a beautiful transition finding yourself and finding your voice through representation. I really love that. I want to talk a little bit about Intersectional Environmentalist. You mentioned in one of your posts on Instagram a while back that working at Patagonia helped you develop your definition of intersectional environmentalism. I’m really curious to know what your experience was like working there and how it impacted your path to IE.

Leah:

Absolutely. I think I’m really grateful that I got to work there so early in my career, because I think they’re really such a great company when it comes to sustainability and also activism. But I think it was also really important for me as one of the few Black faces in that space to see that even the top companies in the outdoor industry are also struggling when it comes to representation and all that. So it’s not Patagonia specific, but I think working there so early taught me so many great things about activism and how to do business differently to support grassroots, environmental organizations. And it also showed me, okay, if I’m in this place that was basically a utopia for me when I was in college, but I’m still not seeing a lot of representation. That’s a pretty good indicator that the outdoor industry as a whole has a lot of changes that they need to do in terms of diversity and inclusion.

Leah:

So I think it taught me a lot about, okay, you know, this is cool. I really enjoy this, but I really want to be in a more diverse space, I guess. And I wanted there to be more representation because sometimes in the outdoor industry, people will be like, oh, we can’t find Black surfers or we can’t find Black climbers. And I’m like, they’re out there. You just gotta look. So that’s how Intersectional Environmentalist really started because there’s a bunch of us out here doing stuff. There’s a bunch of Black, Indigenous and other people of color doing cool stuff outdoors. And I feel like we just needed a community and a place to be and a place to get together and talk and also show other companies there’s no excuse, we’re here. And we’re so here that we were able to build a viral platform with no advertising and like five months. So yeah. Pay attention.

Noami:

Oh yeah. We out here, that’s for sure.

Leah:

Yeah. We out here.

Noami:

So that seed really got planted while you were working at Patagonia. The lack of representation at this company that was great in so many ways really fed a lot about the work that needed to be done.

Leah:

Yeah. There’s a duality that I feel like I personally was feeling. I can’t speak for a lot of people because I love a lot of environmental organizations that I really look up to. Like I love the work that they’re doing to protect the planet. And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s sometimes white fragility that really is so rampant in a lot of prominent environmental organizations. And there’s this weird duality of like, okay, do I just pretend that all of this borderline racist stuff is not triggering me and then just advocate for the salmon that are endangered or is there a world in which I can do both and advocate for my people? You know, and there’s this weird duality of, I don’t want to have to pick and choose being an environmentalist. And then also being like a racial justice advocate or just Black woman. I should be able to be both. And that’s where intersectional environmentalism really came from because I don’t think it’s okay that I felt like I needed to run away from my Blackness in order to be an environmentalist, because then I don’t want to be that type of environmentalist. I want to be able to run towards my Blackness and proudly be an environmentalist at the same time.

Noami:

Beautifully said. I feel like it’s basically impossible to overstate how difficult and unprecedented this entire year was for so many people in so many ways. It’s probably fair to say that for a lot of people around the United States and the world, the month of May really stands out as particularly challenging. This was in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the uprising that followed. Do you mind sharing where you were when you found out about George Floyd’s murder and how did you process the experience?

Leah:

It was such a weird time because like the world is shutting down because of COVID. I was actually furloughed from my position at the time because of the pandemic, so there was so much uncertainty and I’m isolated, you know, I mean I had roommates, but you know, I was alone. I’m not really seeing my support system. And then all of a sudden you had no option to look away. You know, we’re not doing anything inside. And then all of a sudden learning about George Floyd’s murder, it was hard, especially not having that community of people in person to be able to kind of process it with. So I felt like I couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to look away, but it was just, I don’t remember the exact moment, but I felt just such a deep sadness almost because the thing that sucks is that I’m not surprised when these instances of police brutality happen.

What I was surprised about is the silence from a lot of the environmental community, a lot of people that I had worked with for years. Nobody from my job, no white people from my job, except for like, you know, those two woke white friends reached out and was like, how are you? There were no supports for the Black employees.

Leah Thomas

Leah:

And I really hate that when these things go on, like I’m not surprised. It sucks. Like society is just so messed up and continues to disregard Black life. But what I was surprised about is the silence from a lot of the environmental community, a lot of people that I had worked with for years. Nobody from my job, no white people from my job, except for like, you know, those two woke white friends reached out and was like, how are you? There were no supports for the Black employees. And I think I just, I was surprised there. I was so frustrated and saddened that I had spent a lot of my life working in the environmental field, but they weren’t really showing up for Black lives. So yeah, it was, it was hard.

Noami:

Yeah. I remember that day, like it was just yesterday. My partner and I were in a cabin in Big Bear, California at the time. And we had just finished dinner and I got a news notification on my phone. And initially I went numb. I mean, that was not long after we had found out about Ahmaud Arbery. So I was still processing that, but also beginning to allow myself to feel a little bit of joy again. But that night, after overcoming the initial shock, the numbness just turned into outrage, followed by a combination of confusion, fear, worry. And I don’t want anybody to think that I’m advocating for burning shit down, but that’s how I felt in that moment. There was just this feeling of hopelessness. And all I could do was be angry. I mean, my heart bleeds for Black men. I mean, I am the daughter of a Black man and sister to Black men.

Noami:

I also think that a vast majority of people of color and specifically a majority of Black people in America at the time were going through that very complex processing of emotion that happens every time a Black or Brown body is murdered by police. And, you know, I feel it’s complicated enough when these police killings happen during quote unquote “normal times.” But the fact that the pandemic had been raging for three months at the time, and many of us were on lockdown. I feel like it certainly transformed how we all processed the news and it’s emotionally strenuous and it would provoke anybody who gives a shit. And perhaps it’s partly due to the pandemic that the social media response was bigger than ever. I know for a lot of us Black women activists out here, our pages started to blow up. I remember right around that time you shared the graphic Environmentalists for Black Lives Matter, which is when you introduced and inspired all of us to take the Intersectional Environmentalist pledge.

Noami:

And I remember that post going viral and I thought this was one of the most brilliant things I’d seen in a long time, you know, because like you said, the silence is violence and you’re right. Thinking back, I don’t remember hearing from a lot of environmentalists, white environmentalists especially who are my friends. And since the launch of IE, both of your pages have been growing and gaining momentum, and there’s been a lot of press and media attention around that. I’m curious to know a bit about where you were emotionally when you posted that, and what was the experience like?

Leah:

It was super surreal because I just remember that morning I was in bed essentially unemployed, and I was texting two of my friends that worked at Patagonia and was like, I want to say something. I’m fed up. So I just got online, went to Canva, I have no graphic design experience. And I was like, what do I want to say? And then I Googled environmentalists for Black Lives Matter just to see, like, I didn’t want to co-opt something and I didn’t really see anything. So I just wrote that over and over and over again. And you know, it just made sense. But then I was like, no, I can’t just leave people with a picture. I want to talk about a new type of environmentalism because essentially like, sorry to curse, but I’ll just say F this environmentalism that doesn’t care about Black people, I was like, I’m done.

Leah:

So I was thinking, okay, I’m a writer. So how about, I just try my very hardest to write a definition for something to give people an opportunity to be like, Oh, okay, this looks legit. I could follow this type of environmentalism that so deeply embedded in it is a care and regard for Black lives. And I had written about Intersectional Environmentalism, like a year prior, and it didn’t go viral. So that’s why I was like, what? And, you know, intersectional theory has been around for a while and I’m sure other people have put those words together. And then after the definition, I was like, but we’re not done yet. I need something else, cause I love action steps. And I didn’t want to just abandon people without any action steps. So that’s why I tacked on the pledge. And I worked through that, you know, myself with two of my friends of just like, okay, environmentalists should care about Black lives.

Leah:

Why? Because of intersectional environmentalism. And how do you be an Intersectional Environmentalist? Here’s a pledge. And I posted it and I went back to sleep and I woke up and I had like thousands of followers more and all of these comments and it was getting reposted, and it was so surreal because I thought people are gonna unfollow me. I didn’t think any of this was going to happen, but when it happened, I was furloughed. So I just said in my head like, okay, I’m going to respond to every comment, I’m going to do every podcast interview, every interview, every everything, because I feel like I’ve got a shot. I’m unemployed anyway, so I have more than enough time. So I’m just going to see what it’s like if this can actually be a thing because I don’t want this to fade away. And a lot of people were like, Leah, you’ve been working like you’ve been doing stuff. And it’s because like, I just, I want this so bad. And I feel like we’re in a really cool position. I mean, me personally, it’s pretty cool. I get to write a book that’s fun. But also like all the other people that we get to collaborate with who have been doing this work for a long time. And like, I felt like that virality was a tremendous opportunity to help amplify other people and then just rise together in collaboration. And it’s just been really beautiful and really cool.

Noami:

Oh man. You know, like hearing you say this kind of, I don’t know if you saw the play Hamilton, but when he came to America, they were on stage. And when his opportunity came to him, he started singing. Like I’m not giving away my shot. And I really, really liked that. And so it kind of brought me back to that song. Anyway. It sounds like you were able to turn that passion into something really powerful. Would you say that all of that was basically the driving force that drove you to create Intersectional Environmentalist?

Leah:

Hmm. Yes. I mean, yeah. I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t. Hm. Yes. I knew that wasn’t like a super elaborate answer, but absolutely.

Noami:

Yes is good. Yeah. I mean, I feel like we could talk all day about Intersectional Environmentalist and all the work that you and your incredible team are doing. Because, I mean, there’s just so much so many layers and it’s all extremely important, because it’s such a complex thing I feel, but what are one or two things in the space of intersectional environmentalism that you are most passionate about?

Leah:

I think maybe just the basics. I like getting people started on their journey just to see the connections, to see all of the data that a lot of Black and Brown communities and low-income communities in the United States, disproportionately experience climate injustice more. And there’s something that I really enjoy about that light bulb moment when other people are just presented with the data and then they’re like, I get it. Now I can go along my journey. And I feel like that’s just so fulfilling because then they might actually take action and then environmental injustice might be a thing of the past. So I think that gives me a lot of hope, but particular topics, something that I’ve been getting into a bit more lately is exploring agriculture and especially the treatment of a lot of migrant workers and also in conversations about regenerative agriculture, making sure that we’re going back to Indigenous traditions are Black and Brown people who have pioneered sustainable agriculture.

Leah:

And lastly, I’ve made a little transition as a passion project. It was really funny. My boyfriend was like, you need a hobby. All you do is work. All you do is activism. So I was like, you know what, I’m going to make a hobby. And then I accidentally made another business. It’s the Greens Girl Co. It was because I’m also really passionate about de-stigmatizing cannabis usage and the war on drugs is such a painful history. So that’s another issue that I feel like does kind of overlap with intersectional environmentalism in some ways and social justice. So right now I am spending a lot of time just learning because, I mean, I have a lot to learn with environmentalism, but the cannabis space is kind of new for me. So just spending a lot of time, really learning about the history, a lot of the people in the advocacy space and trying to advocate for de-stigmatization for all.

Noami:

I love it. That’s funny and awesome that you’re doing that. And I agree, I feel like that’s such an important space to lend your voice in intersectional environmentalism. But I have another question for you. What is your biggest dream for Intersectional Environmentalist?

Leah:

My big dream. I don’t know. It’s kind of funny cause I don’t have this master plan where I’m like, yeah, we’re gonna take over. You know, I’m just this anxious girl in Ventura hanging out. But what is my plan for IE or if I had like a long-term goal? I think the most exciting thing to me is teachers who have been reaching out. And even though IE like the website needs to go through a bunch of updates, I love visuals. So I’m like, Oh, I just want it to be optimized. But teachers are reaching out trying to implement some of the resources that we’ve compiled into their curriculum. And that gives me hope or a really cool story is Lexi who’s one of our interns now, went to the college that I went to, or she’s currently going there.

Leah:

And there was no environmental justice class in the environmental curriculum. And she basically started her own mini movement with some people. And the first environmental justice class taught by a woman Indigenous to orange County is going to happen in the spring. And those little things just warm my heart so much. And I really hope in the future, we can rewrite environmental history and just make sure there’s more representation because there’s a lot of knowledge that’s being left out of the conversation, a lot of voices to amplify. And that gives me a lot of hope. If I had one big dream, it would be just, it’s kind of big, but that environmental history could be rewritten. And that people that look like me would be included in that new history

Noami:

That just excites me so much to hear. I have another question for you. You touched on some specifics within agriculture and the cannabis industry and something we’re doing this season is defining the term intentional inclusivity in different fields. So I’m curious how you would define the act of being intentionally inclusive in the field of environmentalism.

Something that I really love about the IE community is we’re trying to dismantle the notion that environmental education is only reserved for people who are able to have an environmental education at college or whatever it might be because going to college in so many ways is a privilege like it’s so expensive or you have to be in debt.

Leah Thomas

Leah:

Oh, I like that. Intentional inclusivity, that’s beautiful. Yeah. I feel like something that bothers me is when people act like diversity and inclusion is like some chore and they’re like, “Oh my God, our employees are calling us out, we have to hire Black people. And I’m like, you know what, no, this should be something that is exciting. It’s exciting to go out of your way and be intentional and to find the incredible talent that’s out there from different walks of life. Because if you do that, then you can have an inclusive business, an inclusive school, a thriving environmental movement. So I think being intentional about, you know, diversity and inclusion or whatever it is, it’s a nice shift. So you’re not doing it out of obligation or because you feel like, you know, you need to look good to other people, but because there’s just a genuine excitement to create a really inclusive environment.

Noami:

Oh, I love it. Yeah. And I agree, people do act like it’s a chore, but you know what, there’s space for everybody, you know? Okay. So, like I told you earlier, I can talk about intersectional environmentalism with you all day. But I have a lot more questions that I have for you that’s not about IE, but I’m going to ask you one more question about it. And this is for our listeners, how can we all participate in intersectional environmentalism and make the education more accessible to those who need it the most?

Leah:

Something that I really love about the IE community is we’re trying to dismantle the notion that environmental education is only reserved for people who are able to have an environmental education at college or whatever it might be because going to college in so many ways is a privilege like it’s so expensive or you have to be in debt. It’s kind of hard. And with the technology that we have today, there’s no reason that environmental data and research and all that stuff should be written in a way that’s so exclusive. And I really hope that using Intersectional Environmentalist, we can show people, no, you can also be educated online, whether that’s just having an introduction to a topic on social media, in a way that’s very accessible and approachable. And isn’t as scary as a textbook that’s like 1.5 degrees C Celsius, like blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, like climate change. And we just really want to be kind of like a supportive friend on people’s journey to environmentalism. And yeah, that’s really exciting.

Noami:

So I want to jump into another topic that I’ve been really excited to chat with you about. Self-care and Black joy. Because one of the things I love most about how you share on social is that it’s integrated with almost the equal balance of fist in the air activism and Black joy. And honestly, it’s really inspired me because I’ve struggled with that this year. I’ve struggled with finding that balance with myself, not only as a nomad, but especially in the past months with the pandemic and the uprising. Because I feel like there are these expectations that are placed on us on social media that we need to educate people on the Black experience and only share hard stuff. And I can speak for myself, It’s really overwhelming, and it really sucks the energy out of me. So how have you found that balance and why is it important that you share your Black joy?

Leah:

So I realized, you know, I like creating resources and then there was somebody who made this, like Uh remark that stuck with me, they were like, you’re making content for the education of white people. And I took a step back and I was like, I am, like, I am, in some ways, like, I still am spending a lot of my time re-living traumatic experiences, hoping that white people get it because in part, some of it was also, you know, hoping to validate what a lot of Black women were experiencing. But I was realizing that I don’t exist solely to educate other people and be a, you know, an endless well of emotional labor. And that I also want my legacy, if I look back when I’m hopefully a great grandmother one day, I can also say my legacy maybe was activism. That’s only part of my identity.

Leah:

And it was also joy. And I feel like being a Black woman is such a beautiful experience, but that strong Black woman stereotype, it runs deep because I feel like I have to be strong. I have to educate, I have to talk about trauma and just keep moving forward. But that wasn’t sustainable. So, I mean, I honestly just started posting pictures of me and just like doing stuff outside, writing poetry, exploring. And it’s funny because those videos receive significantly less engagement than the ones where I’m like, here’s my pain, here’s my trauma. Like all that kind of stuff. I’m like, okay. People like trauma more than they like joy. However, I have noticed that more Black women and BIPOC women do comment and maybe resonate more and laugh more with the videos of me experiencing joy. And that makes me happy. Like I don’t have to have a million likes on every photo, but I started doing that for my own sanity as well. Just like again, cause I was thinking about, what am I going to post today? Is it going to be a valuable enough resource? And I’m like, I can’t treat myself like I’m a resource. I’m a person that wants to experience joy and I need to do this for myself. So that’s why I just started posting little pieces of my life where I’m experiencing joy because Black women deserve to be joyful as well.

I feel like joy and resistance are one in the same for Black people overall, just as the exploitation and punishment of the Black body being political acts. I mean, so too is the enjoyment of the Black body, you know what I mean? And the idea that unrestricted joy and freedom expressed by Black people is inherently rebellious still rings true today

Noami Grevemberg

Noami:

Amen sister. Oh. Like I really feel that. I’ve experimented with that on my own page, you know, sharing my joy videos versus the trauma. And I agree, I feel like the hard stuff gets more interactions than the joy. It’s interesting what you mentioned about it on social media. Because I feel like joy and resistance are one in the same for Black people overall, just as the exploitation and punishment of the Black body being political acts. I mean, so too is the enjoyment of the Black body, you know what I mean? And the idea that unrestricted joy and freedom expressed by Black people is inherently rebellious, still rings true today. You know what I mean? So, you know, it’s like seeing Black people laughing, experiencing pure and unfiltered joy is just so valuable. To me it’s a force of healing. When I see you share your Black videos of you riding your bike and you’re happy and you’re running on the beach, it brings me so much joy. And I love seeing those videos. So keep sharing.

Leah:

I completely, yeah, I agree. I think yeah. Black joy is so revolutionary after all of the stuff that Black people have gone through generations after generations, like, being joyful is an act of resistance in itself. So it’s activism, our joy is activism, but maybe with that activism we also get to heal ourselves at the same time. So I hope more people can kind of think about it that way and know that it’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to experience joy. And that in itself is like a HaHa to white supremacy. So, yeah.

Noami:

Amen. Amen. That’s beautifully put. You know, another thing that I really enjoy and I really love about how you share is the vulnerability you share around not being able to do it all, even though you are doing so much. And I think it’s so important for all of us to understand that we are all human beings with limitations and we absolutely must take care of ourselves because the rest is radical. Self care is revolutionary, especially for us Black people. So, aside from prioritizing your Black joy, how have you been taking care of yourself through all of this?

Leah:

That’s a great question because sometimes I haven’t and some days taking care of myself literally looks like grub hubbing food, because I’m so tired at the end of the day and I’m exhausted. Or sometimes that self-care looks like watching Real Housewives of Potomac because I just need to like turn my brain off. But I want to do better for myself and nourish my soul in other ways, because to be completely honest, like I have been working really hard these last couple of months because I’m trying to create the life that I want in the long run. And I think I do need to take more time for myself. But one way to do that is allocating things to other people, knowing that I can’t control everything and that even if something goes wrong, it’s going to be okay. I think basically operating like three different entities and businesses has taught me like a lot of stuff goes right, but things will inevitably go wrong and just realizing that it’s going to be okay. And then also just trying to have a support system of friends that I can talk to about things that have absolutely nothing to do with environmental justice. And I love that.

Noami:

Yeah. I hear you. Yeah. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, you know, like sci-fi fictions and just drowning myself in that, and comedy, romcoms. On a Saturday night, oh honey, you wanna watch some rom-coms with me, I just need to get away, you know.

Noami:

We touched on the importance of rest, but I’m willing to bet that most of us probably aren’t even getting enough of it, unfortunately. Burnout is something I think we all experienced on occasion and I know personally I’ve experienced it even more so these past few months, and especially in the past month, like last week I took a digital detox because the burnout was real. How do you deal with burnout? And most importantly, how do you protect your energy online?

Leah:

So protecting my energy online has been a journey. I think having more followers means more people have things to say. And it’s not always coming from people that I don’t like, you know, it’s coming from sometimes sustainability people or sometimes it comes from, you know, people in the Black community, whatever it might be. And I’ve found that to be really hard where people are like, okay, you’re not sustainable enough. You’re a sellout because you’re doing partnerships. I’m like, I’m just trying to pay off my debt, but okay. Or people that are like, you’re too aggressive. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re too nice. You’re not nice enough. And I think everyone having a say on what I’m doing is odd, you know, and I’m trying my absolute hardest to just stop commenting, stop responding to certain things, really look at feedback that I’m getting of like what’s constructive criticism and maybe what is someone projecting onto me in the first place. So I’m really trying to set healthier boundaries with social media where I log off, I don’t spend as much time every day on Instagram and on social media, and just focusing those real-world connections a bit more and people that just bring me a bit more down to earth.

Noami:

Those are such great tips. Yeah. And I think for myself this year, I don’t know somewhere around the end of August I just couldn’t anymore because yeah, I was getting sucked into that. And just recognizing that I don’t have to allow myself to get sucked in by all the negativity and everyone’s opinion of how I should be. So I really appreciate you sharing that.

Leah:

Yeah. No problem.

Noami:

So if this were a perfect world where there was no oppression or systemic racism, where intersectional environmentalism was adopted by all, what would you be doing with your time?

Leah:

I would be chilling like, posted up, you know. It reminds me of this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that I’m going to paraphrase, but it’s like, “the best cure for social unrest is social justice.” An equal society gets rid of the need to protest. And I really genuinely don’t like protesting. I do it because I’m passionate about it. But that passion comes from a place of anger at society for not being equal. So hopefully if there is more social justice, and I don’t think we’ll ever reach a place where anything is perfect or utopia as much as I wish, as much as my hippie self is like “one day.” I know that that won’t happen completely, but I think things can get significantly better. And hopefully I could spend my time focusing on other things, who knows, maybe I’d be like a veterinarian or I just have a farm that I’d be on all day. And I hope in the future intersectionality and environmentalism is so embedded in society that we don’t even need to have an intersectional environmentalism because everyone’s just gonna be living it. And I think that would be really cool.

Noami:

That was so beautiful. Thank you for that. I especially love your vision for intersectional environmentalism. I’d like to transition now to a somewhat lighter note. I saw you just bought a van. So, I got to say, welcome to vanlife. And it’s not just any van, it’s a Volkswagen Bus. As you know, I live in a Volkswagen Vanagon, so we gotta talk about that.

Leah:

Absolutely.

Noami:

My van is an 85′ Westy dubbed Irie, and I’ve been living in it full time for about five years now. And it’s been an incredible journey. So tell me about your van. Does it have a name?

Leah:

So what’s really funny is, I can’t even call it my van. It’s my boyfriend’s van, but it’s my van now. But basically this man has had this van since he was in high school. It literally didn’t even really run. And then we moved in together and I was like, we cannot keep this green bus. I’m Green Girl and we can’t keep it without running it. Like we need to fix it. So basically that was me just being like, you know, but it was always my dream to have, you know, a VW. And when we met, that was something that we were like, Oh my God, we’re both in love with like this dream of us just having this bus and like driving around the country and spreading the word about environmentalism and playing music along the way. So we really just take it upon ourselves to get it done.

Leah:

And that’s going to be an ongoing process, but we have the small apartment and we don’t have a lot of space and we have this bus in the parking lot. So it’s just been a really fun project, but it’s going faster than it probably was because he’s had it for, I don’t know if it’s like over 10 years or however long, but yeah, right now we’re like exploring ways to make it a little bit more fuel efficient. So whether that’s, if we want to go through some sort of conversion process, if there are any partners out there crossing our fingers who want to support us in that conversion process. The interior is all pretty now and really great. But yeah, I’m still learning how to drive a stick, so it’s gonna take some time. I’ll just say that

Noami:

That’s such a unique and awesome vanlife story. And of course it makes total sense. I think for anybody who loves the outdoors, you know, vanlife is a really good way to do it. And for me, I learned to drive a stick on my van on the road and it was a bit stressful at times, but now I just love it. I don’t think I can ever go back to an automatic, to be honest with you. No, I just love it so much.

Leah:

Really? I’m so scared. I’m just like, why?

Noami:

My partner taught me on the road, you know, when we left New Orleans, cause we started out in New Orleans, we were in the van and you know, he did most of the driving for like the first three months. And then he’s like, okay babe, if we’re going to do this long-term you have to learn. So he taught me on the road and it was scary at times, but no, I love it. You’re going to love it so much.

Leah:

Yeah, I hope so.

Noami:

Do you have plans for vanlife? Like, in general, what can we look forward to with Green Girl Leah in her green bus?

Leah:

So, I mean, it really depends on when the world opens up, but I want to take essentially like an IE tour with a bunch of stops along the way and having like little pop-up music events or like poetry readings, where I just open the back of the bus and we just like gather with a lot of people. And I want it to be like this green Intersectional Environmentalist bus, and we’re going to go on road trips and just stop and go camping and see all that the US has to offer. But I think the coolest thing is it being kind of a meeting space for people eventually when the world opens up to just gather around and yeah, have pop-up concerts, whatever it might be and just finding, you know, some funky ways to connect with the IE audience.

Noami:

I just love it. I mean, I’m a hundred percent here for the IE tour. Let me just say, so I’ll be looking out for that. I feel like there’s just so many things we’re excited to do once things start to open back up again and that’s gonna to be on the top of my list and I think for many people, so keep us posted. So I have a few more questions for you before we are through. And one of them is for our listeners again, for us aspiring Intersectional Environmentalists, out here taking action can feel really hard and it can seem really big sometimes. What advice do you have for someone just getting started?

I would say, know that progress is better than perfection and there’s no one right way to be an activist or an advocate or whatever it might be. And every step in the right direction is a part of a long journey of accountability. And it’s important to know that no one has it figured out, even activists quote-unquote like myself, I don’t know what I’m doing. I know kind of what I’m doing with certain things, but I’m learning every single day.

Leah Thomas

Leah:

I would say, know that progress is better than perfection and there’s no one right way to be an activist or an advocate or whatever it might be. And every step in the right direction is a part of a long journey of accountability. And it’s important to know that no one has it figured out, even activists quote-unquote like myself, I don’t know what I’m doing. I know kind of what I’m doing with certain things, but I’m learning every single day. And that a lot of people in the activism space might project onto other people and forget where they were before they considered themselves an activist. So we’re all a little naive. No one is perfectly enlightened unless you’re the Buddha. And, yeah, just to keep that in mind on your journey to activism, that it’s okay if you make mistakes along the way, as long as you’re trying and you’re listening and you’re amplifying other voices that might be a little bit further along in their journey. I think that’s a good place to start.

Noami:

Thank you. Do you feel hopeful that change is happening?

Leah:

I do. And I think I’m seeing it reflected in policy a bit more. I was on a panel after Cory Booker spoke and it was really cool because I almost fell out of my chair because he’s an environmental justice advocate and he was like, you know what? We need intersectionality in the environmental movement. And I was like, yes! Yes!

Noami:

You got me all worked up there.

Leah:

I was so excited. And AOC started following us on Instagram. And I know that might sound silly, but it seems like it’s actually translating into actual policy decisions, like, you know, Biden, ok. But he had an environmental justice plan. And that was really exciting. I’ve never seen something like that before, like an actual plan for environmental justice. So I think change is happening and I think sometimes change takes time and sometimes there’s a lot of things and hurdles to jump over until we get there. But I think there’s change happening.

Noami:

Beautiful. Leah, thank you so much for being our guest today. This has been such an amazing conversation and I’m so, so grateful for you sharing all the amazing insight with us. I mean, I could talk to you all day, but before we go, I’d like to ask you a couple questions that we’ve been asking all of our guests on this season of Nomads at the Intersections. So, the first question is, what strengths have you felt yourself tap into in 2020?

Leah:

Hmm. What strengths have I tapped into? Um, Hm. I think just being unapologetically myself. It’s funny when you’re tired, you just don’t have the energy to pretend to be anyone else other than yourself. So I think that’s shown me that I can be myself and that it’s okay. And I like that more than pretending to be someone I’m not

Noami:

Second question, and this one is very open-ended, but I’d like to ask you what you think a truly inclusive world would look like. So if you could finish the following statement: In a truly inclusive world, blank…

Leah:

In a truly inclusive world, people recognize the privileges that they have and they share the space with other people and they’re welcome to diverse ideas and mindsets and don’t, you know, reject diversity at all costs.

Listen to this and all episodes of Nomads at the Intersections on Spotify, Apple, and wherever you get your podcasts.

About Leah Thomas

Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah) is an intersectional environmental activist and eco-communicator based in Southern California. She’s passionate about advocating for and exploring the relationship between social justice and environmentalism and is the founder of Intersectional Environmentalist – an organization working to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement. She’s also the host of the brand new podcast Dismantled. Her recent quest for a hobby turned into a new business venture with the creation of The Greens Girl Co – an e-commerce website + resource dedicated to an intersectional and more equitable approach to the cannabis industry.