Duluth, we need woke

Tone Lanzillo

U.N. General Assembly Secretary General Antonio Guterres: "We need to wake up and get to work."

There are conservative Republican politicians and media personalities campaigning against "woke" policies and programs. They proclaim that any progressive programs and policies which are addressing such issues as racism, economic inequalities and social justice are destroying the fabric of our country.   

But I have to ask. Why are they against being progressive and is being woke really going to destroy the country?  

In 1938, folk singer-songwriter Huddie Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly, recorded a song titled "Scottsboro Boys," with the lyrics, "I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there - best stay woke, keep their eyes open."

Four years later, an African American United Mine Workers official was reported saying, "Let me tell you something buddy. Waking up is a damn sight harder than going to sleep, but we'll stay woke up longer."   

In 2008, soul singer Georgia Anne Muldraw's song "Master Teacher" was recorded by Erykah Badu with lyrics that talked about staying woke and being self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better.   

The phrase "woke" emerged in the 1930s as a rallying cry for being more alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. By the 2010's, it came to encompass a broader awareness of various social inequalities.   

Whatever your interest in music or politics, given the climate realities that we will face over the next 50 years in Duluth, we need woke. We need to be more aware of how various climate events are impacting the health and welfare of our city. We need to question the dominant paradigms in our culture that have contributed to climate change and environmental injustice. We need to strive for something better for all of our citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable to our growing climate emergency.  

On Feb. 6, when speaking before the U.N. General Assembly Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for more urgent and immediate actions to address climate change. "We need to wake up and get to work," stated Guterres. He called for a year of "game-changing climate actions."  

Looking around Duluth and the country, you have to wonder if we are woke. Have to wonder if we have our eyes open and can clearly see what's happening. Wonder why more of us don't talk about climate change. Wonder how many of us have closed our eyes and gone to sleep.   

Is it because we don't want things to change? Is it because we don't want to think or feel like we're losing control? Is it because we don't want to think about how fragile and vulnerable our lives may be?   

In the spring of 2021, Duluth's City Council passed a climate emergency resolution that recognized the growing signs of climate change and the need to take more ambitious steps. The city's climate action work plan was then developed to "prepare for increasing climate hazards."   

The reality of climate change has already begun to impact not only our environment and public health but every facet of our collective lives in Duluth. Not being woke to what's really happening will be detrimental to our city's health and well-being.  

There is only one thing that we all need to do. We need to be woke to what's causing or contributing to the various climate changes taking place around our city and feel a greater sense of responsibility to respond to the ever challenging impacts of this climate emergency.   

When will we wake up and bring climate education to our schools? When will we wake up and offer support groups for those of us experiencing climate anxiety and depression? When will we wake up and demand more open conversations about this climate emergency with our elected officials, business leaders and community stakeholders?   

While writing this column, I'm listening to "The Weight Of Lies" by the Avvet Brothers. Have to wonder how high the economic, social and environmental costs will be to our city for not being woke to climate change. Have to wonder if not being woke and lying to ourselves will be too much weight for our collective shoulders to bear.  

Not being woke is very risky. Not being woke puts us in a very delicate and dangerous situation. Not being woke is simply unthinkable.