Listening to the Frontlines: The Jemez Principles

In order to create just climate action strategies, the needs of frontline communities must be prioritized: those who suffer from extractive industries and climate impacts the most. Consider the words of the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black lesbian activists, considering the revolutionary possibility of their own liberation: “everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” Similarly for frontline communities, if the well-being of those most at risk is assured, then by necessity, all will be secure. But how does one decide what’s best for the frontline?

The answer to this is quite simple: ask the communities. And those most affected cannot be brought in as an afterthought. They should be present starting from the beginning of the decision-making process. Frontline communities know the solutions that are needed to help themselves. They’re also most able to see to the root of the problems, and are more likely to come up with lasting, comprehensive solutions.

A set of recommendations called the Jemez Principles were written in 1996 as a foundation for diverse coalitions to make justice-based decisions together. Many prominent climate justice organizations use the Jemez Principles as the basis for their work. Recently more mainstream environmental organizations, which have a checkered past when it comes to social justice, have adopted the Jemez Principles as well, to improve their relations with people-of-color-led environmental justice organizations.

This book is written with the Jemez Principles in mind. The perspectives of the communities most affected are presented in their own words, along with their proposed solutions.

Here are the complete Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, developed in December 1996 at a meeting in Jemez, New Mexico hosted by the Southwest Network for Economic and Environmental Justice.

The Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing

Activists meet on Globalization

On December 6-8, 1996, forty people of color and European-American representatives met in Jemez, New Mexico, for the “Working Group Meeting on Globalization and Trade.” The Jemez meeting was hosted by the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice with the intention of hammering out common understandings between participants from different cultures, politics and organizations. The following “Jemez Principles” for democratic organizing were adopted by the participants.

  1. Be Inclusive. If we hope to achieve just societies that include all people in decision-making and assure that all people have an equitable share of the wealth and the work of this world, then we must work to build that kind of inclusiveness into our own movement in order to develop alternative policies and institutions to the treaties and policies under neoliberalism.

    This requires more than tokenism, it cannot be achieved without diversity at the planning table, in staffing, and in coordination. It may delay achievement of other important goals; it will require discussion, hard work, patience, and advance planning. It may involve conflict, but through this conflict, we can learn better ways of working together. It’s about building alternative institutions, movement building, and not compromising out in order to be accepted into the anti-globalization club.

  2. Emphasis on Bottom-Up Organizing. To succeed, it is important to reach out into new constituencies, and to reach within all levels of the leadership and membership base of the organizations that are already involved in our networks. We must be continually building and strengthening a base which provides our credibility, our strategies, mobilizations, leadership development, and the energy for the work we must do daily.
  3. Let People Speak for Themselves. We must be sure that relevant voices of people directly affected are heard. Ways must be provided for spokespersons to represent and be responsible to the affected constituencies. It is important for organizations to clarify their roles, and who they represent, and to assure accountability within our structures.
  4. Work Together in Solidarity and Mutuality. Groups working on similar issues with compatible visions should consciously act in solidarity, mutuality and support each other’s work. In the long run, a more significant step is to incorporate the goals and values of other groups with your own work, in order to build strong relationships. For instance, in the long run, it is more important that labor unions and community economic development projects include the issue of environmental sustainability in their own strategies, rather than just lending support to the environmental organizations. So communications, strategies and resource sharing is critical, to help us see our connections and build on these.
  5. Build Just Relationships Among Ourselves. We need to treat each other with justice and respect, both on an individual and an organizational level, in this country and across borders. Defining and developing “just relationships” will be a process that won’t happen overnight. It must include clarity about decision-making, sharing strategies, and resource distribution. There are clearly many skills necessary to succeed, and we need to determine the ways for those with different skills to coordinate and be accountable to one another.
  6. Commitment to Self-Transformation. As we change societies, we must change from operating on the mode of individualism to community-centeredness. We must “walk our talk.” We must be the values that we say we’re struggling for and we must be justice, be peace, be community.


  • The Just Transition Alliance was founded by José Bravo, one of the authors of the Jemez Principles. “Together, the Just Transition Alliance embodies the process of people of color, Indigenous Peoples, workers, and unions in polluting industries in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. addressing environmental and economic justice issues together.”
  • Read about and watch excerpts from an interview with José Bravo.



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Climate, Justice and Energy Solutions Copyright © 2022, 2023, 2024 by Dargan M. W. Frierson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.