Just a few weeks ago CCAN had the pleasure of welcoming our new Virginia Director Kim Jemaine to our team and we are very excited to introduce you to her! Kim joined the team as our new Virginia director and will be leading us to future legislative victories in the commonwealth of Virginia.
Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. A lifelong advocate for democracy and environmental action, Kim has brought her unique perspective to CCAN to fight for climate action in Virginia
We sat down with Kim to chat with her about her journey from Pretoria, South Africa to CCAN, her role in the climate movement, and what she sees as her most exciting challenge moving forward! Check out the interview below:
Follow along with the transcript below:
Charles Olsen 0:00
Kim Jemaine recently joined CCAN as our new Virginia policy director and will be leading us to further legislative victories in the state of Virginia. Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Kim has called the Commonwealth of Virginia her home for the past 20 years. She obtained both of her degrees and Virginia, a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from the University of Mary Washington, and a master’s in government with a concentration in law and public policy from Regent University. Kim, you’ve been working in climate policy and activism for some time now. Can you tell me about the first time you organize people? Was it something you were drawn to as a kid? How did you get into it?
Kim Jemaine 0:35
Yeah, totally. So I would say that my initial interest in politics, working with people organizing didn’t come until a little later in life. When I was younger, I was really drawn to creative work. So I thought I wanted to be a choreographer or an artist. And I think that transition really happened in high school. For me, I was just involved in classes and conversations, and I really enjoyed learning about history government. And I think that’s where my interest kind of whispered, I think I also had the benefit of kind of coming into my own at the time when the Obama election was occurring in 2008. So it wasn’t necessarily the election itself. But I think just kind of the press coverage around that news coverage of the election and what was occurring in just the historic nature of the way he ran his campaign. So that really spurred an interest in politics for me. And then I went off to college the year after that. So I knew when I got to university that I wanted to do political work, I initially thought I wanted to do international affairs, and be a political correspondent outside of the country. But that work is hard to come by. And so when I graduated college, I just kind of found my way into electoral campaigns. And I really realized that there was this whole world behind campaigns and behind what you see on TV that kind of revolved around organizing people, getting them involved, mobilizing them, and helping them find a space in the electoral system. And I kind of just stuck within that work after I found that,
Charles Olsen 2:22
yeah, I also was brought into politics and grew up in the age of Trump in the 2016 election is what activated me to become politically aware. So I completely understand having that monumental thing hanging over you.
Kim Jemaine 2:37
Yeah, it can be a benefit. And it can be a little bit of a curse as well. So
Charles Olsen 2:42
Exactly, yeah. Can you you’re originally from South Africa, can you tell me about any experience that you may have had growing up there that has influenced the way that you work and you organize today?
Kim Jemaine 2:54
Yeah. So I would say I was actually pretty young when I moved away from South Africa. And I have kind of memories of apartheid ending, and really, people being engaged within the democratic system for the first time. But I think what really drew me to the work that I do is actually the absence. And because I moved to America, when I was around 10. And my family, my mother was pretty neat, was obviously new to the political system here and to voting into being engaged, civically engaged. And so I think a real benefit to me was that I didn’t like, unlike most American children, I didn’t have a kind of back priming, or that framing or that kind of family context that informs other people’s political views. And so I really gotta kind of develop my political views on my own, decide what my political values were in the work that I wanted to do on my own. And I think that really informed my politics and my way of thinking around the political system, the role of government, and the work we can do in state politics in federal politics. I think that absence of outside influences really allowed me to think through all of those aspects of government and what government should do for people on my own and develop that framework.
Charles Olsen 4:24
That’s super interesting. You’ve gone into your experiences a little bit, getting politically active in following the 2008 election of Obama. Can you just real quick, run us through your resume, your professional experiences, what took you from growing up to going to school? How did you get here to see again,
Kim Jemaine 4:46
When I moved to America, like I said, I had this kind of new start where I was able to form my own political views. And I really think that, like I said, I got involved with politics within both volunteering and with electoral campaigns through high school, and then in college, when I graduated college, I stumbled my way into the gubernatorial race in 2013. I really didn’t know much about electoral work, I was looking for internships, and I knew that I cared about politics, I knew that I cared about progressive causes. So I was just looking, hoping to find a place to do that work. And then like I said, I found my way, my way to this kind of world behind campaigns. And that was focused on mobilizing people, getting them involved in grassroots causes and getting them activated around things in issue areas that you cared about. And I did electoral issue advocacy work for a few years. And then I really realized that although I really enjoyed that work and was passionate about it, it is seasonal work, so it kind of takes a toll on your life. And I think the big thing for me was, I really wanted to find a way to get engaged with folks in a sustainable way. campaigns generally come in for a short period of time, you work with volunteers and other advocates for about six months, and then you disappear. And I didn’t want to continue to work in that context. So I decided to make that transition around then. The other thing for me was just working on elections, allows you a little bit of input, but I really wanted to do the work behind the scenes to inform policy to really find areas where people were suffering or where intersections were, were impacting people and find a way to help be so be part of the solution there. And I made a pretty deliberate choice to kind of pivot from electoral work to more policy related work public policy. And that’s what informed the decision to go back to school, I look pretty deliberately for Law and Policy programs within the state. And I got fortunate enough to about halfway through my master’s program to be offered a position with Virginia LCB, where I started as the public policy and communications associate, they really took a chance on me, they knew what my my way forward was, what I wanted my way for it to look like. But I didn’t have any experience in public policy and lobbying. At that time I had my electrical background, I had passion. But I really didn’t have that experience. So they really gave me that opportunity to grow, build my resume, and to just get to know the system here in Virginia get to see what it feels like to lobby and get to get my toe my feet in the water when it comes to environmental issues and climate change issues. And then with that experience under my belt, I came to CCAN.
Charles Olsen 8:04
What do you think your biggest challenge is that you face while working in climate activism? Do you find most of these challenges to be internal ones emotional? Or do you find them to be external from the work?
Kim Jemaine 8:17
Yeah, so I think it’s a little bit of both. And I think they kind of intersect, I think part of it is just being a woman of color in this work can be difficult. And I think that kind of internal struggle comes from just being in a place where I don’t see a lot of people that look like you and often your tack to kind of be that voice. And that can be difficult, and it can make you question yourself. And obviously, imposter syndrome is real. And it is definitely a thing that happens within this work a lot. Because there’s a big weight on your shoulders. But then there’s also a moment of questioning whether you are the correct voice for that. I think that’s especially true for me, because I am an immigrant. I’m a fair woman of color. And so it can be a lot of internal struggle about whether or not I’m the right voice for certain fights. Despite the fact that people are looking to me, so that can be a struggle sometimes. And then I think the big thing is just I think the environmental community in Virginia often does great work in terms of their priorities and making sure that environmental justice is at the forefront of our work. But I think a lot of that work needs to be informed by frontline communities. And I think although we can tap those communities when we’re organizing and doing our grassroots work, grassroots work, we also need to make sure that folks are represented in our organizations and They have a real seat at the table. And so I think that struggle is one that I, I have a hard time with. And I think we we really need to do a good job and deliberate work to make sure that we’re addressing that moving for
Charles Olsen 10:18
often we get caught up in the day to day work of saving the planet, one policy at a time. Can you describe to me the world that you’re fighting to achieve? For me, I fight for the possibility that my future kids I don’t have any today will have a better world than the world that I grew up in? Can you paint me a picture of the world that you want to create?
Kim Jemaine 10:39
Yeah, definitely. So I do have a daughter. And I think just on a surface level, I want to make sure that there’s a sustainable and livable climate for her and her peers. But I think the big thing for me is that I’ve started thinking a lot in the last few years about how we often talk about these junctures of injustice as intersections. And the reality is that they’re not just points meeting on a map, they do intersect, but they also layer and they layer away in a way that really puts an undue burden on certain people. So those people are facing injustice, when it comes to wages they are facing injustices when it comes to access to jobs. They’re facing struggles when it comes to access to transportation, to the burdens of climate change, and environmental degradation. And those things aren’t just points that meet on a map, they’re things that just layer and layer to hold down certain segments of the population. And I’m not under the assumption that I’m going to be the person that addresses all of those issues. But I think, for me, I really want to be a part of lifting at least one or two of those layers and a part of that work. So we can really, like take some of that burden off the shoulders of certain segments of the population and do it in a way that doesn’t put the responsibility on them, but puts the responsibility on the system and the government in the structure that we’ve created that have placed that undue burden on them. So a few I am not under the assumption that it’s going to happen overnight. But I want to be part of this work to address those injustices.
Charles Olsen 12:26
That’s super interesting. And that kind of brings me to one of my other questions. I grew up in a low income family in a redlined neighborhood on Long Island that was located with a landfill, just a few blocks away. And for so many years, the climate story, neglected environmental justice. And it’s been seen as something that sometimes, like you said, intersects every once in a while, but isn’t something that’s over layered. How has justice and as a black woman in America shaped your experience in the climate fight? And how do you think it’s going to shape the future of policy in the next big wave of environmental policies?
Kim Jemaine 13:07
Yeah, I think I touched on that a little bit already. But I really do think that certain segments of the population just are getting burdened with low wages, income, inequality, the impacts of climate change on a day to day basis. And I really think the work needs to be deliberate, we need to take a good look at how the policies were enacted and the legislation that we’re enacting perpetuates that and how we can make sure that we’re working to counteract those injustices. I and I spoke briefly with our executive director, Mike about this when I first got hired, is that the reality is that the moment that we’re in when it comes to climate change right now, and with the Coronavirus, has really shown us how those those areas intersect and the impacts that they have on certain communities. And I think it has also shown us that we can’t really draw distinctions between injustice anymore. I think the work that we’re going to do in the climate arena is going to have to be informed by environmental justice and justice as a whole. Because I think for so long, we’ve kind of dipped our toes in the water in terms of environmental justice, every now and then. And I think moving forward when, when people’s lives are going to be impacted by climate change by poor air quality by rising sea level. I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw those distinctions anymore, and I think our work is really going to have to be led and framed by frontline communities. They’re going to have to have a seat at the table, table and we’re really going To make sure that their voices are centered, because I don’t think we’re going to be able to draw, like, delineate our work moving forward. And that’s a future I’m hopeful about. It’s something that I think we should embrace and really make sure that we hop on that train before it’s imperative and, and get ahead of the ball.
Charles Olsen 15:21
Well said, Well said, Now, on a less serious note, who is one person in human history, people would be surprised that you admire.
Kim Jemaine 15:33
So I don’t think it’s super surprising if you know me, but I think it is a little unexpected. And I think I would say Mary, Mary Oliver. She’s a poet, and she did some really great work, just writing about nature and our place in the world and kind of reverence for the world around us. And it’s something that really has centered me not just in my personal life, but in the work that we do. Just recognizing that we are this small speck on this in this world, and that we really should show appreciation and reference for the world around us and steward our natural resources more wisely So I would say Mary Oliver.
Charles Olsen 16:21
How do you deal with the stress of climate change activism? I know just from my experience, and from talking to other people in the field, that this is a high stakes, high reward area, what do you do? Do you hike yoga? How do you get out of it?
Kim Jemaine 16:39
So I think for me, that’s a good question. For me, I am a people person, I like chatting with people. I like getting to know people, I really thrive on relationships. So I tried to make sure that I have great people around me and invest in those relationships. I also in this work, have just found great allies, one of whom is Harrison, who had this role before me. And I think that that has really centered me in those times where like I mentioned earlier, imposter syndrome takes over, or I question my, my role within this space, relying on those relationships has really helped me. And then yes, I love hiking. Like I said, with Mary Oliver. And with everything about revering nature, it really does center me, it kind of brings me back to myself. And I like doing that with my friends by myself with my daughter. And it just helps me appreciate the world around me, it helps me stay calm. And it just makes you feel small, but also reminds you of the kind of responsibility you have to protect the world around you. So definitely hiking for Virginia is a beautiful place to live. And every time I go hiking, it reminds me of that. So that’s the short answer.
Charles Olsen 18:00
I’m originally from New York. So I am quite biased in my love for Adirondacks hiking. But that’s a debate for another time. What do you want to achieve at CCAN?
Kim Jemaine 18:14
Yeah, so I think I touched on this briefly in a few of my other answers. But I think for me, I just really want to make sure that C can, is deliberate in really thoughtful about the work we’re doing to ensure that environmental justice is centered as we combat the climate change climate crisis. I think, like I said, we’re not going to be able to avoid that work moving forward. The environmental community really needs to make sure that we’re centering those voices. And I think the big thing that drives me is, like I said earlier, I just want to do a small, be a small part of this solution to ensuring that certain communities have at least one area of burden or one, one layer of injustice lifted off their shoulders, whether it be in terms of where dumps are located or where environmental or where energy projects are situated, or whether it it is them being impacted by increased hurricanes, increased recurrent flooding, sea level rise, I just want to make sure that we’re taking a real look at who’s bearing the burden of those events, and doing the work on a policy and legislative front to make sure that we’re protecting those communities. And really ensuring that where we’re lifting some of their burden for their shoulder. So I want to lead my team to really be deliberate about answering those questions and being reflected reflective of how the work we do can further those goals? If you could enact any one policy right now?
Charles Olsen 20:05
What would it be? You could do anything from a national fracking ban to a required Meatless Monday for all citizens? What would you do?
Kim Jemaine 20:13
So I actually have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I went on a hike yesterday and thought about it, I think I would probably enact some kind of conservation land conservation policy. We did this when we enacted the land Water Conservation Fund. And I think it’s really something that we should be prioritizing moving forward, I think we really need to be good stewards of our land, and make sure that certain areas are protected. And that development doesn’t strip us away of all these beautiful places that used to be in the majority, and that we’re just kind of dwindling. And so I think I would really enact some kind of policy to ensure that our public spaces are protected, and that our public, our national parks are actually broadened. So certain certain areas are just protected from development, or projects or being exploited otherwise. So I think that would be long and short of it. And it might be informed by my love of hiking and being out in nature. But I think that would be it for me.
Charles Olsen 21:26
Great, great answer. I have a public lands background. I interned at the Wilderness Society last summer. So for me, public lands, conservation and public lands policy is like, that’s it like, that’s the creme de la crop?
Kim Jemaine 21:43
Yeah, absolutely. I, one of my big research areas that I worked on in grad school focused on public land conservation and the land Water Conservation Fund. And I just, I think it was a real testament to what we can do when we prioritize nature and the world around us in our public policy and within government. And I think if we got back to that, we’d be much better for it.
Charles Olsen 22:14
Before we go. I have one last question for you. Is there anything you would want to tell others who are interested in this line of work? Any advice for the young folks who are just getting into college or coming out of college and jumping into the field? What would you say to them,
Kim Jemaine 22:32
I think I would say that there’s a whole world kind of behind what you see on TV and behind what’s represented through our federal system. There’s a world where you can get involved in electoral campaigns, issue advocacy campaigns, where you can be part of driving policy lobbying, and advocating for certain legislative fixes. And it doesn’t have to be in the environmental sector. There are other progressive sectors and areas where there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in areas that you’re passionate about. And you just have to find those spaces. And I think for me, it was there was always this framing that it was work that was for specific people. And that was generally white men. And I think just finding the people that would advocate on your behalf and create a seat at the table for you was really pivotal to me finding this fake space. I had a couple of people who I worked under for years who really advocated for me, and they are the reason why I’ve been able to kind of grow into this work. And I think so. So I think the first part would just be finding those areas where you can actually actually advocate and create change in whatever area you’re passionate about. And then also finding people who you can create space for and who will do the same for you. I think, probably my top two tips.
Charles Olsen 24:05
Amazing. Thank you so much for joining me.
Kim Jemaine 24:08