Fights to defend community land are intensifying across the country as organizers and neighbors embark on the hard work of building connections across differences and between movements. The ARD spoke with Keyssh from Decolonize Philly to learn more about constructing solidarity and freeing the land. A 21-year-old organizer born and raised in Philadelphia, Keyssh founded Decolonize Philly to mobilize education and action for environmental, racial, and social justice. This Saturday, Decolonize Philly will host its second workshop on the topic of the Fight for a Land Revolution. Through these events, Decolonize brings together diverse activists working on campaigns like the struggles to save the UC Townhomes and defend Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
• Follow and support Decolonize Philly.
• Support a local BIPOC organization fighting for environmental and land justice.
• Philly-area readers can register for the Fight for a Land Revolution workshop on Saturday, June 24.
What is Decolonize Philly?
Decolonize Philly is a social justice organization that curates spaces for people to come together to save the community and environment from injustices. It’s one-half direct action and one-half media.
Why did you start this project?
Two weeks after my friend was shot and killed, a bullet came through my window and barely missed me. Gun violence is almost like an everyday thing, growing up and losing people. Sometimes I’m scared to keep relationships I care about because I feel like somebody is going to die. I don’t want to keep experiencing hurt my whole life.
I grew up in Philly, so I’m kind of numb to gun violence, but then that was around the same time as the George Floyd and Walter Wallace situations. At the protests, they were throwing tear gas. I remember hearing the explosions. Together with those two gunshots, that did something to my body. A lot of my friends were putting up GoFundMes because they couldn’t find housing. And then I ran into an article saying that of the 57 blocks where 10 or more people were killed [in Philadelphia], 53 of them were in formerly redlined neighborhoods. That made me realize that all of these issues are coming from the same issue of land justice.
Why is environmental justice and land justice so important?
People say environmental justice is very white, but it affects Black, Brown, and Indigenous people the most. Philadelphia’s such an exploited area because they ran it down and disinvested in it. It was a purposeful thing for wealthy people to come in, flip it, and make a profit. Land revolution means making sure community members have the necessities to survive, like clothing, shelter, food, medicine, and the means to live sustainably.
Why does Decolonize Philly focus on creating space for community groups to dialogue and build solidarity?
I’m not the person who says, “I want to lead.” But I wanted to organize and to help my community. A lot of organizations are divisive, and I wanted to create something where people come together. The community should dictate policies, not the other way around. So how can we create a movement where community members are dictating what they want to see in their own communities and are given the tools to do that?
The goal is to create spaces where people come from all across the city to organize collectively. Colonial practices are very “I”-centered, divisive, and exploitative. Decolonize Philly is about coalition building, centering the “we,” because we all need to fight together to overcome major struggles.
What advice do you have for people interested in creating similar projects?
There’s not really a moment in time when you’re ready. Do it, don’t wait, don’t feel like you have to wait or have an intellectual or educational background. Everyone is worthy of building something. The revolution really will take people putting their differences aside to help the earth and their communities.