Vu Le

Vu Le

First, can we start with you telling me what your do in your position here at RVC and also as the creator of NonprofitAF?

I am the executive director at RVC, but the external ED, so my role is mainly externally focused and trying to do more fundraising and building relationships. We do have an internal ED, our Managing Director, who is in charge of all RVC’s internal operations. We did that because the executive director position is really challenging for one person to handle.

NonprofitAF started seven years ago. At the time, I was at the Vietnamese Friendship Association. One of our funders, Social Venture Partners, asked me to write for their blog. Eventually it spun off to Nonprofit With Balls and later changed to NonprofitAF. To be less provocative.

Is writing something you have a background in?

Writing is something I enjoy doing. I do think that people of color need to be writing more. It’s challenging when you have so much work to do, and sometimes you feel like you aren’t being taken seriously or you are criticized for putting your views out there. Another challenge we have is we feel like we are representing our entire community when we write something, like people aren’t judging us as individuals – like  “oh now I’m going to judge this entire ethnicity or community based on this one person’s words” – that’s  where the pressure can become a lot. We have to be able to manage that because we need more voices of color.

What about Earth Day Northwest 2020’s mission is most important to you? Why did you decide to be a part of it?

I definitely do not have expertise in climate justice, and I told Kristi at Earth Day Northwest 2020 this when I was asked to join the Leadership Group. But I do think all of us need to be involved in this fight against climate change, whether or not we are experts. Sometimes it’s like “oh well, I’m not an expert, so I’m going to use that as an excuse not to be involved,” but we need to all be involved. It affects all of us, and disproportionally affects people of color. I wanted to learn things and  this was a good way for me to gain some connections and learn from leaders in this work.

In your POV, what is needed for true sustainability? 

I think we need to really address the intersection of equity and social justice. That means really being able to talk about things like colonization and racism, and we often times don’t. We focus on symptoms instead of the root of problems.

Right now there is a serious problem which is, a lot of the environmental leaders are white and male. Even though again, people of color and disproportionately affected. The environmental movement really needs to delve into this conversation and embrace it. It’s uncomfortable but it’s necessary for us to acknowledge that in order for us to move forward.

It also requires for people to give stuff up. Those with wealth will need to give up some of their money and pay their taxes. All of us have to think about cutting down on our own carbon footprint and that means again having to have these difficult conversations.

Cutting down on meat is an example of that. One of the most controversial blog posts I wrote was where I encouraged people to eat less meat – that’s it.  It’s not like you have to be a vegan, just  cut down on your meat consumption. That started a fire storm, people were like “you’re an elitist and only elitists are vegan.” But I wasn’t saying that people must be vegan – just to cut down. Try and minimize the impact where we can. We all, just by our own existence, will impact the earth. But we can cut down, recycle more, buy less plastic, walk to work, use a reusable tote bag, cut down on meat – these  are all things we can all do.   

The climate crisis is being talked about more than ever right now, what do you think the problem is with people focusing on the conversation rather than the action?

I say this a lot.  In the Pacific Northwest, we have a problem with intellectualization. We love talking about things, we love theories of change, and we love white papers and reading them and sticking dots on the walls and things like that. And at the end we feel really good about ourselves. When the reality is we are not actually talking about the actions, because it’s more uncomfortable to talk about the actions. The actions require sacrifice. We need to all be thinking about that. It also requires us to challenge power, including pushing corporations to do their part instead of avoiding all this stuff. We have to start mobilizing people. We have to own our skills as community organizers and start mobilizing people. I do get inspired by the youth. Greta Thunberg and the youth from This Is Zero Hour Seattle who are doing this work, and they need to be supported. Foundations need to fund this work., but instead what we have is endless intellectualizing.  Funders will spend an entire year before they release a little bit of money to address this – and  we don’t have time.

Any last thoughts?

It is important to ensure that the voices of communities who are most affected by climate injustice are represented at the table. We need to do a better job of really lifting the voices of the Native community, the Black community, and other communities of color, also people will disabilities. People who are really affected with injustice will be more impacted by climate. Like what happened with the California wild fires and the electricity going out. There are going to be poor people, people of color, and those who are disabled who may lose their lives because of things like this and we all need to be way more thoughtful.