Cap & Trade, Air Quality, & Environmental Justice
Right now, a major fight is taking place in the Capitol – the extension of the Cap and Trade Program coupled with an Air Quality ‘improvement’ bill. A large and important bill package that on its surface appears to be a victory for environmental and climate justice advocates across the State. East Yards is calling a spade a spade and voicing our opposition to these bills.
While no one will (or should) argue that we do not need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously supporting emission reductions in the local communities most impacted by poor air quality, neither of these bills (AB 398 and AB 617) get at the core of solving our most entrenched environmental and environmental justice issues – and in some cases make matters worse and our struggle for environmental justice that much harder. These bills are major concessions to the oil industry – and our communities will be worse off should they pass. (Communities for a Better Environment created a brief breakdown of the most egregious bill language here, and our letter of opposition here).
We have been working\ with our partners at Earthjustice and CCAEJ to ensure that our communities’ needs are at the forefront of the conversations to shape environmental legislation. But it’s the likes of Jerry Brown and liberal politics that so often sacrifice the most vulnerable among us in order to gain political capital through top-down, non-transparent processes under the guise of progressiveness. At the end of the day, we who live next to rail yards, warehouses, refineries, and transportation corridors bare the worst consequences from bad policies – and this is no exception.
Time and time again, we are told that things will get better, our issues will get fixed, and we can trust people to do what they say they will do. We’ve got handfuls of IOU’s.
To the Governor – don’t come down to our hood, eat our tortas, profess to care about our issues, then turn around and serve us a steaming pile. The Pro Tem should be equally ashamed and embarrassed to be pushing this as a monumental achievement, knowing full well that his constituents will be severely impacted, as well as the advocacy groups that make cries for unity but turn around to support terrible policies to save face.
We don’t need fake allies. We don’t need more broken promises. And we definitely don’t need any more policies that will severely impact our already overburdened communities. We need real solutions, and beyond that, we need accountability. We acknowledge the hard work many organizations have put into the Cap and Trade process over the years, including several of our partners, and don’t want to diminish their efforts into forming these policies. But our communities are fighting for the right to breathe with dignity; we don’t have the luxury or privilege of accepting mediocrity.
Youth have always pushed the boundaries of our movement, and dared to envision and bring to life our wildest freedom dreams–this year’s Youth in Action members were no different. From defending their school to defending their community, they have all taken their leadership to the next level. We are immensely proud, humbled and thankful to build community and witness their power.
The following speech was written by Eddie Lopez, our teacher sponsor in Bell Gardens, we would like to extend the gratitude Lopez expressed to Bell Garden’s youth to all our Youth in Action members in Long Beach, Lynwood and East Los Angeles and to all the youth in the struggle across the globe.
Thank you for your support in these trying and confusing times. Words cannot convey the gratitude and emotions that are in my heart and soul, it is greatly appreciated. Being in education is a thankless job in many respects, especially as we have seen with the turmoil of layoffs, insufficient communication from board members, district officials, teachers and the public. The most satisfactory aspect, from my perspective, is the support of students, especially to those who have taken to non-violent demonstrations, practicing their constitutional rights. As stated by the ACLU attorney Michael Hannon defending the East LA 13 in the aftermath of the East LA Blowouts, “The demonstration is a poor man’s printed press and his right to do so, it is as important as the right of a rich man’s newspaper or our talk of free speech is just a mockery.”
A student stated to me about the demonstration, “What is the point, it doesn’t matter.” What is the point, IT DOES MATTER, in regards to social movements, demonstrating, creating real change in society begins with one person. And it spreads like wildfire from one person to the next, and so on, and so on. That is the point, TO BE HEARD and to churn AGAINST the wheels of opposition.
As Martin Luther King surmised in “I Have a Dream,” “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
Or as Dolores Huerta stated, “Don’t be a marshmallow, walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk. Stop being vegetables. Work for justice.”
And finally Emma Goldman, “The strongest bulwark of authority is uniformity; the least divergence from it is the greatest crime.”
Demonstrations have led to social movements: Women’s suffrage, the great uprising (female garment workers strike in New York 1909, 1910) African-American Civil Rights Movement, Chicano and Puerto Rican Civil Rights Movement, Unions, Socialist Movement and Strikes during the Great Depression (1933-1938), Feminist Movement, Environmental Movement, American Indian Movement, Blowouts in East Los Aneles, Against Vietnam, Chicano Moratorium, Farm Workers (UFW), LGBTQ, Occupy and countless others. These movements have altered the fabric of these United States. Without demonstrations causes remain invisible, absent from the public view, an amnesia pervades, with invisibility no one realizes there is a problem, a history, a better beginning, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Again thank you, to those with a fighting spirit, that took chance of being uncomfortable and using parts of themselves they didn’t know existed.
mark! Lopez, Member & Executive Director of EYCEJ, is a community leader, a father, and the 2017 North American recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. mark!, 31, was born and raised in a family of activists where community organizing is a culture. mark! attended his earliest protests and marches as a young child, along with his parents and grandparents. Family time often included door-to-door canvassing, community mural painting, and press conferences.
mark! temporarily left Los Angeles to pursue a degree in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz—an arm’s length away from home where he gave himself the space to learn and sharpen the tools of the family trade. He remained active in community organizing on campus, where he advocated for service workers’ rights and pushed for student of color recruitment and retention.
Shortly after his return from college in 2008, during one of his regular visits to his grandparents’ house, his grandmother gave him a public notice that had just arrived in the mail. It was about an upcoming government agency meeting about the Exide battery smelter. She said, “Hey, you know, Exide is still right here.” mark! became the third generation in his family in the two decade Exide struggle, and the facility’s closure in 2015 ensured his daughters don’t become the fourth generation of his family in this fight.
mark! continues to contribute to the legacy of fighting environmental racism in his and our communities, and through EYCEJ he hopes to continue working with his community to push even further against the injustices we face. One thing mark! understands is critical now is community investment for community change.
So we ask you to please consider contributing to our fight, and donate to EYCEJ. Every dollar is invested in the continued education and leadership development of our members, supporting our community movement, and bringing resources to our neighborhoods through innovative programs.
mark! Lopez, age six, stands with his family in the struggle to protect our communities
Follow mark! and all of his work by following his work by looking at his public page here.
*EN ESPAÑOL ABAJO*
LET US BE CLEAR
We, the hundreds of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice members from East LA, Southeast LA and Long Beach, will not support forcing our communities to pay a tax to indefinitely fund the environmental racism that has affected us for generations. We repeat, WE WILL NOT SUPPORT FORCING OUR COMMUNITIES TO PAY A TAX TO INDEFINITELY FUND THE ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM THAT HAS AFFECTED US FOR GENERATIONS.
Unless equity and meaningful public participation are a fundamental part of all funding and planning, for all transportation projects/policies/measures/propositions or otherwise, any effort will reinforce and reproduce the injustices we have been fighting for generations.
While Measure M promises to make everyone’s commute better, our communities face the threat of increasing contamination from fossil fuel trucks and cars, while others will get cleaner air in their communities through public transportation and active transportation investments.
We already carry a disproportionate toxic burden in the region, with 8 freeways (10, 710, 60, 5, 105, 91, 405, TI Freeway) in our communities handling local, regional, interstate and international traffic.
We already carry a disproportionate toxic burden for the nation, with the Ports in our communities handling 40% of the nation’s imported goods, which look like 40,000-60,000 truck trips in our communities daily, along with multiple railyards pushing trains from our communities out to the rest of the nation.
Our communities have carried a toxic burden for the Western United States, resulting in Exide battery recycling poisoning thousands of East LA and Southeast LA families, over multiple generations. The City of LA has been threatening our communities for over a decade with the proposed toxic SCIG (Southern California International Gateway) railyard project, an environmentally racist project which would serve to increase profits for a private company and service goods movement for companies shipping overseas and across the country.
State planning is upholding the status quo, and the status quo is environmentally racist. We refuse to disproportionately absorb the negative impacts of State and private projects that include “local hire” policies that create jobs for Orange County residents while leaving our communities to suffer extreme unemployment. While other parts of the County benefit, Measure M represents an increase in tax and toxic emissions for our communities.We are not here for that anymore.
WHAT’S AT RISK?
If Measure M is approved, our lives are at risk, literally. The toxic exposures in our communities, especially diesel particulate matter, already compromise our health, resulting in respiratory illnesses, cancer and premature death. What we have seen from transportation agencies (Metro, CalTrans) is antiquated transportation ideas (freeway expansion) and resistance to community leadership. For 4 years we have battled CalTrans to study Community Alternative 7, a community generated and community preferred alternative for the I-710 Project (710 from Long Beach to East LA). After getting some traction with Metro, just this last week we learned that one of the viable options for ensuring freight trucks are zero emissions, a catenary system, has been cut out of the project analysis. The claim that these entities are trying to be “technology neutral” is untrue since they are simply continuing a long history of excluding community based alternatives. When we look at the SR-710 (aka the 710 Tunnel) project, East LA was virtually excluded from the scoping process and community members had to fight to participate in the environmental review process after finding out the project threatens to displace businesses and compromise community health with an increase in toxic vehicle emissions.
With our opposition to Measure M, we know we risk straining relationships (political and otherwise) that have already been strained through our unrelenting struggle for justice on other issues. We also understand that in the past our communities have already been sacrificed in the service of maintaining political relationships or under the assumption that political favor could be leveraged in the future. When we envision moving forward the long struggle for justice for our communities, these types of political games and crony capitalism amongst elected officials, agencies and non-profit organizations, is not part of this struggle. In many ways, this is what has allowed for injustice to be maintained.
Some might wonder if we did enough to advocate and shape Measure M. Like our communities, our organization is under resourced and over burdened. Looking at our struggles and victories over the last year and half, when we were first contacted about the “Measure R2 strawman”, no one can say we haven’t been hard at work fighting for justice for our communities. We appreciate efforts by Supervisor Solis to support Community Alternative 7 and attempt to move the Gateway COG to be more responsive to community priorities on multiple projects and during the Measure M process. We appreciate Investing in Place and EnviroMetro for being responsive to our input around equity and mandatory zero emissions for freight investments, amongst other priorities. Before Measure M, we have created grassroots, bottom up solutions to transportation issues in our communities and have faced fierce opposition from CalTrans, Metro and the Gateway COG, so when allies engage us with open ears we are especially appreciative.
Unfortunately, we also saw the writing on the wall, with the lack of responsiveness to early input on the measure. We saw it again with efforts to get the Metro Board to be responsive to our communities on the I-710 project, which were ultimately undermined by the City of LA and the Gateway COG. Perhaps this acquiescing to the Gateway COG was an attempt by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to win favor that could payoff in the form of Measure M support, which failed given the Gateway COG’s opposition to Measure M. Most recently, we saw Mayor Garcetti visit the Commerce City Council, attempting to get them to reverse their opposition to Measure M with appeals to unity across the region, even floating the idea of Commerce hosting water polo games for the 2024 Olympics. This fell flat when we reminded the council that we had to sue the City of LA because their SCIG project was going to do train maintenance in the City of Commerce, with no plans to mitigate toxic emissions. The unity Mayor Garcetti mentioned was not felt when we successfully defeated the City of LA in court and they decided to spend hundreds of thousands dollars more to appeal the case.
EYCEJ DECISION MAKING PROCESS
We engaged in a 3-month education and dialogue process with our members across the sub-region. At our membership meetings, we came to consensus on opposition to Measure M. This recommendation was taken to our Board of Directors, made up of our membership, and our opposition to Measure M was solidified on September 28, 2016.
KEY POINTS FOR OPPOSITION
Our members brought up multiple issues with Measure M. Below are points that were consistently brought up across our membership:
WHAT WE SUPPORT
We support public transit.
We support active transportation.
We support zero emissions freight.
We support equity planning and meaningful community involvement.
We support genuine “local hire” guarantees.
We support a change in leadership at the Gateway COG.
We support community self-determination.
We support nothing less.
Nosotros, las centenas de miembros de East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice del Este de LA, Sureste de LA y Long Beach, no apoyaremos la imposición forzosa de un impuesto a pagar en nuestras comunidades para financiar de manera indefinida el racismo ambiental que ha perjudicado a varias de nuestras generaciones. Repetimos, NO APOYAREMOS LA IMPOSICIÓN FORZOSA DE UN IMPUESTO A PAGAR EN NUESTRAS COMUNIDADES PARA FINANCIAR DE MANERA INDEFINIDA EL RACISMO AMBIENTAL QUE HA PERJUDICADO A VARIAS DE NUESTRAS GENERACIONES.
A menos que la equidad y la participación significativa del público formen parte fundamental de toda financiación y planificación, para todo proyecto/política/medida/propuesta de ley referente al transporte o semejante, toda y cada una de las gestiones reforzarán y reproducirán las injusticias contra las que han estado luchando nuestras generaciones.
Mientras que la Medida M promete mejorar la movilización urbana para todo el pueblo, nuestras comunidades enfrentan el riesgo del incremento de contaminación de camiones y autos de combustible fósil, mientras que las otras comunidades gozarán de aire más limpio mediante las inversiones en transporte púbico y transporte activo.
En la región, nosotros ya cargamos con el peso nocivo y desproporcionado que incluye 8 carreteras (10, 710, 60, 5, 105, 91, 405, TI) en nuestras comunidades, lidiando con el tránsito a nivel local, regional, interestatal, e internacional.
Nosotros ya cargamos con el peso nocivo y desproporcionado en nombre de toda la nación, con Puertos en nuestras comunidades que manejan el 40% de la importación de bienes y mercancías que ingresan a la nación, cuya realidad representa 40,000-60,000 viajes de camiones diariamente en nuestras comunidades, aunado a una multitud de yardas ferroviarias desplazando trenes de nuestras comunidades al resto de la nación.
Nuestras comunidades han cargado con este nocivo peso en nombre de los Estados Unidos del Oeste, conllevando al envenenamiento de miles de familias en el Este de LA y Sureste de LA por parte de la compañía de reciclaje de baterías Exide, por varias generaciones. La Ciudad de LA tiene amenazadas a nuestras comunidades por más de una década con la tóxica propuesta del proyecto de la yarda ferroviaria SCIG (Southern California International Gateway/Entrada Internacional del Sur de California), un proyecto de racismo ambiental cuyo fin es mejorar las utilidades de una compañía particular y favorecer el movimiento de mercancías para las compañías de embarques al extranjero y al resto de la nación.
El departamento de planeación estatal respalda el statu quo, y el statu quo es el racismo ambiental. Nos reusamos a absorber desproporcionadamente los efectos negativos del Estado y proyectos de iniciativa privada que incluyen las normas de “contratación local” que generan empleos para los habitantes del Condado de Orange mientras que dejan rezagadas a nuestras comunidades a sufrir del desempleo extremo. Mientras que otras partes del Condado se ven beneficiadas, la Medida M representa un incremento en el IVA y en emisiones nocivas en nuestras comunidades. Ya no se cuenta con nosotros para eso.
¿CUÁLES SON LOS RIESGOS?
De ser aprobada, la Medida M pone en riesgo nuestras vidas – literalmente. La exposición a sustancias tóxicas en nuestras comunidades, especialmente a partículas de diesel, ya afectó nuestra salud, conllevando a enfermedades respiratorias, cáncer y muerte prematura. Lo que hemos visto por parte de entidades de transporte (Metro, CalTrans) son ideas anticuadas del transporte (expansión de carreteras) y resistencia ante el liderazgo comunitario. Hemos batallado ya 4 años para que CalTrans estudie la Alternativa Comunitaria 7, una alternativa generada y deseada por la comunidad respecto al Proyecto I-710 (710 de Long Beach al Este de LA). Luego de haber influido un poco en Metro, la semana pasada nos enteramos que una de las opciones viables para garantizar el uso de camiones de carga de cero emisiones, la opción catenaria (trolebús), ha sido eliminada del proceso de análisis del proyecto. Alegan que estas entidades están tratando de tomar una postura “neutral respecto a tecnologías”, lo cual no es acertado ya que simplemente están dando continuidad a un extenso historial de exclusión de las alternativas comunitarias populares. Cuando vemos el proyecto SR-710 (alias el Túnel 710), prácticamente excluyeron el Este de LA en el proceso exploratorio y los miembros de la comunidad tuvieron que luchar para participar en el proceso de revisión ambiental luego de enterarse que el proyecto amenaza con desplazar negocios y compromete la salud comunitaria con un incremento en la emisiones vehiculares nocivas.
Al oponernos a la Medida M, sabemos que arriesgamos el poner en juego nuestras conexiones (políticas y otras) que ya han estado en juego antes por nuestra incansable lucha por la justicia tocante a otros asuntos. También entendemos que en el pasado nuestras comunidades han cargado con el sacrificio en aras de mantener relaciones políticas o bajo la suposición de que los favores políticos pudieran favorecernos a futuro. Cuando prevemos los avances de nuestra larga lucha por la justicia en nuestras comunidades, este tipo de juegos de política y camaradería capitalista, entre funcionarios electos, agencias y organizaciones sin fines de lucro, no forma parte de la lucha. En distintas formas, esto es lo que ha permitido que la injusticia prevalezca.
Algunos se han de preguntar si hemos hecho lo suficiente por abogar y moldear la Medida M. Al igual que nuestras comunidades, en nuestra organización los recursos son escasos y la carga abrumadora. Al dar un vistazo a nuestros estragos y victorias en el año y medio que acaba de transcurrir, cuando por primera vez se nos avisó acerca de la “Medida R2 strawman”, nadie puede decir que no hemos estado trabajando duro por la justicia en nuestras comunidades. Reconocemos con aprecio los intentos del Supervisor Solís en apoyo a la Alternativa Comunitaria 7 y el intento de influir en el Concilio de Gobiernos de las Ciudades de Entrada para que fuesen más sensibles ante las prioridades de la comunidad en varios proyectos y en el proceso de la Medida M. Le agradecemos a Investing in Place y EnviroMetro por su sensibilidad ante las opiniones tocantes a la equidad y la obligación de cero emisiones al invertir en los camiones de carga, entre otras prioridades. Anterior al a Medida M, nosotros hemos elaborado soluciones arraigadas en la comunidad ante las gestiones de transporte en nuestras comunidades y hemos enfrentado una oposición feroz por parte de CalTrans, Metro y el Concilio de Gobierno de las Ciudades de Entrada, así que nos sentimos sumamente agradecidos cuando un aliado participa con nosotros con una mente abierta.
Desafortunadamente vimos también, a plena vista, la falta de sensibilidad ante las opiniones iniciales respecto a la medida. La vimos también en los intentos por conseguir que la Directiva de Metro fuese más sensible ante nuestras comunidades en el proyecto I-710, los cuales finalmente fueron socavados por la Ciudad de LA y el Concilio de Gobiernos de las Ciudades de Entrada. Quizás esta aquiescencia con el Concilio de Gobiernos de las Ciudades de Entrada fue un intento por parte del Alcalde Eric Garcetti a manera de conseguir el favoritismo que resultaría en el apoyo a la Medida M, lo cual fue un intento fallido ya que dicho Concilio se opuso a la Medida M. Aún más recientemente, vimos al Alcalde Garcetti en su visita al Concilio de Ayuntamiento de Commerce, intentando conseguir que se retractaran de su oposición a la Medida M haciendo un llamado a la solidaridad de la región, incluso oscilando la idea de que Commerce fuese la cede de partidos de polo para las Olimpiadas 2024. Todo se quedó corto cuando le recordamos al Concilio que habíamos entablado una demanda en contra de la Ciudad de LA porque el proyecto SCIG iba a tener sesiones de capacitación de manutención en la Ciudad de Commerce, sin plan alguno para mitigar las emisiones de sustancias tóxicas. La solidaridad que mencionaba el Alcalde Garcetti no se percibió cuando nosotros victoriosamente vencimos a la Ciudad de LA ante un juez y ellos decidieron gastar cientos de miles de dólares para apelar el dictamen.
PROCESO DE TOMA DE DECISIONES EN EYCEJ
Condujimos un proceso informativo y de diálogo de 3 meses con nuestros miembros a lo largo de la subregión. En las reuniones de membresía llegamos a un consenso de oposición a la Medida M. Esta recomendación fue presentada ante nuestra Mesa Directiva, compuesta de miembros de la organización, y el 28 de septiembre, 2016 se ratificó nuestra oposición a la Medida M.
PUNTOS CLAVE DE OPOSICIÓN
Nuestros miembros mencionaron varias gestiones respecto a la Medida M. A continuación, presentamos los puntos que surgieron continuamente en nuestra membresía:
LO QUE NOSOTROS APOYAMOS
Nosotros apoyamos el transporte público.
Nosotros apoyamos el transporte activo.
Nosotros apoyamos el transporte de carga de cero emisiones.
Nosotros apoyamos la equidad en la planificación y la participación significativa de la comunidad.
Nosotros apoyamos el garantizar una auténtica “contratación local”.
Nosotros apoyamos el cambio en el liderazgo del Concilio de Gobiernos de las Ciudades de Entrada.
Nosotros apoyamos la autodeterminación comunitaria.
Nosotros apoyamos todo esto y nada menos.
As we are excited to begin working with our second cohort of Marina Pando-Social Justice Research Collaborative students this week, we are reminded of Marina Pando’s legacy. Marina was an outstanding leader dedicated to the environmental justice movement. To commemorate her passing last June, our students share how Marina Pando’s personality and legacy are reflected in a program that focuses on creating community-generated knowledge. “Marina Pando, is an inspiration to young women of color in a variety of ways and her story speaks to me. Her strong character and hunger for justice is a reflection of what EYECJ stands for in using your own experiences and being powerful enough to stimulate a reaction from others. She definitely influenced oppressed workers who were abused and afraid to stand up to these industries. Part of being a great person is building other people and sacrificing yourself to see others grow. Her countless hours and devotion to the community was a symbol of the strength that women have”. -Estefanie Garcia, Youth In Action!, Bell Gardens High School “A program dedicated to creating community knowledge reflects the personality of Marina Pando by showing a strong will to learn anything new and fight for what one believes in. In order for us to accomplish our goals we must stand up for what we believe in and never let others put us down. Marina Pando’s personality reflected one of being independent and never letting others tell her what to do, no matter who they were. She showed that we all have it in us to become leaders. A community led program always shows that leaders are all around us, they can be our neighbors, our siblings, our parents, our teachers, but more importantly ourselves. We all have it within ourselves to create an environment in which we can live life to the fullest. -Karla Perez, EYCEJ Long Beach Member For more information on Marina Pando visit: La Leona by Hugo Lujan. To read about research produced last year, please visit:Marina Pando Social Justice Research Collaborative Projects 2015. Help us reach this year’s fundraising goal of $3,000! Please visit our website to donate here. Your donation will go directly to funding student stipends.
Last month, over a meal of pupusas, Martha Dina Argüello and I had the opportunity to talk with the youth members of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) Youth in Action! (YA!) program, about movement histories and our roles in it. Martha and I shared our stories and then the young people in the room began to share their stories and ask questions. And this is where it got good. You can listen to an audio recording of the talk via StoryCorps here: https://storycorps.me/
They told us stories about their lives growing up in Southeast Los Angeles. They shared their concerns about growing class sizes at Bell Gardens High School. They talked about their hopes and plans for going to college. They told us about how the challenges they face balancing family, friends, school and their activist work in the community. The young women shared ways they raise their voices in the classrooms despite teachers and others ignoring them.
Their stories generated questions and stories from the EYCEJ organizers in the room as well. They asked Martha and I about how we navigate activism and movement building as women of color, especially in places and spaces dominated by white men and white institutions. What movement history could inform their work and their lives? How do we do this work in the long term?
I can’t remember how Martha and I responded to the questions but what I do remember is how the conversation knit together all of our stories past and present — as a third generation Japanese American woman who found her voice in the environmental justice movement, an immigrant Nicaraguan woman radicalized and experienced in her work with the Black Panthers, youth and organizers with family ties to Mexico, Guatemala, Long Beach, East LA, Boyle Heights, and Bell Gardens. Even though we were born in many different decades, have had many different experiences growing up, have been involved in many different campaigns, and have way different capacities with technology (e.g. using smartphones, powerpoint, live streaming from periscope, etc.), our stories reflected a shared commitment to growing our movements and also our commitment to each other as we do the work together.
We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.
There is no doubt that the young leaders from Bell Gardens High School (as well as college students and young organizers) are the next generation of movement builders in our work. But in a movement context, their presence and leadership are also central to the work here and now. In the EYCEJ meeting room that night it was only through the youth that the rest of our stories were able to come together in rich and intersectional ways. The high school students were deeply rooted in their lived experiences and they made sure that our discussions remained focused on the intersectionality of race, gender, age, and nationality. They were acutely aware of the injustices they faced but rather than dwell on their problems, they probed us for new perspectives, examples, and tools for becoming better movement leaders. Grace Lee Boggs also says that our human evolution is not a linear process; talking story with and through the students made that point in clear and brilliant ways.
The youth of EYCEJ weave their stories with many others –youth, organizers, and allies from many neighborhoods and movements – and their rising collective power is making change in the East and Southeast LA, and Long Beach. Whether it is fighting for smaller class sizes, demanding cleanup at the Exide plant, making sure the I-710 Freeway expansion brings community benefits instead of more polluted air, fighting back against Walmart, or growing their own food, EYCEJ continues to build leadership – new and old- and models the way for other communities across the country.
Join us on June 23rd to meet these young movement leaders and be inspired. #FightingForLife #WeAreJustTryingToBreathe
Written by Martha Matsuoka
Martha Matsuoka is Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Executive Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College. Her teaching focuses on environmental justice, community organizing, urban policy, environmental movement history, and community-based research. Her research focuses how community-based organizations organize to influence policy and planning and currently focuses on ports and freight transportation. Martha is one of two honorees at this years Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration.
In fighting environmental racism, we know far too well what targeted violence feels like.
We are too familiar with the feeling of gasping for air.
We are too familiar with the suffocating smell from trucks, ships, trains.
We are too familiar with the similarity of gun smoke and exhaust.
We are too familiar in knowing that both are signifiers of death.
That both are followed by hospitals.
That both are followed by distress, sleepless nights, and pain.
We must remember that much like any other violence, it isn’t simply an accident but an extension of decades of policies and laws targeting communities of color.
That it is an extension of rhetoric that normalize violence against queer, trans, people of color.
We must remember violence many times isn’t the product of bullet but also comes in paper, ink, and signatures.
We must remember the creation of this is the constant identification of people of color, queer, trans, all those marginalized as expendable and unnecessary for what is defined by this machine as ‘progress’.
We must remember that what continues to fuel this is homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, white supremacy, and racism.
We must remember that its engine is colonization, dehumanization, and massacre.
We must remember
It was a queer trans club
It was a latin night
It was a trans night
the 50 brothers and sisters dead
The 53 injured
The 103 hit by bullets in a room with a capacity of 300.
We must remember those who do not have the privilege of having the possibility of death be a distant idea, but a constant companion.
For the families and individuals
We stand with you.
We see you.
We hold your pain with you.
We fight with you.
If one attack can be felt across the world, then one victory can also be held by all of us.
This is why we must and will continue organizing.
Through organizing we affirm that we exist.
Through organizing we affirm that we are resilient.
Through organizing we affirm that we are powerful.
Through organizing we affirm that we are and will always be powrful enough to continue
Fighting For Life.
For years we have worked to resolve the Exide issue, from closure to cleanup, and while we are encouraged by the Governor and legislature allocating $176.6 million to go towards the cleanup effort, our members had concerns that a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption, pushed by the Governor and Assemblymember Santiago, would present more problems than solutions. CEQA ensures that environmental and health impacts of projects, in this case testing and cleaning up lead contamination at thousands of homes, are studied and impacts are properly mitigated (adequately dealt with so we are not forced to shoulder the burden, in this case further lead poisoning and other impacts). With informal processes outside of CEQA, responsible parties, in this case the state, can make promises through “parallel processes” (conversations with interested parties, in this case the community) and fall through without any accountability. This has already been the case as we have recommended how to better protect our communities with the residential lead cleanup that has already happened, and for months have been largely ignored despite the fact that it has been discussed and documented in an Advisory Group hosted by state and regional agencies.
Our community leaders have been involved in this fight since we were speculating the extent of contamination from Exide, to the point where many of them have now found that they are Priority 1 or Priority 2 properties (levels of lead in soil that classifies their property as toxic waste or near toxic waste), mostly families with children and infants in the household. It is these leaders who have provided vision and energy throughout the fight to shut down Exide and clean up contamination. It is also these leaders who took the position that CEQA exemption is unacceptable because of the danger irresponsible cleanup efforts pose.
We agree with and support the perspective of some DTSC staff that the Exide Advisory Group would be an appropriate place to plan what scoping for the CEQA process should look like.
Home Lead Testing Access Agreements:
We have worked to raise the visibility of the matter through print, radio and TV media. We have presented at countless community meetings and classrooms, knocked on thousands of doors, and collected hundreds of access agreements. Most of this was done before DTSC, or anyone else outside of our communities (and most elected officials within our communities) were interested in engaging with us to develop their skills in working with community to build trust and process access agreements to move community cleanup forward. We definitely want to recognize Supervisor Solis and the County Department of Public Health, City of Commerce Councilmembers Oralia Rebollo, Tina Baca Del Rio, Ivan Altamirano, Leila León, and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who stepped up to support the efforts of our members to fill the gap that existed in outreaching for access agreements.
After some turnover at DTSC, their staff became much more engaged. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress, which we are willing to work with. Earlier this year we even agreed to take on a short-term outreach contract and brought on two part time staff members to lead the work, both of whom are currently awaiting cleanup of the properties where they live.
Unfortunately, we have experienced issues and weeks ago decided we would not be interested in conversations on possibly extending the contract. We decided not to extend our contract with the state to do outreach and access agreement enrollment for multiple reasons. First, it has been extremely difficult working with the state, with DTSC in Sacramento taking a one month break from processing forms without letting anyone know, including their local community engagement staff and lead contractor, and DTSC in Sacramento potentially losing signed access agreement forms we sent them. This sort of breakdown is not something we are willing to work with. More importantly, we stepped in almost two years ago to focus on informing impacted residents on the issues and cleanup opportunity, support them in requesting cleanup, and serving as advocates throughout the cleanup process because the state wasn’t doing it effectively, and no one else was stepping up. DTSC is now moving to hire new outreach staff to do the access agreement enrollment, and are planning to open a local office. With this new capacity, we can step away from leading this work and continue to keep the agency accountable. We have been successful at pulling the state along. The next steps in the push are to expand the area being sampled from 1.7 miles from Exide, to 4.5 miles, given that the state released blood lead data for children under 6 that shows higher rates of exposure up to 4.5 miles from Exide. Additionally, we will be working to lift the conversation for addressing the health and social impacts of Exide lead exposure over the last 30 years and call for resources to address these issues (to fund early child development programs, nutrition programs, youth employment, reentry programs for the formerly incarcerated and other support services to address impacts on educational attainment and levels of violence related to lead).
Concerning the $176.6 million allocated for residential cleanup, DTSC in Sacramento failing in the access agreement process has highlighted the division between departments within DTSC, community engagement staff left to fend for themselves while having to cover for failure in other areas of the agency. It is becoming clear that this is what has happened over the years with the permitting and enforcement areas of the agency as well. Community engagement staff should not be used as public relations shields, they should be working to keep us informed so we can hold the agency and industries accountable. It is our position that, along with new funds dedicated to community cleanup, the state should be dedicating significant funding to create an office under Ana Mascareñas, DTSC Assistant Director for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs, to build a statewide staff with the capacity to hold the permitting, enforcement and cleanup branches of DTSC accountable and work to ensure impacted communities are able to meaningfully participate in the public processes. This is how culture change can happen at DTSC, and some sense of trust in the department can begin to be rebuilt.
OUR MONEY, OUR CLEANUP
Our communities view this money as our money. Why? Well, let’s respond to a question posed by Assemblymember Santiago in his reelection campaign materials. “Who took on Exide and fought to protect our neighborhood?” I am assuming the Assemblymember is genuinely asking the question, since he was nowhere to be found for years. Last year, when members of EYCEJ and CBE met with Assemblymember Santiago, he discouraged us from pressing the state for Exide cleanup funds, dismissing the responsibility of the state in allowing this whole mess to happen. Like the many failures of DTSC, we didn’t allow this to stop us. We continued to press on.
Now, we are here with $176.6 million to start a serious cleanup process. This is an opportunity to put the failures of DTSC aside, though we continue to hold that there needs to be an independent investigation of the department in it’s handling of Exide over the last 30 years (US EPA where you at?!). The new DTSC office opening up in the Exide impacted communities, and the staff being brought on to work on the Exide issues, need to hear the demands of our core members, those who have fought for years and continue to wait for a proper cleanup of their homes. They demand that the local office and staff be dedicated specifically to Exide. They do not want Exide identified funds that were hard fought for to fund any of the DTSC activities unrelated to Exide. This is not an opportunity to pad budgets or fill gaps. Additionally, the DTSC Exide team must be allowed to operate independently from the rest of DTSC. We do not need the failures of the past mixing in to the work moving forward.
We propose that a local coordinator from DTSC’s staff be selected, with concurence from the Exide Advisory Group, to run the operations of the local office and Exide related work. DTSC Staff Member Cesar Campos, with his background working with communities, would be a good fit. They shall report directly to Assistant Director Ana Mascareñas and Director Barbara Lee. In our experiences attempting to work with DTSC over the years, we have found that there are those who want to do right by us, and new leadership does as well, but middle management acts as a barrier, miscommunicating, misdirecting, and slowing down progress. This Exide Pod (local office with dedicated staff) can act as a pilot for how future DTSC operations are conducted. The Exide Pod can meet directly with community members every other week, reporting back on progress, and troubleshooting issues that come up. A dedicated local office will serve to meet the needs of any member facing issues related to Exide, from initial information to every step of the enrollment and cleanup process.
We have already gotten a taste of what this can look like, with DTSC staff and multiple community stakeholders already engaging in a conversation around the formation of a workforce development and local hire plan for residential cleanup. DTSC has been very responsive to input and seems to actively work to engage interested parties. This promises to be a model for the department, both the plan itself as well as the process to get there.
We have had to push every step of the way to get to the point we are at now. It is time for DTSC to step up and accept the challenge to do better. #NoMoPlomo
“Brilliant, creative STRATEGIST. Local, regional, international NETWORKER. Critically loyal COMRADE, COLLEAGUE, MENTOR, FRIEND. Unassuming, formidable LEADER/ORGANIZER. These are all the many sides of Martha Matsuoka that I have observed, heard about, and experienced.
On any given day, you can see Martha going from situation to situation that demonstrates her many talents and commitments. You may encounter her where she is urging us to think strategically, not just emotionally and reactively, about an organizing goal. Or advising her undergraduate students at Oxy about a future in the EJ/SJ movement. Or crossing borders to build bridges between groups and individuals who may not be able to see and understand their shared interests and destiny, mired as they are in the scarcity model of the foundation world. Or simply gripping the reins saying, “Let’s get on with it,” through taking the earliest action steps including scribing meeting notes to calling potential contributors and supporters to taking to the streets and people’s front doors to washing dishes and tidying up a room after the meeting. We know from working with Martha that leading by humbly and diligently performing every job needed, as well as contributing critical theoretical perspectives to shed light on complex situations, builds trust and confidence.
For the past twenty years, Martha has been a North Star in the Bay Area feminist movement against militarism and for genuine security for people and the physical environment. In 1996, Martha and another comrade Rev. Debbie Lee organized the Bay Area speaking engagement of Okinawan feminist activists—Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence—who came after the infamous rape of the 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three US Marines to narrate their stories of the devastating impacts of the heavy US military presence on their tiny islands. The quality of the event and the learning that took place that February was extraordinary. Everyone there was shocked, horrified, as well as deeply moved by the courage of the group members led by Ms. Suzuyo Takazato, then a local elected official as well as activist, who dared challenge the Japanese and US governments to take responsibility for crimes committed again Okinawan people, especially women and girls. They, and fellow Okinawan citizens, went so far as to demand the removal of US bases from their land!
Okinawa Women Act members reported to us long after the 1996 meeting that they were emboldened by the Bay Area gathering–so well organized and orchestrated by Martha and Debbie Lee. Equally impressive were the ways that Martha played a central role in organizing what was to become the Bay Area Okinawa Peace Network and a year later the East Asia-US Women’s Network against Militarism, birthed in Naha, Okinawa in 1997.
Our Martha manifests much through all her work on the ground, on boards of EJ organizations and foundations, and in her classrooms. She also shows up as wonderful friend, someone to count on when we hit the bumps AND when we want to play. She’s always up for a delicious meal—high standards since she is the well-socialized, eldest daughter of Mrs. Eiko Matsuoka, the inimitable octogenarian leader of the El Cerrito Japanese-American community who can identify precisely the missing, or not enough, ingredient in a baked dessert or inari sushi. Martha also is an unrelenting competitor of particular computer games, believe it or not. And she never gives up!
That’s Martha Matsuoka! One of “Las Marthas” being recognized at the Fighting For Life 2016 Celebration of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.
Margo Okazawa-Rey’s primary activism, research, and writing address issues related to militarism, armed conflicts, and violence against women. Her work continues to be informed by having been a member of theCombahee River Collective, which advanced the concept of intersectionality in “A Black Feminist Statement.” She is one of the cofounders of the internationalNetwork of Women against Militarism, a group of feminist activists who address impact of US military presence in East Asia, Guam Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. She has deep connections in South Korea and for the past ten years in Palestine with theWomen’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counsellingin Ramallah. She is currently Elihu Root Peace Fund Visiting Professor in Women’s Studies and on the faculty of the School of Human and Organizational Development at the Fielding Graduate Universityin Santa Barbara, California. She also is Professor Emerita at San Francisco State University. She earned her doctorate from the Harvard graduate School of Education.