East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice info@eycej.org 323.263.2113

mark! Lopez 2017 Goldman Prize Winner

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.




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.


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.


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.


Our members brought up multiple issues with Measure M. Below are points that were consistently brought up across our membership:

  • Measure M is a regressive tax. Regressive taxes result in lower income families paying a disproportionately higher percentage of their income, compared to higher income individuals.
  • Measure M has no “sunset,” meaning it will continue with no end unless a different measure is passed in the future to end it. Given the amount of money and political will required to pass a measure in the County, it is virtually impossible for low income communities of color, the communities most negatively impacted by transportation projects in the region, to remove the tax once it is approved.
  • Measure M lacks equity in planning and implementation. It continues a status quo in planning, resulting in a disparity in how funds would be collected and distributed. Claims of “fair” or “equal” funding schemes only work to uphold the legacies of environmental racism.
  • The Gateway Cities Council of Governments (Gateway COG) has failed to represent the needs of our communities in most transportation project planning, often actively undermining our communities. This was the same during the planning phase of Measure M, where they:
  1. Ripped out active transportation funding for the sub-region
  2. Worked to undermine Community Alternative 7 at the Metro Board
  3. Opposed mandating that freight investments be zero emission
  4. Weakened Measure M and then opposed it


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.


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.


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.


Nuestros miembros mencionaron varias gestiones respecto a la Medida M. A continuación, presentamos los puntos que surgieron continuamente en nuestra membresía:

  • La Medida M es un impuesto regresivo. Los impuestos regresivos tienen como resultado el que las familias de bajos recursos tengan que pagar un porcentaje desproporcionadamente más alto por sus ingresos, comparado con los individuos con mejores ingresos.
  • La Medida M no tiene fecha de vencimiento, es decir que continuaría vigente indefinidamente a menos que otra medida sea aprobada que ponga fin a ésta. Tomando en cuenta la inversión monetaria y política que se requiere para la aprobación de una medida en el Condado, viene siendo prácticamente imposible para las comunidades de color de bajos recursos –siendo las comunidades que se ven principalmente perjudicadas por los proyectos de transporte en la región– el eliminar un impuesto una vez que haya sido aprobado.
  • La Medida M carece de equidad en su planificación e implementación. Le da continuidad al statu quo en la planificación, cuyo resultado es la disparidad en la manera en que se recolectan y distribuyen los fondos. El que el complot financiero declare actuar “justamente” o “con igualdad” simplemente contribuye a la preservación del legado de racismo ambiental.
  • El Concilio de Gobiernos de las Ciudades de Entrada (Gateway COG, en inglés) ha fallado en su tarea de representación de las necesidades de nuestras comunidades en la mayor parte de la planificación de los proyectos de transporte, frecuentemente socavando decididamente a nuestras comunidades. Vimos lo mismo durante la fase de planificación de la Medida M, en la cual:
  1. Extirparon la financiación para el transporte activo en la subregión
  2. Se esforzaron por socavar la Alternativa Comunitaria 7 en la Directiva de Metro
  3. Se opusieron al mandato que exige la inversión en trasporte de carga de cero emisiones
  4. Debilitaron la Medida M y luego se opusieron a ésta


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.


Remembering Marina Pando’s Legacy as we launch our 2nd Annual MP-SJRC

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. MP-SJRC 1 “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 Marina-300x200 “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 LujanTo 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.

How to Grow a Movement – One Story at a Time by Martha Matsuoka

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/interviews/las-marthas-speak-honoring-the-legacy-of-storytelling-within-the-environmental-justice-movement/

Las Martas Speak


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.

13275545_1172281332803800_975224773_o After the conversation, I was reminded of the powerful words of Grace Lee Boggs, the Chinese-American feminist, activist from Detroit who once wrote,

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 



Garcetti Whats good?!



MMheadshot a 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.

OUR MONEY, OUR CLEANUP: DTSC, Exide & the Path Forward


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 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

Honoring Professor Martha Matsuoka Doing Worthwhile EJ-Social Justice Work? You Want Martha on Your Side!

“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.

MMheadshot a

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 Against Military Violence

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.

Congratulations Martha from your Bay Area comrades and friends who admire, respect, and, most of all, love you for all you do for and with our movements and for the transformative light and energy you are in a world filled with cynics, haters, cheaters, and killers of all life forms!”

Margo Portrait


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.


National Movements, Local Organizing by Jan Victor Andasan

“It was like I was driving home from Long Beach back to Carson. No matter where you go, the issues are the same. We were on a toxic tour with Gulf Port residents heading to Pascagoula, Mississippi and there was a huge flame. A refinery was flaring. A resident remarked that this happened everyday, that this was normal. That moment, it felt like home, it felt like we were all fighting the same battle, whether you were in Long Beach, South Bay, Houston, or Gulf Port. The community had similar challenges, an industry whether it is freight or oil & gas that devalued the lives of the residents living around them. They invest in profits, not people.

NEJAC attendees with committee members

From March 15 to the 18th, I had the privilege of being able to represent East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice & our allies from environmental justice organizations in Southern California at the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Convening at Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi. The Moving Forward Network (also known as MFN) brought coalition members from all over the nation to engage with the community in Gulfport and learn about the environmental challenges they face in the region. We came as a coalition to give NEJAC recommendations on pushing for zero emission technologies to the United State Environmental Protection Agency.

Going to the NEJAC at Gulfport, Mississippi was an eye opening experience. It further validated the importance of working in coalitions nationally. At times, the battles we face within our cities seem solitary for our communities here in California. We have to stand in solidarity with folks fighting corrupt politicians, weak policies and regulations, and government agencies that are incapable of doing their job without pressure from those impacted by various polluting facilities such as ports, rail yards, and refineries.

The working class, multi-racial community that is Gulf Port is like Long Beach. It’s like Houston. It’s just Newark. It’s a community under attack. It’s a community living in the auspices of a multi billion-dollar industry that prioritizes profit, not people. People are living next to refineries, to ports; they are exposed to large amounts of pollution.  Their health is impacted; their health is at risk. This is the reality that communities from all over the United States face daily.

Panel with MFN representatives from LA Melissa Lin-Perella (NRDC), Jan (EYCEJ), Judith Azareth (TEJAS / Texas), Kim Gaddy (Clean Water Action New Jersey)

What I learned is, we are not alone. We are all fighting a battle in our cities for our home, our communities, and our health. We are asking for dignity, for clean air, to respect our livelihoods. We are facing difficult elected officials, difficult agencies. We are going through hurdles. We have lost family, to cancer, to sickness. We are strong. We are resilient. We must continue to fight, wherever we are. We are not alone. We are all fighting a similar battle. That is why it is important for us to have a conversation locally and nationally. When you take a step back, it is pretty clear that there is a larger system that allows environmental injustice to propagate in working class, people of color communities.”

Written by Jan Victor Andasan, EYCEJ Community Organizer

When “Caring for Kids” Becomes Convenient: Assuming Ignorance After Inaction

image2Exide Picture

The Issue:
For years we have worked to resolve the Exide issue, from closure to cleanup, and while we are encouraged by the Governor’s plan to allocate $176.6 million to go towards the cleanup effort, our members have concerns that a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption, pushed by the Governor and Assemblymember Santiago, will 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 have taken the position that CEQA exemption is unacceptable because of the danger irresponsible cleanup efforts pose.

The Response:
To come to our position opposing CEQA exemption, we held dialogues with our youth and adult core members and came to consensus. We discussed the benefit CEQA exemption would provide, quicker start of cleanup, but our members deemed this short sighted and irresponsible. CEQA is designed to protect our communities. It requires that impacts are understood and addressed. It requires a public process and provides for accountability. In their assessment, our youth and adult community leaders found the following: 1) The whole reason we are in this mess is because DTSC acted irresponsibly, and did not understand the full impacts of the Exide facility on our communities. 2) There has been much work put in to turning the state agency (DTSC, Department of Toxic Substances Control) around, but if we allow for this CEQA exemption to move forward, it will be in the vein of the old DTSC. 3) Not understanding the full impacts of this cleanup is dangerous and would be seen by our community leaders as a disservice, and a step backward for the state. 4) While we understand the benefits of expediting this process, the amount of time that we would gain is not worth the danger and fear we would face. 5) It is time for the state to set its principles and do right by our communities.

On March 15, we sent a letter (link below) to the Governor expressing the concerns of our members and opposition to CEQA exemption. We also sent the letter to Assemblymembers Anthony Rendon, Cristina Garcia, Jimmy Gomez, and Miguel Santiago, California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Director Matt Rodriguez, DTSC Director Barbara Lee, Senators Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, and Supervisor Hilda Solis. The Governor’s Office reached out later that day and admitted it was a mistake to not consult with the impacted communities in this process. We scheduled a meeting with the Governor’s Office to discuss how to appropriately move forward for the following week.

On March 22, representatives from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Communities for a Better Environment, California Communities Against Toxics and Resurrection Church met with representatives from the Governor’s Office, DTSC, Senator de León’s Office, Assemblymember Santiago’s Office and the technical advisor for the Exide Advisory Group (contracted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DTSC). The state came in with an agenda, but we immediately asserted that it was inappropriate for the Governor or the legislature to hold up Senator de León’s $176.6 million appropriation bill because there is disagreement about Assemblymember Santiago’s CEQA exemption bill. After an hour long conversation, the Governor’s Office agreed that the Governor would do what we wanted because he wants what we want. This was significant and was a primary goal of our meeting because we did not want the funds to be tied up in political games (more on that in the “Political Baggage” section of this piece). Conversations on environmental review should not hold up the appropriation.

The next half hour was spent reiterating that CEQA exemption is unacceptable and is off the table. The Governor’s Office agreed that this was a clear demand and our conversations moving forward would be focused on figuring out how to do option 2 (expedite CEQA) or option 3 (full CEQA).

The last 15 minutes were spent by DTSC introducing documents they brought to the meeting that we hadn’t seen in advance and discussing next steps. Towards the end of this last section of the meeting, the technical advisor was asked for his opinion on the matter and he shared that he was interested in seeing what the CEQA exemption process would look like. Despite the fact that we had spent an hour and a half getting the Governor’s Office to agree to not hold up the appropriation and take CEQA exemption off the table, and the fact that the technical advisor serves as an advisor and does not represent our communities, somehow the Governor’s Office, and perhaps DTSC and the Office of Assemblymember Santiago, left the meeting thinking that CEQA exemption was back on the table. I left the meeting agreeing to learn about what an expedited CEQA would look like, and the Governor’s Office was going to speak to the Governor and get back to me to confirm he would not veto the $176.6 million appropriation.

We spent the following two days communicating with the Governor’s Office, DTSC and the offices of several members of the legislature, consistently reexplaining our positions that the appropriation should not be held up and that CEQA exemption is unacceptable. In our last conversation we learned that we would not find out what an expedited CEQA is, because it was effectively a CEQA exemption as well, meaning two of the three options on the table were CEQA exemptions. This was very misleading and should have been off the table when we met. This was clearly the source of all of the confusion and has begun to feel like causing this confusion has been strategic for the state in an attempt to discredit community positions.

We stil have not heard directly from the Governor on this, though several elected officials (Supervisor Solis and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia) have spoken to the media supporting CEQA exemption, but have not spoken to us on the matter.

The Title:
When “Caring for Kids” Becomes Convenient: Assuming Ignorance After Inaction
There are claims that the CEQA exemption is being pushed because the communities have cried for action, despite the fact we were ignored for decades and are now being ignored when we oppose a CEQA exemption. There are those who are claiming they are pushing for CEQA exemption because they are all of a sudden “caring for kids” in our communities, not understanding that we need the protections of CEQA because the state has/continues to act irresponsibly. After inaction from those who will step up now to speak for our communities, their deficit perspective on our communities leads them to believe we are ignorant and our actions are “mindless” (literally what someone said). Our work speaks for itself, but for those that don’t know, please let me give you a small peek into how East Yard gets down.

We work to build community experts, well informed and well equipped self-advocates to engage in public processes to ensure self-determination when it comes to decisions that will impact our communities. This includes understanding and engaging in the CEQA process, a process that time and time again has served to protect our communities.

Regarding Exide specifically, we have informed the outreach efforts, knocking door to door to find that residents were initially being discouraged from requesting soil sampling over a year ago, and continually offering support to government agencies and jurisdictions on how to conduct proper outreach in our communities. We have informed the extent of the contamination, consistently pushing for wider sampling, introducing a California Air Resources Board air model to show wind patterns are also prevalent in the Northeast and Southwest direction, not just North and South, and uncovering a soil sampling study that showed high levels of lead in the City of Commerce a year before the state admitted Commerce residents are impacted. We are working to inform the Exide site cleanup effort, working with our expert allies to expose the risks to health and propose solutions, which has included visiting the Exide site with an environmental disaster cleanup team with expertise beyond what the state has to offer. Most recently, we had to participate in educating decision makers on how CEQA works, which was deeply troubling given positions have been taken in favor of CEQA exemption.

Because of all of this, it is incomprehensibly offensive when there are claims that we “don’t understand CEQA,” are “confused about options” and our “mindless” efforts will “get more children sick.” I would charge that we, the many of us that have been involved in this struggle for years, decades, generations, know exactly what we are talking about.

The Political Baggage:
It appears as if political baggage is playing a primary role in this process. Ego, beefs, and attempts to gain and/or exert political power are typical games politicians play in office. This should never be acceptable, but is especially problematic in this case. From what it looks like, the Governor, though publicly stating the Governor’s Office is working with us, is invested in a CEQA exemption and holds the most power in this process, the power of veto. His track record has shown he hasn’t been friendly when it comes to CEQA and in our conversations with his office, his reasons for the CEQA exemption don’t hold water in the face of the experiences, perspectives, needs and positions of our members. Let us not forget that until very recently, the Governor has been completely silent and complacent on this Exide issue. So the governor is passing the buck to Assemblymember Santiago, the author of the CEQA exemption bill, and Assemblymember Garcia, a co-sponsor of the bill. Assemblymember Santiago’s Office communicated that he felt he was being left out when Pro Tem de Leon moved forward with crafting the $176.6 million appropriation bill, and that removing the CEQA exemption would make Assemblymember Santiago’s bill empty and effectively useless. These are terrible grounds for supporting CEQA exemption. Given the influence Speaker Rendon has in the region and the state, and with Assemblymember Santiago being the new Assembly Majority Whip, one might begin to believe he is also supporting CEQA exemption, though we haven’t heard much from him or his office.

On the other side, on the Senate/Assembly divide, and also potentially the CEQA exemption issue, is Pro Tem de León, whose $176.6 million appropriation bill is being threatened by the success or failure of Assemblymember Santiago’s CEQA exemption bill. We have seen Governor Brown veto the long hard work of the Pro Tem in the past, specifically on issues related to Exide and DTSC accountability. I’m interested in learning more about the Governor’s history with the Pro Tem, and as those involved in the fight against the prison in Boyle Heights in the 80s have reminded us, we definitely can’t forget that Governor Brown was pro prison.

Having this understanding, you can begin to get a sense for the pettiness that may be involved in this process. We will really get an understanding on where everyone involved is at as the appropriation does or does not move forward.

We will be watching and we will be transparent about what we are seeing.

-mark! (EYCEJ Member and Executive Director)

Click link below to read EYCEJ letter to Governor Brown sent March 15, 2015

EYCEJ Exide CEQA Exemption Opposition Letter



People not Profits: The Fight for Environmental Justice

Taylor Blog

At the beginning of this month, many activists in the greater L.A. region watched in horror as we saw the removal of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Executive Officer, Dr. Barry Wallerstein. You should be horrified too.

AQMD is the regional body tasked with protecting public health by regulating pollution from stationary sources in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside.

What we witnessed was a coup by the new Republican majority board members, backed by fossil fuel industry. That their first order of business was to not only dismiss the agency’s director, but also uphold a vote to support a plan that allows businesses to pollute rather than reduce their toxic emissions is incredibly dangerous. Health shouldn’t be a matter of partisan politics, but unfortunately we’ve come to expect this wherever money is involved.

However, let’s not be fooled; some Democrats on the AQMD Board are pro-polluter too. We don’t have to look too far back to see Councilmember Joe Buscaino rejecting the AQMD staff plan (RECLAIM) to reduce air pollution in favor of a weak plan proposed by oil refineries, power plants, and other industries, allowing them to continue to pollute the air we breathe (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-aqmd-reclaim-20151210-story.html). And if we go back three years ago, we saw Joe Buscaino prematurely supporting the Southern California International Gateway rail yard project (SCIG), which not only threatens the health of the region, but has the largest negative impacts on West Long Beach. Instead of recusing himself for coming out in favor of the project before the environmental and health impacts were known, Buscaino supported the project by voting in favor of it when it went to the Los Angeles City Council. AQMD, along with a slew of other parties, joined us in suing the City of Los Angeles, with Buscaino’s bias being one of the grounds for the lawsuit (the project being the very definition of environmental racism is one of the other grounds for the lawsuit). How can we trust AQMD Board members, Republican or Democrat, who support environmental racism? Will this new Republican majority provide cover for Buscaino to move a pro-polluter agenda while publicly presenting himself otherwise, knowing how the votes will play out? Will AQMD pull out of the SCIG lawsuit, representing another act of war on our health?

With the assassination of Berta Caceres, an indigenous Lenca Honduran woman and activist against environmental injustices against her people, we are sadly reminded that there is a global sickness we must rid ourselves of – putting profits above people. This is a system that murdered Berta in her home for asserting her rights and the rights of her people to live peacefully on their native land; a system that can only thrive on exploitation; a system that is fueled by violence against human bodies.

Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient

What else should we expect when we’ve become so accustomed and desensitized to violence? And does the poisoning of our bodies not constitute an act of violence? Much like the travesty of injustice in Flint, Michigan where politicians were complicit in the system that poisoned poor Black people, most of whom were children, our local politicians who sat idly by as Exide Technologies rained invisible bullets of lead into the bodies of thousands of people.

A slow and painful death from cancer is no less violent than the blood drawn from a bullet fired from a gun. Unless we stand up to this violence, our communities will continue to see sick and dying bodies.

We are constantly reminded that many elected officials do not act in the best interest of their constituents – regardless of their party affiliation. From the hateful rhetoric of Trump, to the decisions of the AQMD board, we are witnessing an era where virulent politics are brazenly displayed. We must fight back.

This is your call to action. Join the movement. Start a movement. Build the movement!

Written By: Taylor Thomas