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.

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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.

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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