On August 24-25th, our 2015 Congreso: People Power Policy brought together 250 community leaders from the frontlines of California’s most impacted regions to the Capitol to celebrate visionary grassroots policy-making fueled by power power across the state. The two-day gathering was filled with inspiring panels bridging environmental justice victories throughout the state and hands-on workshops on Green Zones, Energy Equity, and Climate Justice. Together we learned, strategized, and advocated for policies to build a stronger movement for equity and justice in statewide environmental policy.
Inspiring Panels, Workshops & Cultural Night
“We have one thing the oil companies don’t have: people power. We’re empowering community members not to be afraid. We’re holding legislators accountable.” – Juan Flores, CRPE
Rally for Climate Justice in the Capitol
We had some amazing rally speakers, including Elma del Aguila, a youth member from the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). Last month hundreds supported CAUSE at the California Public Utilities Commission hearing in Oxnard to demand Not One More Power Plant. Elma spoke to the connections between the Central Coast and coastal communities on the Gulf Coast who are impacted by Big Oil and rising sea levels threatening their safety and livelihoods.
“They think that because we are a community made up of minorities we will not speak out against this injustice. They think that because we are a city of minorities our beaches can be used as a dumping ground for their toxic slum. They think that because we are a city of minorities we will allow this environmental racism to happen. They think that they can walk all over us because we aren’t strong enough to fight them. They don’t understand that when people come together we become an unstoppable force capable of taking down any company, any politician.” – Elma Del Aguila, CAUSE
Mari Rose Taruc, State Organizing Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) reminded us all of how far the environmental justice movement has come and how we are powerful beyond imagination.
“We are evolving our environmental and climate justice work so that the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and the tragedies we experience in our communities in the valley, to our coasts, to our homelands, are not repeated. Our heartaches drive our passions that drive our innovations. We become more powerful beyond imagination. That’s what we need for a Just Transition. That’s the energy we need to bring inside the Capitol.” – Mari Rose Taruc, APEN
Environmental Justice Leadership Awards
During our Congreso, CEJA honored Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) for their strong leadership and community organizing to shut down Exide Technologies, a battery recycling plant in Vernon, CA that spewed dangerous levels of lead and arsenic into the air and contaminated soil for years, endangering the health of community residents and violating federal and state laws. CBE, East Yard, and other community groups continue to be at the forefront demanding the permanent closure of Exide, sufficient funds for the clean up of existing contamination, and for Exide to remedy the harms it has caused. CEJA congratulates their hard work behind this inspiring victory for environmental justice.
Our Congreso is all about collectively advancing community-led solutions statewide. From the sun to the soil, we have the power to reclaim our resources. We are the experts and we know that statewide policy wins can help turn the tide of local fights and can provide that one additional piece of leverage a campaign needs to win. That’s why CEJA combines strategic advocacy at the state level to bridge our stories, struggles, and solutions. Policy advocacy that builds our movement and power is how we will achieve environmental justice.
Thanks to Brooke Anderson for these incredible photos.