Building Healthy Communities from the Ground up

Highlights of our 2019 Congreso: Our Health, Our Power

We’re still glowing from our inspiring 2019 Congreso “Our Health, Our Power: Rising at the Frontlines” on August 14, 2019. CEJA brought our members and partners from across the state to Sacramento to build and learn together during a full day of workshops, skill-building trainings, advocating for our environmental justice priorities, and celebrating our 2019 Environmental Justice Leadership Awardees.

Igniting our Hearts and Minds with Workshops and Spoken Word

We began the day with member-led workshops that sharpened our skills for advocacy and storytelling. Our members honed their skills through multilingual workshops like State Budget Advocacy; cultivated their creativity at Storytelling for Climate Resiliency; reviewed and discussed the development of community-based strategies at Community Solutions for Green Zones; learned how to organize through Identifying Our Own Power: Stories and Skills for Advocacy; and examined the extractive, polluting economy at Oil and Gas: Addressing Supply and Demand to Protect Community Health. Each Congreso brings together the wisdom and tenacity of our members to advance imaginative, bold, and people-centered environmental justice solutions.

After a full morning of workshops, we had a cultural performance while our attendees enjoyed their lunch. Spoken word artists from Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) nourished our hearts with their poetry, moving us with themes of community power, opportunity, and imagining our futures. SAYS poets injected energy into our Congreso and articulated the passion and experiences of many of our members, especially our young leaders.

Honoring our 2019 Environmental Justice Leadership Awardees

Congratulations to all our 2019 Environmental Justice Leadership Awardees! We were proud to honor an amazing mother-daughter duo Amparo and Estefany of PODER, the courageous Committee for a Better Arvin fighting Big Oil with a historic victory in the San Joaquin Valley, a bold EJ Champion Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan representing frontline communities on the federal level. We also had the pleasure of presenting a surprise honor to our dedicated partner Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability for its sheroic work in putting an end to toxic taps and passing SB 200 to secure safe and affordable drinking water for California.

Community Leader Award: Amparo Alarcon & Estefany Mancilla

Amparo Alarcon and Estefany Mancilla, a mother-daughter duo, are making change every day as leaders of PODER by taking action on the challenges faced in their San Francisco community, the Excelsior District.  Amparo was a maquiladora worker in her native Guatemala before she came to the United States ten years ago. Her story reflects the global forces of worker exploitation, environmental degradation and displacement.  Like many immigrants, she is determined to provide the best possible future for her four children. 

Amparo’s daughter Estefany is also a PODER leader. A fourth grader at Guadalupe Elementary School, Estefany is already a brave and eloquent activist. When she couldn’t accompany her mom to a Sacramento hearing because it was a school day, Estefany decided to write a letter and asked that it be read aloud to legislators. Estefany demanded that her voice be heard.  Because of their strong commitment to social and environmental justice, we are proud to jointly award Amparo and Estefany the 2019 EJ Community Leader Award.

Community Organization Award: Committee for a Better Arvin

Committee for a Better Arvin, located in Kern County was established in 2007 when residents learned that one of their water wells was polluted with chemicals related to pesticides. This community-based organization fights for the rights and quality of life of the people of Arvin and of the San Joaquin Valley for better water and air quality. Almost half of Arvin’s residents are Latinx, including many farmworkers, and 36% of residents live within one mile of an oil or gas well.

This small, but mighty, community organization has won two major victories: it secured the passage of the City of Arvin’s Oil and Gas Ordinance, which provides a 300-foot oil and gas buffer zone within its community. It also defeated Petro-Lud, Inc., an oil drilling company, in a legal challenge to stop the drilling of four new oil wells adjacent to homes inside the Arvin city limits, preventing a significant increase in air, water, and soil contamination.

Decision Maker Award: Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán

Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán is the first Latina to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which covers a large area in Los Angeles County, from South Gate to the Port of Los Angeles. Congresswoman Barragán is a staunch environmental and social justice leader, supporting health and justice measures in her district, the region, and the nation. She serves as a voice for communities on the frontlines of the negative health impacts associated with climate change and environmental injustice. She is outspoken on the 45th Administration’s threats and actions to cut funding from the EPA, as well as its atrocious immigration policies and practices.

The Congresswoman has marched alongside community members calling for a stop to expansions of refineries, which create serious health and safety risks to residents. Since her election, Congresswoman Barragán has consistently represented her District with courageous leadership. She speaks honestly and boldly, stands with her constituents and all people in upholding their right to a healthy and safe communities, and readily takes action in the face of injustice. 

Advancing EJ Priorities in the Capitol

During our grassroots advocacy in the Capitol, we had dozens of meetings with Senate and Assembly offices. Our members enjoyed bringing their stories and priorities directly to our elected officials, and also to their staff. Community leaders filled the halls with bright energy and their determination to pass environmental justice priority bills that will advance clean air, energy efficiency to low-income homes, worker protections during wildfires, cultural relevant emergency planning, and improve land use planning by expanding California’s definition of environmental justice.

We thank all of the community leaders, member and partner organizations, supporters, and allies who made our 2019 Congreso a success! Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and help push our #EJpriorities past the finish line this legislative session and onto the Governor’s desk!

Follow #OurHealthOurPower to see tweets from throughout the day.

Check out all the photos on Facebook from the day taken by Brooke Anderson.