Last month I joined Physicians for Social Responsibility in Sacramento for their Legislative Education Day, a day where both staff and members come together to advocate for important health and equity policy solutions in the Capitol. I attended Legislative Education Day as part of my participation in PSR-LA’s Health Ambassador Program, a program designed to train, support, and engage health professionals in local, regional, and state health and equity policy issues. As a dual degree MPH/MSW student at USC, studying environmental health and health policy, I found it tremendously important to be in Sacramento sharing my stories as an advocate for social and environmental justice with our elected officials and regulatory agencies.
I have visited Sacramento several times before during class trips on behalf of USC to lobby for bills surrounding social justice and health, but had never visited with a powerful organization like PSR-LA. The experience was priceless, and gave me great insight as to how health and justice organizations like PSR-LA ensure that our voices are heard in policy conversations. I am talking about the voices of all constituents living in the Los Angeles region, the voices of those who feel they do not have a voice, of those who are most vulnerable and whose health is affected daily in many ways by environmental pollution, many times without even knowing it.
For Legislative Education Day, PSR-LA staff prepared Health Ambassadors to meet with both legislators and state regulators about important health and justice policy issues affecting California communities. Many bills running through the legislative session this year aimed to prioritize environmental health and justice problems facing our communities. Among others, we pushed for proactive solutions such as adding environmental justice goals to the General Plan’s of local governments, and ensuring representation of environmental health concerns at the South Coast Air Management District.
While in the capitol, I met with staffers in four legislative offices to discuss our stances on six active bills. It was very rewarding to be able to speak to the experiences of some of the clients and families I have worked with in Watts and South Los Angeles over the past few years. I was given the chance to paint a picture for decision makers of the impact that these bills could have on the Los Angeles communities that I’ve worked with. In some offices, it was refreshing to hear agreement from staff on our positions. For staff members who were more hesitant, we offered additional information to help illustrate our points. Overall, I felt that our visits with legislative staff had an impact, and that my experience visiting Sacramento to advocate for healthy and equitable environments was invaluable.
In the afternoon, we met with directors from the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to learn more about the functions of state regulatory agencies and to speak with them about critical health issues in the local communities where we work. Arsenio Mataka, the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs at CalEPA gave us great insight on how CalEPA truly functions behind the scenes, and how to best work with them to advance health and environmental justice goals. It was very motivating to hear Mr. Mataka explain the kind of environmental justice work his office has been moving forward over the last few years, including low cost air monitoring and stronger cumulative assessment tools. Additionally, PSR-LA was granted a meeting with Barbara Lee, the Director of the DTSC. During the meeting, we were given the opportunity to ask Director Lee specific questions about what DTSC is doing to protect the residents of the Jordan Downs public housing community in Watts, and residents living adjacent to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Ventura County.
I can go on and on about my experience in Sacramento. Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles is an amazing organization that I am proud and honored to be a part of. Overall, Legislative Education Day was incredibly fulfilling, and I strongly encourage those looking for the chance to advocate for social and environmental justice to team up with PSR-LA to do so. Since March, I have attended trainings and events that PSR-LA offers to their Health Ambassadors to help ground them in their different issue areas. As a Land Use Ambassador, I attended a full day of training on how land use affects environmental health, specifically in the Los Angeles region. The program also includes resources and trainings to help build our advocacy skills, including a communication skills training on how to effectively advocate for health when speaking with legislators and other decision-makers, which is especially important for raising awareness about the community health impacts of harmful environmental toxins.
Physicians for Social Responsibility and I have a shared vision for environmental health and justice, and I am excited to be working alongside them in the fight against polluters who are raking in profits as the health of Los Angeles residents continues to worsen. As health professionals and advocates, we have the power to advocate and fight for our right to a healthy and clean environment. I hope that you’ll join us in any way that you can, whether that’s by joining PSR-LA’s mailing list, donating, or becoming a Health Ambassador for yourself so that we can work side by side to advocate for health and equity.
Danielle Ramos is a dual degree MPH/MSW student at the University of Southern California, and is a Health Ambassador in the Land Use & Health Program with Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles