By Jazmine Johnson
On August 14, PSR-LA staff, health professional members, and resident allies joined scores of partners, allies, and residents from across the state at CEJA’s 2019 Congreso “Our Health, Our Power: Rising at the Frontlines.” We spent the day in Sacramento developing skills, building relationships with fellow environmental justice warriors, and advocating for policies to protect our health and the health and safety of frontline communities across the state.
Our busy agenda kicked off with a brief welcome session, followed by member-led workshops on various environmental justice issues and strategies including “Storytelling for Climate Resiliency,” “State Budget 101: Why it matters to EJ priorities,” and “Oil and Gas: Addressing Supply and Demand to Protect Community Health.” Through these workshops, we were able to learn about environmental injustices taking place across the state, understand how our partners and allies are addressing them, and enhance our skills in activating and advocating for our communities. We even had the opportunity to share the problems impacting South Central LA residents and PSR-LA’s strategies for addressing them during the “Community Solutions for Green Zones and Healthier Land Use” workshop, which PSR-LA staff member Jazmine Johnson co-facilitated.
During lunch, attendees observed a thought-provoking and inspiring spoken word program put on by Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS), which urged us to stand in our power and envision a better future for our communities. The performance was followed up community awards honoring community leaders and activists Amparo Alarcon and Estefany Mancilla of PODER for their efforts to improve conditions in their San Francisco community, the Excelsior District. Communities for a Better Arvin was also honored for their victories securing the passage of the City of Arvin’s Oil and Gas Ordinance as well as stopping Petro-Lud, Inc., and oil drilling company, from drilling four new wells adjacent to homes in Arvin.
Following these uplifting programs, we broke out into teams, prepped for our meetings with legislators, and headed over to the Capitol for an afternoon of grassroots lobbying. Having been spread across several teams, PSR-LA’s voice reached 17 assembly members and state senators, allowing us to provide first-hand testimony regarding the issues our communities face and how these policies could improve them. During these meetings, we were able to illustrate the need for protections and programs we were advocating for through our personal experiences living and working in frontline communities–Watts Clean Air and Energy Committee chair Jacquelyn Badejo brought her knowledge of water issues in Watts as she advocated for the establishment of the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund (SB 200) and PSR-LA member and Stanford Medicine Clinic Fellow Lauren Myers was able to speak on behalf of her patients on the importance of bills such as AB 1232, which would increase coordination and collaboration between the Low Income Weatherization Program and public health programs addressing health issues in homes of vulnerable residents. Having these voices at the table is critical in ensuring that decision-makers understand not only the impacts of their choices, but who they’re impacting.
We closed out the jam-packed day with a music- and food-filled celebration, during which Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán was honored for her commitment to fighting for the health well-being of communities in her district, the region, and throughout the nation. While it was a tiring day, the work that we did and that impact that we had was priceless. We’re so glad to have been able to take part in such an empowering day, and hope that you can join us for next year’s Congreso!