As part of our work with Angie Balderas of the Sierra Club this semester, we, Anyela Guzman [‘20] and Benjamin Lachelt [‘20], decided to partake in the “Regenerate California” advocacy campaign in Sacramento [on Feb. 4]. The campaign developed out of collaborative efforts between various environmental justice organizations in the Inland Empire region such as the Sierra Club, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), as a way to call on state leaders to phase out the use of fossil fuels, shut down gas plants in the IE, and ensure that any transition away from natural gas prioritizes environmental justice communities and vulnerable workers. Attendees of the campaign other than ourselves included students from the University of California, Riverside, high school students, community leaders from the aforementioned groups, members of frontline communities, and, perhaps most generally, concerned citizens. These people (unsurprisingly) turned out to be really inspiring and supportive folks.
Though most of our time as a group was spent on a bus to and from Sacramento (we were only in the city for one night), our experiences at the capitol felt meaningful and effective.
On the morning of the campaign, we held a demonstration in front of the capitol building wherein several of our fellow campaign attendees spoke about the IE’s intolerable air quality and the importance of putting the people who have been subjected to pollution at the front lines of the solution. Fellow demonstrators holding banners and donning fake gas masks stood adjacent to these speakers. The demonstration also included an “art build,” which entailed stacking up cardboard boxes that were painted by hand, and, when arranged in a certain order, created a larger image of a gas plant. A few demonstrators activated smoke grenades behind the sculpture to make it seem like smoke was coming from the sculpture. I, Benjamin, helped film the demonstration while Anyela got right into the action, holding up banners and wearing a “gasmask.” After the demonstration, we joined leaders from the Sierra Club, CCAEJ, and CBE in lobbying within the Capitol Building. In one particularly interesting informal lobbying session with Kip Lipper, Chief Energy and Environment Advisor to Senator Toni Atkins, we requested that Atkins appoint a more progressive representative to our region’s Air Quality Management District board that would fight for the needs of IE residents more aggressively. Lipper seemed relatively open to this.
The trip was eye-opening, to say the least. Best of all was the opportunity to get to know our fellow campaign attendees. We hope that our trip to Sacramento will not be the last time we see them and intend to be the first of many students to engage with environmental justice efforts in the region/state.
About the authors:
Anyela Guzman, Students for Environmental Action Co-President:
I grew up in the Inland Empire with respiratory issues and have devoted my life to ending the injustices harming my community. To have been part of this was incredibly meaningful, it was truly an empowering learning experience. I learned from the various conversations that came with meeting more community members and nonprofit organizers. These people are the experts of the issues polluting the Inland Empire. They know the solution which is to phase out power plants and make the switch to clean renewable energy. They’ve showed me the importance of showing up and giving voice to this issue and I hope to share this with fellow students at the University of Redlands.
Benjamin (Benji) Lachelt:
I am originally a student from Durango, CO and am now a 4th-year in the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands, which allows students to create their own courses of study. I came to Johnston because I didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school and wanted to see what California was like. Four years later, I now say that I study Geography and Political Economy, or, perhaps less pretentiously, places and capitalism. My interest in issues related to environmental justice and air quality in the IE gradually developed while studying the ridiculous and all-encompassing effects of the logistics industry in the region and suffering from bad allergies in college for one too many days. At school, I’ve been involved as a Resident Assistant, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and most recently, my friend’s campaign for student-body president.