OPAL is a part of the 100% Renewables Network, working with national partners to develop clear pathways to 100% renewable energy in our regions. Representatives to the Network gather in local areas (having visited Buffalo, NY and Portland, OR previously) and tours the sites of struggle and resistance. In this personal account, Oregon Just Transition Alliance Organizer Janaira Ramirez talks about her experience at the latest tour, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
By Janaira Ramirez
One of the main reasons I enjoy participating in the 100% Network is because we get to see how communities in different regions of the United States are organizing to shut down projects that pollute water, land, and negatively affects one’s overall health. Projects like the Honstein Oil refinery in Albuquerque that Ana, a volunteer with JUNTOS spoke about during the Albuquerque tour. It is empowering to see how people organize against these projects while also building community around the shared values and care that community members have for the place they live and raise their children in.
Participating in these tours also highlights the different political and geographical landscapes other communities in other states organize in, as well as the different needs of each community to win environmental justice. This was especially important when we toured the West Valley. There, new development is proposed to be built in on a desert mesa. The proposal followed a common narrative of private developers, who come into a space, telling the community what they need without truly consulting with community members and assessing their needs and wants.
My favorite part of the tour was spending time at Endorphin Power Company (EPC), and hearing about the work they do. A residential facility, they are rehabilitating houseless populations and populations struggling with substance abuse in a way that dignifies people, and gives them the tools to get good jobs and live healthier lives. Everyone living at EPC is required to do 30 minutes of exercise every day. The stationary bikes at the EPC gym are available for use AND they also generate power for the building when in use. That was pretty awesome.
I loved all of the autonomy of on the ground projects in Albuquerque. Antonio Mestas, an organizer with JUNTOS, spoke about how community members came together and conducted air quality testing because the city continuously ignored the health concerns being raised by community members who have to live literally right next to polluting industries. Christopher, a leadership coordinator with Together for Bothers, spoke about how fellow youth members conducted community driven research and put together a health impact assessment around public transport and the lack of youth access to public transport in Albuquerque. Getting around the city was difficult and we experienced that during the tour. Lack of sidewalks, lack of buses in certain areas, lack of streetlights in certain areas, lack of ADA accessibility in the construction of the sidewalks in the neighborhoods with sidewalks. Local Native organizer Bernadette and a group of others started to put solar lights around parts of the city instead of waiting for the government to do it. They took matters into their own hands and made it happen so that people feel safe walking around. We also visited Travis Mackenzie at Van Buren Middle School and learned about his model for food justice in schools. Food justice and sovereignty being one of my passions, and having worked on similar projects before, I really enjoyed this part of the tour and seeing the small school garden that the middle school students work on throughout the year. Van Buren Middle School is the most diverse school in the city, and some of the students’ home languages are not reflected in the school body. Mackenzie showed a video of his students speaking about why and what they enjoy about the school garden. Why they enjoy working on it, what about it makes them happy, why they want to work on it, and it was heartwarming to watch that video and see the students speak in their traditional languages, united by their love for the school garden.
The tour was beautifully coordinated, and I really enjoyed my time in Albuquerque thanks to all of those who put it together. I loved that volunteers and youth members were actively involved in the tour, they were the ones leading the tour and that made me feel more connected what we were witnessing. The 100% Network tours are a great way to learn what in happening in other states, how are people organizing around environmental injustice, and hear about great successes. Someone at Solidarity to Solutions mentioned that we always hear about the bad things that are happening across the country but we don’t often hear about the good work people are doing on the ground. These environmental justice tours allows us to hear and witness the great victories and the good work being done.