Catching up with the Community Organizing Fellows
While Defend Our Future’s campus ambassadors are enjoying a well-deserved summer break, our community organizing fellows have been hard at work with our partners to engage community members to build a future free from fossil fuels. Let’s take a look at what they’ve been up to!
Earlier this year Defend Our Future’s Community Organizing Fellowship launched, adding capacity for on-the-ground partners to amplify local investments in renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection. Fellows are matched with an organization in their community and over a period of six months, complete a community-oriented project to build their skills in community organizing and authentic relationship building.
Community Connections in Colorado
In Colorado, Lenlee Davis is connecting young people with opportunities to get outdoors and helping plan Colorado Rising’s annual Youth Advocacy Summit this fall. The summit will bring youth climate leaders together from across the state to discuss the most pressing climate issues and promising climate solutions. Lenlee recently helped organize Colorado Rising’s second Outdoor Series event in partnership with Patagonia. You can check out our organizer Morgan’s recent reel to see how it went!
Intersectionality with Our Climate
In Washington, D.C., Maliyah Womack jumped into organizing Our Climate, Our Action, Our Climate’s first annual Earth Day art activism event. The event fostered communal relationships between frontline Washington communities and those who work in climate justice. The event included a community art project, an opportunity to write letters to elected officials, and the chance to plant seeds and discuss the reclamation of land with a horticulture therapist and a climate justice panel moderated by Maliyah. Keep your eyes peeled this August when Maliyah will be hosting a community block party in D.C. with a focus on the intersection of housing and environmental justice!
Building Community Power
Finally, in Arizona, Georgina Monsalvo has been building community power and educating Arizonans about clean energy with Vote Solar as part of the Arizonans for Clean Energy coalition, which includes other local groups like Poder Latinx, Western Resource Advocates and Chispa Arizona. Georgina hosted two community forums to discuss harmful gas-powered peaker plants in Glendale and Tempe, the Agua Fria and Kyrene Generation stations, which have been operating in historically redlined Black, Indigenous and Latino communities for over 20 years, threatening the health of residents. Managed by the Salt River Project, these plants are kept on standby for when energy usage hits its peak, primarily in the summer. However, the particulate matter and pollution that are emitted from the plants can have long lasting impacts on childhood development and public health. Many residents were unaware of the plants’ peaker status or the health impacts of air pollution, although some locals were skeptical about solar power’s reliability. The event also allowed us to educate attendees about advancements in solar technology that make it a more affordable, efficient and reliable solution.
Education as advocacy
Both forums opened with a panel featuring experts from Solar United Neighbors, Valleywise Health, Western Resource Advocates and Chispa. After providing context and history of the plants, as well as their impacts on the community, participants were guided through a moderated discussion where they could ask questions directly to the panel. This helped dispel a lot of the common misconceptions and arguments against solar implementation while shedding light on tactics that utility providers often use to delay the transition away from fossil fuels.
Community members left feeling more confident and empowered and even began conversations about installing solar on their own homes. These forums were just the beginning of their campaign so be sure to check them out at stopsrpgasplants.com
Advocating for an equitable future
Apart from our fellows, Defend Our Future community organizing project manager Alex Ross spoke at a recent White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) open meeting. This meeting gave us the opportunity to emphasize the need for investments in natural climate solutions and support for communities seeking federal funds while highlighting the excitement and work around our Seeding the Future campaign. The WHEJAC open meeting was held in Phoenix and accepted public comments regarding Justice40 implementation, the Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool and other recommendations for WHEJAC. You can read an excerpt of Alex’s statement below:
The Justice40 Initiative has been imperative in helping resources reach the communities that are facing the most severe effects of climate change. We are glad to see this priority has been maintained and thoughtfully considered during implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
New investments in programs like USDA’s Community and Urban Forestry Program are important steps in remedying the historical and systemic barriers that for too long have left communities behind. Here in Arizona, but quickly across the country, increased temperatures are leaving our communities more vulnerable than ever before. Expanding urban tree canopies is a smart and effective long-term strategy that along with other solutions will help us mitigate impacts of extreme weather.
The Work Continues
The first cohort of community organizing fellows will finish their respective projects in September, and we are looking forward to building stronger partnerships and improving the program with feedback from both fellows and community partners.