stories from the Public Lab community
The Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN) is a group with member organizations across the Central Valley whose mission is “to preserve our natural resources now and in the future, by seeking better ways to minimize or eliminate environmental degradation in Central Valley communities. This is crucial because rural communities in California’s Central Valley suffer a disproportionate amount of negative health, social and financial impacts.”
In 2016, Public Lab hosted the Regional Barnraising in Val Verde, CA where I met Nayamin Martinez, Director of the CCEJN. Nayamin’s work and the work of CCEJN was an inspiration to those who attended the event for both their the deep community organizing (highlighted in this interview below), and for the power and productivity their network has been able to exercise on hard local environmental issues. CCEJN works on everything from assisting community environmental reporting, to health impact studies, environmental monitoring, and efforts on anti-fracking campaigns. It was CCEJN’s efforts to educate on EPA visual monitoring techniques that inspired others across Public Lab to learn and take on visual monitoring methods around industrial and mining sites.
I was so grateful to loop back in with Nayamin and meet Gustavo Aguirre Jr who works as CCEJN’s Kern County Coordinator.
Gustavo: We often look for support from bigger organizations or entities and the communication power they have. It’s a good support system to communicate with others outside of our immediate reach. Aside from outreach, we also look for community groups and leaders that need additional assistance or guidance on issues they are advocating for, such as identifying pollution hotspots and monitoring these locations.
Nayamin: Everytime we go to do some type of monitoring, we rely on the expertise of scientists. Having access to researchers is key for us but sometimes limited. Some curriculum can strengthen our work, for example, building the environmental literacy among our community members. Also, the makeup of the San Juan Valley where we are based, has a huge latino population who don’t read english, so we often need translated resources.
Nayamin: Might sound ironic, but when we have had the access to researchers it has been very valuable. Having legitimization of a research institue behind our work is helpful. I also think we have done a good job of collaborating with a lot of the enforcement agencies.
Gustavo: Researchers, academics, regulatory agencies are our main focus. Useful information provided by these organizations is very valuable. Different groups bring different specialities to the table. But our specialist if you will are the residents that live and work in our communities that are often fence-line to major industries.
Gustavo: Larger NGOs and state agencies with more funding and resources need to actually fund the work. We need community organizers who are part time or full time with these groups, so we end up with more dollars and resources on the ground. Lots of people have ideas about how organizations could work better, but to me, it always comes down to how their organizers work. There’s a lot of great work that institutions do, but very little of that work has been shared, little of the the information trickles down.
Nayamin: I prefer being in person for learning. Here in California, we have large distances. Even within our region, lots of rural communities and it’s not easy for them to travel. Access to webinars has been very helpful so far, and the internet has become a very powerful tool for gaining information. In terms of sharing out, we have a robust listserve that we use strategically to distribute our projects, activities, and events. It has a combination of environmental justice advocates, grassroots groups, and regulatory agencies.
Nayamin: We have been using the listserv a lot. It has been more challenging to keep up with the websites to make it a resource tool. We haven’t had the time or manpower. Sometimes expertise to use the website and the social media in a more strategic way is helpful, but when the target audience is the community we serve, those methods are not the needed dissemination tools. For example, they may not speak the language, so we are always mindful of who we are trying to communicate with. We rely a lot on oral presentations at community meetings. Not powerpoint, nothing sophisticated. We know an oral presentation with clear and simple information will go a long way.
Gustavo: Our strength is our access to the community. We know the community groups and the community leaders. That’s the main way we put out and get back information. It’s a weakness in that there’s no one channel, we have a network, and we talk to community folks in an daily, weekly, monthly basis which makes us strong.
Nayamin: I think it would. My background public health. Gustavo has more expertise on environmental sciences; our skills complement each other. It’s not always the technical information that’s important, bringing in public health and sociology -- other skills and perspectives to understand the problems of the community where we are working is really important.
Gustavo: Yes, networking! People flourish and get reenergized through networking.
Nayamin: We have had our share of mistakes, so why not help others who are starting their work to not start from zero, but use our experiences as a platform to build upon for their own work. For example, right now, there’s an organization in Southwest Fresno, one of most polluted areas. They have done work with youth, but never focused on environmental issues. They met with us before they submitted a proposal to USEPA and they wanted to know what to do with the youth, so we started talking about how you do community monitoring.
Nayamin: People from academia, scientists that have skills to analyse / interpret data of air and water pollution, whatever we are monitoring.
Gustavo: Decision-makers, assemblymen, having personal time with them one on one, and having them coming down to the community, that’s something we need more of. We need access to them. Researchers forget that community leaders are there, and are people who have flourished on positive change. We need to give community leaders more tools and access to helpful resources.
Nayamin: Sounds simple and common, but respecting everyone’s opinions and knowledge. As Gustavo was saying, a lot of time we don’t invite or value knowledge that community members have, but they are really the experts. Who is more knowledgeable than them? At the same time, I have been inside a regulatory agency doing a presentation and the agency people get frustrated because community members are asking so many questions, and talking for too long, so I go back to the need for being respectful.
End of interview
Thanks again Nayamin and Gustavo! So excited to follow CCEJN and the amazing work being done across the Central Valley.
**This post is part of a series with Grassroots and Environmental Justice Community Organizers. Read more on the series here or follow the blog tag to get updates on new posts.
Update 9/2016, the Code of Conduct is live at this link: https://publiclab.org/conduct
Last year we celebrated our 5th anniversary as a thriving, growing community of people from numerous backgrounds. Many of us met for the first time through Public Lab, have found collaborators and people to discuss a range of topics with, and some of us have had the opportunity to connect with one another in person through Public Lab and non-Public Lab events. Public Lab has always been a friendly community that attempts to welcome and include as many voices as are interested in joining the conversation. As we've grown in numbers though, it has become increasingly important to note the ways that we can maintain the important values that this group was born from.
During the 2015 Annual Barnraising, we tried out a new in-person structure where four members of the community-- Carla, Klie Kliebert, Nick Shapiro and myself (Shannon Dosemagen)-- acted as team facilitators. We were available to help facilitate conversations, make sure everyone felt welcome in the space and listen if someone wanted to sit and chat for a moment. Coming out of this gathering, we were happy that although facilitation was unnecessary during this event, knowing that the group and structure were available was well received by those in attendance. Over the last several months, we've expanded this initial event specific facilitation model into a Public Lab Code of Conduct, which will be adopted across the community. Interacting and making decisions with people who geographically span the globe and whose experiences are similarly as broad can be difficult to navigate - our goal with this document is to specify values that we as a community can reference, agree to and abide by.
We want everyone to not only have this important document, but to also be able to replicate the process. Through our many conversations, research and work sessions, we realized that writing a Code of Conduct was similar to other research that we do, so we're sharing below the journey along with the outcomes. We've included details, steps, and reference documents that describe our process (thus far), which we hope will help others who may be in need of a Code of Conduct for their group or organization. We continue to maintain that being open, learning together and offering space for questions and improvement is what makes our communities, research and work stronger.
Please take a look over the Code of Conduct (linked below), and add your comments or questions by July 15th. We'll be using it in the current form during the regional Val Verde Barnraising this weekend, but afterwards comments will be reviewed and incorporated and a final version released on July 20th.
Read on for more from @liz on our research and drafting process.
Here is a link to the document in GoogleDrive. To add comments, please just request access and we'll grant it right away. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1azLoPNGF7oo9WKmlj4n_bEcZWI2PMQpcf2Si8VXPZfs/edit
We framed the very top of the document with language from in-person democratic space holding that emphasizes the combination of respect and responsibility. The sentiment of "for democracy to work for everybody..." as practiced by the Highlander Center for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia / the South is described in the book by Miles Horton "The Long Haul: an autobiography". Also see http://highlandercenter.org/. We also drew from the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing which was written in 1996 by forty people of color and European-American representatives who met in Jemez, New Mexico with an "intention of hammering out common understandings between participants from different cultures, politics and organizations." Carla added the clarifying points on dignity during interactions.
For the fundamentals, we looked to the Ada Initiative guide to writing Codes of Conduct (CoCs) https://adainitiative.org/2014/02/18/howto-design-a-code-of-conduct-for-your-community/, specifically these three points:
Over that, we added a heavy overlay of JoyConf consent and empathy culture: https://github.com/maitria/code-of-welcome/blob/master/coc.md