There can be no environmental justice without racial and social justice. The Chispa family stands united in making this clear: Black lives matter.
As a program working with communities of color and dedicated to building the power of Latinx families in the fight for environmental justice, we cannot stay silent while systemic racism devalues the lives, livelihoods and freedoms of Black people.
When we fight for our families’ rights to breathe clean air, we must also fight for their basic right to breathe — breathe free of a culture of white supremacy and systemic racism that has killed not only George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, but thousands of Black people across the country.
Through centuries of systemic racism — from being redlined out of neighborhoods to being forced to drink contaminated water and breathe dirtier air, to bearing the brunt of police brutality, COVID-19 and climate change — Black communities have suffered disproportionately.
Our movement cannot wait any longer to act. We must work together now to eradicate white supremacy, confront anti-Blackness in our communities, and hold oppressors accountable as we do with polluters.
Chispa supports the nationwide protests over police brutality, and we call on communities of color across the country to join our Black brothers and sisters in demanding justice and equity.
Black lives are worth fighting for.
But we cannot stop here. We pledge to:
Acknowledge the racist history of the environmental movement and work to create a Conservation Voters Movement that reflects the priorities of communities of color and centers the long-time environmental leadership of Black, Indigenous and people of color
Stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter advocates as they protest the murder of Black people at the hands of police and within our criminal justice system
Devote resources to identifying and rooting out anti-Blackness within our movement and within our communities
Commit to fighting for intersectional environmental justice, which includes acknowledging the racial, economic and social inequities that compound environmental injustices for people of color, particularly Black, Brown and Indigenous communities
Here are ways you can take action:
Donate to your local bail-out fund to ensure protesters defending the value of Black lives are released promptly
This April, Arizona celebrated its first Public Lands Day, a day honoring the state’s sacred spaces, from the beauty of the Grand Canyon to the joy of our local parks. During a time when we are safer indoors, Chispa Arizona hosted a virtual celebration where community members shared their fondest memories in our parks across the state.
Chispa Arizona’s social media lit up with dozens of people from across Arizona sharing their park memories. It was a day packed with nostalgia. The first Public Lands Day was truly a reminder of the privilege we have in visiting the outdoors, and the deep respect and connection we’ve formed with these beautiful lands.
Among the many stories shared were those of Chispa Arizona’s leaders — a group of fierce organizers who have fought for the dignity and liberation of our communities for years. In the very same month Chispa Arizona honored the land we stand on, we are proud of the resilience of their families and their ongoing fight for the liberation of their community. The Chispa Arizona team took a pause to explore what the fight to protect the Arizona desert means.
And we’re not going to lie – there is something very cool about a group of multi-generational, brown people, whose skin is a target of multiple administrations, becoming leaders who protect the lands they are told they don’t belong to.
Here is what the Chispa Arizona leaders had to say about our public lands:
As an immigrant or child of immigrants, what does it mean for you to protect the public lands?
Gloria Montaño, Chispa Arizona Deputy Director: “I’m a daughter of immigrants, a daughter of the border, a fronteriza and I’m a rural girl. I was raised in the country. I think having the open space was something I took for granted. If I wanted to see trees I’d just open the door. And I believe my kids deserve to have the experiences I had.”
Masavi Perea, Chispa Arizona Coalitions and Training Director: “Let me go back to when I immigrated from Chihuahua to Phoenix. That was in the 90s, when I was a construction worker, and, because of NAFTA, my salary was cut in half. I crossed the Arizona desert, and that was my first exposure to Arizona. Me acuerdo de todos los cactus. I walked for two days and three nights. I remember it was beautiful, but scary. I saw a lot of crosses and people who stayed behind. That was my first exposure to public lands in AZ. In my work now, I focus on environmental justice. I need to learn from communities that have been protecting the land way before us. And too often, indigenous communities are displaced from their land. So now wherever I go, I acknowledge the original caretakers of the land.”
What do the public lands mean to you?
Nicole Morales, Chispa Arizona Civic Engagement Director: “Sometimes you think of national parks, the big spaces, but we don’t get much time there. I grew up in the local parks, playing soccer. That’s my culture. As someone who complains about walking or exercise, I still coached an adult men’s soccer team. I’m familiar with the majority of the parks in West Phoenix. I go to the park to destress, eat some elote, and hang out. Parks are a gateway to fun, to family time. A place of peace where I clear my mind.”
Dulce Juarez, Chispa Arizona Organizing Director: “I look at public lands from an indigenous perspective, and that means all public lands are sacred lands, sacred to the original people of those lands. We need to acknowledge that we are indigenous, and our existence, identity, and survival is connected to the lands we grew up on. Many elders have taught me that ‘the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth!’. Because we belong to the earth, we have a responsibility to take care of the earth, land and the community we are a part of. These public lands are for people to gather, to enjoy, celebrate, reconnect with nature, and ourselves.
It also means learning to live in harmony with nature and earth. It is our responsibility to take care of Mother Earth for the seven future generations. Because everything you do today is going to impact the future seven generations after you.”
How does your identity as an immigrant connect to your identity in your environmental work, specifically the protection of sacred spaces?
Vianey Olivarria, Chispa Arizona Communications Director: “My family has always been in between - we are from a region between Mexico and the U.S. Before coming to Phoenix from Nogales, I would see the border cut across the beautiful green mountains. It is a scar on the land. As I started learning and understanding history, I learned to feel pride in my heritage and pride in the land. I crossed a border that has divided my family for generations. These lands are part of my history. As a border kid, I grew up hearing the stories of people losing their lives, animals in danger, and floods because the wall stops the water from moving naturally, and it feels so clear to me that the border wall is not supposed to be there. That’s why I fight now to protect these spaces, and stop that wall.”
Laura Dent, Chispa Arizona Executive Director: “To me, it’s a divine connection, a righteous connection. There have been attempts to neutralize people’s claims of who is the steward of the water, of the land, and even who is an environmentalist. Some people think there is only one way to defend the earth and I think it’s bigger than that. It’s our culture, our connection to local parks and neighborhoods and communities too. I feel very grounded to our earth and lands, more than I have in the past because I recognized that everyone’s experience is different. And that is a good thing.”
What’s your favorite memory at a public land or local park?
Gloria: “Encanto park is my favorite because my parents took us there when we were little. They would load us up in a van and everybody would pool their money to rent a paddleboat. We would get Church’s fried chicken and make a picnic. It was like a treasure.”
Nicole: “I have so many! I love driving, sometimes what I like doing is driving to different parks and sceneries. The majority of our lands in Arizona are public lands. In 2019, our Chispa Arizona team took our members and promotoras camping at the Grand Canyon. I’ve been there a handful of times but I never had the opportunity to camp before. We had the opportunity to hear from indigenous leaders, and being able to have connections to the protectors of that land — it’s a beautiful experience. I will never forget the conversations we had. “
Dulce: “The first time I ever went to Sedona, AZ I remember feeling mesmerized by the beauty and spirituality of the living red rocks all around. It made me want to protect these lands so that we could have them forever and for my future children and grandchildren to enjoy. I felt so much peace, and inspiration from the magical lands I stood on.
Vianey: “When I was a sophomore in high school was the first time I went to Flagstaff, with my godmother and her family. I played the guitar back then, and I just felt so happy to be there. It felt like a break from trying to learn the language, figuring out high school, and all these systems we were trying to learn as a family. My godmother took us to this forest and I remember opening up to her about how angry I felt since we moved, how much everything had changed. I felt so much peace after that trip, of just being able to let go and be with nature. It really grounded me.”
Masavi: “Last year I was invited by Nuestra Tierra to camp on the border. It was in Coronado Park, between New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. We got to share what the border meant to us, and to many people there are happy memories, but I was undocumented for a long time — so to me, it means death, indifference, companies making money out of fear. Only an undocumented person can know what it feels like to see the migra, so there was some PTSD. But now, I fixed my immigration status, so now I have to work in healing the trauma and change the narrative of the border: it means communities, wildlife, indigenous land, natural resources.”
Laura: “There is this beautiful hill near my house I go on hikes often, Tumamoc Hill. I love going there all the time. It’s a workout but it’s also nice to have this space so close to me.”
When you think of the public lands and the immigration movement, what 5 words come to your mind?
Today, Crystal Vega, a 14 year old volunteer with Chispa Arizona gave oral testimony over the phone during the EPA’s hearing on Particulate Matter National Ambient Air Quality Standards (PM NAAQS).
Crystal spoke in opposition to the proposed rule from the EPA to retain the PM NAAQS urging the EPA to strengthen rather than retain the current standards to protect the health of her community, citing her lifetime struggle with asthma. The hearings are continuing May 21, May 22, and May 27.
Read Crystal’s full testimony below:
Crystal Vega, volunteer with Chispa Arizona:
Hello and thank you for the opportunity to provide comment in opposition to the proposed rule to retain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter.
My name is Crystal Vega, I’m 14 years old, and I’m a volunteer with Chispa Arizona, a Latinx organizing program from the League of Conservation Voters.
My mom and I have been volunteering at Chispa Arizona for four years now, my mom first started organizing other moms around asthma. I’ve struggled with asthma my entire life. It’s something I’ve had to deal with my entire life, as a kid it kept me from riding my bicycle for too long outside and now as a teenager, I struggle to keep up with sports
I’m from Phoenix, Arizona where there are millions of people living in low income communities that are impacted by unhealthy levels of pollution, just like mine. In my neighborhood alone, there are more concrete pathways than there are parks. I’m surrounded by industrial machines and big factories.
Yet, am a young person, and I want to hike, play sports and enjoy the outdoors, but when I do spend time outside, I can clearly see the pollution around me. As an asthmatic, I’m already at a greater risk because of my age; because of where I live and where I go to school. In Phoenix alone there are almost 100,00 children living with asthma, this makes me sad, I think of the little ones who are going through what I had to go through, late nights of respiratory therapies, early mornings of medication and inhaling exercises, but I hope that someday we can all breathe healthier and cleaner air.
Last year I had the opportunity to speak at the Youth Climate Strike in front of hundreds of other youth like me, I felt seen and heard, I felt hope because we were all in the same fight together, and that’s the hope I have again today, The Clean Air act requires that the federal government/EPA protect our health, but this proposal doesn’t do that. Instead the proposed rule ignores science while we are suffering from this pandemic. I hope that you listen, listen to the future generations, to people who look like me, people like my mom, people that have no choice of where they can live or not. Please, save our lives, and help us breathe cleaner air.
¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Chispa’s monthly newsletter! Our organizers across the country have been busy and I’m excited to share some updates with you.
February got off to a great start as across the country, communities of color worked to keep presidential candidates, utilities, polluters, and elected officials accountable to climate action and a #CleanRide4Kids. We’re excited to keep up the pressure to ensure our families have a sustainable, healthy planet for generations to come. Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to:
Chispa Nevada hosted a bilingual Democratic presidential debate watch party before the #NevadaCaucus. A poll by the League of Conservation Voters found that for Latinx Nevada voters, climate change ranked as the top issue of the 2020 presidential primary. Chispa Nevada organizers and volunteers made sure that candidates and their campaigns understood our concerns about climate justice and addressed them during the Nevada debate.
Chispa Arizona is continuing to host Se Fue La Luz, a series of educational workshops breaking down utility bills and explaining clean energy opportunities for Latinx families. In partnership with Wildfire and Vote Solar, these bilingual workshops help put power back in the hands of Arizona consumers. Studies have repeatedly shown that communities of color are disproportionately paying higher electric bills. It’s time to make the system work for us.
Chispa Maryland heads to the state capitol for #LobbyDay. With Maryland’s legislative session underway, Chispa Maryland has been busy advocating for policies that would protect our environment and fund a quicker transition to a more equitable, cleaner public transit. Maryland LCV Deputy Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo and community members testified in front of various committees in support of banning plastic bags and investing in electric school buses starting in 2022.
Protegete participated in #LatinoAdvocacyDay at the Colorado State Capitol. Two hundred and forty volunteers joined Protegete and other Latinx community groups in advocating for environmental, economic, and immigration justice at the 14th annual Latino Advocacy Day in Denver. Protegete’s Communities and Justice advocates led two sessions of the Environmental Justice Training with about 40people in attendance.
Great news: We started 2020 with a big victory in efforts to fight pollution and bring clean rides to kids in Arizona! Last week, we welcomed the arrival of the first electric school bus in the state’s history!
For the past three years community members, in partnership with Chispa Arizona, have worked to bring electric school buses to Latinx and communities of color across the state. And now, thanks to the tireless advocacy of students, parents and community members, we’re on the path to electrifying the state’s school bus fleets, starting with Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD).
We owe a special thank you to the South Mountain High School students. These young activists, along with Chispa Arizona, attended every school board meeting for nearly an entire year to advocate for electric school buses and demand bold solutions from the school district to clean up our air.
Nearly 300,000 Arizona students ride school buses every day, making it the number-one mode of public transportation in Arizona (and across the country). Almost every public school bus runs on diesel fuel, generating toxic emissions and endangering the health of students and communities.
We are now making even greater strides towards ensuring a healthy community for all. Just before the bus was delivered, I had the opportunity to lead a delegation of Transportation Directors from several Arizona school districts on a visit to Twin Rivers Unified School District in Sacramento, California, to learn about electric school bus funding, charging, and manufacturing. Twin Rivers Unified School District currently has the largest electric school bus fleet in the country, with 30 buses and counting, so it was great to hear firsthand from leading electric school bus administrators how they achieved this.
Twin Rivers confirmed what we already knew: that electrification is a smart investment for school districts and a great way to clean up our air. School districts save money in the long term with electric buses, and children get to breathe cleaner air during every ride. Moreover, batteries can last for over five years and are recyclable. The future of electric buses is here, and we are excited to be part of this movement.
Our community-led programs are proof that our grassroots efforts are paying off. If we continue to engage and support our students, parents, and community, then we will be on a path to converting dirty diesel buses to clean electric buses across Arizona. We know that with your continuous support, together, as a community, this pilot program will be replicated throughout the state.
Thank you for all your support in bringing a clean ride for kids,
This past weekend, I was able to participate in the People’s Presidential Forum in Las Vegas, where progressive activists questioned three major Democratic presidential candidates — Julián Castro, Bernie Sanders, and Andrew Yang — on a range of issues, from housing to immigration to reproductive rights to, of course, climate change. I represented Chispa Nevada, an organizing program of the League of Conservation Voters where I’ve been volunteering since last summer.
As a high school senior and as a Latina, I was excited that I got to ask a question. At the debates hosted so far, the questions have been left mostly to moderators or people living on the other side of the country. Here, we had the chance to ask about the issues Nevadans care about, and from diverse perspectives that reflect our communities.
I care about protecting our planet from the climate crisis that’s threatening the futures of young people like me. I want to hear what candidates plan to do to support clean, renewable energy that will take our communities off dirty, polluting fossil fuels.
My question was brief, and directed at tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang: I asked him why he supports storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from my home, when Nevada doesn’t generate any nuclear energy.
The answer I got was pretty disappointing. Yang said it was a national issue, not just a Nevada issue. But if dangerous radioactive materials are going to be kept just miles away from millions of Nevadans, then it seems a lot like our problem. Yang kept trying to avoid the question, not answering a follow-up on how he would make our families feel safe from a nuclear accident. “It’s not really my decision,” he seemed to say. That’s not good enough for me, and it wasn’t good enough for the majority of the audience members, who waved red flags, a signal of disapproval, and booed.
Other candidates seemed to do better. When asked what he’d do to fight climate change by one of the local high school organizers of the Youth Climate Strikes, Castro said he’d not only rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, but that he’d go beyond it and achieve a net-zero pollution economy by 2045. He talked about his support for clean transportation and higher clean energy standards, putting a carbon fee on big polluters. And he talked about how clean energy is creating jobs right here in Nevada as well as across the country.
Sanders was also asked about how he’d protect our lands, water and life by a Western Shoshone woman. He agreed that climate is an existential threat and said he’d taken on the fossil fuel industry, and that he’d involve Indigenous communities in his decision making.
Both Sanders and Castro got big applause, and lots of (literal) green flags, when they described in detail their plans to tackle the climate crisis. I was impressed with their responses and how well they seemed to know Nevada. In my opinion, Yang missed an opportunity to address my concerns, shared with millions of Nevadans, about storing nuclear waste near our homes when we want to move to 100% clean and renewable energy. He also could have done a better job explaining what he’d do to fight environmental racism, another issue so many of us care about, since so many of us in communities of color face its consequences every day.
As a Nevadan excited to vote in my first election in 2020, here’s my advice to candidates: Talk about climate change and what you’re going to do. Understand what Nevadans are worried about, and why we care so much about transitioning to 100% clean energy. Come meet with our communities and hear directly about how we are affected by pollution and environmental racism. Listen and learn so that you can not only improve your plans, but also protect our planet.
Nevadans are paying attention. Young people like me are watching. Candidates who can show us they’re ready to take on this challenge and fight for our futures will do better in Nevada and across the country. We want answers, and we want climate action — now.
Washington, D.C. — In anticipation of the Trump administration’s expected deportation raids beginning this Sunday, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and LCV’s community organizing program Chispa issued the following statements:
“We should not and will not stand for the Trump administration’s abuses of power that scare our communities,” said LCV President Gene Karpinski. “LCV stands with immigrants, many of whom fled their home countries to escape the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, and condemns Trump’s inhumane ICE raids. We are fighting for a future where all of our communities are protected from harm.”
“This is a cold-blooded, manufactured crisis aimed at separating families, persecuting immigrant communities, and further dividing the public,” said Chispa National Director Fernando Cazares. “The raids are a shameful misuse of federal funds that will devastate our communities and cultivate fear and collective distrust in our institutions.”
The air in Maryland is going to be a lot cleaner thanks to a major win for Clean Buses For Healthy Niños!
HB1255, also known as the School Bus Transition – Zero-Emission Vehicles – Grant Program and Fund,was signed into law on May 13.This legislationwill create a grant structure for school districts to begin transitioning their school buses to an electric fleet in Maryland.
In Maryland, there are approximately 623,000 kids who ride school buses to over 24 school districts, which serve more than 879,000, over half of whom are Latino or black. And when those school buses are fueled by dirty diesel and let off toxic emissions, they make a big impact on people’s health — in Maryland, nearly 1 in 10 people suffer from asthma.
Electric school buses are the only kinds of buses to produce ZERO emissions. Thanks to this program, we will see a dramatic decrease in toxic emissions and our kids will live healthier, safer lives. Electric school buses are not just better for our health, but also cleaner for the environment, and ultimately cheaper; they can help local school districts save $10,000 to $12,000 money per year in maintenance and operation costs. They are the best investment in our children’s health.
This is an important step on the path to reducing air pollution from diesel that contributes to negative health impacts of our most vulnerable populations in Maryland. We thank all our partners and supporters and special thanks to our Chispa Maryland Promotoras for all their support and hard work to protect the health of our children.
Chispa Maryland Director, Ramon Palencia-Calvo and advocates join Governor Larry Hogan at the bill signing ceremony.
My name is Taylor Robertson, and I’m a senior at Hartford Public High School in Hartford, Connecticut. I got involved with Chispa in the Summer of 2016 through the Center for Latino Progress. When I first started working with Chispa, I had no idea what environmental justice was, but after that one summer I was hooked on trying to fight for the rights of clean air, water and energy. I felt an obligation to make sure that every person gets to live a healthy and clean life. I returned to Chispa earlier this year as Lead Promotora to the program, helping our staff train new Promotores and build relationships that will bring people together to protect our climate!
Since returning, I have done some awesome things. I was a featured speaker in the 2018 Connecticut Women’s March, and later on spoke on a climate justice and policy panel at the University of Connecticut. I am forever grateful to the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and Chispa for not only helping me build my confidence, but also for the fact that I am able to be a part of a greater movement striving to protect the environment and health of my community.
Below is a poem I wrote:
Broken bottles and charred pieces of glass
Wadded up newspapers tossed on the grass
Pouring of concrete and tearing out trees
This is the environment that surrounds me?
Poisons and insecticides sprayed on our food
Oceans filling with thick oil crude
All sea life destined to a slow awful doom
These are the things we are to consume?
Mills pumping out iron expelling yellow fumes
Airlines emitting caustic gases from fuels
Weapons of destruction tested at desolate sites
And this is the air that’s to sustain life?
There has to be something that someone can do
Like raise the awareness to those around you
That if we don’t heed the problem at hand
It’s your life that’s at stake, the destruction of man.
“Peinate ese pajón!” is how my mother, my grandmother, my tias and all the women in my family tell me, in a not-so-nice way, to go to a hair salon, as I proudly parade my unruly curly afro that I refuse to relax.
This has been happening since my childhood. Dominican women are known for the way they can take kinky, curly hair and make it slick. Generations upon generations of Dominican women have grown up with the colonial mentality that white is beautiful. We are told from a young age to hide anything that resembles Blackness. This not only enables our own self-hatred, but ignores a huge part of our history—our Black history.
As I grew older, I began to recognize the prevalence of African roots in my Dominican heritage. How our culture, our food, our music, our dance and even our dialect have been influenced by Africa. I could see, from my hair to my skin to facial features, that I am not only Latina, but also Black. I felt proud to be Afro-Latina. Yet I also felt invisible. In school I was not Latina enough to fit in with other Latinas; the amount of melanin in my skin made me too different. But I was still not black enough to be Black. There wasn’t a space for me as both Black and Latina.
It’s not so different in the environmental movement. When I joined Chispa, a program of LCV focused on grassroots organizing of and by communities of color, I didn’t realize I was entering a predominantly white space—36 percent of LCV employees identify as people of color, and across the board, there are few people of color in environmental organizations. And there are even fewer Afro-Latinos. Even within Chispa, as an organizer, I’ve encountered issues our community doesn’t really want to talk about, like colorism. Latino volunteers struggle to understand that I can be Latina and look Black, that I can speak Spanish but still have a curly afro.
Things are slowly getting better. We’re having more conversations, as an organization and as a movement, about mixed-race people of color, about not just identifying people as either Black OR Latino. Conservation voters are beginning to learn what it means to actually address racial justice and equity for all people of color.
This is so important to achieve our goals. If we want to improve the lives and health of our communities, then we must create spaces for our brothers and sisters who are underrepresented, marginalized and often ignored even among communities of color. Even if it’s uncomfortable, we need to have genuine conversations within Latino communities about colorism and about how we include and bring with us people of all shades. We need to put mixed-race people of color in positions of power, and help them lead the way.
It’s still a strange experience for me not to see other people who look like me in our organization. Sometimes I find it hard and overwhelming. What I love about the work I do is seeing abuelitas and moms come into our office, talk about issues they care about and realize that they can make a difference without having to have a ton of money. Even my own mom has joined our promotores team. It’s pretty exciting to see generations of women working together to build a better future for their kids and grandkids. Helping them create their own change lets me know I’m doing something right.
I have learned to own both my identities, with my family and at work. This is who I am and I’m great with it, and I won’t hide it. Now, unapologetically, I no longer feel obligated to explain my heritage, my black girl magic, or my Sazón Dominicano.
Owning my Afro-Latinidad has made me feel less alone, too. Yes, I work to give a voice to the Latino communities I organize in Nevada, but also to help other Afro-Latinos demand a place within the fight for a healthier environment. This space should belong to all of us. We have work to do.