Skyline College was pleased to welcome community organizer and environmental activist mark! Lopez to a webinar-style presentation and discussion, “Take the Movement Home and Build it in the Streets: Pandemic Perspectives on the Climate Crisis Confirmation” on October 12.
More than 85 students turned out to hear Lopez’s personal story as a third-generation activist who founded Los Angeles’ East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice organization to fight massive lead contamination from the Exide battery smelter, work for which he earned the prestigious international Goldman Environmental Prize in 2017.
In his talk, sponsored in part by Skyline’s Science in Action Series, Lopez framed the concept of environmental racism as resulting from institutional failures by structures and systems in our country that were designed to marginalize communities of color. He explained how a large catastrophic event – such as the pandemic – can serve to highlight these failures, which are only magnified for marginalized people. When this happens, he asked, “How do we take advantage, open up space for more communication and involvement?”
Lopez offered practical advice for young activists for bringing “activism in the streets – desire for justice – back home to the community context where we have relationships with each other,” and then took it further:
“Your feelings on the issue is how you develop your principles that will be your guide for how you want to operate in the world and engage with it. When you ask a question, oftentimes a challenge is going to come, or a contradiction will come. Your ability to grow and engage with others will grow as you ask questions. This provides an opportunity for you to be wrong – everybody can be wrong; it lets others provide their own questions and answers and open the conversation, [it] has to be accessible.”
He gave a number of examples of how his Los Angeles community organized to take environmental problems into their own hands and creatively forge solutions, reminding us that sometimes we must also “offer support to the leadership on the “other side” of the tracks. Reach out, offer to volunteer, donate and spread the word.” Throughout his talk, he stressed the communal aspects of organizing around problems caused by racism:
“In order for 7 million pounds of lead to come into our communities a certain amount of dehumanizing is already happening. Having the privilege to not think about these things is also dehumanizing. Thinking about it this way is an opportunity for us to come together.”
Event organizers and students alike were inspired and posed thoughtful questions. Dean Carla Grandy, Chemistry professor Susanna Schubert, Learning Commons Director Gabriela Nocito and Equity and Outreach Librarian Pia Walawalkar reflected on how Lopez’s mission mirrored Skyline College’s value that sustainability is a social justice issue for which civil action is an important solution. Towards this goal, students and faculty in attendance were also directed to the college’s new research guide, Sustainability Resources for Faculty and Students, available here: guides.skylinecollege.edu/sustainabilityresources
“Take the Movement,” sponsored by the President’s Innovation Fund, was a long time in the making as Pia Walawalkar and Lopez stayed in touch for almost two years, working to turn the anticipated face-to-face session “virtual.” This lecture is now available for you to watch or screen in class here: smccd.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=9cd42172-c6df-40b9-b3ab-adc0015a2d61
Questions? Please reach out to Pia Walawalkar <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Article by Jessica Silver-Sharp