Community Conversations:

By Allan Jamail

Saturday, March 11, 2023, individuals from several cities, communities, organizations and county departments from various Harris County’s precincts gathered together at the Galena Park Library to participate in Harris County’s Climate Justice Action Plan’s, the first-ever of its kind of a meeting.

According to Andy Escobar, Senior Campaign Coordinator, for the Coalition for Environment, Equity & Resilience (CEER) the events sponsors were Harris County Precinct 2 – Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Harris County Office of Sustainability and the Jacob & Terese Hershey Foundation.

Attendees gathered in small groups to share how industries have harmed their communities and discuss various ways to bring the environment back closer to the original way the land was when the first inhabitants lived there.

Austin, Texas’ Tane Ward was the presenter of the three hour program. He has many years experience working with Native communities to help protect lands and preserve their sovereignty in resistance to the capitalist state. From 2011- 2012, he served as senior advisor to the Cabildo Gobernador of the Arahuaco pueblo — over thirty-six thousand strong — in the successful campaign to stop development of mining inside Arahuaco territory.

Professionally, Tane is a movement organizer working in the Gulf South of the US, working at the intersection of environmental and racial justice. He is the Senior Organizing Manager for the Sierra Club, managing organizers throughout Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Tane is dedicated to anti-racist organizing principles and is a founding member of the Undoing Racism Austin Collective. He has worked extensively with community groups in Austin for many years. Tane aims to offer a space for organizers interested in the intersection of land based struggles with other social justice movements and spiritual practice that rejects new-ageism, Native appropriation and instead fosters connection with the spirit of the land and its inhabitants.

After brief introductions Tane gave his explanation and opinion to the entire assembly on how over time industries have altered their lives by harming the environment. Then the agenda for the event was broken down for class participation in smaller groups of 6 to 8 members in the group. Each group, independent from the other groups, presented their visions and the values of them for a healthier earth. Each group too shared stories of how their own communities have had problems with industries encroaching and causing harm to their neighborhood.

Maxine Gomez of the Generation Z, a Houston Organizer affiliated with The Public Citizen, gave her opinion about the day’s meeting. She said, “Precinct 2 isn’t blind to the health and environmental impact of the nearby oil refineries and concrete batch plants. The effects of these facilities are all around us, so I found it vital for the community to be involved in the county’s first-ever Climate Action Plan planning process.

“At this meeting, I saw the drive for a healthy and prosperous community that makes our precinct unique. We don’t want our experiences ignored, and the Coalition For Environmental, equity, and Resilience (CEER) and Precinct 2 did a wonderful job of acknowledging this. It was our stories that were at the forefront of our time together, and it is our community solutions that will create lasting change in Harris County.

“This is part of what a county climate action plan should do – center our voices. And I hope this remains true as the county moves forward with the climate action plan.”

To learn more about the Public Citizen visit: www.citizen.org/texas

Carolyn Stone, one of the organizers of the Channelview Health & Improvement Coalition (C.H.I.C), said, “I do believe today’s meeting is a step in the right direction. Community members are the individuals most intimately aware of the problems related to industries in their community and the barriers community members’ face that are detrimental to their ability to resolve or prevent the problems. Meetings such as today’s meeting provide a platform in which community members are given the ability to interact with governing and other helpful entities to bring awareness to the problems and to, hopefully, provide input and create partnerships in resolving the problems. I think we need more meetings like this because, with the saturation of industry in our communities you cannot identify, address or resolve all the problems facing one community much less multiple communities in one meeting.”

To participate in C.H.I.C. contact them at: c.h.i.c.77530@gmail.com

Walter Mallet, an environmental activist who has been active in Houston’s Fifth Ward in dealing with the Union Pacific Railroad’s creosote contamination of the underground water aquifers that supplies drinking water to Fifth Ward’s residents, said, “This meeting is a beginning of something that could be major in finding answers to a lot of problems that exist in our communities. Without these voices for our communities we are doomed! The systems in place continue to fail the people, and the time that some of the problems are being taken care of, more problems have been introduced on us, causing more threats to our communities. Industries feels like they’re superior to us ordinary folks, and since they are so important to ordinary people’s economy, they feel like they don’t have to listen and or take any actions to remedy problems they’re causing to communities.”

Araceli Ramos, Hispanic Ambassador/Liaison for CEER and other organizations, was one of the leaders for the Spanish-speaking only group. She said, “I often serve as an interpreter because the Hispanic community faces difficulties with the lack of understanding the English language. Usually in public meetings they don’t have an interpreter. The level of vocabulary they speak makes it hard to understand the laws, and we need Language Justice!”

She said, “These types of meetings are helpful to the Hispanic community because we need to know where our tax funds are going to improve our quality of life and our environment. We demand transparency and equality! The Hispanic community cannot share their thoughts, visions or values because the lack of language understanding. Language is a barrier for us in this type of a meeting.”

“If our community could better understand these meetings, [that] would be helpful to make real changes in our health. There is so much pollution, and Hispanics are very much affected with health issues, especially asthma. I heard one comment from a Hispanic lady today who said we don’t know where to complain on the issues affecting our community.”

Andy Escobar, a CEER Senior Campaign Coordinator, said to Allan Jamail, writer for the North Channel Star, “We want to thank you once again for taking time out of your past weekend to join us for this very important conversation. The CEER team is filled with excitement as we reflect on the rich input you all provided us as we work with Harris County and the Precincts to develop this framework for climate justice moving forward.”

“As we mentioned, this is the first meeting, and we were so grateful to share space with community leaders, advocates, and members from every corner of the Precinct. Our plan is to continue adding to this conversation with another community meeting in Precinct 1 later this spring.

“Expect more updates from CEER, Harris County, and our collaborators as we embark on a transformative effort to build a future that is safe and resilient for all.”

To learn more about CEER visit: ceerhouston.org

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