Passing on the Torch of Environmental Justice

October Great Story by Edgar Barraza, 2018-19 Bay Area Climate Fellow

I would like to first thank Oceane and Elizabeth for the car ride to Bart and giving me the empowerment to write this great story.

This great story is something you might not expect as its draws its empowerment from systemic oppression, drawing its encouragement from the struggles of indigenous women in environmental activism. This great story is about Berta Caceres and how her legacy allowed me to continue my environmental work when facing challenging adversity.

Being a minority in a field that is not ethnically representational to its community is difficult. As I have mentioned to a few other fellows, I have been anxious to enter and work in the local government sphere because of its systemic roots in uplifting problematic white male policymakers that have intentionally discriminated communities of color or that fact that there has been little to no representation of queer Latinos in the forefront of California’s climate actions. Overall, I had a feeling that the government field would not be inclusive to people who look like me nor a place to promote my professional growth. Berta Caceres, on the other hand, would be just the right person to look for inspiration that I would need to give me the edge and to promote the confidence within me. I knew that if I wanted to help empower my community I would have to keep these feelings on hold and push on to take the position of a CivicSpark fellow to attain the tools I needed to do so.

Berta Caceres, the 2015 Goldman Prize awardee, was an indigenous environmental activist in Honduras who organized her community to confront a problematic hydropower project that would extremely hinder the communities access to safe drinking water. Her organizational skills created a powerful sense of community while being threatened by the government of Honduras. The government of Honduras pressured Berta to dissolver her efforts and to give up or face future repercussions. Berta, despite these threats had persevered and won the battle against the constructions of the “Agua Zarca” the hydropower project. Sadly, on March 3, 2016, she was gunned down at her home. But that’s not the end of her legacy.

Since her death, all of the courageous environmental justice work she has accomplished has been passed down. Berta has empowered her community to continue the work in saving their local environment. Importantly for me, she gave me the encouraging support to continue my environmental work in local government, the same government that has historically facilitated the discrimination of people of color. Berta Caceres is now honored as her name is mounted at one of the San Francisco Department of Environment’s conference room. With knowing the hardship of her environmental work in different countries, I can honestly say that I am privileged that I am able to work in the local government environmental field and utilize my platform to advance equity. I am honored to take on a position that will be helping communities that have been left out of the political discussions and continue to promote that they should be valued just as much as everyone else. In the end, she is the type of person I want to be when I help my community, to help them become their own leaders in the climate action field.