‘40 Million Reasons to Go Electric,’ and The Urgency to Do So

40 Million Reasons to Go Electric Campaign BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of chloe-bennet.us

Innovation is everything. In a world where there’s more of a climate change than actual reverse efforts to save our planet — what can we do in our communities to be resourceful? Why is it vital for us as Latinxs to even care?

There are many efforts in our local communities that strive to lend a hand, whether it’s by donating to programs that you believe in or actively switching up what you are generationally used to and teach these new eco-friendly novelties. There are even more specific reasons for us as Latinxs to do so.

In doing our research about these modernizations, we came across the “40 Million Reasons to Go Electric” campaign by Electric for All, a heavyweight movement with the mission to educate us on the eco-friendly solution and importance of electric transportation. 

“40 Million Reasons to Go Electric” aims to break myths such as “it’s too expensive” to get an electric vehicle or that Latinos will lose jobs. 

The California-based campaign highlights advocates such as Superheroes Emmy award-winning megastar Mark Ruffalo and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Chloe Bennet, Huron Mayor Rey Leon, Watts environmental justice leaders Mama Linda Cleveland and Jacquelyn Badejo, and Oakland activist artist Favianna Rodriguez, pushing for this change.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Huron’s Mayor Rey Leon and artivist Favianna Rodriguez of Oakland about getting this message across our Latinx community and why we should be involved.

Why is this particular environmental and electric awareness campaign, “40 Million Reasons to Go Electric,” important to you?

Mayor Rey Leon: It is about changing the paradigm from complete and total dependence on petroleum dramatically and reducing air pollution. Our agricultural region is very rural and very rich in produce but very poor in air quality and overwhelmed with economic distress on the hardest working families. The most vulnerable are farmworkers. I am not saying we will be done with pollution with just this move, but it is a huge piece of the pollution pie, and we will be healthier for it.  

Rodriguez: I grew up in a community plagued by pollution, the community in Oakland that’s right next to the freeway. What happens in my neighborhood is something that happens all over the country; it is especially true in black and brown communities where there is a disproportionate amount of traffic that comes through. Especially the diesel trucks that emit emissions, so my neighborhood suffers from high rates of asthma, and the pollution is through the roof, as it is in many communities of color through racist land use policy. Communities of color are in the front of environmental injustice. Since I was 15 years old, I was just aware that my community was dirty. As I got older and learned more about environmental justice, I became very committed to stopping the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry does not care about people of color at all. It is just a very racist industry. Most oil extraction sites are in indigenous land or communities of color, so for me, moving away from fossil fuels means that we need another kind of energy, obviously. That is clean energy. Early on, as soon as I could afford it, I put solar panels on my house and transitioned into driving an electric car. I started driving an electric car seven years ago, and it was the best choice I ever made. It made me realize that I didn’t have to participate in the fuel economy. In order to address the climate crisis, we are going to need to address our transportation systems. And so for me, this campaign was about that – about how to inspire people to even get curious electric and not just believe the misinformation.

Do you see any changes throughout the years within our community that show it’s getting across? Are Latinos becoming greener? 

Mayor Rey Leon: Latinos have always been greener, not just because I grew up in a home where my mom composted, fed chickens in the yard a part of compost, we recycled, up-cycled, reused, got scolded when we left the light on in a room, not in use and the most veneered tool was the molcajete, an ancient green instrument that made live food, also known as, chile salsa! What is most important is the approach with the Latino community and messaging. The only way to be most effective will be in having ‘us speak to us’ with the culturally relevant sayings and undertones we are intimately aware of. 

Rodriguez: Yes, Latinos are becoming more a part of the conversation around electric vehicles. The state of California is trying to go on full electric by 2035. So, things are happening! But I think Latinos are still not an essential part of that conversation, even though Latinos are an integral part of fighting against the fossil fuel industry. I mean, in Los Angeles and Long Beach, for example, Latinos are fed up with the fossil fuel industry. So, I do see things changing, in the sense where I was driving my car for seven years, and this is the first time that my story is being uplifted, so I think more and more people realize it. I think there’s an overall problem with how we talk about climate change, which is that of white people’s stories that dominate and think about Leonardo DiCaprio or polar bears. Still, they don’t think of farmworkers who are suffering because of climate change. They don’t think about that. We need more stories like Rey’s and mine that say that this is not just a white story – it affects us. 

What is the message you’d like to send our readers from one Latino to another? How can they start to get involved?

Mayor Rey Leon: Pay attention, do your research, join environmental justice groups or Facebook pages, be ready to learn, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be humble.  While we need to bring out our superpower to help, let’s not do it in a colonial way; that never works. We need to work with, alongside and for, our people to empower or “Co-power.”  The example we give in the process of doing the work is as potent as the work itself.  If you can join a group doing good work, check it out; if nothing exists, get folks together and start a committee to focus on an environmental concern in your neighborhood, city or begin a community garden that can teach about carbon sequestration, composting, sustainable environments, resilience, etc. Oh, and contribute to good causes like the Green Raiteros to get farmworkers to their medical appointments, soon that will include Covid-19 vaccines! Si se puede!

Rodriguez: I think it’s time we have to write a new story. Whatever way we look at it — whether it’s environmental, whether it’s through Covid-19 or the economy — Latinos are disproportionately suffering. We are suffering because of racism – because of xenophobia. And in order for us to change our condition, we have to tell a different kind of story about our future. Even as I was growing up, there was this message not to be so political, not be so out there or bold, and I’m writing a new story. I consider myself a bold-spoken Latina because the old story wasn’t working for me anymore. The old story was keeping silent, it was keeping me passive, and it just doesn’t work for the reality of today. If we want to be healthy, if we want schools and communities that work for us, we have to be willing to question the narratives that we have carried on for so long. And we have to tell a new kind of narrative, and that takes courage, especially for women. 

How are you, as a Mayor, working on getting this message about going electric to the Latino community?

Mayor Rey Leon: On a daily basis, most of my conversations revolve around air quality, environmental and climate justice, and the impacts therein.  Using social media, I make sure to spread the data, knowledge, studies, and stories regarding environmental and climate impacts on community health and the manner in which one can participate to be a climate warrior or even superhero! Not too long ago, I posted an article regarding a new study, which found that communities already dealing with disproportionate pollution sources were harder hit by Covid-19 due to the continuous hit on the body and immune system from proximity and toxicity of industrial sources of pollution.  That happens to be in and around farmworker and Latino communities, largely.  These same communities do not have the resources to then deal with the consequences at a time when healthcare is still not as accessible, and if it is, its quality is deficient.  That, too, is why I support Medicare for all or universal health care.  This pandemic has unveiled what we in the environmental justice, racial justice, education equity, and economic justice communities already knew, that disparate treatment has been baked in all of our systems and institutions to such depth that we have taken it for granted and allowed representatives think that incremental change was the way to solve it and it isn’t. In honor of African American Heritage Month, I will quote Martin Luther King Jr., “Justice delayed is justice denied.”  It’s heartbreaking to see elected officials not show moral leadership and conviction for human dignity.

What other engagements are you, as an artist and environmentalist, focusing on right now that are also important in the Latinx community?

Rodriguez: I am doing a lot of work around Covid-19, it is so awful, but it shows us how unequal and racist our health care system is. I am working on spreading awareness around on who’s dying from Covid-19; how are we demanding resources, everything from economic resources to resources on how to grieve our family. I am an artist — I believe we need to feel the pain, and right now, we cannot feel the pain; we can hardly even bury our loved ones. If you look at Los Angeles, you see how Latinos are disproportionally impacted. This is going to create massive trauma. As an artist, I’m thinking about how we are dealing with this and how we are telling stories. As an environmentalist, I am thinking about all the people in the meat industry, and how Covid-19 is hitting the meat industry. I am working a lot on Covid-19 recovery; I am working on storytelling around Covid-19. I am also about really understanding and recognizing our political power as Latinos; how are we demanding the new administration responses to our needs.  The new administration needs to be responsive to us because Latinos and black people secured the victory.