The Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN) held bi-annual Roots of Resistance Conference on October 21 at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center. The conference included workshops and trainings from nonprofit and community leaders.

“The purpose of this conference is to showcase the environmental justice victories from Fresno and Kern Counties, as well as an in-depth analysis of the struggles and resistance efforts in Southern San Joaquin Valley,” said Gustavo Aguirre, Jr. of CCEJN and the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN).

Nearly 200 people attended the conference which included speakers from the Committee for a Better Arvin who spoke about their work to enforce pesticide drift buffer zones around schools, and implementing resident-based air quality monitoring technology.

After such a successful Roots of Resistance Conference, Aguirre hopes to continue the momentum and energy created back to South Kern, starting with young leaders in South Kern.

In mid-November, three youth from South Kern Sol had the opportunity to travel to Austin,Texas to participate in Voto Latino’s 10th Annual Power Summit. The youth, Marisol Sanchez, 17, Veronica Morley, 21, and Yesenia Aguilar, 19, heard from national figures like Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino’s President and CEO, as well as the former Secretary of Housing and Development, Julian Castro– who announced during the summit. that he is considering a run for president in 2020.

Voto Latino brought together nearly 500 youth leaders from Texas and several other states to empower and teach them about the importance of being civically engaged in their communities.

“Even if you are 17 or if you are undocumented and cannot vote- we all know someone who can and we need to make sure they get out to the polls on election day,” said Kumar during her welcome address.

“The take away message was that when communities stand together and vote, communities will rise up and be stronger,” said Reyna Olaguez, South Kern Sol’s Executive Director, who also attended the event. “In Kern and across the nation the reality is that youth are registering to vote, but very few are actually going to the polls on election day and this needs to change in order to change our communities for the better.”

“There are 41,000 registered voters between 18-24 years old in Kern County and only 19,000 voted in the 2016 general election. Out of those, 53 percent are Latino but only 44 percent voted. Youth participation lags behind older voters about 13 to 15 percent,” said Olaguez who added that there are about 365,000 registered voters in Kern.

After parents in the Mojave Unified School District reached out to the Dolores Huerta Foundation for help in addressing the racial disparities in school suspensions, Building Healthy Communities South Kern’s Kern Education Justice Collaborative partners began their work to find a solution to the extreme suspension and expulsion rates for students of color in the district. Outdated disciplinary practices remove students from the classroom and allow these same students to fall behind in school.

In a series of education justice op-eds in The Bakersfield Californian, Gerald Cantu, Education Policy Director at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, cites that students of color across Kern are pushed out of schools through disciplinary practices, as brought to light in recent the Kern High School District settlement. Mojave Unified School District has the highest rate of suspensions in the county, with approximately 41% of student body suspended between 2014 and 2015, the majority of whom were black. Despite being a minority in the district, black students were expelled two times more than their white and Latino counterparts.

BHC-SK asked Cantu to tell us how this campaign will look like in Mojave.

“As we begin our work in Mojave Unified, we intend to apply the lessons learned through our years-long efforts at Kern High School District, where we worked with parents to advocate for adoption and faithful implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and restorative justice practices, training on implicit bias, and a diverse staff representative of the student body,” Cantu states.

“We are training parents and residents to become leaders with the tools to advocate for discipline reforms at school board meetings and to run for school board. It’s going to mean progress towards the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color. Two school board trustees will be up for election in 2018, and we intend to hold candidate forums where parents and community members will have an opportunity to ask questions of the candidates.”

Read more from Gerald Cantu in The Bakersfield Californian here.

In October, the California Environmental Protection Agency approved a plan to enforce pesticide buffer zones statewide. Our partners say that while this is a great step forward there is still more work needed to protect our children.

The new regulations cover most school hours, but advocates say the rule doesn’t consider after school or weekend activities held at schools, or the fact that pesticide drift remains in school grounds and on top of classrooms long after spraying.

“We advocated for some stronger regulations because pesticide drift doesn’t stop after class is over. The rule to limit pesticide use near schools from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.window is an improvement, but still not good enough,” said Valerie Gorospe of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment and a member of Californian’s for Pesticide Reform. “We plan to keep pushing for more protections going forward, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Read more from South Kern Sol here: Long Awaited Rule Limiting Pesticide Use Near Schools.