From the local to the global, we are all struggling to recognize and face the climate crisis to create lasting, viable solutions and connectivity among communities. For youth in southeast San Francisco, many are living the direct connection between the effects of climate change in their home countries in Latin America and with their families and neighborhoods in the city. With PODER – People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights – youth are leading efforts in climate change activism. They are advocating for environmental justice and building community health and well-being.
Armed with knowledge and skills, PODER youth organizers created a project to engage youth in their neighborhoods in activities promoting the reduction of car and truck emissions in southeast San Francisco. They encouraged youth to participate in co-ops, and inspired them to organize for community parks and gardens, affordable housing, and jobs. The youth created community resiliency biking tours to highlight environmental health hazards and community organizing victories in their neighborhoods while promoting sustainable transportation through biking at the same time.
The tours have grown and evolved in the past five years. In 2007, young people in the Common Roots program, a cross cultural collaborative between PODER and the Chinese Progressive Association, planned and hosted a toxics tour that educated other youth, media, and policy makers about the environmental hazards present in their neighborhoods. Small teams organizedto find and point out sources of pollution, build awareness of toxic exposure and its lifelong health impacts on the community. They marked these locations as stops in the toxic tour. They led the toxic tour throughout the city each one highlighting a different issue, from air pollution to sewage, incineration and industrial waste, to see how the mix of toxic chemicals is immediate and taking a severe toll on community health.
The youth-lead effort calls out environmental racism in San Francisco and how it is growing up in low-income and minority neighborhoods that don’t receive the same attention from government officials that more prosperous locations do. The bike tours marry environmental awareness about pollution and health behaviors with reducing transport carbon footprint through direct action organizing and collaborating with local businesses – entirely designed and mobilized by San Francisco’s young people.
For Edgar Molina, the benefits of this project are clear: “By becoming part of a co-op like the Bike Kitchen, not only do we get a bike at the end, but we gain skills and access to materials to fix and maintain our bikes to transport ourselves throughout the city without having to worry about whether or not we have bus fare. Also, by working on the bike resiliency tour of the Mission not only are we physically exercising and promoting alternative forms of travel but we are also educating our neighbors about the injustices our neighborhoods face and our victories that create change.”