July 23, 2016
Rossmery Zayas, Communities for a Better Environment

“Jerry, Jerry Brown, shut it all down, right now.” These are the words that echoed the streets of Los Angeles on May 14th as I took part of the global wave of actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground to push for a Just Transition to 100% renewable energy. I marched with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and with our youth component Youth for Environmental Justice (Youth EJ) where we stood as one to showcase our realities- the fossil fuel industry is hurting our health, our communities, and our climate. Currently, I am a delegate with the It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan from the RNC to the DNC, with multi-racial, frontline community leaders making a pledge of resistance against the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate and destructive foreign policy coming out of the conventions, and committing to bring forth grassroots solutions to the pressing issues facing our communities, no matter who is elected president.  With the Caravan, I will be joining dozens of other grassroots leaders from around the U.S. and Honduras to demand a Clean Energy Revolution in Philadelphia on July 24, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

I live in South Gate from the Southeast Los Angeles area where people are on the frontlines of communities most impacted by the fossil fuel industry.The high school I graduated from is literally on Firestone Blvd, which is the legacy of the car industry in my hometown. The sky is not blue and bright, what we see are diesel-born smog clouds.

How are we affected?

1.     Natural gas power plants: The past decade, there have been at least 2 attempts to construct fossil fuel power plants in my community that CBE and Youth EJ worked to defeat: Nueva Azalea in South Gate and the Vernon Power Plant.

2.     Southern California Goods Movement: I live next to the 710-freeway, the main artery connecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the rest of the Untied States.  Every day, thousands of diesel-fueled trucks deliver massive amounts of commercial goods that come from across oceans. This merchandise is distributed throughout California and beyond, and directly impacts my community.

I live 12 miles from Wilmington- the heart of oil extraction, refining, and transportation. Many people think that you need to live directly by facilities or factories or oil refineries for them to affect you, but this is not the case. Although I live an almost half-hour away from Wilmington, which is connected to Southeast Los Angeles by 710-freeway, I am impacted by pollution coming from the Harbor Area. My community and surrounding communities deal with diesel truck pollution, and one major source is 710-freeway carrying commercial goods from the ports into our neighborhoods.

Wilmington is a residential area, but it is only seen through the lens of profit- politicians care more about what is under the land than the people above it. Because of this, community members face health issues, the smell of bad odors, gas flaring, oily dust, constant noise from operations, and foundation-damaging vibrations. Wilmington is the third largest producer of oil in the state that is valuable to oil production locally, nationally, and globally. Wilmington is also ground zero for the largest number of overlapping refinery air pollution plumes in California, which is seriously impacting community health and creating numerous issues in the community.

People think of the oil, but they do not think about the issues that come with this oil. Our communities are facing the consequences of environmental racism, a human and civil rights issue. Our elected officials have left predominantly Latino and black neighborhoods more vulnerable to health and safety risks linked to oil drilling than white communities. You will not find a concentration of oil refineries or exposed oil-drilling operation in places like Beverly Hills. This is why I will be marching for a Clean Energy Revolution. The industrial revolution was a long time ago and that allowed many economies to flourish. It’s now time to have an energy efficiency revolution so that energy alternatives like solar power and electric cars will advance to phase out fossil fuels

Industry affects all of us. When I think of Wilmington, I remember why there is a need for environmental justice. Low-income communities of color are dealing with environmental injustices and want solutions, and as a member of Youth EJ, this is what we fight for. Spaces like Youth EJ in Wilmington train folks to fight and advocate for the better. Youth and community members in Wilmington recently sued the city of Los Angeles for rubber-stamping oil drill plans. The community is rising from the ground they’ve been buried under. They are becoming educated on these issues, resisting oppression, and are the sprouting seeds shaping resiliency

As people of color, undocumented folx, womyn, and working class peoples, we are the ones most impacted. We are also the ones who have the solutions. We are the ones actively coming up with solutions to the air quality issues; from encouraging stricter regulations on refineries and drilling in the area and bringing more climate investments into our communities, to building upon the resiliency of our communities to adapt to climate catastrophe. Ultimately, we are working to ban neighborhood drilling, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and to stop dirty energy infrastructure and justly transition to 100% renewable energy.


Rossmery Zayas, Communities for a Better Environment, Los Angeles, CA

Rossmery Zayas is an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) in Los Angeles, California. She has been volunteering with the youth division of CBE, Youth for Environmental Justice for over four years. At just nineteen years old, she advocates for the organization’s local, regional, and statewide campaigns out of both Southern California and Oakland. As an environmental justice advocate, Rossmery has worked on several campaigns to push out toxic facilities and practices that go on in her community. She is an active leader with the recent shutdown of Exide Technologies (one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of batteries), and is currently demanding that they clean up the toxic waste they left behind.  Rossmery is currently a student in Los Angeles majoring in Communication Studies.