50th Earth Day Celebration: A Pandemic Won’t Stop Us

Over 500 participants shared in the spirit of community, activism, and empowerment that permeated Green Foothills’ Virtual Earth Day event on April 22. Messages about the urgent need to act on behalf of our environment for our own sake and that of future generations were intertwined with calls for everyone to make a positive impact. (View the entire event on YouTube).

Setting the stage for this multi-generational, thought provoking event was a live performance by Chris Reed from Sunny State who sang a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. He also capped off the event with his own song I’ve Got Hope capturing the climate action theme of Earth Day 2020 that encompasses both enormous challenges and the vast opportunities of action on climate change. 

With this theme in mind, Green Foothills’ Executive Director Megan Fluke in her opening comments highlighted that, “Community isn’t about physical proximity, it’s about coming together for one another. Our work is about joining together with others to carry the message that nature is essential.” Calling on participants to take action on one of the issues they would hear about from the outstanding lineup of speakers for the Earth Day event, Megan reminded everyone that there is still more work to do. “Now is the time for all of us to work together for a better tomorrow.” 

Treat November 3rd as Earth Day

Leading off the lineup of speakers was Earth Day co-founder and former Congressman Pete McCloskey. “We passed the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Those acts are the very target of the Trump administration today. If we are going to preserve the green foothills now, we need to treat November 3rd as Earth Day,” McCloskey said. His wife Helen echoed that sentiment. “To the youths and the elders the one thing we have in common is we underutilize our power. To the youth, you are still underrepresented at the ballot box. Your values are our values. Get out there and exercise your power to vote.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who was the panel moderator, underlined the McCloskeys’ advice. “If we don’t vote we don’t see the positive change we are after.”

Relying on the Public to Say Enough Destruction of Native American Tribal Land

Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman Valentin Lopez argued that we all have a responsibility to help restore sacredness to the land. “Our people studied the environment. How to take care of the migrating geese and elk. The knowledge of our ancestors is gone and that is what is causing great destruction. Our tribe is working hard to show leadership.” Both Pete McCloskey and Assemblymember Kalra agreed on the stewardship history of Indigenous people. “Native Americans took care of this earth and its creatures better than we have,” said Kalra.

Along with Green Foothills and other partners, the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band has been working to protect Juristac. “At Juristac they want to do sand mining on four of our most sacred mountains. We have to rely on the public to say enough is enough. We are asking people to go to protectjuristac.org to sign our petition and send letters to the County. Tell them enough destruction of Native American tribal land.”

Hopeful, Positive Movement Empowered by Teens’ Righteous Anger Over Climate Crisis

Following Chairman Lopez, Lexi Crilley, Helen Deng, and Jamie Minden, co-leads of Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike, now a partner organization of Protect Coyote Valley, spoke to what is driving the youth of today to take action. “The climate justice movement is growing, and with it, hope is blossoming. I have dedicated myself to environmental action because I love this beautiful planet we call home, and I wake up every morning terrified of what the future may hold if we don’t take action immediately. But I earnestly believe that if we do act now, it will be possible to save our planet for the generations yet to come,” Lexi told participants.

Helen noted that the climate crisis “didn’t happen by accident” adding that the righteous anger this generation of teens feels about it is also powering the positivity of their movement and their collective action. “When there is so much goodness to lose, but also so much goodness to gain, we cannot afford to remain complacent and we must keep fighting for a better world. Our all-encompassing outrage is, and must be, coupled with our immense capacity for love, empathy, and compassion — we care about the earth, we care about natural lands, we care about the ecosystems that sustain abundant natural life, we care about each other.”

And while Jamie pointed out the disheartening reality that there is only 10 years left to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions for her generation to have a livable future, she finds hope in the work that land conservation groups are doing. It is why, she says, Silicon Valley Youth Climate joined the Protect Coyote Valley coalition “because we are stronger together.”

Jamie also announced Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike’s nationwide “Envision the future with a green new deal” art competition. For Jamie, the Green New Deal, “a governmental pledge to stop the climate crisis through a ten year, nation-wide job mobilization” which would “require a just transition for all,” gives her hope too. “Hope is a greater motivator than fear or outrage. Hope sustains us and makes us whole again.”

The Power of Community and the On-going Need For Nature

Alice Kaufman, Green Foothills’ Legislative Advocacy Director, talked about our fight to protect wetlands along the Bay, of which we have lost 90% over time to development, but which we need to help mitigate sea level rise. She showed a short video she took in April 2019 of the Cargill salt ponds covered with water as they are much of the year. The ponds essentially form a shallow water tidal flat that serves as habitat for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, but Cargill wants to put homes and businesses there instead. Green Foothills, along with other organizations, has sued the Trump Administration over its decision to give up Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City. She encouraged participants to take action by signing the petition to tell Cargill, their developer DMB Associates, and the City Council of Redwood City that the salt ponds should be restored to wetlands, not paved over for development.

What gives Alice hope for the future is “this power of community – young and old, everyone who’s here, everyone who is listening – we can all come together as a community.” As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Responding to Assemblymember Kalra’s question as to how Green Foothills has adapted its advocacy in light of shelter at home, Alice said that the organization is still working on the environmental initiatives it did before the crisis. “These are challenging times and it’s difficult to often times really focus on the long-term like the climate crisis and everything that the earth needs from us, but we still need to do that. We still need to remember that this time will end and when it does we’re going to want to have nature there for us. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re still working.”

The event wrapped up with Assemblymember Kalra asking questions of the speakers. For his part, the Assemblymember talked about how money is playing way too much influence in our politics. He called on everyone “to hold all elected officials accountable, even me. We have to make sure they are listening to the people and not the ones writing checks. I’m one person in this army of folks who is trying to save our planet.” 

These are only some of the inspiring comments made by Assemblymember Kalra and our speakers during the Earth Day event. Remember, you can watch the event in its entirety on YouTube.

We thank everyone who joined us as well as our event co-hosts the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, the office of Assemblymember Ash Kalra, Silicon Valley Youth Climate Strike, South Bay Indiginous Solidarity, Mothers Out Front, Calpulli Tonalehqueh, and Friends of Juristac.

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