Creating Systemic Change in Local Communities Across the State

September 11, 2018
Written by WFC Staff

When people talk about California it is full of magical wonder. We have the woods, the mountains, the rivers, the ocean. We have a booming technology sector that is catalyzing our growth to the point where we are now the fifth largest economy in the world. Some look to us as a beacon of progressive and radical thought. People flock to the Golden State to “be free” and express their truest selves.

And even with all of this, we are still fighting against the lack of access to quality and well paying jobs for the vast majority of Californians. Our communities are struggling to stay in their homes as a result of gentrification, the increasing prices of rent, and environmental hazards. We are still impacted by the harm of state violence that looks like police brutality, the over incarceration of Black and Brown folks, ICE raids, and family separation. We are still dealing with anti-Black racism that even has some residents of the state calling the police on Black children for selling water bottles.

This can feel overwhelming and insurmountable.

This is why we must invest in, train, and support community-based and grassroots leaders who are directly working to create alternative ways of being in order to combat systemic injustices that many Californians face.

The Women’s Policy Institute-Local (WPI-Local) program trains community leaders to become policy advocacy experts and create systemic change at the local level. This year the WPI-Local Class of 2018-19 has six teams of three fellows tackling important local issues in Alameda County, LA County, Monterey County, San Bernardino County, and Santa Cruz County.

This year’s teams are working in the following issue areas:

Economic Justice Team (Alameda County)
Ayana Ivery, RocQuel Johnson, and Arianna Morales are focusing on improving systemic accountability for and measurable outcomes of Black girls’ success in the Oakland Unified School District. Research shows that all too often, the 2,000+ African American girls in Oakland Unified School District middle and high schools face negative situations in the classroom that significantly impact their educational outcomes, post-secondary readiness, and ability to see themselves as deserving of post-secondary opportunities.The aim for this team is to work with and support the district in achieving policy and practices that allow all young people to thrive in culturally affirming and academically rigorous classrooms.

Environmental Justice Team (Alameda County)
Sarah Diringer, Nahal Ghoghaie, and Britton Schwartz are devoted to developing a policy that would effectively offer sanitation services (including access to toilets and clean water) to homeless encampments, thereby improving the health of our waterways and offering basic dignity to people experiencing homelessness. The voices of homeless advocates have largely been marginalized in decisions on improving water quality, and as a result, local resources for reaching water quality targets are often directed to punitive measures (such as clearing encampments), rather than providing access to essential services such as public toilets and regular trash cleanup. There are more than 5,600 people experiencing homelessness in Alameda County, many of whom do not have sustained access to basic services, including toilets or trash collection.

Criminal Justice Team (LA County)
Ivette Alé, Patricia Guerra, and Melanie Mendoza are pushing to reform the bail system in Los Angeles County in a way that secures justice and equity for marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. Los Angeles County has time and time again disinvested in working class communities of color, creating a vulnerable population susceptible to mass incarceration. In L.A. County, the allocation of public funds continues to  prioritize punishment rather than rehabilitation. For decades, California has led the charge to treat substance use and mental health issues with punishment rather than as a public health issue – disproportionately impacting Black and Latinx people. In light of the passage of bail reform at the state level, the team is researching implementation strategies.

Health Team (Monterey County)
Alma Cervantes, Alma Loredo, and Fernanda E. Ocaña are working to secure universal preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in the City of Salinas. Only 51% of 3-5 year olds in the City of Salinas are enrolled in preschool or kindergarten. In order for families to overcome the harms of poverty that manifest as high school dropout numbers, low college graduates, high unemployment numbers, high violence rates, and mental health issues there must be investment in early childhood education.

Environmental Justice Team (San Bernardino County)
Ericka Flores, Angelica Balderas, and Andrea Vidaurre are addressing the over-saturation of warehouses in San Bernardino County that attract thousands of toxic diesel trucks next to vulnerable communities. Currently, communities within San Bernardino County and the Inland Region are overburdened with industrial facilities that diminish the quality of life by producing loud and constant noise, industrial blight, diesel truck pollution, and public safety risks. This team will work to identify solutions and resources through policy and advocacy efforts in order to offset some of the impacts to allow people in these communities to live healthier lives.

Economic Justice Team (Santa Cruz County)
Maria Cadenas, Laura Segura, and Paulina Moreno are working to increase access to affordable housing for Latinas working in low-wage jobs in Santa Cruz County. Many established communities across California are experiencing displacement due to the cost of housing and this team is seeking policies for their own community. Latinas make up a large percentage of those at risk of displacement. Additionally, these communities face additional barriers to housing including discrimination, language barriers, understanding their legal rights, trauma, structural racism, sexism, and immigration status to name a few. This team is looking into developing local policies that address displacement and increase access to affordable housing.

For more information about our WPI-Local Fellows click here.

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