Workshop Explores Climate Crisis & Storytelling Power

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Veteran community organizer Tommy “TC” Calvert and local environmental attorney Enrique Valdivia led the conversation of past environmental justice struggles in the Alamo City, Courtesy Images.

Workshop presenters say effective organizing is about memory. It’s about respecting community desire. And it’s about putting those most at risk first.

Greg Harman

This weekend, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club hosted a day-long workshop dedicated to exploring the power of story to respond to our climate crisis. Led by veteran campaigners, organizers, and communicators, the group worked not only to keep alive the memory (and lessons) of past environmental justice struggles, they drilled down into the power of the individual and collective story to motivate action to issues such as our climate crisis.

Organizing with Climate Action SA, the Sierra Club team is working to understand and relay the vitality of the human story and how it can connect with evolving communication platforms to most effectively engage and activate community power.

A key goal of this work in San Antonio is making sure elected leaders adopt the most aggressive climate action plan possible—one that prioritizes the needs of our low-income communities and those most at risk from the acceleration of extreme weather now underway.

There was a strong reminder in both Calvert and that of digital justice organizer Deanne Cuellar’s presentations that the most at risk from climate change tend to live in areas without access to home internet. In San Antonio’s digital and economic divides, blockwalking remains a critical organizing tool.

“We’re still working with Big Chief tablets and a clipboard,” Calvert said. “We know about (online social networking site) Nextdoor, but Nextdoor is not in these neighborhoods.”

After President Donald Trump announced the US would walk away from the international Paris Agreement, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced (with strong community prodding) our city would join hundreds of cities around the nation standing with the principles of the historic agreement.

San Antonio is currently developing a climate action and adaptation plan, code name SA Climate Ready. We expect it to come before the council for a vote in the spring of 2019.

Today the US is the only country on the planet not collaborating on solving the climate crisis. And San Antonio is one of the last large cities in the US without a climate action plan.

As these images presented by Calvert demonstrate, the fight for environmental justice has been going on for decades in our city. Below are a few pics from campaigns in the mid-1990’s to resist the granting of air pollution permits for Tokyo-based Mitsui Mining & Smelting-proposed eastside diecasting facility and to pressure CPS Energy to clean up the “Dirty” Deely coal plant (now scheduled to be shuttered by the end of 2018).

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PART ONE

#SATX Storytelling: How Stories Build Movements
With community organizer/KROV radio’s TC Calvert and environmental attorney Enrique Valdivia.

PART TWO

SATX Storytelling: Unpacking Mainstream and Indie Social Media
With Sierra Club’s Vanessa Ramos, Larisa Mănescu, and myself.

PART THREE

The Tail End: Demonstrating iPhone video with Vanessa Ramos, Larisa Mănescu.

Want to contribute? Climate Action SA means “Healthy Families, Strong Communities, Sustainable San Antonio.” Visit the website and sign up for updates. Or you can write Deceleration directly and we’ll hook you up.

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Guest Bios

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Because communicating climate crisis also means creating a world worth living in (ie. fun). Greg Harman, Larisa Mănescu, and Vanessa Ramos at the Storytelling workshop. With appreciation to the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center for hosting us on short notice. Image: Peter Bella

Enrique Valdivia a practicing attorney, has a long track record of environmental activism surrounding environmental justice issues. He helped lead community efforts to resist the construction of new coal plants at Calaveras Lake in San Antonio, Texas. He is a founding member of San Antonio nonprofits Aquifer Guardians in Urban Areas and the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance. He was also involved in a grassroots effort to block a proposed PGA Village development and has led other challenges to development over the aquifer. He works for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and serves on the boards of the Sierra Club Alamo Group and Texas Fund for Economic & Environmental Education. He is the board secretary for the Edwards Aquifer Authority, a groundwater conservation district formed to “manage, conserve, preserve, and protect” the Edwards Aquifer, San Antonio’s primary source of drinking water.

Tommy “T.C.” Calvert is a veteran organizer, activist, business entrepreneur, and visionary. With more than 45 years of training and experience in community organizing, including implementing “Brownfield and Toxic Clean-Up Campaigns” nationwide for communities suffering pollution from, smelting firms, garbage dumps, landfills, incinerators, lead and mercury in municipal water systems, and pollution coming from coal power plant smokestacks. Calvert worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress to strengthen the Clean Air Act legislation, clean up toxic sites, and hold public hearings nationwide in cities suffering from pollution and environmental racism. He is vice-president of marketing for KROV-FM Radio station, San Antonio Community Radio Inc., president of the community-based Neighborhoods First Alliance, chairman of the Fair Contracting Coalition, and Chairman of Bexar County Voting Rights Coalition.

DeAnne Cuellar (not included in the livestream by request) is a digital equity advocate and communications strategist from San Antonio, Texas. She is the co-founder of the Media Justice League and former statecommunications coordinator for Equality Texas, a state nonprofit dedicated to “full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Texans through politicalaction, education, community organizing, and collaboration.” Cuellar specializes in working to implement effective digital communications to improve the quality and quantity of media coverage representing Texans. She blogs about music, media, and technology on mikkawerks.com and is a freelance photographer published in the Huffington Post, Bustle, San Antonio Current, and the Express-News. The media spokespeople and social influencers she has developed who represent an array of socio-economic issues have been featured through national and online media affiliates such as Teen Vogue, HBO, Vice, CNN, and more.

Vanessa Ramos is a photographer, multimedia specialist, communications specialist for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and co-founder for V&M Productions. Her work and voice has been featured in In These Times, Marfa Film Festival and other local film festivals. She attended Texas State University and dual majored in the Mass Communication college. She is a native Austinite and her work is based on energy, justice, socioeconomics, education, culture, arts and environmental injustices throughout Texas. She pushes for the education and value of learning the art and importance of storytelling and the use of multimedia as a tool to feel connected to our stories, our history and our local issues to push for change and movement.

Larisa Mănescu is a freelance writer, social media manager, and communications coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. A first-generation Romanian American, she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with dual majors in journalism and international relations and is currently based in Austin. Her writing has been featured in state and national publications, including The Establishment, BUST.com, and The Dallas Morning News. She believes in the power of media, art and activism to work together to educate, inspire and ultimately shift the status quo.

Gregory Harman is a community organizer and independent journalist who has written about environmental health and justice issues since the late 1990’s. He is the founder and co-editor of Deceleration.news.