How a Young Girl United a Community Against Natural Gas Exploitation

Photo credit: Sharon Smith

This guest post was written by Sharon Smith, author of The Young Activist's Guide to Building a Green Movement.

Erica Fernandez moved to the California coast from Mexico when she was just ten years old. A few years later, she found out that a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility was proposed for the coast of Oxnard and Malibu, with a thirty-six-inch pipeline routed through low-income neighborhoods. Natural gas is considered a cleaner form of fossil fuel than coal, but it has its own dangers: the pollution of water during drilling, the possibility of leaks during transport, and air pollution at the power plants. Erica worked in concert with the Sierra Club and Latino No on LNG group to mobilize the youth and Latino voice in protests and public meetings. She organized weekly protests at the BHP Billiton offices in Oxnard, met regularly with community members, marched through neighborhoods that would be most affected, reached out to the media, and brought more than 250 high school students to a critical rally.

When the California State Lands Commission met to vote on the project, her passionate testimony helped convince the commission to deny the project. Next, she spoke to convince the California Coastal Commission to vote 12-0 against the project, and she worked on a letter-writing and phone call campaign to the governor asking him to veto the project, just as the commissioners did. Erica's community organizing and dogged determination played a crucial role in helping her community resist a multinational billion-dollar corporation.

Erica says:

"This project could be a model because we brought together different communities to fight together against a very dangerous project. This is what made us so successful."

Erica's campaign was long and grueling. Although it lasted for four years, people didn't give up hope, and Erica and friends were a constant presence at the BHP Billiton offices. In addition, although it started with a small number of individuals, ultimately thousands of individuals attended key public protests. As you can see, campaigns targeting multinational, multimillion-dollar (or multibillion-dollar!) companies can be lengthy and demanding affairs, but it's not impossible for a small group of persistent individuals to go up against big companies. In this case, Erica couldn't appeal to the company itself to change its practices--she had to target other decision makers that could halt or change the company's practices, like the State Lands and Coastal Commissions.

This guest post was written by Sharon Smith, author of The Young Activist's Guide to Building a Green Movement.
Read more about youth activism:
How a Young Activist Revived a Stagnant Legislature
How One Kid is Combating Climate Change
A Young Activists Guide to Surviving Election Season

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