Grantee/Partner News

A 12-Year-Old Warrior for Justice

November 16, 2017

Grantee News From Antonia Juhasz / Society for Environmental Journalists:

Angelika Soriano suffered her first asthma attack in the fourth grade, though she didn’t realize what it was at the time. She was walking to school in her Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland, California when pain gripped her body. She began to wheeze and cough. Unable to get sufficient air into her lungs, she found herself weakening until she was too tired to continue forward.

As luck would have it, her sister, Angeline, just two years her senior, also suffers from the disease. After getting a ride home, Angelika’s diagnosis was easy to derive—as she quickly regained her breath using her sister’s inhaler.

The children of Filipino immigrants, Angelika and Angeline are not alone. In East Oakland, where 93 percent of residents are people of color, children are more than twice as likely to visit an emergency room or be hospitalized for asthma than those in the county of Alameda overall, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. A leading culprit identified by the Department is the disproportionally high amount of outdoor air pollution where they live—among the highest pollution rates in the state—caused by an over-concentration of motor vehicles, refineries and power plants.

A little more than two and half years later, Angelika, now a remarkably mature and composed 12-year-old, organizes to protect not only the quality of the air she breaths, but on behalf of everyone’s environment and climate. I meet Angelika as she recounts some of this story to a group of about 100 fellow middle- and high-school students, predominately youth of color from low-income East and West Oakland. They are joined by teachers and parents, all gathered together on Halloween eve. Like Angelika, many are costumed in zombie face paint, having just finished marching through the affluent and exclusive Oakland Hills neighborhood.

They did not come to ask for candy. Rather they have led a “Zombie March on Coal” from a local park to the private home of local developer Phil Tagami. Carrying banners and signs reading, “Oakland vs. Coal” and “Stop the Tagami Coal-Pacolypse” they are here to protest Tagami’s plans to build a coal export terminal in West Oakland. If approved, it would be the largest such terminal on the West Coast, taking in train shipments of coal from Utah, with plans to potentially export millions of tons of coal annually. Tagami’s plan fits nicely with the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan and frequent pledges to increase U.S. coal production and “end the war on coal.”  More>

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