Spotlight: Francisco Ferreyra on Environmental Justice, Organizing, and Collective Liberation

By. Shanti Belaustegui Pockell

For Francisco Ferreyra, the climate justice movement has always been prevalent in his life. His interest in fighting for a more just and sustainable world first emerged in his hometown of Oxnard, CA. Oxnard is a predominantly Latinx, low income community, that is significantly populated by migrant farm workers – Francisco himself is a first generation child of immigrants. The town that Francisco grew up in is, in a large part, a sacrifice zone –there are Superfund sites that have been left unattended to, three large power plants on the beach that power the rest of the county, and corporations like Monsanto constantly trying to take advantage of the community. When I spoke with him, Francisco stated that early on he started asking why his town seemed to be getting the short end of the stick, and that he soon started making connections that perhaps it was something deeply systemic where great oppressive forces were at work. Perhaps it was because corporations and the politically elite realized that many people in Oxnard did not speak English, were caught up in working nine to five jobs, and simply did not have the right kind of power or time to organize against what was happening. Francisco articulated that, because of this, Oxnard has always seemed to be on the “frontlines of climate change in a lot of ways,” and that the connections between social justice issues and the environment were always quite clear.

Francisco did not learn about environmental issues like most of us did in a classroom. He learned about them because the very air that he breathed was polluted and because there were toxic sites close to where he lived. Even when Francisco did start learning about sustainability in a more formal setting, it was hard to relate to when most people working in the field were white men who did not look like him and spoke through a narrative of colonialism that seemed to exclude many people from the movement.

When Francisco started asking himself what he could do for his community, he found himself trying to identify the biggest, most universal problems. It didn’t take long to realize that the greatest single issue was climate change. Francisco calls the climate crisis “the greatest social justice issue of our time,” and recognizes that it is not just a question of the environment, but that it is also a question of economic security, human rights, public health, food scarcity, and so much more. Climate change affects people of color, women, and the poor the most, and so Francisco is adamant that these are the people we need to get behind and that the climate movement must be intersectional – addressing multifaceted forms of oppression – if it is going to be effective at all.

Considering Francisco’s past, the incredible work he is doing now to enact change seems meant to be. Francisco is a student at UC Davis, currently working towards a Bachelor’s in Community and Regional Development. His studies mainly focus on devising a better society – thinking about what a better world could look like in terms of housing, education, politics, economics, culture, etc.  Francisco is devoted to helping out disadvantaged communities like the city he grew up in, and fighting the oppressive forces that inflict such struggles. As Francisco said, “Global change starts at home and revolution has to begin in our own backyards.”

Francisco identifies primarily with being an organizer. He is first and foremost an organizer for Fossil Free UC, but is also the Environmental Sustainability Officer for the UC Student Association, was a co-director for West Sprog (a by-youth, for-youth, grassroots leadership training program sponsored by the Sierra Student Coalition), and helps run the Solidarity Organizing Program (SOP) for California Student Sustainability Coalition. Francisco articulated that “Students have a legacy of being on the forefront of social change, and given the political climate, it is our responsibility to be the leaders that our communities need us to be.”

The Solidarity Organizing Program that Francisco works with is a decentralized campaign that seeks to uplift the cross-regional consciousness of social and environmental justice issues. As Francisco Stated, “If communities on the front lines want people to show up for us, we have to show up for them as well.” SOP is trying to increase their agency, and provide the resources, for independent organizers to win battles in their communities. Whether it be a battle against state-sanctioned violence like ICE deportation, or a local candidate that is running for office that takes money from Chevron, SOP will be there. SOP creates and distributes curriculum that teaches people how to be leaders, build coalitions, communicate with the media and greater public, and how to devise their own personal narratives. It also teaches numerous formal anti-oppression principles. Francisco noted that SOP is teaching people to grow not just by learning, but by unlearning many systems of oppression that have become ingrained in our everyday life.

Francisco acknowledges that a recurring criticism of the environmental justice movement is that there are so many separate issues and groups to rally around that it seems  overwhelming. However, he stated that SOP emphasizes collective liberation, saying that, “Your liberation is directly intertwined with mine, and so when you succeed I succeed.” SOP is simply trying to help people get involved in movements. He stated that we tend to have a lot more in common than we do not, and that we just have to be ready to show up for each other. As Francisco put it, “If someone wants to build an education program for youth in the community, we will help you. If they want to directly fight a multi-billion dollar gas company (like in Oxnard), we will help them. There are so many different ways to fight for the movement, and we have to employ a wide diversity of tactics. We are down for whatever your cause is as long as the end goal is liberation.”

The intersystemic and intersectional world of environmental justice organizing and liberation can be overwhelming for budding activists to take in. However, Francisco has some tips:

  • Recognize the importance of people power, and how effective just showing up is.
  • Nurture coalitions and relationships; build leaders up.
  • Entice people to be down with the movement,“If you set yourself on fire with enthusiasm, people will come from miles away just to watch you burn! Try not to be embarrassed, shy, or scared to speak truth to power”
  • Fill the void — Do things that others are not doing.
  • Read radical literature (such as pieces written by previous revolutionaries) in order to think critically about where we are, as well as the justification and means for revolt.
  • Defend your community, but also defend yourself and your privacy. Use encrypted messaging tools like Signal to guard your organization online.
  • Use your privilege, whatever it is, to uplift narratives of the historically oppressed. “Grab a microphone, grab a pen, a marker or paintbrush and rewrite your people’s history and narratives.”
  • Talk about it . We have to be talking about these things that are happening in our world every day to keep the momentum going.

Talking to Francisco was extremely invigorating, refreshing, and uplifting. Curriculum for the Solidarity Organizing Program will be available soon so that people can take it and bring it to communities and campuses everywhere. Although Francisco is very involved in the environmental justice movement, he still states that “It is a struggle, and the work that I do is frighteningly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if I can only be a flicker of light in a sea of darkness that is fine with me. If I can just reach one person, or do a little bit, that is cool with me.”

Posted in _Featured, CSSC Blog.