Motivations to Contribute - Emmanuel Alcantar

  • Posted on 24 August 2020
  • By Emmanuel Alcantar

SC Volunteer Emmanuel Alcantar with his cameraThe Sierra Club's values of explore, enjoy, and protect the environment can be embraced by volunteers and members of all ages. Motivations to Contribute is a new series oriented towards understanding our volunteers and members both for inspiration and to enhance cooperation and coordination among current members while encouraging new volunteers to join us.

We’ve entered a new gilded age where we are facing an inordinate level of corruption. On top of that, we continue to struggle with unhealthy environmental conditions, extreme income inequality as a by-product of that corruption, and now a pandemic. 

As a Mexican-American immigrant who was raised by a working-class family, I know these experiences firsthand. I am no stranger to living in tough times and how those in positions of power ignore working-class communities. I have been politically involved for most of my life because I had to be. No one was going to advocate for my rights so I felt as though I had to do it myself. Some of my earliest political beliefs and my life-long interest in institutions were heavily inspired by writers I read growing up like Jared Diamond, George Orwell, playwright Caryl Churchill, and Anne Lamott. 
I went to Santa Barbara to earn my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and English literature where, around every corner, there was a reminder of the early environmental movement. The 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill and Santa Barbara's Environmental Rights Day (which commemorated the one year anniversary of the oil spill) led to the creation of the Environmental Studies Department. 
Both the beginning and end of college days were marked by several environmental disasters that played a key role in my decision to be a climate activist. In 2015, during my freshman year, there was an oil spill off the coast of Goleta. This event was what sparked my initial interest in pursuing a degree in Environmental studies. In late 2017, we had to be evacuated as a result of the Thomas Fire. The visceral nature of having ash rain down on you put into stark view what the stakes were of the climate fight. 
One of the most exciting things for me in the last few years has been the insertion of the Green New Deal in mainstream discourse because of its intersectionality. We owe it to marginalized people who are disproportionately affected by climate change to have a healthy planet. But it is not simply about reaching 100% renewables as quickly as we can. We must dismantle systems of oppression and empower the poor and downtrodden. It is also important to remember that environmental justice does not stop at our borders. A Green New Deal means we stand in solidarity with workers around the world as they fight for better working conditions. A Green New Deal means we stand with indigenous people in the fight to determine their own future. 
I believe in the Sierra Club as an institution because I think governance is one of the best ways to make changes in people’s lives and I am outraged at the wealthy fossil fuel interests who have corrupted it. The Sierra Club has, time and time again, pushed back against this and has empowered everyday people to stand up and fight for environmental justice.
I recently joined the Environmental Justice Committee where I can effectively advocate for the interests of Black and brown people in Los Angeles and remind folks that racial justice and climate justice are inextricable. In many ways, the world has changed dramatically in recent months due to the coronavirus, but the issues that I and the Sierra Club are fighting for have not changed - they are simply more important than ever.


[Header photo: Los Angeles Cityscapes; John Nilsson all rights reserved]

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In reading your article Emmanuel Alcantar, it first brings me hope that a new generation is now coming to the forefront of what many have had to endure here in Los Angeles especially the south east portions of LA County. Many politicians have used our area as a stepping stone to higher political office, accepting funding directly or via independent expenditures from the same polluters that have contaminated our environment for decades. I encourage the Sierra Club to continue working with other organizations to Forster and develop alliances that will not only bring environmental justice but will also benefit the Sierra Club mission.

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