"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. And you cannot oppress a people who are not afraid anymore. We are the future, and the future is ours."
Erica Fernandez has memorized these words, originally spoken by Cesar Chavez, and put them into action. Beginning in Oxnard, CA, Erica used the power of PROTEST to rally against a large energy corporation that planned to erect a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline around affluent California coastal communities and through Oxnard, primarily occupied by monolingual Spanish-speaking immigrants. Not only would the LNG pipeline cut through the agricultural land vital to the economy of Oxnard, it would bring millions of tons of pollutants to one of the most beautiful areas in California.
This lesson addresses the following Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies and you can have students look for these issues and examine them in themselves.
Self-awareness: Erica realizes that although English is not her first language and that she faces cultural barriers by being female, she is able to turn these “disadvantages” into advantages. She recognizes that she has a voice, that even as a woman she can still help her community and that she has the “power to act.”
Self-management: Despite the setbacks that Erica faces she stays motivated. She finds ways to fight for the rights of those in her community who are unable to do so for themselves. She fights to keep the BHP Billiton corporation from building through her community.
Social awareness: Erica is aware that many of those in her community do not speak English and could not or were unaware of what the BHP Billiton corporation was trying to do. She also turns to resources in her community to educate herself.
Relationship skills: Erica is able to maintain relationships with the people in her community, from all different cultures and ages, as well as speak in front of those who have more influence on the decision for the LNG pipeline to be built through her community.
Responsible decision-making: Erica utilizes peaceful methods of protesting and educating others in her community to gather support in fighting the LNG pipeline being built through her community.
1. Prior to showing the video, briefly explain the primary themes of the video. Use some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):
- Think of a time when someone told you that you couldn’t do something. What was your reaction? How did it make you feel? What did you do?
- Discuss what it means to protest. Why do people protest and who is capable of protesting?
- Think of someone you know, personally or otherwise (could be a well-known individual or group), who protested for something they believed in. What were they protesting for and what was the result? Was the use of protesting effective?
2. After watching the video, engage students in a dialogue about the film using some or all of the following questions (include at least one writing prompt):
- Erica explained some of the negative health impacts of the proposed pipeline. What were they? She also stated that the company opted to add 10 miles of pipeline to go around the wealthier communities. Why do you think they did that? How did Erica feel about that plan?
- Discuss the issue that Erica Fernandez faced. Describe what Erica Fernandez did to take on the problem. What were some obstacles she faced? What actions were taken? What were the results?
- What were some personal challenges for Erica as she took on this effort? What did she learn about herself?
- “Once social change begins it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. And you cannot oppress a people who are not afraid anymore. We are the future and the future is ours.” —Cesar Chavez
Initial thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with this quote? Why is this such a powerful and relevant quote for Erica or anyone standing up for something they believe in?
1. Have small groups of students research LNG and other pipelines as well as other energy-producing projects (like nuclear energy) that put a community in danger. Have each group select one example and tell the story of the project, any community protests, and what happened as a result.
2. Have students write an essay examining the links between poverty, pollution, and racism.
3. Have students research CA Senate Bill 412 that entitles local communities to have a say in coastal construction. How has the bill been implemented? If students are not in California, find similar legislation in their states.
4. Have students explore environmental issues in their community (it doesn’t even have to be as big as preventing a large corporation from polluting their town). Have students respond to the following questions: Explain why or why not you believe you can have an impact and make positive change? How might you use your “power to act” in facing this issue? What might be some obstacles you may face? Have students select from the issues and make a plan of action.
By Geraldine Divina and Becki Cohn-Vargas