Crossroads: Intersections of Los Angeles' Energy, Environmental, Housing & Racial Justice Movements

About the Series

We live in a country of entrenched racial inequity in energy, environmental, housing, policing, and carceral landscapes. More and more frequently, conversations about the intentional creation of these inequities are reaching broad audiences and capturing national media attention. However, discussion of the connections between different systems of racial injustice are far less common those which address discrete justice issues.

This April, the Sustainability Office, Office for Institutional Diversity and Equity, Department of African and African American Studies, and Irving Institute are offering a lecture and workshop series entitled "Crossroads: Intersections of Los Angeles' Energy, Environmental, Housing & Racial Justice Movements." This series will feature academics, grassroots activists, lawyers, local government officials, and nonprofit organizations, and will dive deep into intersecting landscapes of racial injustice in Los Angeles County. The series will focus on three interconnected landscapes:

  • Housing resources: residential segregation, and the impact of this on policing, education, and infrastructure zoning and development
  • Policing: including police brutality and mass incarceration
  • Environmental racism: including fossil fuel refining infrastructure, utilities, air pollution, and public health

Cosponsors: Environmental Studies, Dept. of Geography, Dept. of Sociology, and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, March 30: Lecture: Redlining, The Creation of Los Angeles Neighborhoods, and Lasting Impacts on Communities of Color, Prof. Michael Lens, UCLA VIEW VIDEO
April 8: Talk and Workshop: Toxic Impacts of the Exide Lead Battery Recycling Plant, Laura Cortez and Paola Dela Cruz-Pérez,  East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice  VIEW VIDEO
April 13: Panel: Housing for ALL, Inner City Struggle, Compton Tenants Union, Reclaiming Our Homes, YIMBY Action  VIEW VIDEO
April 15: Lecture: Environmental Racism and the Creation of Los Angeles Infrastructure, Prof. Juan De Lara, USC. Moderated by Prof. Darius Scott, Dartmouth VIEW VIDEO
April 20: Talk and Q&A: Sustainability, Affordability, and Health Impacts of the Los Angeles Electric Grid, Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).  VIEW VIDEO
April 22: Panel: Beyond Policing: Centering Coalition Against Police Power, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, Felon to Freeman. Moderated by Prof. Ivy Schweitzer, Dartmouth. VIEW VIDEO
April 27: Decriminalizing Policy with  ACLU NH Director of Community Engagement, Ed Taylor; ACLU SoCal Lawyer, Amir Whitaker; and Hamid Khan, organizer and coordinator with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition VIEW VIDEO
April 29: Talk and Q&A: A "Toxic Tour" of Los Angeles' Oil Refineries, Communities for a Better Environment VIEW VIDEO

March 30: Redlining, The Creation of Los Angeles Neighborhoods, and Lasting Impacts on Communities of Color

View the recording

Racial exclusion in housing has long been a feature of US cities, with devastating consequences, particularly for Black families and communities. While the racial evolution of Los Angeles differs from other cities in many ways, various forms of racial exclusion are a hallmark of Los Angeles's past, and have evolved to race neutral forms of exclusion in the present. This talk will briefly summarize this history and link this legacy to continuing forms of housing exclusion that persist and contribute to housing insecurity, homelessness, and gentrification in Los Angeles today. 


Michael Lens
Michael Lens

About the Speaker: Michael Lens is Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy, and Associate Faculty Director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. Professor Lens's research and teaching explore the potential of public policy to address housing market inequities that lead to negative outcomes for low-income families and communities of color. This research involves housing interventions such as subsidies, tenant protections, and production. Ongoing research projects focus on the neighborhood context of eviction, housing supply in California, and a book project that examines fifty years of neighborhood change in Black neighborhoods following the 1968 Fair Housing Act.


April 8: Toxic Impacts of the Exide Lead Battery Recycling Plant

View a recording

About the Talk
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) started and continues to be a community-led movement that addresses the disproportionate and avoidable health impacts to neighborhoods in Los Angeles created by white supremacist systems and perpetuated by policy. This event will include an intersectional approach to addressing environmental racism, including the trajectory of the Exide​shutdown and looking to community-based solutions along with policy advocacy for community leadership. 

About the Presenters
Laura Cortez (She/Ella/They) is a member, organizer, and Co-Executive Director at East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and a lifelong Bell Gardens resident. Laura received a Bachelor's degree in Spanish from CSU, Los Angeles and her Master of Arts degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Community Development from CSU, Long Beach. She has been an Spanish-English interpreter since 2010, and began organizing since 2014. Laura's focus is to work toward equity that improves the lives of families of color through community-led leadership in the Eastside, Southeast, & Long Beach cities for current and future generations.

Paola Dela Cruz-Pérez (She/Her/Ella) was born and raised in South Los Angeles and moved to Compton when she was a teen. She began her organizing as a youth by coordinating mutual aid efforts with and for unhoused and housing insecure families. Through these experiences, she became politicized about the systems that perpetuate injustices. She went on to earn her Bachelor's in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she deepened her understanding for community healing, community organizing, and community power building. Paola continues organizing in her hood through East Yard's Southeast LA membership spaces, Compton Tenants Union, and Compton Rising. She is passionate about engaging and equipping youth with the necessary tools to fight against environmental racism, white supremacy, capitalism, and other systems of oppression. Paola loves being in and around water and is an Aztec Mexica danzante.


April 13: Housing for ALL Panel

View a recording.

About the Talk

Los Angeles, California is in the midst of a historic housing crisis, brought on by decades of redlining and other policies of housing discrimination, gentrification, skyrocketing housing costs, and resultant homelessness and displacement of communities of color. Many activists and grassroots organizations are fighting to reverse this trend.  In this panel, we will hear from community organizers who have responded to this crisis in their neighborhood and why our different justice movements need to fight for collective well-being. Using tactics such as fighting for tenants' rights, reducing gang violence, resourcing public education, improving housing supply, and reclaiming vacant homes, these Los Angeles and California-based groups are building stronger communities and fighting for housing rights for ALL.

About the Participants

Compton Tenants Union 
The Compton Tenants Union is a community-led, neighbor-to-neighbor organization that believes that housing is a human right and that human rights must be fought for and defended. Together as tenants, renters and allies we work to ensure that our rights are respected, and that renters have the tools to defend themselves from displacement and harassment. We believe that the only way to create lasting change for Compton residents is through community organizing, building people power, and demanding the changes that we are all willing to fight for. 

Inner City Struggle
At InnerCity Struggle, we believe everyone deserves to live in a safe, healthy and thriving neighborhood. When we began organizing in 1994, our Eastside residents identified a myriad of urgent concerns affecting their lives: gang violence, under-resourced schools, poor economic prospects and a lack of access to adequate health care. As we began our journey to fight for a stronger Eastside, our residents and youth identified public education as the most pressing issue.  After many years on the frontlines of public education reform, significant victories under our belt, our residents knew that if we wanted to transform our neighborhoods, we needed to become a multi-issue organization. Since then, we've joined state-wide coalitions to build a stronger democracy, and are beginning our work advancing justice in community development.

YIMBY is a network of pro-housing activists fighting for more inclusive housing policies. We drive policy change to increase the supply of housing at all levels and bring down the cost of living in opportunity-rich cities and towns. We envision an integrated society where every person has access to a safe, affordable home near jobs, services, and opportunity.

Reclaiming Our Homes
Impacted by the housing crisis, and feeling even more urgency in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, we are reclaiming vacant houses owned by the state to fight for housing as a human right. We the Reclaimers are calling on the city and state to immediately use all vacant properties to house people. We need all levels of government to make a massive investment in public and social housing so that everyone has a home during this housing and public health crisis.
Together we can defend, take back, and rebuild our community!

April 15: Environmental Racism and the Creation of Los Angeles Infrastructure

View the recording

(Please note that because of an unfortunate technical complication, the recording ends abruptly at around 53 minutes.)

About the Talk
Environmental Racism and Sustainability: A Lesson From California
In this talk, Professor Juan De Lara will discuss ecological vulnerability as a theoretical and methodological approach to examine how racism and social inequities intersect with the environment. He will use his work on transportation infrastructure and logistics to show how race and economic class have produced structural precarity by exposing marginalized populations to environmental risk. Professor De Lara will also discuss why it is necessary to include measures of social and economic equity when planning for sustainable development. This talk is especially important as we move towards policy proposals on federal infrastructure expansion and the Green New Deal.

About the Speaker
Juan De Lara is Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California and the founding director of the Latinx and Latin American Studies Center. He is the author of Inland Shift: Race, Space, and Capital in Southern California (University of California Press, 2018). Dr. De Lara's research focuses on social justice, urban ecologies, and the intersections between data, race, and power. His articles and essays have appeared in publications including Annals of the Association of American GeographersEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and SpaceLabor Studies Journal, and American Quarterly.

About the Moderator
Darius Scott is Assistant Professor of Geography at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on the stories people tell about the places they live, move through, and seek to dismantle. In practice, he consults oral histories and personal narratives in order to foreground localized Black senses of place in, typically rural and Southern (U.S.), distorting milieus of anti-black violence and sexual stigma. His work engages with ongoing discussions in Black studies, queer studies, public health, and Black geographies.

April 22: Beyond Policing: Centering Coalition Against Police Power

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In this critical conversation, hear from three grassroots representatives of anti-recidivism organizations in conversation with Dartmouth Professor, Ivy Schweitzer, as they share their perspectives on how to move beyond policing and towards a more just and equitable future.

Anthony L. Harris is a co-founder of Felon to Freeman, a New Hampshire-based organization led by formerly incarcerated people organizing to support others to "walk the path from prison to prosperity."  He is also the manager of Rootz Natural Hair Shop with his partner, Shaquwanda Allen. He has become enthusiastically engaged with the RENEWS BIPOC activist network in New Hampshire and several grassroots organizations. Anthony was interviewed by our friend Emmett Soldati for this week's State House Watch radio show; listen here. He is a force of nature, and brings a spirit of gratitude, joy and determination to every situation.

Sam Lewis is the Executive Director of the Anti Recidivism Coalition (ARC). Previously, Sam served as the Director of Inside Programs. A former life prisoner himself, Sam understands the various obstacles, challenges, and difficulties the prison and reentry populations face. In 2017, Sam created the Hope And Redemption Team (HART), a first-of-its kind initiative he built from scratch. The Hope & Redemption Team (HART) is a group of nine former California life prisoners who go back into California state prisons to provide hope, demonstrate that redemption is achievable, and to prepare participants for successful reentry into our communities. His work directing the Hope and Redemption Team exemplifies what's best about ARC: our desire to reach and walk with those who have been most marginalized by society.
Most Saturday nights, Sam leads the Hope and Redemption mentors who support youth currently housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. These youth are facing potentially long prison sentences. The unique mentors are trained in Transformative Mentoring and use a peer-to-peer Credible Messenger model to encourage incarcerated youth to believe in themselves and pursue their education while incarcerated.
Sam previously worked with Friends Outside Los Angeles County (FOLA) as Job Specialist, Case Manager, Employment Programs Supervisor, and Project Director, roles that reinforced his commitment to creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women as they transition back into society. In 2018, Sam was the recipient of a Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award, Uncommon Law's Uncommon Heroes award, and 2019 Danger Man Award.

James Nelson was confined within the prison industrial complex at the age of 19. During his 29 years inside Soledad State Prison he actively participated in self-help groups like Life C.Y.C.L.E. and DPN's Success Stories, where he became close with DPN Board Member Richard Edmond Vargas. Upon James' release he immediately became involved in Dignity and Power Now, and quickly found himself working full-time as an organizer where he shares his story daily with other formerly incarcerated people. Having only been home for 7 years, James has lost his mother to pancreatic cancer and his sister to domestic violence. Despite these numerous personal challenges, James provides DPN with lots of laughter and positivity and still feels strongly that it is his duty as a former gang member to help correct problems within Los Angeles' communities.

April 27: Decriminalizing Policy

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Join us for our second to last event of the Crossroads series. ACLU NH Director of Community Engagement, Ed Taylor will  be in conversation with ACLU SoCal Lawyer, Amir Whitaker and Hamid Khan, organizer and coordinator with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. In this critical conversation, we will hear abolitionist perspectives on policy that works to decriminalize Los Angeles. 

Hamid Khan is an organizer and coordinator with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The mission of the coalition is to build community-based power to dismantle police surveillance, spying, and infiltration programs. The coalition utilizes multiple campaigns to advance an innovative organizing model that is Los Angeles-based but has implications regionally, nationally, and internationally.
Hamid also serves on the board of May First Technology, a membership organization that engages in building movements by advancing the strategic use and collective control of technology for local struggles, global transformation, and emancipation without borders. 

Amir Whitaker is policy counsel with the ACLU of Southern California. Prior to joining the ACLU, Amir represented students and incarcerated youth throughout Florida and Alabama for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Referred to as a "civil rights and education stalwart" by the Daytona Times, Amir has negotiated settlements and policy changes improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. He has worked as a researcher with the UCLA Civil Rights Project, and has written for TIME Magazine and other publications. At the ACLU, Amir is responsible for legislation focused on education equity and funding.

Amir has taught across multiple educational settings for more than a decade, and has held teaching credentials in Florida, California, and New Jersey. He received his doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, juris doctorate from the University of Miami, and his bachelors from Rutgers University. Often referred to as "Dr. KnuckleHead," Amir was arrested at age 15 and eventually expelled from school. In 2014, Amir started Project KnuckleHead to inspire vulnerable youth and help them reach their potential through education, music, and art programs.

April 29: A Toxic Tour of LA's Oil Refineries

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Alicia Rivera organizer for Communities for a Better Environment will give us a virtual 'toxic tour' of Los Angeles' Oil Refineries and their health impacts on the local communities.

About the Speaker
Alicia Rivera has been doing community organizing in various low income, poor communities in Los Angeles since fleeing El Salvador at the end of 1980.
She first got involved in the struggle to obtain refugee status for Salvadorans in the U.S, who, like her, fled El Salvador in mass to survive the government repression in the long civil war that lasted 12 years.

Alicia transitioned to environmental and economic justice organizing in low-income communities throughout Los Angeles in issues of tenant rights, community benefits housing projects, and environmental justice. Organizing in the campaign to make the former Texaco Wilmington Refinery accountable to the community for its large explosion made Alicia realize that U.S corporations discriminate low-income people in the U.S and abroad. Texaco was polluting the predominantly Latino and low-income population in the Port of L.A area, while in Ecuador, Texaco contaminated the water, and soil of Indigenous populations in the Rain Forest refusing to clean it up. This can only be done with impunity to poor, innocent people. Alicia understood that fighting to empower vulnerable populations suffering injustices by powerful companies is necessary to protect nor only our environment but also our health.

She currently works as a community organizer for CBE - Communities For A Better Environment, a 40-year-old environmental justice organization that organizes and empowers frontline residents in Richmond, and Oakland in the Bay area; and in Southern California at the Port area of Los Angeles as well as in southeast Los Angeles. Alicia focuses her efforts in protecting and involving Wilmington residents exposed to pollution from the oil refineries and oil and gas extraction that operate in close proximity to where people live, work, plays, and study.

Alicia feels that investing her time and energy making polluters accountable for their pollution through regulations and community empowerment is a very rewarding experience.