Order Fighting Fire with Fire
The ground-breaking report examining LOP's first campaign victory, and the lessons learned from this refugee community's fight for a multi-lingual warning system.
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Fighting Fire with Fire highlights the Laotian Organizing Project's first significant grassroots campaign. A major chemical explosion in March 1999 at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California, followed by two more leaks in June and July, revealed Contra Costa County's inadequate emergency response system and the daily health risks faced by residents living in this industrial zone. Many of the area's residents were poorly informed of emergency safety procedures including the "shelter-in-place" information, and among those most impacted were limited English-speaking residents and children. In response to this, the Laotian Organizing Project launched a campaign targeting Contra Costa County's Health Services and the Internal Operations Committee of Contra Costa County's Board of Supervisors to implement a multilingual emergency phone-alert system. After a lengthy campaign, the County committed to establishing such a system, and LOP won an historic victory. LOP continues to work with members to monitor the implementation of the warning system.
Main points of this document are derived from a shared reflection and evaluation of the Warning System Campaign during recent LOP staff discussions. We share this with our environmental justice and movement allies. By writing about the lessons learned from the campaign, LOP hopes to underscore the importance of evaluating, analyzing, and assessing our organizing practices towards developing more strategic approaches to our campaigns and organizing work. Through this document, we also assert that grassroots organizations can and need to articulate social change theories based on the practice.
Documentation of environmental justice organizing is critical in archiving a rich history of social justice struggles in communities of color. We also believe strongly that our story of organizing in the Laotian refugee community fills a significant void in environmental justice studies literature on API and Laotian communities.
In our organizing we faced many challenges and barriers to effectively engaging Laotian residents in the Warning System Campaign. The following are some key lessons we learned about how to work effectively with the Laotian community and build a membership base during our campaign. Underlying the accomplishments are key organizing lessons, summarized below, gained from LOP's Warning System Campaign. We need to develop multiple and effective methods for participatory learning and culturally-appropriate organizing. Working with diverse, preliterate ethnic communities required complex interpretation in and between multiple languages during campaign meetings and threatened to impede collective discussion, equal participation, and democratic decision-making processes. Developing more participatory and creative organizing approaches is key to engaging and actively involving our members in democratic decision-making processes.
We must support and cultivate multilingual organizers.
We must assert the importance of developing new grassroots leaders.
We need to create a multiethnic Laotian membership.
We must ensure the empowerment of women organizers and members.
We must counter fear of government in immigrant and refugee communities.