César García has been a member of the EJC since 2017. Working as an interpreter, César found his calling in advocating for his community in North Seattle. He co-founded the Lake City Collective (LCC) in 2018 and currently serves as Co-Director, where he works to uplift and empower the diverse community of Lake City in addressing issues such as affordable housing and economic development.
What motivates you in your work in the environmental justice sphere?
What motivates me most is our opportunity to replicate the work we discuss within the EJC in our own communities. “Environmental justice” was a new term for me when I started working with the EJC, but the fight is not new; the issues are not new. When people connect the issues with their actions, they can understand what environmental justice means and how it relates to their own lives. Once I understood the importance of giving a community the knowledge and tools to do something about the environment they live in, I was able to be an advocate for them.
What does environmental leadership look like to you?
I consider myself part of my community; I did not study the environment formally. I think that regular people who are interested in the environment, but also social justice can become familiar with terms like “environmental justice,” even if they sound foreign in the beginning. This voice must always be represented in any conversation about the environment, and leadership must also include those people like me, who don’t have that formal education background.
How has your background prepared you for a leadership role within EJC?
Since I worked as a Community Liaison with the Department of Neighborhoods, as a self-employed contractor, I was in close contact with the people I served. I worked directly with minority groups and those who are often not represented in government. Since I not only worked but lived with these groups (and still do), I was able to bring their perspective into my work with the EJC. One thing I noticed is that in the Latino community, we are familiar with the environment we came from, and many feel that because we are in a developed country, in a “green city” we might believe that everything here is much better. Of course, Seattle has its own environmental issues, and there are always ways to improve our community conditions.
Can you share a highlight from your work with EJC in the past couple years?
A highlight is coming to understand the environmental work, and the roles that different entities play in the environmental justice movement; the ways that city government interacts with community organizations, especially those for whom environmental work is not a focus. There can still be collaborations, and the work is transformative for the lives of people in the regions they serve.
What are you looking forward to in your next year’s work outside of EJC?
Now that I have learned the concepts and importance of environmental justice work, I am excited to bring this into my work with Lake City Collective. I want to find ways to adapt the different initiatives coming out of OSE and other groups into work that will benefit my community, through projects and implementation of the Equity & Environment Agenda. I’ll continue collaborating with the City!
This article is part of the series: “EJC Spotlight”- highlighting the backgrounds and work of current and former Environmental Justice Committee (EJC) members. Since 2017, the EJC has strived to uplift those most impacted by environmental inequities and center community needs in the City’s environmental efforts while building partnerships between community organizations and local government. This interview series is being conducted by Karen Bosshart, a UW Program on the Environment student and current intern at OSE.