January 2019 - Green Fire Times
Once again, we have partnered with the Green Fire Times to curate the January issue. This year it is themed around “Seizing This Moment.” After two issues on featuring stories of community resilience in the face of adversity, it is time to shift gears as we face a year of opportunity in New Mexico. Below is every op-ed featured in January.
SEIZING THIS MOMENT:
Our Hopes for New Mexico’s Promising Future
BY Miguel Angel Acosta, Bianca Sopoci-Belknap, Nicole Jaramillo
Co-directors, Earth Care, Santa Fe, New Mexico
It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”– Assata Shakur
To kick off the new year, Earth Care is excited to partner with Green Fire Times to bring you the third annual activism-focused edition. Two years ago, we proposed partnering with GFT to elevate voices of New Mexicans working in the trenches on diverse social and environmental issues so they could share their insights about how the changing political landscape threatened their work, created new needs and opportunities, and required new levels of action, solidarity and commitment to transformative change.
Once again, we’ve invited leaders of social and environmental justice movements in New Mexico to present their perspectives. This year, however, the tone has changed. Given the amazingly strong turnout in the 2018 midterm election and the historic engagement of our brothers and sisters across the state, New Mexico’s democracy has been re-enlivened. We have an incredible opportunity to seize the moment and make impactful strides to invest deeply in our children, youth, families and communities by rectifying chronic injustices in our education system, energy system, economy and environment. New Mexicans are ready for change!
From women’s reproductive health rights to climate legislation, to immigrant rights, to sane gun laws, we’ve tapped established and emerging movement leaders to discuss their work and the actions we can all take to get involved.
Our organization has shifted a great deal over these last two years to meet the needs of our community and rise to the challenges we face as a country. Our youth and parent leaders are more active than ever on issues of equitable community development and representation, education as a force for positive social change, and climate justice.
Translating our urgent concern for our future and dreams for a better world into institution- al change requires that we get active in public-policy-making during this year’s state legisla- tive session.
WE HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US.
Current Status of Fracking Threats in the Chaco Region and Sandoval County
OP-ED: Reyes Devore
Ninety-four percent of public lands in the greater Chaco Canyon region have already been sold to extractive industries. Despite opposition from the public and local indigenous communities, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has con- tinued to auction parcels of land utilizing an outdated Resource Management Plan. On Dec. 6, 2018, the BLM’s Farmington, New Mexico field office started another auction of 46,000 acres in the San Juan Basin. Some parcels were deferred, but
not enough. We are demanding no new leases. Leaders and community members from the Diné (Navajo) and Pueblo tribes traveled to Washington, D.C., to voice their concerns, but the BLM continues business as usual. It is extremely frustrating when indigenous people exhaust every bit of ourselves and then watch entities that don't respect us move forward with online lease sales that start at $2 an acre.
Diné from Tri-Chapter House communities in the Chaco area are faced with serious impacts from horizontal fracking. Chaco Canyon is a World Heritage site that has a small buffer zone protecting ancestral sites. It is actually much more than that. Communities live within the Greater Chaco region. This is where our ances- tors lived. The Pueblo Action Alliance is doing everything we can to ensure that the region is protected.
A Victory in Sandoval County
On Nov. 29, 2018, tribal leaders and community members defeated a weak oil and gas ordinance. The ordinance process began in 2015 when SandRidge Energy Inc., an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company, applied for a special-use permit to drill in the area. Local organizations put much effort into opposing the ordinance. PPA teamed up with The Red Nation to host demonstration rallies. We demanded that Sandoval County commissioners recognize the harmful effects it would have on both indigenous and non-indigenous land. The ordinance did not have adequate emergency response plans, and there had not been meaningful consultation and consent from tribal communities.
The government is still selling off leases to fossil fuel developers. We know that other ordinances like this may yet be proposed. The BLM continues to disregard tribal concerns from leaders and community members. The BLM continues to discourage and exclude public input. The agency has moved sales from offices to online, denied requests for public comment pe- riods and recently shortened the protest period from 30 to 10 days. Money is their priority. Safeguards and protection of communities and resources come last.
What are the Pueblo Action Alliance and coalition partners calling for?
We’re demanding there be no new leases until a new resource management plan is completed. We are demanding that there be meaningful tribal consulta- tion and consent.
Proposals in This Year's Legislature and Another Policy Opportunity
As of this writing, there is no state legislation pending. A federal proposal, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act, is pending. However, this does not include protection of the area’s living communities.
How can folks become allies and provide support?
People can stay up to date on this issue by viewing our pages on Facebook and Instagram. PAA wholeheart- edly believes in community education. Our mission is to promote cultural sustainability by addressing environ- mental and social impacts of indigenous communities. We provide our community members with information that will empower them to take action with us. We have organized Greater Chaco community forums and workshops on the history of fracking in New Mexico and have offered indigenized non-violent direct-action training. These opportunities are created to be inclusive and intergenerational.
What is the appropriate role for non-Native allies in this struggle?
The work the Pueblo Action Alliance does cannot be boxed into environmental jus- tice. For indigenous people, it goes deeper than that. We are protecting what hasn’t yet been taken from us. We want non-indigenous people to recognize that, to us, we are not only facing environmental injustice; it is actually modern day genocide. We see the ongoing land grab by extractive industries as an extension of settler colonial- ism. If folks want to support the life work we do, we ask that you start there, along with land acknowledgement. It is very important that we pay respect to our ances- tors who lived on what is now called “Public Land.”
Indigenous people today are literally doing exactly what our ancestors did. We’re trying to stop the erasure of our people. For folks who want to support us, respect that this work must be indigenous-led and respect the fact that we are preserving our lifeways for future generations.¢
Reyes Devore (Jemez/Laguna/Diné) is co-director and community outreach manager for the Pueblo Action Alliance.
New Mexico Wins When Her People Vote
OP-ED: Javier Benavidez
For those fighting to address countless longstanding inequities and environmental injustices in New Mexico, 2018’s midterm elections yielded many remarkably positive shifts. After eight years of the extractive industry-friendly Martínez administration, this election resulted in the rise of the nation’s first Democratic Latina governor, our state’s first female land commissioner, our first all people-of-color federal House of Representatives delegation (28 of 46 majority caucus representatives that are people-of-color), and our first Muslim state representative. New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission flipped to “progressive,” as did our most populous county’s (Bernalillo) commission.
Defeated gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce achieved approximately the same number of votes (294K) that Susana Martínez won with in 2014 (293K), suggesting that a dramatically increased turn-out (for a midterm election) made all the difference. Rather than just focusing on the likely voter universe, significant efforts went into engaging underrepresented voters across the state; voices that historically have been marginalized or disenfranchised (“low-propensity” voters).
But that’s not the whole story. Pro-environment candidates had to contend with outrageous spending by extractive industries, including a record-setting $2.5 million in a single contribution by the Chevron Corporation in an effort to defeat land commissioner candidate Stephanie García Richard. In northern New Mexico, in the primary, voters also rebuked pro-industry candidates by electing new progressives Susan Herrera and Andrea Romero. Four thousand non-partisan voter guides were translated and distributed across the Navajo Nation. Tribal turnout there increased dramatically.
Overall, the 2018 election represented an exercise in engaging the power of New Mexico’s diverse population over that of corporate extractive industries, which have historically thrown their weight around New Mexico politics, often onto the backs of our people and our future. Whether in oil and gas development, coal or uranium mining, New Mexicans have dealt with far more than their fair share of drilling and mining, pollution and contamination of our most treasured resources. This has resulted in disparate health impacts, unsustainable resource extraction and countless missed opportunities for a robust buildout of a renewable-energy economy.
In one of the more fascinating and unexpected outcomes, in State House District 4 (the Four Corners), grassroots leader Anthony Allison won by advocating for renewable-energy development, marking a prom- ising shift for an area long overrun by mega-coal-fired power plants.
Grassroots organizations such as Somos Un Pueblo Unido, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE), and the New Mexico Working Families Party have learned over many years that “civic engagement cannot just be under- taken months before an election. They have dedicated themselves to year-round canvassing, building relationships with communities and engaging new voters, including naturalized citizens and young people. Organizers have harnessed the power of a social justice narrative. Especially given the national political scene, many unlikely voters are becoming intrigued and engaged.
Additional lessons learned include the need to engage with rural New Mexico regions where many of the state’s legislative leaders come from. Therein lies what promises to be an ongoing struggle—an entrenched state Senate that was not up for election in 2018 and has recently been run by a small cohort of conservative Democrats who align with Republicans to block most progressive legislation from seeing the light of day. Significant organizing needs to happen in rural areas like Deming, Gallup, Grants and Doña Ana County.
Because New Mexico is home to such a large segment of people-of-color voters, our state looks like the United States of the future. That helps shape our state’s pro- gressivity. With such a remarkable turnout in the 2018 midterms, New Mexico has crossed a tipping point. Presidential elections such as in 2020 will see an even greater trend toward politics that truly represent our relatively young, progressive and diverse population. We hope that elected officials will honor that enthusiasm, move forward transformative policy and investments, and begin to position our state for a much stronger and more promising future in the Southwest.
Javier Benavidez, a community organizer with Albuquerque Interfaith, previously served as executive director of the South West Organizing Project and as a speechwriter for then-Congressman Martin Heinrich.
The NMELC’s Top-10 Environmental Issues to Watch in 2019
BY Douglas Meiklejohn
Last January, half the stories we highlighted were about the Trump admin- istration. Unfortunately, they all came true. However, we also noted that there could be a bright side. There was, although not quite as bright as we had hoped. The midterm election in 2018 did bring significant change to the demographics of the House but left the Senate in even tighter control of an obstructionist Republican Party. With that went one of our hopes, that ap- pointees to federal judgeships would bring more balance to the federal court system. As we said last year, elections matter. There is still a bright spot in New Mexico, with a new governor and the expectation that for the first time in eight years we will have environmental agencies, policies and rules that actually protect the air, land and water where our communities live, work and play. Here is what we are looking at in 2019.
NM Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
1. TRUMP ADMINISTRATION
The Trump administration and the Republicans have single-mindedly waged a war to obliterate the Obama legacy. On the environmental frontlines, this includes eliminating monument status for most of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante and opening them to mining and oil and gas extraction, along with the Chaco and Grand Canyon areas. While Interior Secretary Zinke has left, the interim secretary and possible replacement is a former lobbyist for the industries Interior regulates and is committed to drastically weakening the agency. In other support for the oil and gas industry, the administration proposed weaker auto emission standards and rolled back the Methane Rule, which would have significantly reduced leakage and flaring of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations. In December, the administration proposed sweeping changes to the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS), removing protections for ephemeral and some intermittent streams, as well as for wetlands that have only a subsurface connection to a WOTUS. In New Mexico, this could affect at least 60 percent of wetlands and streams in the state.
2. NEW GOVERNOR
With the election of Michelle Lujan Grisham, expectations are high for rolling back the effects of eight years of assault and neglect on the state’s air, land and water. There will be a flood of progressive bills brought to the Legislature. Some likely to get a hearing will deal with energy efficiency in building codes, restoration of the Richardson-era cap-and-trade rules for greenhouse gas emissions, clearer definitions for certain provisions of the Mining Act, elimination or significant amendment of the Copper Rule, and a first ever in New Mexico environmental review act.
The governor's appointees to the Environment Department and Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department and other agencies could significantly improve the environmental friendliness of those agencies and of the Water Quality Control Commission, and the Environmental Improvement Board where they have seats. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center worked with other environmental and public health organizations to provide information to the governor’s transition teams and legislators regarding improvements to policies and statutory changes.
3. CLIMATE ACTION
Trump announced that the United States would leave the Paris Climate Agreement, but the recent talks in Poland presented a sharp contrast to the U.S. position. While the official U.S. delegation held a sideshow touting the continued benefits of carbon extraction, hundreds of representatives from states, municipalities, corporations and community organizations made it clear that the real momentum in the U.S. is for aggressive action on climate change. The years of the Martínez administration systematically undercutting efforts to address climate change in New Mexico are also over. We expect that New Mexico will join with other states to press the Trump administration and Congress to take decisive and significant action to build a new renewable energy economy, end unnecessary and counterproductive subsidies to carbon-extractive industries, and put the state on a sustainable path forward.
4. NUCLEAR INDUSTRY AND LANL CLEANUP
New Mexico is ground-zero as a repository for low and high-level radioactive waste from across the country. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) closed down for three years after two accidents in February 2014. Despite another accident in the same section of the facility in November 2018, a scheme is under consideration to increase storage by changing how waste containers are measured, circumventing the federal 6.2 million cubic-feet storage limit. Holtec International has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to “temporarily” store up to 100,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods from across the country. Attorney General Hector Balderas has said that the state has limited ability to oppose the license if the NRC grants it. A similar repository has been proposed in west Texas through a French joint venture with Waste Control Specialists (WCS). The N.M. Environment Department (NMED) has issued a draft permit for the discharge of up to 170,500,000 gallons of wastewater per day from the facility, with the main outfall located approximately 100 yards from the New Mexico state line.
Congress mandated drastically increased annual plutonium pit production, with 30 pits per year allocated to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). LANL has significant contamination issues from its decades of nuclear weapons work. A plan to characterize and clean up the accumulated waste at the Lab, the 2005 Consent Order, was killed by the Martínez administration. The Law Center has been working with Nuclear Watch New Mexico on Consent Order issues. We have been representing Communities for Clean Water (CCW) on the draft groundwater discharge permit for the Lab’s treatment program for a toxic chromium plume in an aquifer under the Lab that threatens drinking water. We also represent CCW on the Lab’s draft groundwater discharge permit for its Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility. The Lab is seeking a discharge permit, even though there will not be a groundwater discharge, in an effort to avoid having to comply with the more stringent Hazardous Waste Act rules.
5. URANIUM MINING
The Law Center has been working for many years with the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE), a collaboration of uranium mining-impacted communities on Navajo land and in the Grants Mining District. We appealed the recent decision by the Mining and Minerals Division to issue a “return to active status” permit for the Mount Taylor Mine, even though the mine’s experts said the mine would not produce marketable uranium during the permit period. We have been talking with McKinley County Commissioners about establishing a Working Group to study a temporary moratorium on uranium mining. The importance of addressing the impacts of uranium mining are even greater now that the EPA has announced it will “modify” the cleanup requirements at Church Rock, site of the largest release of radioactive wastes in the U.S. during the 1979 uranium mill tailings pond collapse.
6. KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE JET FUEL PLUME
The toxic plume created by decades of jet fuel leaking into the aquifer at Kirtland Air Force Base (KAFB) must be addressed promptly. There are serious doubts about the Air Force’s assessment, backed by the Martínez administration NMED, that the plume is somehow under control and that attenuation is a viable response. The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA), whose highly productive Ridgecrest drinking water wells are threatened by the plume, also has concerns. The Law Center has been working with the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) and other organizations and individuals to develop an effective strategy to force KAFB to take decisive effective action.
7. WATER GRABS
Protecting New Mexico’s water represents about 80 percent of the Law Center’s work. Agustín Plains Ranch is still trying to win approval for its application to mine 17 billion gallons of groundwater annually from San Agustin Plains, despite two state engineer decisions and one district court ruling against it. Our clients, including the Gila Conservation Coalition and numerous ranchers and other residents, are in district court again arguing against the ranch’s appeal. The Catron County Board of County Commissioners is also opposed to the ranch’s application. In the East Mountains, our clients (a large number of individuals living in the vicinity) are waiting for a decision on the application of Aquifer Science to pump groundwater from an aquifer that the state engineer had previously said had no more additional water. The oil and gas industry has been pushing a proposal to study the treatment and use of “produced” water—water that comes up because of fracking and other activities. The industry, which uses and contaminates massive amounts of water in its operations, wants permission to treat and sell this water for non-potable (and perhaps potable) uses.
8. SOUTH VALLEY AIR QUALITY
The Law Center’s air quality work centers on Albuquerque’s South Valley, site of a heavy concentration of air quality permits for facilities scattered among residential areas, schools and community centers. Our clients, SWOP and Esther and Steven Abeyta, are waiting to see what the next step will be for the Honstein oil facility, after it moved a couple miles farther south, away from the Abeytas’ neighborhood. Terminal Services has a draft air quality permit for an asphalt batching plant near I-25 and Isleta Pueblo at a site not zoned for that activity. Our clients appealed the permit. It has been sent back for a new hearing because of Open Meeting Act violations. Bernalillo Coun- ty is moving ahead with plans to extend Sunport Boulevard across I-25 and down Woodward Street to 2nd Street. The Sunport/Woodward project will take place primarily within the city of Albuquerque, even though Mayor Tim Keller withdrew city participation in the project. The project would greatly increase traffic in the area and encourage more polluting industry to move in. Because of the constant flow of new air quality permit approvals in the South Valley, our clients filed a Title VI complaint under the Civil Rights Act. This is an environmental justice complaint because communities in the South Valley are disproportionately burdened by air pollution. The Bernalillo County Air Quality Board and Albuquerque Environmental Health Department have re- fused to address the cumulative impact from the many air quality permits they routinely issue. Our clients are in discussions with the city to try to resolve the complaint, now that there is a more receptive mayor and administration.
Santolina is a 13,000-acre Master Planned Community proposed by Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH). Our clients include SWOP, the Center for Social Sustainable Systems, the NM Health Equity Working Group, the South Valley Re- gional Association of Acequias, the South Valley Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, Pajarito Village Association and several individuals. We are in the Court of Appeals regarding the district court’s decision on the Level A Master Plan (overall site concept). We are in district court appealing the Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners’ ap- provals of the Level B1 Master Plan and Development Agreement. Hanging over the Level A and B1 approvals, which our clients are appealing, is the fact that the required Zone Map amendment for the site from “Rural Agricultural” to “Planned Community” was thrown out in June 2017, making the Level A and B1 decisions void. We are also participating in proceedings with the AB- CWUA regarding a potential development agreement between WALH and the ABCWUA for water and sewer service provision. In October, ABCWUA Ex- ecutive Director Mark Sánchez sent a “Water and Sewer Serviceability Letter” to the developer, laying out ABCWUA’s proposal for providing these services.
10. WQCC RULES
The new administration can have a tremendous impact on the regulatory landscape depending on the appointees to agencies and regulatory boards and commissions and how those people interpret their mandate to protect the environment and public health. Under the Copper Rule, it is acceptable that mining companies violate the N.M. Water Quality Act by creating “sacrifice zones” in the waters beneath them because copper mines “inevitably” pollute the groundwater. This dangerous precedent is being applied to the mining permit for the Copper Flat Mine near Hillsboro. Other industries are looking to see how it might apply to them. Another critical issue is the WQCC’s new variance rule, which permits regulated facilities to pollute our precious groundwater above standards, in perpetuity, without public notice, comment and hearing. Our clients, Amigos Bravos and the Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP), have appealed the new rule to the N.M.? Court of Appeals on the grounds that it violates the Water Quality Act’s purpose of prevent- ing and mitigating groundwater pollution and the Act’s public participation requirements.
As we noted last year, the Trump and Martínez administrations’ environmentally destructive policies and actions have motivated individuals and community groups to organize and resist. This made a tangible difference during the elections in 2018. We are hopeful it can begin to result in tangible changes on the ground (and in the air and water) as we move forward into a new year and beyond.
Douglas Meiklejohn is founder and executive director of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC). He has spent more than 40 years as an attorney working for the public interest, with a focus on representing New Mexicans whose communities are impacted by environmental injustice.
TRANSFORMING NM’S PUBLIC EDUCATION
The Yazzie/Martinez School Sufficiency Decision Is About Way More than Money
OP-ED: Edward Tabet-Cubero
In order to fully grasp the unprecedented opportunity the 2018 decision in the Yazzie/Martinez vs. the State of New Mexico lawsuit offers New Mexicans to reset the trajectory of our state’s public education, it is essential to develop an understanding of exactly what was decided and why. As a community, we must not let the court’s landmark decision become politicized and reduced to an overly-simplistic debate about dollars and cents.
After years of reports ranking New Mexico’s education system at the bottom, with dismal results for all students and unfathomable achievement gaps for Native American students, English language learners, the economically disadvantaged and those with a learning disability, dozens of families said, “ya basta!” “Enough already!” These families and their attorney teams from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) asserted that it doesn’t have to be this way, that our children possess as much potential as their peers across the country, and that our teachers are just as capable.
The primary argument in the plaintiffs’ complaint was that the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide these specific “at-risk” students “a uniform system of free public schools sufficient for the education of all children of school age in the state. When the case was announced, it was quickly dubbed a “sufficiency” or “adequacy” case, drawing comparisons to dozens of other school funding cases across the country. However, like most things in New Mexico, this case is actually quite unique, as it should be. Our student demographics are simply different. Seventy-six percent of children are culturally and/ or linguistically diverse and over 70 percent are identified as economically disadvantaged. With those demographics come very distinct learning needs. Far beyond the basic funding arguments they made, what the plaintiffs in this case did was put New Mexico’s entire K-12 educational system on trial, arguing that the state has failed to pro- vide our most at-risk students with all of the programs
and supports they need to succeed. And the State District Court judge agreed, declaring:
“1. The Defendants have violated the Education Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause of the New Mexico Constitution.
2. More Specifically, Defendants have violated the rights of at-risk students by failing to provide a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.
- The Defendants have failed to provide at-risk students with programs and services necessary to make them college or career ready;
- The funding provided has not been sufficient for all districts to provide the programs and services required by the Constitution;
- The Public Education Department has failed to meet its supervisory and audit functions to assure that the money provided has been spent so as to most efficiently achieve providing at-risk students with programs and services needed for them to obtain an adequate education.”
The emphasis in this case on “programs and services necessary” ahead of “fund- ing” is no accident. We must not allow this landmark decision to be reduced to a simple math problem. Just as our children are not a test score, they are also not a dollar figure.
As a lifelong educator and father of four daughters in New Mexico Public Schools, here is what simultaneously frustrates me and also gives me hope—We know what works; we just don’t do it! Decades of research and practical experience make it abundantly clear that there are multiple programs, supports and ways of educating children from diverse and impoverished backgrounds that actually help close the achievement (opportunity) gap. Examples from right here in New Mexico include the call for a bilingual teaching force in our New Mexico Consti- tution, the nation’s first funded Bilingual/Multicultural Education Act, and the nation’s first Indian and Hispanic Education Acts. The problem is that the Public Education Department (NMPED) has failed to effectively support, monitor and hold local districts accountable for the implementation of these approaches, which are required by statute.
From nationally recognized communities in school initiatives to world- class dual-language education programs to comprehensive Pre-K-12 tribal education collaborations, New Mexico is full of bright spots that work. The challenge is taking these programs to scale across the entire state, so that they are offered in a constitutionally required “uniform” manner that provides opportunities for all children, not just some. It is incumbent on all of us to remind our elected officials that we are not going to nickel and dime our way out of 50th. We need to seize the opportunity for a whole-scale transformation of our education system in a way that fosters innovative, research-based practices that build on the unique assets that make us New Mexican.
Edward Tabet-Cubero is a founding member of the New Mexico Coalition for the Majority, which advocates for equity and quality in the education of linguistically and culturally diverse students. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife, who is also an educator, and four daughters, who attend public schools
The Yazzie/Martinez Lawsuit Victory Is an Ongoing Social Movement
OP-ED: Jessica Helen Lopez
Audre Lorde, African-American scholar, wrote: “The master’s tools will never dis- mantle the master’s house.” This declaration, made over twenty-five years ago, still rings true. Lorde’s perspective is currently being applied by an informed coalition of community members, parents, educators, tribal leaders and organizations in an unfolding campaign that seeks to radically reform New Mexico’s deeply flawed Public Education System to finally meet the needs and constitutional rights of our children.
The recent, historic Yazzie/Martinez vs. the State of New Mexico verdict found the state culpable of violating students’ access to sufficient educational opportuni- ties. This is more than just an opportunity for New Mexicans to reform the pub- lic-school system; it has inspired a social movement by and for the people; a pivotal moment for our families, educators, policy makers, state government officials and youth. Through legislation, we can enact changes that will affect generations of historically underserved families, providing them new opportunities, programs
and services. The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) should comply with constitutional law at a deliberate speed. Our new governor, Michelle Lujan-Grisham, will work with her transitional educational team, which is reviewing the NMPED.
As an educator with the Native American Community Acad- emy since 2008, as well as a team mem- ber of the NACA Inspired Schools Network, I have ded-
icated my personal and professional life to our mission to integrate culture, wellness, language, community, family and preparation for college into each child’s education. NACA is a tuition-free public charter school that serves grade K–2 and 6–12. We represent more than 60 tribal affiliations and ethnicities.
Our philosophy of Indigenous Education is grounded in honoring Native Amer- ican traditions and multitribal and multicultural practices of our students, while providing a rigorous, modern approach to education. We know that a happy, healthy and successful student is one that has access to holistic social services and equitable educational opportunities. Importantly, our work requires teachers who the educa- tional system values in terms of fair wages and salaries. It is time to fund profes- sional development for educators so that the alarming rate in which teachers are leaving our schools is diminished.
For close to seven years, the Yazzie/Martinez plaintiffs: five families and six school districts, along with their legal team, prepared a well-researched and enacted legal battle. Now is the time to continue to build a coalition of individuals and orga- nizations. We must continue an unrelenting strategic campaign for inclusion of culturally responsible curriculum and resources, fair teacher pay, sufficient funding, adequate social services, robust investment for Pre-K, and equitable schools for students everywhere.
It is our individual and collective responsibility to both stay informed and to dis- seminate ongoing, accurate information to our communities. We intend to create myriad forums that New Mexico families and allies can easily access online or through print, radio and television. We must campaign in even the most rural parts of our state, and then follow-up with those communities. We will continue to build the coalition and its power.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, we intend to mobilize our efforts to engage a proactive policy platform where everyone’s voice is heard and recog- nized as agents of change. We will provide pragmatic information to legislators. We pledge to see that proper oversight and measurement tools are built into this new public education system to ensure we can hold the NMPED fully accountable.
We are building a new house where this is room for everyone. This time we are using our own tools. This is a social movement fueled by the desire to provide our young people with every opportunity they deserve.
For more information on the Transform Education New Mexico campaign, visit nmpovertylaw.org and www.nacainspiredschoolsnetwork.org/
Jessica Helen Lopez, communications, outreach and com- munity support lead for the Native American Community Academy Inspired Schools Network (NISN), is a City of Albuquerque Poet Laureate Emeritus, adjunct instructor for UNM Chicana/o Studies Department and the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and a host of COLORES! NM (New Mexico PBS).
Our Schools, Our Way: Utilizing New Mexican Stories for Education Transformation
OP-ED: Emma Jones
“One of my class has had a substitute for months. The original teacher quit earlier in the year, and they haven’t been able to find a replacement. Many teachers don’t want to work at our school because it doesn’t pay well and has a bad reputation. The students here really aren’t that bad; maybe we could be better if we didn’t have subs all year long,” a student at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque told me during an after-school program I facilitate. As a community organizer with the Learning Alliance of New Mexico, these stories are not uncommon to me. I have heard them countless times from parents, students and educators I have worked with throughout the state. The stories are always personal and can vary greatly, but they all have one com- monly interwoven thread: schools across the state are inequitable, grossly underfunded, and lacking basic support services and programs to support the unique cultural, linguistic and social needs of our communities.
Students who are Native American, Latino, low-income, or who come from rural areas (all of whom make up a majority of New Mexico’s student pop- ulation) are victims of an education system that is inherently racist, resulting in severe inequities in the way programs and services are allocated. It is a longstanding problem that is rooted in the colonial history of New Mexico. This history goes all the way back to Spanish conquistadors, and later, Native American children who were forced into boarding schools where history, culture and language were stripped from them in an effort to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
Not much had been done to address the racial, economic and linguistic injustices that are still institutionalized in New Mexico schools. More often than not, family values, individual choice and poor teachers have been blamed for our failing education system. As a result of many studies, reports and years of standardized testing data, we can now say for certain that low-income, Native American and Latino students are being grossly underserviced, and as a result are failing at a dispropor- tionately higher rate than their peers.
In 2018 the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty (NMCLP), and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), won a landmark lawsuit (Yazzie/Martinez vs. State of New Mexico) where a New Mexico judge ruled that the state is violating the constitutional rights of student by not providing a sufficient education or one that is cultural or linguistically relevant. This historic victory means we are in a unique moment where we can transform New Mexico’s public education and work to undo our racist past.
While this is exciting, to see real long-lasting changes we can no longer settle for status quo or band-aid solutions. We must fully commit to addressing racial disparities and seeing New Mexico’s unique cultural and linguistic diversity as an asset instead of deficit. To do this we must completely redo the system, and commit to prioritizing multicultural and multilingual education at the very center of all changes. Furthermore, we also must prioritize the voices of the most marginalized groups and ensure that they have a seat at the table when solutions are being created. Parents, stu- dents and teachers must be valued and their stories heard.
The Learning Alliance of New Mexico and the Transform Education New Mexico coalition, with the NMCLP, have already begun listening to these stories, and have created short- and long-term plans to advocate for changes. Transform Education New Mexico has even created a platform for changes that can be implemented as early as the 2019 legislative session.
While these initiatives are a welcome change to the way we educate students, we can no longer allow state leaders to make excuses for why we can’t provide a sufficient and equitable education system for all children, or why we can’t fund it. We must work together to prioritize structural changes and bring the unique cultures, languages and voices of our communities into the process of creating solutions. It is time for us to stand together and implement solutions by New Mexican for New Mexicans.
To read the full platform, find out how you can get involved, visit http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education/
Emma Jones is lead statewide organizer with the Learning Alliance of New Mexico.
Health Security for New Mexicans
OP-ED: Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign Staff
Nationwide, health care was the number one concern of voters in the fall elections. With constant threats to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there are lots of reasons to be worried—especially in New Mexico, which had the second-highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation before the ACA was passed. Along with disman- tling important patient protections in the ACA, the message from Washington, D.C. has been to shift responsibility for health care coverage to the states. What approach should we take?
What if New Mexico set up its own health plan? What if we set up one large pool of almost all New Mexico residents to share the risks and reduce the costs? What if our premiums—along with funds already going toward health care for some New Mexicans, such as Medicare and Medicaid—could go into that pool, instead of paying into large insurance company coffers with high administrative costs?
Even those of us who can afford health insurance know all too well the struggles of navigating a fragment- ed, convoluted and
opaque system that serves shareholders rather than patients. What if the compet- itive schemes and market manipulations to cover only the healthy were suddenly no longer incentivized by the existence of hundreds of competing plans that offer the same benefits for enormous premiums and bankrupting deductibles, not to mention copayments and coinsurance costs that continue to rise?
What if New Mexico residents, consumers, local businesses, medical providers and communities made key decisions around the allocation of health care resources, with need rather than profit driving those decisions?
Can’t get an appointment with a specialist or even your primary care provider for three or four months? Not an uncommon scenario under the current system of health care delivery. But what if there were no networks? Without networks, ad- ditional providers would be freed up and available to see you. Oh, the freedom to choose our doctors and keep the doctors we choose!
What if businesses could compete with each other on a level playing field, with- out worrying about providing health care coverage for their employees? If health care coverage is a given, businesses of all sizes can gain recruitment and retention advantages. And workers can change jobs to advance their careers, or take on a job that is more suitable for them or a job they are more passionate about, without the threat of losing their health care coverage.
What if patients no longer had to worry about what is covered and how their cov- erage works? What if medications, medical supplies and medical equipment were negotiated to reasonable prices, with the weight and force of approximately 1.7 million New Mexicans in one pool as leverage? What if premiums were based on income, with an upper limit cap, so they would be truly affordable?
What if doctors, other health care providers, and their staff could spend more time with patients rather than time on the phone with insurers, begging for prior authorizations and disputing billing issues? What if such a plan attracted physicians and providers from around the country to New Mexico, where we have a chron-
ic shortage of medical professionals and specialists? More and more doctors are leaving the insurance-based system due to frustrations and obstacles to providing quality care in our current, inherently sick, health care system.
Against this backdrop stands the New Mexico Health Security Act, which will be up for passage in the 2019 legislative session. The Health Security Act would allow New Mexico to set up its own plan to cover almost everyone in the state. Under the plan, you’d have comprehensive benefits (including mental health), income-sensitive premiums, and no more networks (see any medical provider). Private insurance would be shifted to a supplemental role. You’d keep your same benefits under Medicare and Medicaid, keep your retiree health benefits, and keep your sanity in navigating one health plan that follows you as long as you are a resident of New Mexico.
The Health Security Act is a well-thought-out, homegrown solution that has been developed over the course of many years, with the input of New Mexicans from around the state. Prospects for passage are good in 2019. We cannot afford to wait any longer to create sane and sustainable health care for ourselves, our families, and our fellow New Mexicans. For more information or to get involved, visit www.nmhealthsecurity.org
Established in 1992, the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign is a statewide, nonpartisan coalition of over 150 organizations and numerous individual supporters. Its mission is to establish a publicly accountable system of guaranteed, comprehensive and affordable coverage for all New Mexicans.
Together, We Can Keep Abortion Safe and Legal in New Mexico
OP-ED: Mary Ann Maestas
In 2013, out-of-state anti-abortion activists tried to impose their agenda on New Mexico. They managed to force Albuquerque city councilors to vote on a ballot measure that would have banned abortion citywide after 20 weeks. Never before had anti-abortion groups attempted this at the municipal level.
In response to that threat to access, women, families and allied organizations came together to form Respect ABQ Women. After a campaign that brought together communities from all around the city, with hundreds of volunteers, including faith leaders and medical professionals, voters throughout the city disavowed the attempt to impede our communities’ right to reproductive healthcare.
Now, as a statewide coalition called Respect NM Women, we once again must act to protect our access to reproductive healthcare. New Mexico is one of nine states that still has an outdated pre-Roe v. Wade statute on the books criminalizing abor- tion. This was signed into law in 1969, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade (1973). If Roe is overturned, abortion could become a crime in New Mexico, which is why repealing this old state law is crucial. We must work to expand access to medical care across our state, not restrict access.
Support for access to reproductive healthcare is at an all-time high. Last year, Young Women United, Strong Families NM, and Latino Decisions conducted a poll which found that 77 percent of New Mexicans living in rural communities agreed that they could hold their own moral views about abortion and still trust a woman and her family to make decisions about abortion for themselves, including 79 percent of Catholics. New Mexicans know that reproductive healthcare is not a crime.
As a young little morena growing up in Santa Fe, I learned about the women in my family and decisions they made regarding their own bodies and reproductive health. Because of them, early on, I came to respect people’s decision about their futures. This same value of respect is the underlying value that guides our work at Respect NM Women.
In light of the attacks on our access to reproductive health care as well as the shame and stigma often associated with it, Respect NM Women has hosted story-telling events called Respect 140. We are excited about bringing this event to Santa Fe in 2019. Presenters will share stories about their personal experiences with reproductive healthcare along spectrums of care and needs. In addition to getting rid of dangerous laws, it is important to work to eliminate stigma associated with reproductive health care. We must support our medical providers, our families and communities.
We are engaging with supporters from all over the state to show lawmakers that New Mexicans value access to abortion care. Our communities know the importance of families being able to make their own medical decisions without government interference, so our laws need to reflect that. You can join us in advocating for this bill at the Legislature by calling your representatives and senators and connecting with us. Together, we can win this fight!
Mary Ann Maestas is a reproductive rights organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico. The ACLU is a part of the Respect NM Women coalition. www.respectnmwomen.org/
THE REFUGEE CRISIS AND IMMIGRATION IN NEW MEXICO
OP-ED: Allegra Love
Running a legal services organization serving immigrants and refugees during the Trump administration offers no shortage of opportunities for resistance. We support Dreamers. We protect local families from arrests. We work to reunite families that have been separated on the border. But the best example of resistance we have here at Santa Fe Dreamers Project is the work that we are doing, along with other lawyers, organizations and volunteers, to pro- tect trans refugees as they seek asylum in the United States. It is our best example of resis- tance because it involves a nationwide network of people, each doing their part to make sure that these incredible women have the strongest possible continuum of care and protection as they navigate the process of saving their own lives.
As a bit of background, in the summer of 2017, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted with the private correctional corporation, Core Civic, to open up the “Trans-Pod” at the Cibola County Correctional Facility in Milan, N.M. The Trans-Pod is where transgender immigrant women are detained in the U.S. Nearly all detained there are Central American and Mexican refugees seeking political asylum from their home countries. This is no surprise, as Central America and México are among the most transphobic regions in the world. The stories of physical and sexual violence, persecution and discrimination that our clients carry with them are absolutely horrifying. As the population grew in the Trans-Pod, and it became clear that conditions in the Cibola prison are unsuitable for their safety, we began to understand that their survival was not just about a lawyer filing the proper applications, and that bringing them the best possible services would require collaboration and organizing.
Here are some of the ways that our massive network has been working to make sure these women have the safest possible journey to our country, have their rights protected in detention and through the asylum process, and are supported as they start new lives in the United States:
Lawyers and legal observers have joined organizers from Diversidad Sin Fronteras to accompany members of the LGBTQ caravan throughout their journey across the U.S., making sure they understand their rights and preparing them for detention;
We have collected clothing, food, toiletries and blankets, which volunteers have generously driven south of the border to help women in their journey;
Along with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, we do legal visitation twice a week at the Trans-Pod to support every individual’s asylum case;
The Transgender Resource Center of N.M. provides critical services to the women while they are detained in the Trans-Pod; Other LGBTQ organiza- tions visit the women in the pod and provide support over the telephone.
A network of licensed mental health professionals provides the therapeutic support necessary to build a winning asylum case;
Volunteer lawyers take on detained asylum cases pro-bono so that no woman has to face a judge alone;
National-level legal organizations appeal when cases are denied, bring cases into federal court, or sue when people’s rights have been violated;
We have recruited a national network of sponsors who receive women when they are released from jail. A team of volunteers does the hard work of vetting those sponsors to make sure that women are going to safe homes where they will be well cared for and supported;
- When women are released from jail, hosts in New Mexico provide transportation, housing and material support so women are comfortable in their first few days of freedom before moving on to their sponsors.As long as the Trans-Pod remains in New Mexico, we have the opportunity to offer the women who stay there the best services possible and show them that New Mexico is a state where love, respect and honor for the dignity of all human life prevails. Here are ways locals can get involved:
- Fundraise for agencies that are providing critical support to these women. Here are a dozen organizations to start: The ACLU of N.M.; New Mexico Immigrant Law Center; Santa Fe Dreamers Project; the Transgender Resource Center of N.M.; the New Mexico Faith Network for Immigrant Justice; the Transgender Law Center; National Immigrant Justice Center; Diversidad Sin Fronteras; Innovation Law Lab; Transcend Arizona; Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ); Queer Detainee Empowerment Project.
- Volunteer to host or transport women who are being released from detention. For information, email [email protected]
- Encourage your local lawmakers at the Roundhouse to explore how the State of New Mexico can have increased oversight of corporate deten- tion facilities like the one in Cibola County.
- Collect items that can support a woman when she is released. We need backpacks, luggage, make-up, toiletries and Walmart gift cards.
STAY INFORMED ON BILLS PENDING IN THE 2019 NEW MEXICO LEGISLATURE
Retake Our Democracy
Are you interested in energy solutions such as community solar? A just transition to renewables, climate change, the Health Security Act, increasing the minimum wage, getting money out of politics or protecting a woman’s right to choose?
Retake Our Democracy, a 501(c)4 non-profit organization, was founded in 2016 to make it easier for citizens to become informed and to advocate effectively for social, racial, economic, gender and climate justice legislation in New Mexico. For those who can’t get to the Roundhouse in Santa Fe or sort through the estimated 3,000 to 6,000 bills being introduced, Retake Our Democracy offers some convenient options. RoD has developed an app that allows every bill introduced to be instantly uploaded to a database, with bill number, title, sponsor and the bill’s wording. RoD’s team organizes bills into 13 issue areas and develops summaries of those they consider “must pass” and “priority.”
Committees are where good bills die and where citizens can have impact. Legislators care about the views of their constituents. RoD has created a “Statewide Roundhouse Rapid Response Network,” an alert system that enables members of RoD’s team, sitting in committee hearings, to send action alerts to anyone signed up on the network. The alerts are targeted to members whose representative will be in a committee hearing that is considering a bill. Each alert also includes a three-sentence summary about why it is important, speaking/writing points to consider and contact information for legislators. In two or three minutes, from your couch, you will be able to tell your legislator what you think, at precisely the most important moment: when a bill is being considered in committee.
Retake will also see if your legislator leaves the room when a vote is being taken, or if by voice vote, she or he votes to table the bill. Those are the subtle ways that bills die, and those votes are not recorded.
To sign up for the Response Network, go to RetakeOurDemocracy.org, click on the red Response Network Signup, and you
are on your way to being a part of the team that is working to help ensure that community-driven bills become good laws.
THE TIME IS NOW
OP-ED: Miranda Viscoli
In 2016, according to the New Mexico Department of Public Health, 401 people were shot and killed in New Mexico. From 2012-2016, 85 children were shot and killed. Keep in mind that these numbers do not reflect those injured. New Mexico has the seventh-worst rate of gun violence in the country. Men murder women at the third-highest rate in the country. The majority of those deaths are the result of a firearm. Children in New Mexico up to age 19 are killed by guns (including suicides and accidents) at a rate almost 60 percent higher than the national average and are murdered by guns at almost 40 percent above the national average.
For decades the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the corporate gun lobby have had a stronghold on the New Mexico legislative process. Their lobbyists have decimated our gun laws. The result is that our state has some of the weakest gun laws in the country and some of the worst gun violence. This correlation is no coincidence.
There is a lot at stake for the gun industry these days. Their multi-billion-dollar busi- ness that sells guns of every shape and size to a small minority is being threatened by we, the majority, who are finally standing up to say “enough.” The gun lobby knows that time is not on its side as the facts related to escalating gun violence beat a bloody path to the bank accounts of the NRA board of directors—many of whom are high-ranking gun company executives.
Here in New Mexico change is coming. Gov.-elect Lujan Grisham had the courage
to run on a platform that demanded gun-violence prevention laws. New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence is hoping to pass the bill that was passed two years ago and then vetoed by Gov. Susana Martínez. This bill would prohibit domestic violence offenders from being able to possess a firearm. We are also working to pass Child Access Prevention legislation. This would hold gun owners accountable if a gun gets into the hands of a minor and they hurt themselves or someone else with that firearm. We are supporting bills that would institute a background check bill and Extreme Risk Protection Orders.
But we can’t be complacent. We need to turn up the heat. The NRA will be fighting harder than ever to stop common-sense gun-violence prevention leg- islation. We need to be present, loud and clear. We need to let the gun lobby and our elected representatives know that our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness trumps any fanatical belief in an extremist inter- pretation of the Second Amendment.
So what can we do? Call, write and meet with New Mexico senators and representatives, and ask them to support these bills. Show up to committee hearings in support. By working together, we can end gun violence in our state and country.
Miranda Viscoli is co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence. She has worked with schools, school boards, police departments, legislators and city councils throughout the state to implement gun violence prevention measures. www.newmexicanstopreventgunviolence.org