Young Activist Inspires on Martin Luther King Day
At Patagonia, we use Martin Luther King Day as a time to give back to our community – this year was no different. In addition to sending crews of employees to work on local projects with the Ojai Raptor Center and the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, we also welcomed a remarkable young woman as our guest speaker. The word “remarkable” doesn’t do her justice – she is leaps and bounds beyond that descriptor.
Her name is Erica Fernandez, and she is a senior at Hueneme High School based in Oxnard, California, a neighboring community to Patagonia’s headquarters in Ventura. Erica was outraged when she learned of BHP Billiton’s proposal to build a liquefied natural gas facility off our nearby coast. She worked in concert with the Sierra Club and “Latino No on LNG” to mobilize youth and Latino voices at protests and public meetings, marched through neighborhoods, demonstrated outside BHP Billiton’s offices in Oxnard, reached out to the media, and brought more than 250 high school students to a critical rally. Her passionate testimony at the California State Lands Commission meeting was quoted in news articles, and helped convince the Commission to vote to deny the project. She then went on to help convince the California Coastal Commission to vote 12-0 against the project, and worked on a letter-writing and phone-call campaign to the Governor asking him to veto the project. Her commitment and dogged determination led to being selected as a 2007 winner of the Brower Youth Awards, which recognize youth leadership in conservation, preservation and restoration.
On December 1st, Erica had the honor of posing a question on civil justice and the environment to one of the Democratic Presidential candidates during the Iowa Heartland Presidential Forum. She was the youngest among all the delegates chosen to participate in this event.
When Erica joined us the morning of January 21, 2008, you could have heard a pin drop in the room filled with over 200 Patagonia employees I was transfixed by this tiny young woman, barely 5 feet, as she filled the stage with her presence and passion. She told the story of arriving in the U.S. six years ago from Mexico, spurred in to action by the plight of her parents, agricultural workers in the strawberry fields of Oxnard. With her father’s health ailing, and him eventually unable to work, Erica “connected the dots” about the proposed LNG pipeline, snaking its way under those same fields, and the future health and welfare of others doing the same work as her parents.
Erica brought me and others in the room to tears through the fervor in her voice, the confidence with which she strode the stage, and the hope she gave all of us for the future generation of environmental activists. From the moment she spoke, we were all pulled in by her smile, her commitment, and her relentless desire for environmental justice. Many of these characteristics parallel those we honor in Dr. King, so it felt fitting to invite Erica to share her story on this of all days. As she looks ahead to college and a possible future in law, we are emboldened, knowing Erica is one of the activists at the helm, ready to charge ahead with future environmental challenges.
Best of luck, Erica, from all of us at Patagonia!