Environmental justice activist Vien Truong learned two things as a child: Climate change affects us all, and some people suffer more than others.
When her family arrived in the Bay Area as refugees from war-ravaged Vietnam, her parents didn't speak English and had 11 kids to feed. Truong soon got a crash course in the ill-fated connection between poverty and environmental toxins. “I spent my childhood working in pesticide-filled strawberry fields in California," says Truong. "Later, growing up in Oakland, I saw families like mine suffering terrible health conditions from pollution for generations."
Now her life’s work is "to solve both poverty and pollution" nationwide. She’s accomplishing that as the CEO of the nonprofit social justice accelerator, The Dream Corps, and as the director of its environmental activism arm, Green For All.
Through Green For All, Truong fights to ensure marginalized communities of color are leading the fight to protect the environment. "The families living closest to toxic waste sites, or by busy roads and highways, are often struggling to make ends meet," she says. Training folks for green economy jobs — like installing solar panels or retrofitting buildings so they're more energy efficient — enables people to put food on the table and help make their neighborhoods less polluted.
But Truong, who earned a degree from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, also knows that legally enforceable regulations are essential. “One of the accomplishments I am most proud to have co-led is passing [California Senate Bill 535] which takes dollars polluters pay the State of California and reinvests them into the poorest and most polluted communities,” says Truong. "Those dollars went to free solar panels for working families, free bus passes for seniors and students, affordable housing by transit hubs, and much more."
Because Truong believes women are at the heart of ensuring the nation’s leaders address climate change. Green For All’s newest campaign, Moms Mobilize focuses on mothers who are seeing the effects on their children. The campaign, which will culminate with an advocacy day in Washington, D.C., is "bringing together moms and women from all walks of life to tell Congress to act now to fight climate change by doing work before the storms," she says.
Indeed, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma (and with Jose approaching) Truong says her work with Green For All has taken on a new urgency. But Truong also wants those who aren’t regularly in the path of such disasters to remember that they still need to care about the climate. "Scientists are giving our planet 50 years before Earth expires," she says. "My hometown of Oakland, nestled in the most liberal region in America, is ranked among our nation’s most polluted cities. Climate change hurts all of us — there is no wall high enough to keep the polluted air from blowing into each of our backyards."
Making it easy for people to stay informed and engaged in environmental activism is one of Truong's priorities. To receive updates about clean air, clean water, and climate progress, she says to simply text GREEN to 97483. You can also sign Green For All's petition to urge Congress to fully fund the EPA. But most of all, Truong encourages people to vote. "If local elected officials don’t make [climate] a priority, then show up at the ballot box to hold them accountable," she says. "That is where our power lies, and it’s past time we started using it."
Author: Kendra James
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Nina Ham / Nextgen Climate