Advocates for CA's AB652 outside Assembly
Picture of Asha Sharma

Asha Sharma

How we win: The power of collective action in California pesticide policy

“It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”― Angela Davis

If you subscribe to PAN’s news feed and received our recent California content, then you have already heard the great news that the primary bill that PAN co-sponsored in California this year has been signed into law by Governor Newsom.  AB 652, authored by Assemblymember Alex Lee, will establish an Environmental Justice Advisory Committee at the Department of Pesticide Regulation.  Now, the people and communities most impacted by pesticide exposure, like farmworkers, will have a say in our state’s pesticide regulations.

Collective effort to support environmental justice communities

What you might not know is that there was a tremendous amount of collective effort behind the scenes of this bill becoming law. This work can serve as a model for future pesticide policy change in the state.

Thousands of PAN’s California supporters sent messages to the state legislature and Governor Newsom’s office urging them to support the bill. On top of that, 113 partner organizations and local leaders supported the bill by contacting legislators and the Governor’s office directly, signing onto letters to decision-makers,  participating in social media campaigns, and supporting the bill in legislative hearings.

We also worked closely with the other bill co-sponsors, Californians for Pesticide Reform and Safe Ag Safe Schools, to ensure that environmental justice communities were a part of the process. For instance, we worked together to bring farmworkers to Sacramento for legislative hearings so that they could speak directly with legislators about the need for the bill.  Our opening image shows advocates and farmworkers after testifying in support of AB 652 at a legislative hearing.

From the bill’s inception to its signing, a wide range of people showed up to voice strong support for this bill.  Community members and local organizers participated in advocacy days and meetings with decision-makers. We sent petitions to the Governor’s office with signatures from farmworkers who support the bill, and worked with multiple farmer-serving organizations to show broad support from farmers as well. And we communicated with each other to facilitate effective advocacy.

We were also very fortunate to work with environmental justice champion, Assemblymember Lee.  Lee authored the bill and made it a top priority, speaking passionately about the need for its passage in legislative hearings and with other key decision-makers. Lee is also present in our feature image.

We can change, and have changed, California’s pesticide policies

At the end of the day, the bill prevailed because the power of the collective outweighed the power of industry, despite more than 35 industry groups strongly lobbying against the bill.  Groups like the American Chemistry Council, the California Chamber of Commerce, and the Western Plant Health Association all brought strong opposition at each stage of the bill’s progress. We were able to gain broad support for the bill because of our long history of working in coalitions made up of dozens of diverse partner organizations, and our commitment to building reciprocal relationships, especially with grassroots partners.

This committee will pave the way for decision-making at the Department of Pesticide Regulation that finally begins to address the racial and socioeconomic disparities in the health impacts of pesticides. We look forward to continuing to support strong, collective movements centered in grassroots decision-making that uproot industrial, chemical-dependent agriculture.  Instead we seek to build farming systems centered on collective well-being.

Your willingness to be send your messages of support, either individually or through actions PAN provided, was a valuable part of this entire process.  Together we made a difference.  But we have much more to do and I hope you’ll join us!

Want to learn more?

Our October 10 press release, published just after learning of the bill’s signing, can provide additional perspective on AB 652 if you have interest.   In addition, there has been recent media coverage regarding this new law.  For some of those perspectives, you can view these articles and videos from Mercury News, Univision, and Community Alliance.

Picture of Asha Sharma

Asha Sharma

Asha has a decade of experience as an environmental and agricultural justice campaigner, organizer and researcher. She is passionate about agroecology and supporting food-growing communities in building power. Her previous work at the Union of Concerned Scientists and Mighty Earth resulted in dozens of agricultural and food companies improving their conservation and human rights standards and practices. She received her M.S. in International Agricultural Development from the University of California, Davis and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Texas at Arlington. Asha is from Dallas, Texas and currently lives in Berkeley, California. In her free time, she loves to cook, garden and hike with her dog Frankie.

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