By Jennet E. Razo, Travel Scholar and Speaker Ambassador at the 2019 Planetary Health Annual Meeting
“We are uniquely positioned to rapidly grow our mother-led climate movement into an unstoppable force for change.” — Kelsey Wirth, Mothers Out Front (2019 McNulty Prize Laurete)
Sandy Naranjo was born and raised in San Ysidro and resides in National City with her husband Andrew McKercher and their children, Frida Ruth and Julius Joseph. Sandy pursued three bachelors’ degrees in honors with major concentrations on Political Science, Political Economy, and Economics, along with a minor certificate in Women’s Studies from California State University (CSU San Bernardino). After graduation, Sandy worked in organized labor for 6 years and transitioned her career to the environmental justice movement at the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC). At EHC, she worked with community members to create healthy land use policies in order to transition their community from one that is overburdened with toxic pollution to a healthy and thriving one.
Sandy spoke in the “Mobilizing a Planetary Health Movement” session. She is currently the California Organizing Manager at Mothers Out Front, where she is focused on mobilizing moms, grandmothers, and caregivers to create policies to end the climate crisis. Meaningful connections with the environment shaped in childhood and adolescence to a large part determine perspectives in adulthood. Sandy has the courage to pass on to children a legacy of sustainability. She has been striving with unfaltering energy as she and co-mothers/women are coming together to make climate change an issue that leaders can no longer ignore. They are building a powerful grassroots movement to ensure that children have a livable future in the age of climate change. Founded in January 2013, Mother Out Front’s main goal is to pressure political, business, and economic institutions to align their priorities and actions with the reality of climate change and its impacts.
Sandy had a knack for environmental and social justice from an early age. At age three, she was rushed to the hospital due to severe asthma, which almost ended her life. Thirty years later after her diagnosis, children that are growing up in her neighborhood are still being diagnosed with similar cases at a high rate. This was not by accident — rather, this issue is systemically rooted. It comes from poor land-use planning and from the failures of the transportation planning agency that refuses to enact visions of mass equity transit. Sandy became committed to making sure that other children would be protected from such peril. Thus, her involvement in this movement is intentional. Sandy’s moral position goes beyond her own experience, and it significantly affects the lives of those around her and those who engage in the organization.
Her organization is committed to the transition of all school buses in the San Diego region from diesel to electric power. In San Jose, mothers are implementing their climate action plan and engaging with local communities to be involved. They are mobilizing Indigenous mothers and Latinas to demand governor Gavin Newsom to pivot away from fossil fuels. They created postcards and lobbied legislators to get Governor Brown (previous governor before Gavin Newsom) to sign SB 100, which is the commitment to have 100% renewable energy by 2045 signed into law. They have worked with San Diego 350, which paved the way for Congresswoman Susan Davis to co-sponsor the Green New Deal. In the climate strike of September 20, the moms out in California did a back-to-school campaign — they are involved alongside their children, who are taking the risk to walk out of school. They are also observing Dia de los Muertos (a Mexican celebration) as a way of commemorating those who have passed away, highlighting those who have died from climate disasters.
Drawing from Sandy, no matter our discipline, our field, our job, or our title — we’re in planetary health together! We’re all faced with the same burden of choice — we can accept the situation that’s presented to us, or we can choose to dig deeper and mobilize those around us. We can be content with calming the environmental/planetary crisis, or we can choose to tackle the underlying problems. We can say that it is insurmountable — that it is not our cup of tea; that somebody else needs to deal with it — or we can choose to channel our angst into action. If it’s not us, who? If not now, when? The pressing challenge is: what can we do today? A big salute to Sandy and Mothers Out Front for their poignant and resonant message!
“Our mothers make things happen because we don’t take no for an answer. We meet with officials and business leaders, we testify at hearings, we write op-eds, we rally, we tweet and we win. And when we feel tired and we want to quit, we look at our children, and feel ever-greater resolve.”