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Spring 2016 stories

Social Action and Community in an Integral Ecology

Response to Mayor Sam Liccardo’s Public Lecture, “Our Future on a Shared Planet” Conference, Santa Clara University1
By Poncho Guevara

 


By Poncho Guevara
Executive Director,
Sacred Heart Community Service,

San Jose, California


I want to share a little bit of a story. When I read Laudato Si’ what hit me more than anything was one word: displacement. Why did that hit me?

You see, a couple of weeks ago I met a young woman, Ana Lucia, a young mom, and I talked to her a little bit about her situation. She had gotten involved in a committee working on tenant rights and tenant issues. So I asked her how she was. What was her history and what was her story?

Ana Lucia talked about how she grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico. She came from family that owned a dairy farm there. Ultimately, the farm ended up having to close due to changes in the economy in the 1990s. The dairy industry in Mexico was basically obliterated after certain public policies liberalized trade that helped protect highly supported industries in the United States. Ana Lucia’s family business tried to compete. They tried to do things like using bovine growth hormones and other modes of increasing production. And basically, it all crumbled. Her family had to leave.

Local families and Santa Clara University community members work together to plant raised garden beds at Washington Elementary School in San Jose, California. Photo Courtesy of Charles Barry.

They came to the United States, and she had virtually nothing. She grew up here from her teens on. She is involved in her community and does what she can, but she’s struggling right now to be able to make ends meet. She is, as I mentioned, a young mom. But her entire world changed dramatically because of the impact of U.S. public policy that was more about liberalizing trade than paying attention to the environmental, cultural, and economic impact of what we do.

One basic response I have to Laudato Si’ is that it is a countercultural document. It is extraordinary, truly revolutionary. We all must seek out what is missing from our world of public policy these days: a sense that our public policy is a moral reflection of our values as a community and a society. We often end up pushing forward what we think we are beholden to—the needs of our economy and the liberalization of trade and incentivizing jobs. But what kind of jobs? What kind of impact? What is happening to families and workers and communities all around the world? 

Laudato Si’ talks about the world that we live in and the values that undergird our humanity. It is a call to action. It is a call to build a more just world, a call to realize the impacts that we will all endure.

Laudato Si’ critiques consumerism, the immorality of a system that chews up and spits out especially our most underprivileged. Pope Francis urges that if we don’t respond to these immoralities, we will see more unrest. We will see more displacement. We will see more dysfunction. I look at this encyclical not as an environmental document, but as a human document. Laudato Si’ talks about the world that we live in and the values that undergird our humanity. It is a call to action. It is a call to build a more just world, a call to realize the impacts that we will all endure.

 

La Mesa Verde, a program offered through Sacred Heart Community Services, partners with SCU students and faculty to establish home-gardens with local families in San Jose, California. Since 2009, over 450 families have established garden beds, and over 100 families are currently active in the program. Photo courtesy of Thriving Neighbors Initiative.

At Sacred Heart Community Service, we are a traditional service-based institution in the Washington neighborhood of San Jose, California. Last year we served around 75,000 unique men, women, and children who came through our doors looking for help and assistance. About five years ago we decided to take on a program that would help people with some of the economic costs they are facing around environmental choices and challenges and the use of energy. Our clients live in often substandard housing not developed with energy consciousness in mind. We took on a program that partnered with a state agency to do energy retrofits for our families. Why did we do that? Well, it saved them money. It makes a big difference in how they spend their paycheck. However, the real reason for this program is suffering. Families are suffering because of public policy choices—building codes and how we allocated resources. These are moral choices. Who benefits from our public policy decisions? Who bears the burden? Are we looking through that lens?

Laudato Si’ makes a profound connection between environmental and social justice. Talking about environmental justice is not just about solar panels and transportation systems; it’s about how we come together and engage other people in our community. Hear their stories. Be involved with them. Action builds up our common humanity.

 

Poncho Guevara is the executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service, one of Silicon Valley’s largest social service providers. He previously worked for the South Bay Labor Council, where he helped start Working Partnerships and the Interfaith Council. In the ‘90s, Guevara helped build the Children’s Health Initiative, which provides health insurance to uninsured children, and the Housing Trust to increase affordable housing.

Notes

 

  1. Poncho Guevara, “Social Action and Community in an Integral Ecology,” public lecture, Our Future on a Shared Planet: Silicon Valley in Conversation with the Environmental Teachings of Pope Francis conference, 4 November 2015, Santa Clara University.
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