activism

How Not so Green is This Valley

PAONIA, CO – Nestled in the North Fork Valley, the rural town of Paonia is surrounded by bucolic, bright green fields and tidy homes. Mount Lamborn rises over 11,000 feet above the southeast corner of town, and its main drag, Grand Avenue, is home to an eclectic mix of art galleries, gift shops, plain ol’ professional offices, restaurants, and the award-winning High Country News.

In a spacious office just across the street from the post office, Denver-based organizer Ean Thomas Tafoya is busy at his laptop. He’s appreciative of the arts and Paonia’s charm, but he’s here for work, not play. Among a number of projects in which he’s deeply involved, Tafoya is the Colorado climate and water organizer for GreenLatinos, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that focuses on conservation and environmental issues that affect Latinx communities across the country.

Tafoya spent yesterday in Rifle, where he connected with some old acquaintances and met new activists, including a number of mothers who had joined the Juneteenth protests last week.

“They were all participating in a Black Lives Matter rally and protests, and they were surrounded by gun-toting white supremacists and people trying to intimidate them,” Tafoya said. “I needed to go there to be with them and to tell that that we’re watching them from the capital and that we’re supportive.”

The Rifle activists told Tafoya that there are about 4,000 registered Latino voters in Garfield County who don’t actually vote. He wants to help local activists by providing support towards efforts to galvanize that visible and critical electorate.

“If we can turn out the vote, they could win at least two of the races,” Tafoya said. He added that activists are attacking head-on the challenges that face their communities, including affordable housing, improving water quality, and the proliferation of plastic waste. All of these directly impact not only Latinx people but also Black, Brown, and indigenous communities as well. Tafoya wants to make sure their voices are heard and their concerns are taken seriously by politicians at every level of government.

After his eventful afternoon in Rifle, he’s now turning his attention to Paonia. where the Arch Coal company recently raised the ire of environmental activism groups when it recently bulldozed a new road into the Sunset Roadless Area of the Gunnison National Forest. despite a federal appeals court ruling prohibiting them from doing so.

“I’m here because the Arch Coal company made the decision during Covid to illegally construct a mile of road through a wilderness area, which is one of our highest protected levels of public land. It’s a climate issue, an environmental justice issue because it can affect water quality.”

Tafoya said that Arch Coal wants to dig more methane vents to expand their existing coal operations, claiming that they’re mining “clean coal”, but he points out that coal as a fuel source isn’t even competitive in the market any more.

“I think that, to do this when no one was looking during Covid, is just despicable. And you know, Donald Trump has made it very clean that the rules don’t matter, so I’m here to bring attention to it.”

Tafoya said that Arch Coal wants to dig more methane vents to expand their existing coal operations, claiming that they’re mining “clean coal”, but he points out that coal as a fuel source isn’t even competitive in the market any more.

“I think that, to do this when no one was looking during Covid, is just despicable. And you know, Donald Trump has made it very clean that the rules don’t matter, so I’m here to bring attention to it.”

Tafoya closely links environmental degradation and its devastating effects on low-income populations to structural racism and tirelessly shares that message with anyone who will listen.

“Whether it be through gentrification or historic redlining, affordable housing is typically in areas that are toxic. And when you don’t raise wages and we don’t raise funds to fund housing, then what you’re doing is you’re marginalizing these people into toxic situations. And then even further down the level, if you become homeless, across many states in the west in particular, it’s getting bad. They’re passing camping bans where now your survival outside is illegal, and they move you along until you find places which are secluded, and sometimes those places are toxic.”

Despite the turmoil of Covid, social and political unrest, and the upcoming presidential elections, Tafoya is determined to ensure that these issues remain top of mind for every voter. And as least in Colorado, which has universal mail-in voting, effecting real change doesn’t even require leaving the house.

“Everyone should vote. If you’re a conservationist, vote with your values. [GreenLatinos] is not into electoral politics, but we do want people to participate. The only way [all of] this changes is if you participate. And I also think that the Census is critical and crucially important to take. It has to do with redistricting and it also has to do with power.”

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