By: Jorge Madrid
California has made great progress rolling out programs intended to make clean energy technologies like solar power and electric vehicles more affordable for all Californians. However, if we are going to continue to lead the vision for what a clean energy future can look like, we still have a lot of work to do. These programs still need effective ways to reach low-income communities who are most impacted by pollution and climate change, and who oftentimes lack the resources and information to access them.
Enter Eastside Sol – the city’s first 100 percent solar powered arts and music festival. Eastside Sol celebrated its third anniversary this summer, with an event that has grown bigger and better every year. The event showcases zero-pollution energy and mobility programs for residents of the greater Eastside Los Angeles area ‒ wrapped in a fun, festive celebration of Eastside culture and community.
So what makes Eastside Sol so special?
Eastside Sol is a coalition effort led by, and for, communities most impacted by environmental harm from fossil fuels and economic inequality.
Our guiding premise is that communities on the Eastside of Los Angeles – and others like it across the state that are home to immigrant, working class, and people of color – have a strong sense of culture, history, and resilience in protecting their children and neighborhoods from harm. The movement to transition to cleaner forms of energy and transportation, and away from polluting fossil fuels, is part of this history.
Eastside Sol also seeks to honor the familiar – art, music, culture, community celebrations, urban sustainability, and resilience – while introducing new tech, like zero-emission cars and solar power.
With specialized knowledge of our own communities, and a passion to protect and create a better world for future generations, we’ve developed some creative approaches to highlight critical issues facing the community:
· Promotora networks have been a successful outreach and education model for generations and are particularly critical in reaching immigrant, low income, and hard-to-reach neighborhoods both in the U.S. and Latin America. Eastside Sol developed its own version of a promotora network to talk to neighbors in the weeks leading up to the event. Their goal was to increase community knowledge of clean energy technologies and how to use programs to access them.
· Zero Emission Vehicles are critical to cleaning up the air in our neighborhoods. California transportation causes nearly 70 percent of smog-forming gases and 40 percent of the state’s climate change pollution every year. Eastside Sol made zero emission vehicles a focal point of this year’s event, highlighting the environmental, health, and economic benefits. Typically these vehicles are considered too expensive or too intimidating to purchase. Our coalition partners set out to change this narrative and conducted their most successful test drive event to date, reaching over 150 residents who have low incomes and connecting them with incentives and rebates to make these cars more affordable.
· The Mobile Solar Cooling Center was designed and built by local youth, as an emergency response and extreme heat preparedness project for the neighborhood. Powered by donated solar panels, repurposed batteries, and other low-cost materials, this project highlighted the danger of heatwaves and power outages, and offered affordable solutions to off-grid mobile power. The project proved especially timely this month as record heatwaves caused power outages all over the city – heatwaves that are expected to intensify with climate change.
· The Verde (green) Zone was an urban oasis of free shade and fruit trees, herbs, and plants to take home. We featured composting demos, tutorials about home gardening and healthy eating, and allowed attendees to create and decorate planters with reused materials (salsa cans) for their homes. The practice of placing plants and herbs in reused containers is familiar to anyone who grew up on the Eastside, and a nice reminder that Eastside Sol combines the familiar with the new and high tech.
· Performers were intentionally selected to represent the intergenerational and inclusive community we want to build, one that honors our history and our future. Classical Mariachis, tribute bands to iconic performers, and a cumbia/rock-and-roll fusion act headlined the event. Eastside Sol was excited to feature QTPoC (queer and trans people of color) as performers and hosts, helping ensure that all community members felt welcomed and represented in our celebration.
As the day drew to a close, and all the partner organizations and volunteers cleared out after another successful event, it became clear that Eastside Sol was about much more than a clean energy future. It is the future we want to build together.