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July 22, 2013

How a Southern Californian Community Organized to Push for Rooftop Solar Jobs

Mygen5By Erica Thames, Opa'maggio Casciani, and Yassamin Kavezade, Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign volunteers.

What if your community was given the opportunity to embark on a path to a sustainable future with good jobs in one the fastest-growing industries in the nation? At a time of economic uncertainty in our nation, when too many Americans are unemployed and desperately seeking work, jobs that can provide a sustainable income can now increasingly be found in the renewable energy industry.

In late June in Southern California, the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign, GRID Alternatives, and dozens of companies in the rooftop solar and local clean-energy industries converged for a 'Green Mixer' solar career day event to explore such a future. The event drew a huge response, with hundreds of community members from all walks of life taking part.

The road to get to this point was not an easy one. The event took place in one of the unlikeliest of places -- California's 47th assembly district -- in the city of San Bernardino, one of the state's cities fighting its way out of bankruptcy. The event was really the result of a year's worth of hard grassroots work.

Knocking on doors on the road to our local elected official

Our work began in the summer of 2012, walking up and down streets talking to neighbors for four grueling months. At times the weather reached over 110 degrees. Armed with a petition in support of clean energy, we knocked on doors in Colton and San Bernadino. Eventually, we collected more than 600 signatures calling for the expansion of local clean energy to replace dirty energy sources.

Taking our campaign to the next level, in January of this year a delegation of our volunteers delivered these petitions to the office of our State Assembly representative Cheryl Brown. It was quite a scene -- we spread the petitions across the table in her conference room and we completely covered the whole table. Cheryl Brown, who had only taken office three weeks prior to us delivering these petitions, was so impressed that she immediately gave us her unequivocal support.

Engaging the clean energy business community

This led to a meeting between the My Generation campaign, SolarCity, SunRun -- two solar companies creating jobs in the Inland Empire -- and Assembly member Brown to discuss the continued expansion of rooftop solar, which powered job creation in her district.

The next month, the My Generation Campaign, alongside Solar City and Sun Run -- two solar companies creating jobs in the Inland Empire -- met with the Assembly member to discuss all the great strides in job creation that rooftop solar had been making in her district. The Assembly member told us that her priority for the district was job creation, and if we could help bring those renewable energy jobs into her district, that she would support our efforts wholeheartedly.

Engaging the faith community

In March, we asked Cheryl Brown's office to attend a solar tour at the Truth Tabernacle Church in the city of Bloomington in her district. Solar City was in the process of installing a solar system on the rooftop of the Truth Tabernacle Church. The new system would result in savings for the church in its energy bills –- savings that the church planned to put right back into their local programs.

From there, the momentum snowballed. Soon, the idea of inaugurating the new solar system going online with a ribbon cutting ceremony came up. We all worked together to make this happen and on the day of the event, Assembly member Cheryl Brown, standing alongside the pastor of the church and the My Generation Campaign and Solar City, commemorated the ribbon cutting as her official Earth Day celebration of 2013.

Solar in low income communities

This segued into our work with the nonprofit group GRID Alternatives, which aims to provide rooftop solar to low-income California homeowners. In the Inland Empire, they had already installed hundreds of systems for families. Given that access to local clean energy is one of our top priorities, working with GRID Alternatives was a natural fit. Over the course of the past year, we had participated in solar installations, educational panels and forums, energy fairs, and legislative work with them.

GRID Alternatives had contacted Assembly member Cheryl Brown's office about holding a green mixer in her district, where the community members could meet the employers in the solar industry and network for employment opportunities. We were then contacted by both entities to help put this together, given our solid organizing track record. We spent the whole month of May strategizing and planning and putting our work together, and in June we were finally able to pull off our Green Mixer event.

Moving forward on solar

This Green Mixer event showed that by working hard through grassroots organizing and by forming coalitions between environmental groups, clean energy industries, faith communities, and our local leaders, we can all create an environmentally sustainable economy. The Green Mixer demonstrated that, regardless of financial influence, dedication and commitment from everyday community members can create a pathway for a better tomorrow.

There is much work to be done as we continue the momentum for clean energy expansion in California's Inland Empire. As we continue the push to replace dirty energy with clean renewable alternatives we are more determined than ever. In fact, we are just getting started.  

Follow the My Generation campaign at www.facebook.com/MyGenerationSC


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