Q&A: Alma Hernandez & the Power of Organizing!

Q&A: Alma Hernandez & the Power of Organizing!

On January 30th, CLCV honored Alma Hernandez, Executive Director of SEIU California, at the annual Badass in Green Awards. Ahead of the Awards, Alma and CLCV CEO, Mary Creasman, had an opportunity to discuss what their respective organizations do for the environment, and how others both inside and out of their organizations can contribute to the climate justice movement. Ranging from Alma’s life in the Central Valley to the power of organizing, these two Badass leaders emphasize the importance of advancing climate justice while creating good union jobs.

In this interview, Mary Creasman is asking the questions and Alma Hernandez is answering them.

Mary: You grew up a daughter of immigrants in the Central Valley. Tell us what that looked like and what that felt like.

Alma: Growing up in the Central Valley has really shaped my ability to empathize and try to understand things from different perspectives. My parents were farmers and my mother went to work for Foster Farms. We didn’t have child care because Central Valley is rural and there’s no way they could drive me back and forth. My babysitter was a woman who lived across the street- Miss Lola from Oklahoma. Every stereotype you could imagine about a woman named Lola from Oklahoma existed, and I experienced that version of it. But my memories are all great memories.

It was a different culture. There was a lot of racial tension, but Miss Lola and her son Floyd really embraced my family without speaking the same language. Communicating through hand gestures is really what shaped who I am in the sense of not judging people based on a stereotype. The fight for humanity and the right to be relevant and have dignity and respect is the same across racial barriers. It’s a beautiful place to grow up and my heart is still there.

M: You are the first Latina executive director of SEIU. That is a big deal! It’s exciting and I can’t believe it took this long. How has that been hard and how has that been rewarding?

A: I never aspired to be the leader of the labor union, but I had a deep passion for it. I agree it took too long [for there to be a Latina executive director]. The challenge that has been hardest for me is really understanding my leadership and the great impact it has on families across California. The best part of the job is interacting with the members and the workers. It’s a huge responsibility and it’s one I don’t take lightly. It’s very humbling because members are expecting us to continue to fight. They don’t want handouts- they want the tools to advocate for their own lives.

M: Where do you see the most need in terms of both advancing climate justice and radically expanding union membership in the state? Where is there opportunity? Where is there overlap? Where should we focus?

A: CLCV has been such a great partner in our fight to change the narrative. It's really helped lead in the space across the state. It has helped challenge our elected leaders to not repeat the same mistakes of the last recession. It is in that call for investment to address the disparities of racial justice, but also climate justice, because it goes hand in hand. The investments needed is huge, and it’s not something SEIU alone can advocate for. It’s not something that the labor movement alone can advocate for because the vision of a just recovery of having clean air, of having a good job that pays a living wage, of having a safe community, all requires the government to invest differently.

M: CLCV’s mission is: elect environmental champions, build democracy, and turn those election wins at the ballot boxes into policy wins. We must hold leaders accountable to make sure our ballot box wins are policy wins for people. Why does building political power matter?

A: We have the policy answers. We know what we need to do. It’s not a question of “what is the right policy to pass?” It is the question of “can we build the political will with the legislature and with the governor?”
There are politicians that don’t lead- they follow. We don’t have the same money and resources in dollar bills as oil companies and their friends do. But we have the right answers, and we have the people power, and we have the passion and the desire to work, and we won’t give up.

M: This has been a really hard year for so many of us across the board. Are you optimistic of our future? And what keeps you motivated to fight for change?

A: We have the greatest opportunity to create the biggest change and that is the most exciting piece of this year. It's going to require a ton of discipline, work, collaboration and consensus building. But we have an opportunity to re-create a California that is more just, that has cleaner air, and good union jobs. That opportunity is right in front of us. We never imagined that this pandemic would give us the opportunity to reset. There are different ways of investing. There’s a way that you can address and provide a social safety net alongside clean air and alongside environmental protections in areas that are underserved.

M: What would you tell everybody watching who wants to get involved? How would people get involved with this work?

A: It’s easier! We don’t all have to go to Sacramento when everything’s virtual. Regardless of the experiences we’ve had, we all have the same vision for what we believe is a California that we can dream of recreating. That shared vision, the intersectionality that we keep talking about. Regardless of where you live, how you grew up, race or gender or sexual orientation, we all have the desire to live in safe communities with clean air and good jobs.

Missed CLCV’s Badass in Green Awards? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Catch Alma and other environmental champions at CLCV’s Badass in Green Awards.

Watch the Badass in Green Awards!

Posted on February 18, 2021 in ECOVOTE BLOG.

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