Hewlett: Q&A with Vien Truong: Once a refugee, now fighter of poverty and pollution

Earth Day, on April 22, is a moment for us to reflect on how we’re protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the species that share our habitats, and the spectacular landscapes we cherish. In honor of Earth Day 2016, the Hewlett Foundation is showcasing seven grantees who are working to help make the planet more sustainable. We’re rolling out a weeklong Q&A series with up-and-coming leaders who are passionate about the environment.

Kicking off the series, we spoke with Vien Truong, director of Green For All, a national initiative to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

How did you become involved with the environment cause?

When I was growing up, my family lived in some of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, California. We were refugees from Vietnam and my parents didn’t speak any English.  We struggled to make ends meet. As a child, it was normal for me to see families dealing with severe economic, mental and social problems.

It wasn’t until I was able to travel and live in other parts of the United States that I understood it was not normal for families to live in cramped apartments festering with cockroaches; kids to attend schools that are surrounded with chain-linked fences that look like prisons; neighborhoods to have regular drive by shootings. When I began understanding that these conditions were abnormal, I decided to dedicate my life to alleviating poverty and building the beloved communities that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned.  

As I continued working on anti-poverty solutions, I became more sensitive to environmental concerns like droughts, polluted air, and lack of reliable clean drinking water. Fighting for poverty felt like an immediate need – there are families out there suffering and starving. It was hard, however, to silence the nagging thoughts that we were burning up our planet and that environmental issues also need our attention.

When I learned that one can work to solve environmental problems and economic justice – I was hooked. I joined Green For All in 2008 to lead their state policy work. It was a great time to join the green jobs movement and we were able to pass a number of policies in a few years.

Can you describe a recent effort that you are proud of working on? 

Green For All decided to support the residents in Flint, Michigan, who have been struggling with a toxic water crisis. We reached out to local organizers to ask whether we can help them in getting their stories out to a national audience. At the time, major media outlets were beginning to move on to the next news cycle. News that did cover Flint did not give residents a more central role in their stories.

We wanted to lend our access to media, artists, influencers and policymakers to support Flint residents. By doing so, we were able to direct major media outlets to listen to their stories, struggles and needs. It was a proud moment for our team to stand in solidarity with the local Flint leaders and to make sure that resources were directed to them from around the country. We are now working to ensure no other city experience the tragedies that befell Flint.

What is one message you would most want to tell world leaders?

For too long, the traditional wisdom has been that the problems of poverty and pollution are so big they can’t be handled together.  We now know that these issues are so connected we can’t solve either of them unless we think about them together. Solutions like California’s SB 535 model, legislation passed in 2012 which caps the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, charges polluters for the damage they cause, and directs hundreds of millions of dollars to disadvantaged communities most impacted by climate change, is a great example of the possibility of tackling both issues simultaneously.

We can build on this model nationally through the Clean Power Plan or through state policies. By regulating polluters and investing in low-income communities, we can begin to clean up our air and improve the quality of life for all citizens while reducing the costs of living.

What sustains you?  

I’m increasingly aware of the number of nonprofit leaders who are burned out and leave the field. Given that reality, I’ve made a conscious decision to find time to rejuvenate myself by spending time with my loved ones -- family and friends. Most recently, I’ve also started exploring classes on the weekends – these classes range from learning how to do handstands to Muay Thai. It’s been a lot of fun.  

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Green For All Praises Secretary Clinton's Environmental Justice Platform, Calls for Further Action to Make Polluters Pay

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Green For All Praises Secretary Clinton's Environmental Justice Platform, Calls for Further Action to Make Polluters Pay


This afternoon, Secretary Hillary Clinton released her plan on environmental and climate justice. 

In response, Green For All Director Vien Truong released the following statement:

"Secretary Clinton's environmental and climate justice plan is an important step forward for low-income communities and communities of color impacted by pollution, and for our national discussion on environmental racism. We applaud this effort and encourage further ideas that would make polluters pay for the reinvestment and rebuilding of communities who have suffered the worst of pollution and environmental racism.
"From Flint to the Gulf Coast and from Governor Snyder to Shell Oil, we need to make sure that polluters pay, not families."
 

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Green For All is a national initiative that puts communities of color at the forefront of the climate movement and equity at the center of environmental solutions. By creating and implementing equitable solutions to some our most pressing issues today – poverty and pollution – Green For All works to ensure that every American citizen has access to strong, resilient, and healthy communities.


Mark Ruffalo, Van Jones, Green For All Launch Campaign Demanding Governor Snyder Fix Flint

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2016

Contact:
Daniel Wein, daniel@greenforall.org

Mark Ruffalo, Van Jones, Green For All Launch Campaign Demanding Governor Snyder Fix Flint

New Campaign Calls on Governor Snyder to Fix the Pipes with Flint Labor, Establish Comprehensive Health Services, and Repay Residents for Poisoned Water

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Mark Ruffalo is joining Van Jones and Green For All Director Vien Truong to call on Governor Rick Snyder to fix the pipes in Flint, Michigan. The campaign - in coordination with Flint Rising, a coalition of local Flint organizations - launches the morning that Governor Rick Snyder is slated to testify before Congress on the Flint water crisis he created by switching Flint to a toxic water source to save money. 

See the just-launched petition here: http://www.greenforall.org/flint_petition

The campaign launches with a petition from Ruffalo, Jones, Truong and Green For All demanding Gov. Snyder fix the pipes immediately with local labor, establish an extensive health network for residents, and repay residents for poisoned water.

Mark Ruffalo, Van Jones, Tom Steyer and Green For All Director Vien Truong travelled to Flint just last week to meet with local residents and hear first-hand their stories and urgent needs around the water crisis, which has wiped out the home values of tens of thousands of residents along with corroding their pipes and leaving them without access to safe water.

“What is happening in Flint is a national disaster created and perpetuated by Governor Rick Snyder,” said Mark Ruffalo, Founder of Water Defense. “People can’t live forever on bottled water, and the time has come for Governor Snyder to step up and fix every pipe in Flint. Water is a fundamental human right, and we will fight until that right is restored in Flint.”

“Governor Snyder is responsible for this mess, and we demand that his administration step in immediately to fix it,” said Van Jones, Dream Corps President and CNN commentator. “People have saved their whole lives to buy homes that now have no value in Flint, and nearly 100,000 people have lost access to water. It’s inexcusable for these communities to be neglected a moment longer.”

“We are fed up with corporations and politicians like Gov. Snyder sacrificing the lives of low-income communities and communities of color for profits,” said Vien Truong, Director of Green For All. “This is a national disaster that has robbed families of their health, their life savings, and even the lives of their expected children. The time has come for Governor Snyder to fix the pipes, and do it with local labor. Our communities refuse to be bullied into silence.”


The Guardian: Mark Ruffalo calls Flint's water crisis a 'national emergency' in recent visit

March 7, 2016

Earlier on Monday, organizers from Green for All – a national initiative launched to highlight environmental issues in low-income communities – ferried Ruffalo, Steyer, and residents around Flint on a bus to highlight chief demands from local activists: water bill reimbursements, a full replacement of lead service lines in the city, and infrastructure investments to address long-term financial impacts in wake of the crisis.

Black Enterprise: Activist Van Jones Joins Artists For Bus Tour Leading Crisis Response In Flint

March 7, 2016

Author, activist and founder of Green For All, Van Jones, will join a group of participants of the Support For Flint’s Future Bus Tour that include actor and founder of Water Defense Mark Ruffalo; environmental justice activist and Director of Green For All Vien Truong; and businessman, philanthropist and founder of NextGen Climate Tom Steyer.

Detroit News: Mark Ruffalo says Flint is a national disaster

March 7, 2016

Oscar-nominated actor and water activist Mark Ruffalo listened to residents vent frustration over the city’s lead-tainted water system Monday, then expressed his own outrage. Ruffalo and Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, were joined by a group of activists in the basement of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church near the city’s downtown on Monday to discuss the needs of the people of Flint in dealing with the city’s municipal water supply disaster. 

San Francisco Chronicle: West Oakland deserves better than dirty coal

March 7, 2016

Coal is a dying industry, and it shouldn’t be allowed to take the people of West Oakland down with it. Instead of tying its future to a doomed and dirty fuel source, Oakland should demand a shipping terminal that won’t be tied for decades to a failing industry. Demand jobs and opportunity that don’t come with asthma attacks and heart disease. Demand access to the clean-energy economy that is sweeping America by powering Oakland with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

Mark Ruffalo Joins Green for All, NextGen Climate, Local Flint Residents to Call for Solutions to Ongoing Water Crisis

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Daniel Wein, daniel@greenforall.org

 

Mark Ruffalo Joins Green for All, NextGen Climate, Local Flint Residents to Call for Solutions to Ongoing Water Crisis

 

FLINT, Mich. -- Today, actor Mark Ruffalo, Green for All Founder Van Jones, NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer and Green For All Director Vien Truong came together to stand in solidarity with the organizers responding to the Flint water crisis and fighting for long-term solutions for Flint. The “Support For Flint’s Future” bus tour -- one day after the Democratic Debate in Flint -- was organized by Green for All to support the people and organizations that have been on the forefront of addressing and responding to the crisis.

 

See photos here: http://bit.ly/1QCdqNL

See video from today here: http://bit.ly/1Qybipb

 

The tour was formed to support and highlight three key demands from local group Flint Rising:

  1. Reimbursements for residents that have been forced to continue paying for contaminated water;

  2. New pipes that deliver clean drinking water, with the jobs going to local residents; and

  3. Long-term infrastructure investments in Flint to counter the brutal financial impact of the crisis.

At St. Michael’s Church, Flint Rising organizers Art Reyes, Nakiya Wakes, Desiree Duell and United Association Local 370’s Harold Harrington joined national leaders to outline the water crisis’ dangerous impact on residents’ health and call for lasting solutions. The trip also featured site visits to Hurley Medical Center with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who first sounded the alarm to dangerously high lead levels in local children and founded FlintKids.org; a briefing on water testing from Water Defense at a stop overlooking the Flint River; and a meeting with Harold Harrington, the business manager of the local plumbers’ and pipefitters’ union.

“Our kids are sick, we can’t bathe at home, and we need more sustainable solutions than bottled water,” said Nakiya Wakes. “This is our community and our home. We need investments in Flint, and we need them now. ”

“What is happening in Flint right now is a disaster, and the time has come for President Obama to officially designate the water crisis as such,” said Mark Ruffalo, Actor and Founder of Water Defense. “The United Nations has already declared access to clean water indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It’s incumbent upon all of us to bear witness to the damage done in Flint and communities like it from environmental racism. This means addressing the underlying issues that allowed for the Flint Water Crisis to take place, and empowering the groups trying to build a long-term future for their city.”

“It goes against the very nature of American democracy to subject citizens to the mistreatment that the residents of Flint have borne the brunt of for years,” said Van Jones, former green jobs advisor to President Obama and founder of Green For All. “The time has come for President Obama to declare what has happened in Flint a federal disaster, and meet it with the federal resources the problem requires. Situations like Flint don’t develop overnight; they are the result of long-standing neglect from all parts of our society. Addressing these issues starts with lifting up local community leaders and addressing their demands.”

“We’re here today because we believe that access to clean, safe water is a basic human right, and that right has been denied to families in Flint,” said NextGen Climate President Tom Steyer. “From Flint to Ohio to my home state of California, too many Americans are being denied clean water and left without a voice and without a seat at the table. We have to fix this, we have to fight for clean water and demand justice for every single American.”

“The time has come for President Obama to formally  declare the Flint water crisis a federal disaster,” said Vien Truong, Director of Green For All. “Flint has experienced the worst of America in this crisis. People have lost their kids, their livelihoods, and their drinking water. Flint now deserves the best America has to offer, which means federal resources that put Flint back to work fixing the pipes and addressing this public health emergency. With the right investments, Flint’s future is bright.”

 

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Green For All works to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. Our goal is to make sure people of color have a place and a voice in the climate movement. That our neighborhoods are strong, resilient, and healthy. That as the clean energy economy grows, it brings jobs and opportunity to our communities. More at GreenForAll.org/

NextGen Climate is focused on bringing climate change to the forefront of American politics. Founded by businessperson and philanthropist Tom Steyer in 2013, NextGen Climate acts politically to prevent climate disaster and promote prosperity for all Americans.


MLive: Mark Ruffalo, activists to tour Flint in support of city in water crisis

March 2, 2016

"The mission behind this bus tour, and Green For All, is to provide a megaphone for the community leaders and organizations working to address the crisis in Flint," said Truong. "We now need to turn the focus to the future of Flint, and what the community needs to sustainably and equitably rebuild itself into a prosperous city."

Green For All Joins with Activists, Artists to Announce the SUPPORT FOR FLINT’S FUTURE Bus Tour

For Immediate Release

MEDIA CONTACT

Daniel Wein – daniel@greenforall.org

 

Green For All Joins with Activists, Artists to Announce the SUPPORT FOR FLINT’S FUTURE Bus Tour

Mark Ruffalo, Van Jones, Vien Truong, Tom Steyer & others join for a bus tour to highlight community organizations and individuals leading crisis response in Flint

March 2, 2016 – Oakland, CA – The morning after the Democratic Presidential Debate will draw the nation’s attention to Flint, Green For All will assemble a diverse group of activists and artists to join the Support For Flint’s Future Bus Tour. The tour will begin on Monday, March 7th at 9 a.m. EST, making several site visits across Flint to call attention, bear witness and share solutions to the ongoing Flint Water Crisis.

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