Building Community Resilience in the Southwest

Written by: Maritza Martinez, Fellowship Program Manager

As we face increasing extreme weather and deep economic challenges, more and more people are beginning to feel a sense of urgency about community resilience strategies. The ability of local communities to survive and thrive through challenging times is important—not only in the face of climate change, but in the face of economic crises and divisive politics.  Unfortunately, people of color have found themselves up against these hardships for many generations.  As a result, Green For All fellows from low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have deep insights to share when it comes to developing and implementing resilience strategies. 

Local leaders may not be able to prevent disasters, but they can make sure their communities are organized and ready to withstand whatever comes their way. One region that is leading the way on this is the Southwest.

Last month, twelve Green For All fellows and allies from Native American and Latino communities met in Albuquerque to discuss a regional approach to building leadership capacity and community resilience in the Southwest.

The meeting included leaders from the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Tewa Women United, the Navajo Nation’s Greening The Rez program, La Plazita Institute, and the Tierra Y Libertad Organization.  These groups engage in a wide variety of activities, from urban gardening to clean air advocacy and working to end nuclear testing on their lands. But they all have one thing in common: A profound commitment to culturally grounded and innovative approaches to engaging their communities in building solutions to poverty and pollution.

We asked these leaders to define community resilience and to note which ideas tend to be overlooked in mainstream definitions. They pointed out that local participation is essential to effective resilience planning and that investments in the capacity of community members to participate are needed to avoid a top-down approach. They highlighted a commitment to public health, which includes access to medical care, as well as clean air and water and fresh food. They also noted that community-based education in which people have opportunities to share their traditional knowledge is key to building resilience in areas that have experienced generations of neglect and alienation. And, as representatives of drought prone states like New Mexico and Arizona, the one issue that topped all of their lists was access to clean water. This issue may be most urgent in the Southwest, but fresh water is an essential piece of the resilience puzzle everywhere.

Together, we identified common challenges faced by the different groups and leaders, shared best practices and solutions, and spent time learning more about social entrepreneurship, public communication, and fundraising. One of the most important outcomes was the establishment of a regional movement circle, where leaders commit to supporting each other, sharing resources, and building power together.

Through the regional movement circle, we’ll continue to work together in the Southwest to further reinforce community resilience strategies that can serve as a model for the rest of the country.

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