No one at last month’s convening of San Joaquin Valley funders will soon forget when Susana De Anda from the Community Water Center placed a rusty pipe and two plastic bottles of dirty, contaminated water on the table in the front of the room.
The rusty pipe and dirty water were from a rural area in Fresno County, but they could have been from so many of the towns in the Valley that lack clean, safe drinking water.
Yet the water crisis is only one of many challenges the people of the San Joaquin Valley face right now. Farm worker rights, concentrated poverty, air pollution… the number of issues that came up over the course of two days often felt overwhelming.
However, the notably candid and sometimes heated discussions over the course of the two-day convening led to an overarching conclusion: that all of the challenges in the San Joaquin Valley – and solutions to these challenges – are connected by the concept of power. For decades, there has been a serious and destructive disconnect between the people in power in the San Joaquin Valley and the people who live and work there. For needed changes to come to the Valley, the existing power dynamic must change.
This is a daunting task, especially given the huge geographic area of the San Joaquin Valley. But the rich conversations yielded a path for funders that includes:
- Establishing a San Joaquin Valley funder collaborative to bring together several existing funder networks with Smart Growth California to ensure an aligned strategy over time on these issues.
- Increasing support for organizations conducting authentic community organizing, civic engagement, and leadership development.
The San Joaquin Valley is at a turning point. We are thrilled that funders have increased their commitment to the Valley by engaging with each other and advocates in new ways for greater impact.
If you are a funder working toward healthy, equitable communities and sustainable natural systems in the San Joaquin Valley and are interested in participating in the San Joaquin funder collaborative, contact Nina Bohlen, Director of Smart Growth California.