How We Got The California Plastic Bag Ban

Empowering Senators To Be Environmental Heroes
Getting the 6th-largest economy in the world to ban plastic bags was a huge win for the environment, and a significant case study of how everyday people can beat Goliath and save the world.

Amazing groups like 5 Gyres, COARE, Plastic Pollution Coalition and many others had been going after the legislators and other groups in California, gathering support among like-minded Democrats to push through a ban, but the numbers were still too small to get a majority vote in the legislature.  One small group, with whom I had the pleasure of working, had a brilliant strategy that I believe was key in getting the bag ban.

Azul, an ocean-protection organization made up of savvy environmental advocates, knew who was for a state-wide plastic bag ban, who was against it, and who was on the fence.  Three of the key swing votes were Latino state senators, whose vote was the difference between a bag ban or a continuation of 123,000 tons of annual plastic waste.  But we had a challenge in front of us.

The narrative created by the chemical industry, including their astroturf groups like Familias Unidas de California offered this insulting insinuation: bag bans are too hard on lower-income people, a significant proportion of which are Latino.

Instead of creating videos for the general public and hoping they would contact these swing-vote senators for us, we used our contacts to bring the message directly to the senators. The people who spoke on camera are a mix of both those whom the policymakers recognize as powerful voices of the Latino community, and also everyday constituents who wanted to share their story.  They busted the Latinos-need-plastic myth and pressured the legislators to make the right decision, to stand as leaders in the cause, no longer ignored.

Activists got this video directly to the legislators and staff, and followed it up with a few dozen meetings, with the help of Latino Coalition for a CA Bag Ban.  Combined with the efforts of the rest of the environmental community, real pressure was applied.

These Senators not only changed their vote, they became the sponsors of the bill.  They went from a Bag Bans Destroy Latino Communities opinion to a We Will Lead The Charge To Demanding The Bag Ban drive.  SB 270 passed.  We won.

And when the chemical industry put on confusing ballot initiative to block the law in 2016, we won again.

Please use these techniques in your activism.  Contact me if you want to talk more about how.

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