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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Building a 21st Century Environmental Movement That Wins: Twenty Years of Environmental Justice Organizing by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network


Over the past twenty years, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) has engaged in innovative strategies for building grassroots leadership in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities to bring important perspectives to the movement for environmental justice. Founded in 1993, APEN strategies include community organizing and leadership development, policy development and advocacy, multiracial movement building, and, most recently, electoral organizing and civic engagement to affect state climate and energy policy. This article reflects on lessons learned in organizing to elevate the power of AAPIs to influence the public debates over the environment and influence public policy that affects where AAPIs live, work, play, and go to school. We focus on a case study of the successful defeat of Proposition 23, a California ballot initiative that would have suspended the nation’s toughest state-level greenhouse gas emissions program and point to the increasing role and power of AAPIs in determining state and national climate policy. For organizers, policy makers, and environmental advocates in particular, the campaign illustrates the importance of integrating an electoral strategy with community organizing work to educate and turn out voters to advance progressive environmental policy change. Lessons from APEN’s twenty years illustrate the past and current role of AAPIs in environmental activism and policy and the strategies necessary to tap demographic changes in order to strengthen a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change, accelerate the development of an equitable clean energy economy, and ensure a livable planet for future generations.

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