There’s no question that the election left many of us discouraged, mystified, and fearful.
As we all search inside and out for ways to support one another in this strange new political climate and defend the causes we believe in, it is important to also recognize the amazing victories we have achieved and the positive changes we still have the power to make.
I, for one, am proud to say that Californians made some very good decisions on their ballot last week. By approving Prop 67 and rejecting Prop 65, we stood up for creeks, beaches, and our environment, capping off nearly a decade of advocacy by organizations across the state.
In addition to relentless advocating through policy for a plastic-free environment, we also advocated in the streets as dancing zombies, showed our support through personal testimony as “Humans of the Bay,” and boldly traveled to Novolex’s headquarters in South Carolina to bring their toxic plastic trash right back to their doorstep.
This victory has shown that we can fight for our Bay and win on an enormous scale with room for a ripple effect across the country. These types of victories make us stronger here at home and have impacts far beyond the Bay Area, inspiring many others to replicate our successes.
And while looking forward towards the future, we would be remiss if we did not also shine a bright light on our long and hard history that has been spent fighting to keep our California waterways free from plastic bag pollution.
Save The Bay began advocating for local bag bans after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags in 2007. At that time, rejecting the perceived convenience of plastic bags was quite a statement, despite the fact that bringing your own shopping bag had been the norm in many European countries for as long as anyone could remember.
In order for bag bans to prevail in the Bay Area—let alone throughout California—other major cities would have to show similar leadership. In 2008, Oakland did just that, but was bullied by the plastic bag industry into putting its ban on hold indefinitely.
Despite this setback, the Bay Area environmental community organized a regional campaign to urge the largest city in the Bay Area to adopt a bag ban. The San Jose City Council adopted the strongest bag ban in the country in 2010, after a two-year campaign that involved environmental, youth, community service, and faith-based organizations as well as elected officials, grocers, and the business community. What followed could be described as a four-year domino effect that lead to 80 percent of Bay Area residents living in a city that had banned plastic bags by mid-2014.
Meanwhile, bag bans at the local level had begun to spread across the state, begging the need for a consistent and uniformed statewide policy. Despite the clear benefits of this approach, several attempts to pass a state bill were unsuccessful.
But the environmental community would not give up so easily.
In 2014, state legislators adopted SB 270, signaling the end of plastic bags in California. But, the quick response from the plastic bag industry to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot meant that voters would have to make the final call.
Well, we did. Together, we passed Proposition 67 to ban the bag once and for all. And for that, we thank Californians.
Challenging times are undoubtedly ahead, and protecting the environment will require new strategies and more resources. But one thing is clear: Save The Bay will continue fighting for the Bay.
That means restoring more wetlands, stopping the flow of trash from our cities, and encouraging Bay Smart urban development that protects our waterways and improves quality of life for all Bay Area residents.
With your help, we will be victorious.