PROFILES IN ACTIVISM

Our newsletter this quarter is designed to introduce you to our volunteer Executive Committee and to perhaps get you excited about volunteering with us. We asked the seven members on the committee  to tell us why they became activists with the Sierra Club and then had them answer some questions we gave them. Meet our amazing and dedicated group!

BARBARA HENSLEIGH, CHAIR

Barbara with a big smile while hikingI have been volunteering since 2016 after a devastating election. I worked on the phaseout of oil drilling in the L.A. basin; eliminating single use plastic through ordinances; the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan; lobbying officials to, among other things, require affordable housing and charging stations in new buildings; and rebuilding the Central Group, to name a few.

What is my favorite eco-friendly restaurant?  I love Un Solo Sol, in East L.A., across from the Metro’s Mariachi Plaza stop. It’s vegan and unprocessed and the nopalitos are yummy. The owner, Carlos Ortiz, is an activist himself, a bonus. For ice cream, Pazzo Gelato on Sunset in Silver Lake is a favorite. IMHO it’s the best ice cream in town, and without the plastic spoons or containers.

Who is my hero and why? James Baldwin is my hero. He steadfastly spoke truth to power in a way that could not be ignored or diminished. Watch his debate with William F. Buckley, on YouTube, for one example. And he wrote well to boot!

JESS CHOW, VICE CHAIR

I joined the Sierra Club about 6 years ago, after becoming frustrated by the lack of progress and the worsening state of our environment. It became clear to me that working with elected officials was the most effective way to drive swift change. Although I had never been interested in politics before, I recognized the potential for impactful change working via an organization like Sierra Club.

Since then, I have been actively involved with the Club in numerous ways. I am Vice Chair of the Central Group Executive Committee, serve as the regional representative for the Angeles Political Committee, and co-chair the Angeles Chapter Banquet Committee.

What is your best camping pro-tip? We just took our 3-year-old camping, and the best advice given to us that we now pass onto other families is to bring a portable kiddie potty!

What advice can you give to someone who wants to be an environmental activist?  Activism is a very broad word, and can come in many forms! To get started, do something that you love for an organization that aligns with your values, and leverage your existing skill sets to get you started. There’s always a need for things like social media content, tabling/talking to people, or putting on events. No one’s expecting someone to know how to lobby a politician right out of the gate!

ROBYN BYTHEWAY, SECRETARY/TREASURER

I’ve focused on living a sustainable lifestyle in my personal life for a while, but I joined Sierra Club after realizing that we need more systemic change in order to impact climate change, pollution, and environmental racism. I’ve now been a Central Group member for four years, and in that time have joined the Executive Committee and currently serve as the Central Group treasurer and secretary. I work a lot on various legislative projects and also on endorsement committees.

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? I’ve only done it once, but the hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy tops the list of my hikes in the Los Angeles area. It was grueling, but definitely worth it.

What is the matter you have worked on in the SC you are most proud of? I’m proud of having worked on Sierra Club’s endorsement committees during the last Los Angeles election. It was the first time I had participated, and I enjoyed the process of researching candidates’ environmental records, and hearing firsthand from them about their environmental priorities and goals.

KAWANA KENYA

Hi, I’ve been a member of the Sierra Club since 2019. I started because I was concerned about the negative health impacts of the oil fields in my neighborhood and wanted to turn my concern into action that would benefit my community. My environmental passion is based on equity work and helping to uplift the voices of historically underrepresented groups.

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? My favorite hike in L.A. is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, but I also love walking down residential streets and checking out all of the different gardens.

What is your favorite native plant? At the moment, I’m fond of the crimson pitcher sage, but since I’m very new to gardening this is likely to change. Basically, I like anything that’s low maintenance, low water, smells good and is beautiful.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to be an environmental activist? My advice to someone wanting to be an environmental activist is to pick your passion and stick with it. Start by learning as much as you can on your issue and then find others who also share your passion. Set goals and then work consistently to achieve them. Be prepared for the long game, because even small victories are often difficult to achieve.

AMANDA STEMEN 

Amanda having fun the roots of a giant treeI’m volunteering for the Sierra Club because I’m passionate about having a healthy world for all. I’ve been with the Central Group for seven years now and have been working on parks and green space issues in the city of Los Angeles.

What is Your Most Interesting Adventure? Hmmm… it’s hard to pick my most interesting adventure, but it was probably solo hiking in the mountains of Trinidad, Cuba, where I came across a bunch of wild boars and farmers who were astonished at how a white American female found her way to their trails.

What is Your Favorite Podcast? I have two favorite podcasts: “On Being” with Krista Tippett and “Your Undivided Attention” put out by the Center for Humane Technology. I highly recommend anyone concerned with the state of the world to listen to both.

RAJ PATEL

I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but I was driven to join the Sierra Club six years ago when it was made evident to me that the current systems in place are unsustainable for both humans and the planet. While the necessary changes won’t happen overnight, I believe a lasting impact can be achieved through the collective and focused energy of people working together.

During my time with the Central Group, I’ve served on the Executive Committee, helped on a variety of campaigns such as Oil and Plastic Pollution, and planned a Zero Waste Fair.

What is your best camping pro-tip? When I was a student with the WTC (Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course), we went camping in the snow for a couple nights. There I learned that a Nalgene filled with boiling water inside of your sleeping bag is an effective way to help you keep warm at night!

What is your most interesting adventure? In 2019, my wife and I hiked a 40-mile portion of the Kumano Kodo in Japan, which is a series of pilgrimage routes through the mountains and countryside of Japan. We saw beautiful landscapes, met wonderful local people, and experienced a completely different side of Japan.

MATHIEU BONIN

Mathieu at the beachI have been volunteering for the Sierra club since 2019. At that time I was shocked by the environmental policies made by a previous administration, how it was destructive for the ecosystems and for minorities. Morally I felt the need to act, at my modest level, for more environmental protections and more environmental justice. What led me to the environmental questions was a friendship with a biology and geology teacher who taught me ecology and natural history while I was studying environmental philosophy. We have been taking our students to Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea for ecological and philosophical field trips. It all started here for me; I am now interested in the question of urban parks and what aspects they allow us to reflect. I would like to be both literate in human and natural history to understand and protect our natural and human ecosystems.

How long have you been with Central Group and what have you been working on? I have been in the Sierra club for four years. I helped create Trash Talk Saturdays, which consists in cleaning a park while listening to a talk I make about the history and aspects of an urban park – I have been working on 18 parks now! It is an incredible experience. I also participated in the fundraising event “CityWalk,” doing some research for the team, and I have been following some campaigns such as “Stop the Gondola” at the State Historic Park. I like tabling and meeting future new volunteers!

What is your favorite hike in Los Angeles? It’s not a hike per se, but I am commuting every day with my bike and I enjoy the L.A. river from Frogtown to Burbank. Every day is different, contemplating the birds and the flow. The seasons remind me that L.A. is within a wider natural system, and the L.A. river is a part of that.

What is your favorite book or podcast and why? I recommend Cyclettes by Tree Abraham. It allows you to experience poetry, personal writing and philosophy in the same book. This book helped me to understand the relationship I built this year with my bike and my biking. If, like me, you are interested in the relationship between landscape and science, A Natural History Guide to the Pacific Coast and North Central Baja California and Adjacent Islands by Dennis L. Bostic is a good example. Finally, about urban parks I would recommend the excellent podcast “Open Space Radio” by the National Recreation and Park Association.