The environmental group that sought unsuccessfully to add climate regulations to El Paso’s City Charter this spring is reorganizing and rebranding as it moves forward.
“We’re opening up to a broader audience because we know that we need as many people to be part of the organization and part of our fight,” said Ana Fuentes, executive director of the Amanecer People’s Project, formerly known as Sunrise El Paso. “We want to be the decision-makers and see El Paso transform into the El Paso that we want to see as it pertains to clean air and clean water and community control.”
Amanecer is hosting a membership launch party at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at Cafe Mayapan, 2000 Texas Ave. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who is a prominent advocate of the Green New Deal for economic development and environmental protection, will be a part of the event.
Members of Sunrise El Paso gathered almost tens of thousands of petition signatures in 2022 for a measure that would have required the city government to take a number of steps to address the impacts of climate change.
The “Climate Charter” appeared as Proposition K on the May ballot, where it was rejected by 82% of voters.
El Paso Electric, other energy groups and business allies spent $1.1 million on a campaign opposing the proposal. Ground Game Texas PAC, a political action committee that supported Proposition K, spent just under $19,000.
Fuentes said the organizing group learned a number of lessons from the election. Opponents of Proposition K often criticized the assistance that Sunrise El Paso received from Ground Game Texas, saying outsiders were trying to impose change on El Paso.
“Moving forward, we want to make a clear distinction that we are rooted in El Paso and that we want a permanent presence as our own independent organization,” Fuentes said.
She said she doesn’t believe the Proposition K outcome means that El Pasoans aren’t in favor of taking action against climate change.
“The electorate that came out against Prop K was disproportionately older and whiter than our community,” she said. “I don’t want our community to look at those numbers and say that people don’t want action against climate change. Very specific people were scared and mobilized to vote as they did.”
Voting laws prevent a charter amendment from being introduced within two years. Fuentes said there was no immediate plan to focus on putting another measure in front of voters.
“Our goal moving forward is to have our membership guide our work,” she said. “We’ll start having listening canvases, having conversations with our community about problems that they have as it pertains to the climate crisis and some solutions. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be the Climate Charter, but it’s open to what the membership wants.”
Any new campaigns, however, would be more tangible, Fuentes said, because it was difficult to explain the Climate Charter to many El Pasoans. The measure was over 2,500 words long and contained numerous different policies.
“It was difficult to have conversations with our community members about pinpointing how their life would change after the proposition would pass,” she said. “Moving forward, we want to be punchier in the sense that our community can find our fight much more relatable and identify the ways in which their life would improve.”
Amanecer is being boosted in its kickoff by Khanna, who represents part of Silicon Valley in Congress and who is viewed as a future presidential contender by progressive Democrats. In an interview with El Paso Matters, Khanna said national leaders of the Sunrise Movement encouraged him to help with environmental and climate change efforts in El Paso.
He said smart climate policy and industrial growth can go hand in hand.
“One of the things we need to explore in towns like El Paso is the diversification of the economy – that we understand that obviously the oil and gas sector supports a lot of jobs in Texas and supports working class and middle class jobs,” Khanna said in an interview in Austin, where he was participating in the Texas Tribune Festival. “And we’ve got to create new economic opportunities in new manufacturing in other industries, so that as we transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, that we see an expansion of economic opportunity in places like El Paso.”
In addition to its membership launch, Amanecer also plans a “Toxic Tour of El Paso” on Saturday that will visit the Marathon oil refinery and El Paso Electric natural-gas fired power plants to examine sources of pollution.
El Paso Electric and Marathon did not respond to requests for comment about the tour highlighting their facilities.
Fuentes said Amanecer’s funding will come from membership fees, grants, and donations.
“I think we have inspired a lot of people, as demonstrated by how many people have come to our orientations this summer,” she said. “El Paso had never talked about climate change and justice at that scale before. We motivated people to take action.”
This story was co-published with Next City as part of our joint Equitable Cities Reporting Fellowship For Borderland Narratives.