On the Ground: PODER

Since 1991, PODER — People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights — has worked to improve the lives of low-income communities and communities of color within San Francisco’s Mission and Excelsior districts, with a particular focus on Latino immigrants. PODER brings people-powered solutions into the community to support local economies, nurture individual leadership, and speak to community power and culture. 

According to PODER Organizational Director Antonio Díaz, PODER’s origins can be found in the neighborhood’s need for community organizing. “As we got to know the Mission, we realized there was an amazing number of community-based organizations and a wealth of community-serving organizations,” Díaz noted. “However, we got the sense that there weren’t institutions focused on initiating community organizing, engaging folks at the door, and focusing on community priorities by working on solutions together.”

PODER’s unique environmental justice approach organizes low-income communities to recognize and challenge the disproportionate impacts of environmental hazards on their neighborhoods. PODER works on issues such as land use, affordable housing, community planning, and other aspects of the built environment as potential avenues for change.

“Environmental justice organizing has been important, in that we’re able to really speak to different neighborhoods,” said Díaz. “We’ve been especially instrumental in urban areas, which are impacted by poor planning decisions and environmental inequities.”

Most recently, PODER responded to the “tech boom” gentrification in the Mission by working to impede displacement-causing development projects and to bring new affordable housing projects to the Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods. Other PODER initiatives distribute resources to construct urban parks and gardens on publicly owned land, fund urban farming projects, and support and foster local co-ops.

PODER focuses on practical solutions: “As much as it’s important to fight and try to get rid of the bad, we also need to take a proactive stance to bring in the good. That’s manifested in building projects and other people-centered solutions that address the needs of current residents,” he noted.

PODER supports local economies as the key to thriving, sustainable neighborhoods. Through its Working Together Initiative, PODER fosters economic resilience and environmental sustainability by training community members to launch social enterprises or community cooperatives. With the use of a community educational toolbox and advisers from a diversity of sectors, PODER has been able to launch a Co-op Academy and help individuals learn about working cooperatively and to potentially start their own co-op or social enterprise.

Another strength of PODER is the involvement of the community. In order to sustain local leadership, PODER prioritizes recruitment of new members and develops community leaders to support the work through its numerous leadership programs and trainings, such as caminos de lidergazoconvivios, and art and resistance events. PODER also runs civic engagement programs to address immigration rights and engagement, as well as language access.

“Based on past organizing, it isn’t enough to win. How can we continue to ensure community involvement and faith? We engage community stewardship and work to foster community assets in the neighborhood,” said Díaz.

PODER’s maturation has included advocating for government funding to ensure that community members have access to programs that develop their skills and connect them with their neighbors. It has also strengthened its network by joining groups such as San Francisco Rising, the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Our Power Campaign, and the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. These alliances help PODER develop tools and stay informed on relevant local and state policies, as well as sustain momentum for further community involvement.

“People recognize the issues in their neighborhood, and when given the opportunity, they step up,” Díaz noted. “This speaks to the rich history of organizing.”

Learn more about how PODER is mobilizing the Latino community for upcoming elections.

Sign up for updates and learn about volunteer opportunities with PODER.

Read the rest of the Summer 2015 California Equity Quarterly issue>>>