Free to breathe and thrive

Bianca Marcella Ballará

I am passionate about the Earth just as I am passionate for humanity. In my eyes and the eyes of many walking alongside me, there is no difference. My vision is for all Oregonians to live in a thriving landscape wherein we may drink pure, clean water and breathe clear air and be nourished from living soils. I speak out for an Oregon that respects our environment in order to respect the health of our own human community.

For me, water is more than an eight-glass daily prescription. Water is the most fundamental component of our well-being. It connects us to the past, to the future and to every living being in the web of life.

Water enters our bodies as energizing hydration and exits our bodies as cleansing relief to pass through the water cycle and hydrate the next being.

In the words of Grandma Agnes Baker Parker, a respected elder of the local Takelma Tribe and treasure of people worldwide, “All humans came from water in the amniotic sac of our mother’s womb and that water is our first medicine. We are to take care of it and guard it. Not just for now but for seven generations to come in the unborn.”

Our relationship with air is the same. On average, every human alive draws in 12 generous breaths every minute. Those oxygen molecules are the same that sustained our great grandparents and will inspire your great grandchildren.

Every one of us has an intimate connection with air and water. Air and water move from oceans and atmospheres outside of our bodies to cellular exchange deep within. We are united by the way that they swirl between and through, meeting all of our needs.

In this unity, we are so very similar with every living and thriving organism. Plant, animal, mineral: we are interconnected and inextricable from waters of streams and the air we breathe. It is no wonder these timeless elements are honored and blessed across all ancient indigenous cultures, from the Lakota of the Great Plains to the Druids of the British Isles, from the Yoruba of Nigeria to the Buddhists of Tibet.

Because water, air and soil travel the world, wise ones imagine good thoughts and speak wishes into them, spreading well-being, health and good fortune globally.

We at Beyond Toxics hope to continually learn from these earth-based cultures. When we protect Oregon’s water and air and work to keep them clean, we hope that we are spreading good wishes for well-being across our diverse communities. If these elements thrive, every single human being will be supported by them equally.

During these quickly changing and trying times of the COVID-19 virus global pandemic, we are learning not only the high value of the 6 feet around our bodies but of what occurs across thousands of miles of land and sea. I believe it is very important to understand that our immune systems would not be as vulnerable without the significant toll already burdening us from the rampant and bio-persistent pollution contaminating our ecosystem. We are also learning that some of our immune systems are already more compromised and therefore markedly more vulnerable to this threat than others.

Right now, even in Oregon, air and water pollution oppresses the poorest neighborhoods, exposes those in the lowest-income jobs and affects disproportionately greater numbers of indigenous and communities of color. From the eyes of the privileged, these conditions go unnoticed, but through the eyes of those most affected, the degradation of our precious air and water, and of the community, are in plain sight. Balance will be restored only as we attend to this difference.

Born of our collaboration with Unete Center for Farmworker Advocacy in Medford and NAACP-Lane County, we have formed “LOCAL”: Liberation of Community and Land. LOCAL serves the indigenous and communities of color of Oregon by encouraging an environmental justice movement–by and for our diverse people. This, in turn, serves the broader community by lifting up the deep wisdom of our ancestors’ relationship to land. We come together across our diverse Native and backgrounds of color because we are stronger, more visible and more supported in shifting our Oregon culture to one that celebrates diversity. We come together to offer environmental solutions that work for all, not just for some. During this time of facing a public health crisis, we need big ideas and a grand vision; we need justice for all; and we need a multiplicity of perspectives.

With the growing acceptance of scientific research showing the harmful effects of toxic chemicals on human, pollinator and salmon health and the available resources for organic methods, we at Beyond Toxics are working to implement new ways forward. Our cities and counties need alternative solutions so we can leave behind pesticides as artifacts of the recent past and return our children and families to organic green public spaces.

Beyond Toxics wishes to serve as an inspiration for a society that values well-being and peace. We do this by honoring the importance water, air and soil had to our ancestors and will have for the children of future generations.

Earth’s wellness ensures our own vitality and, in turn, keeps our individual immune systems strong. Whether human, plant or animal, clean air and clean water are at the center of what we need for good health, nourishment, and the basic ability to thrive and live long. Until all of us can breathe easily, drink fully and pray, learn and work in well-stewarded landscapes, I will be encouraging all of our communities to speak and rise in unity. Together we have the capacity to keep our local ecosystem healthy, ourselves healthy and contribute to creating a foundation for a Culture of Peace.

Bianca Ballará is an Environmental Justice community organizer for Beyond Toxics and the LOCAL project and is a first-generation Latinx living and working in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon.