If his life had taken a different turn, Jamison “Jamie” Valdez might be an electronics technician. He might have been working in construction. And he might have been fully satisfied with his job, his income, and his prospects for the future.
Life changed course when was injured on a construction site. The opinion of his attorney was that Colorado — which has some of the worst workers compensation laws on the books — wasn’t going to require the employer to do “right” by him. They were not going to restore him so that he could return to work. His attorney was 100 percent correct.
Valdez had to plot his own future. It wasn’t solely about his financial future but more about a need to pursue justice and empathy for his community.
The road he took led him to college, to campus activism, to grassroots activism and, eventually, to organizing – a role that he has held in his hometown of Pueblo, Colorado for the last 12 years; a role that has brought him community attention and led to his position as Colorado Community Organizer for Mothers Out Front.
In so many ways, his journey is the journey of his family and the fulfillment of his mother’s dreams.
Valdez describes the late Ruby “Tina” Valdez-Generally as a beautiful woman, a great Mom, a capable woman, a strong Latina who came from a rich and diverse culture: Native, Spanish, Irish. He got compassion and empathy from his Mom and from her father. When her son was 8, Tina married Alan Generally and married into a family of African American descent. “It gave me a powerful perspective on the world,” Valdez says.
His world expanded further when he decided that he would pursue a college education. Being enrolled in psychology and history courses at Pueblo’s campus of Colorado State University widened his self-awareness. He had grown up in the world that his grandparents thought was best. It was one of assimilation, not of seeking culture. It was one of English, not Spanish.
So being on campus and being a part of racial and economic justice movements like El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA) and Occupy Wall Street helped make connections between ideas about oppression and exploitation that had been disconnected previously. After taking a break to focus on family – he has children and grandchildren in Pueblo – Valdez volunteered to help with screenings of the National Geographic docuseries “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the global effects of climate change. It was life changing. “I met some people who were very inspiring to me, and they were involved in the Sierra Club and Mothers Out Front.
“I had focused on racial justice, anti-war efforts, worked on the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders for President. And now I was becoming more aware of climate justice. I became a digital organizer for Sierra Club Sangre de Cristo, and I’m currently the Chair. Doing that volunteer work, I got an opportunity to coordinate more with Stephanie Feld-Bowman, who is in one word — ‘amazing’.”
Valdez describes Feld-Bowman in terms that show her as a teacher, a leader, a guide, his super-hero. She helped widen his environmental connections, recommended him for a part-time job initially – and the rest is Mothers Out Front history.
A place like his hometown of Pueblo is one that exemplifies the adage that environmental injustice hurts all of us but doesn’t hurt all of us equally. “Pueblo, by definition,” he says, “is an environmental justice community.”
City Council, County Commission, statewide officials like Colorado State Senate President Leroy Garcia have been criticized by activists and community leaders for prioritizing jobs and the economy over the environment and climate concerns. With scarce water resources, wildfires, and industrial pollution, he adds, the Western U.S. is one of the most climate-sensitive areas of the country.
“We might see some economic growth, but this will not matter if we cannot breathe the air or drink the water. It is their children and future generations that will suffer right along with ours in feeling the impact.”
As he raises objection to oppression and raises awareness through his work at Mothers Out Front, Valdez says he is paying tribute to his own Mom – and he hopes that she is proud.
Rosemary Lytle, Frontline Communications Consultant for Mothers Out Front, is a columnist who worked in newspaper journalism for nearly 20 years.