Maricruz Ramirez says every member of her immediate family except herself has either asthma or bronchitis, a condition she blames on Kern County’s poor air quality.
Now, Ramirez, 29, is marching 266 miles from Paradise to San Francisco with six other activists in an effort to bring attention to a federal effort meant to tackle climate change and potentially bring more clean air to Kern County.
“The goal is to invest in improving the community and improving the climate crisis that we’re facing, which in our case would be pollution,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s a disaster, but luckily I think that this is one step in improving that, and just allowing people to breathe better air, which I definitely want for my family and all the families living in Kern County.”
A recent graduate of Cal State Northridge, Ramirez, a Bakersfield native and current resident of the city, worked as a behavioral interventionist for children with autism before losing her job due to the pandemic. She and her companions are marching as part of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented political initiative focused on addressing climate change. By marching, the participants hope to raise awareness of the Civilian Climate Corps, a $10 billion portion of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan that would put Americans to work conserving public lands.
The proposal would act much like former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program aimed at employing Americans suffering through the Great Depression by creating jobs for public land development and conservation.
While Biden’s plan could potentially employ 10,000 jobs per year, Ramirez said she hoped to push the government into passing an even more robust bill that could provide far more conservation jobs.
Approaching Santa Rosa on Wednesday, she said her group had encountered many who agreed with their message.
“Regardless of the town that we’re in or political affiliation, people will agree that those are important things. Jobs are important for all and we all want to live on a planet that isn’t dying,” she said. “People of all backgrounds and ages agree with the corps and what we’re walking for.”
The group plans to pick up more participants as it gets closer to San Francisco. Once the marchers arrive, they expect to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge with hundreds of supporters.
Their efforts are squarely focused on Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House of Representatives Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose support they hope to secure.
On Wednesday, Feinstein reiterated her support for a congressional bill that would establish the Climate Conservation Corps, albeit at the $10 billion mark established by Biden.
“I want to thank these young leaders for the courage they’re displaying in their march to raise awareness for climate change. They are right — climate change is one of the greatest crises we’re facing,” Feinstein said in a statement to The Californian.
She added that in addition to co-sponsoring the climate corps bill, she was leading efforts to train workers to help communities adapt to the growing threat of wildfires.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the Civilian Climate Corps.
The march began May 28, and is expected to finish Monday. Ramirez said the only negative impacts of the long walk have been a few blisters. Other than that, she’s enjoyed meeting the residents of the towns along her path. And the march has helped spread the word, being picked up by local and national publications.
“It makes sense because this march is out of the norm. It is crazy because it is 266 miles,” she said. “Eventually I think this will snowball into something bigger to get the attention from politicians that we need.”