Transcription: 004: Tia Lebherz: Saving Water, the Fight to Ban Fracking, and the Trans Pacific Partnership

This episode, Tia Lebherz talks in depth about saving water and other threats to our environment. First, we talk about her work at WaterNow Alliance and how WaterNow is bringing together people to find innovative ways to save water on the West Coast. Then we’ll talk about her work for Food and Water Watch as the California organizer and the importance of banning fracking, specifically in California. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a discussion of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed in February that poses a serious threat to our access to safe food and water.

TRANSCRIPTION

[00:00:00]
[Narration begins]

Hi everyone, welcome to The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. I’m your host Marissa Comstock. The show is located at theundefinedgen.com where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with episodes available through SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher. Thank you so much to everyone who’s been listening and contacting me. It’s been so cool to hear from people and know that you’re all checking out the show and website and most importantly having opinions about what you hear. It’s been super rad.

Also if anyone knows anyone that’s doing something awesome and who you think would be cool to have on the show. Totally send me an email at Marissa and undefinedgen.com. I would love to hear about your friends. This week, I talk to Tia Lebherz who besides being my beautiful kickass upstairs neighbor, is also an environmental activist. She currently works for WaterNow Alliance where she finds innovative ways to save water here on the West Coast. Before WaterNow Alliance, she worked as a state organizer for Food and Water watch focusing on banning fracking in California, and specifically did a lot of work in Monterey County. Tia also helped organize a massive event right here in Oakland last year called the March for Real Climate leadership, which was wildly successful. Over 8,000 people showed up to March. We’ll talk about that more later.

[00:01:25]
First, we’ll talk about Tia’s work at WaterNow Alliance and the drought. Then, we’ll talk about fracking and her work at Food and Water Watch. Finally we’ll get into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and get to Tia’s input on that. Can’t wait. Hope you like the show.

[Theme Music]

[00:02:05]
Marissa: All right. So I am here with Tia Lebherz who is a Communications and Outreach manager at Water Now Alliance. So to start, what is WaterNow Alliance and what is the mission of your organization?

[00:02:20]
Tia: Sure, so hey, good to be here.

Marissa: hey! Yeah. Oh hi.

[laughs]

Tia: I love the setup. Super excited. So I work for WaterNow Alliance where like a brand-new, my boss calls it a start-up nonprofit, which I think is like counterintuitive because we like don’t have Venture Capital funding [laughs] but we are. We’re a really small shop, of like, three people and we are working to bring more water innovation and like sustainable water solutions into communities across the west and we’re doing this by bringing together mayors and city council people and water district leaders. So like Utility Board leaders who have an interest in sustainability and building resilient communities in the face of drought and climate change and kind of groupthink working with them to figure out, you know, what are the barriers to bringing more of these solutions online? And then how can we leverage our collective power to break down those barriers in order to, you know, have this widespread adoption.

[00:03:20]
Marissa: And are these leaders from these places? Are they from the water companies? Are they from?

Tia: So it’s all public it. So how will they working with publicly controlled utilities? So for example, our steering committees, like the the former mayor of Boulder who’s now, it’s on the city council. The mayor Protem of Fort Collins, Colorado, a city council person from Mountain View, California, also director from the East Bay Municipal Utility District. East Bay MUD. Our district. Yeah, so it’s all, we only work with Public Utilities because there’s some there’s problematic private water issues that we don’t want to get into, so yeah.

Marissa: Yeah, I think actually before this interview I looked up because to me EBMUD seemed private or I had no, I actually didn’t know if it was public or private and it’s public but I am assuming yeah, that’s somewhere private and what issues?

[00:04:20]
Tia: so it’s crazy, right? This is what I worked on at Food and Water Watch a ton. And is actually one of the barriers that we’ve identified with these Mayors and city council people is that a lot of people, I would say the vast majority of people don’t actually know where their water comes from and don’t understand how water infrastructure works and how their rates are structured and kind of all these important aspects that really play into watershed health and you know affordability and access in those kinds of things. So yes, most public, most utilities in the United States are publicly controlled, so our tax dollars go to it. It’s a rate system. So we’re paying for the infrastructure, upkeep, the delivery. The actual water is like a smaller percentage of what were actually paying for when we pay our rates. But there are private companies also because believe it or not water is something that people feel like they can make a lot of money off of.

Marissa: yeah surprise.

[laughs]

Tia: it’s kind of essential to human life or whatever and so big companies like Suez and American Water buy water utilities. So they’ll like, you know, especially cities that are, so like when I lived in Detroit, for example, the city was almost bankrupt like had a ton of financial issues and so water companies were targeting them and saying hey, we’ll give you, you know, this many millions of dollars to buy your water company up right, out right and then we’ll take over the rates. And so but then the public utilities get the ability to set the rates so they can raise the rates because they’re just worried about profit essentially whereas public utilities, they’re not worried about shareholders, not worried about profits, what they’re worried about is like delivering the highest quality of service at the lowest possible rates.

Marissa: and then you guys are looking to find technology that private companies are working on and then you bring that to the public companies so they can save water. Can you give some examples?

[00:06:20]
Tia: Yeah. So a good example is like Leak Detection software. Okay. So in California, it’s estimated that we could save three to five million acre-feet of water that’s like 10 times the capacity of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir just by implementing the solutions that exist today. So that means, that and those are all efficiency. So we’re just super inefficient with how we manage and transport and use our water. And so these Solutions exist right a lot of them are being incubated in Silicon Valley. So there’s like awesome new software that helps, you know, it’s like a software app that will go on your phone so you can track your water usage so you can see if all the sudden your water usage shoots up and you’re like, that’s weird. I didn’t do anything different this month. Maybe I have a leak! And you can catch it quicker and save that water and so like Leak Detection software. Grey water systems, you know, water efficient landscaping. Just general software, bringing those things online.

[00:07:20]
So utilities, you know they’re businesses, too. They’re public but they still can like by these private inventions, essentially and implement them.

Marissa: What is something that would be keeping them from implementing these technologies? Like one thing I’m thinking is and I think you mentioned that at dinner one time, is that you know, where we have to curb our water consumption because we’re in a drought which essentially means less money for the water company. Does that mean less money for them to invest in these technologies?

Tia: Yeah. Yeah, and that’s a big thing from the consumer side, right? Is you and I we have similar water bills because we live in the same house, well different apartments but same structure. Yeah. So yeah, one of the big things that the our alliance members come to us and say is the drought is getting harder and people are conserving which is great. Right? We’ve seen like 25 percent reductions across California that also means that water districts have received 25 percent less money.

[00:08:20]
But water like I mentioned all the rates are going to upkeep of the infrastructure 80 percent of our water is fixed cost. So 80% of what we pay every month 80% of the money that they bring in goes to just like upkeep of the infrastructure Etc. And so when we use less and then they make less they be there is a deficit, just in the operating in general. So to then ask utilities to invest in these sustainable solutions is crazy because they’re already like well we’re running out of money And so how to pay for solutions, like the two big things that the alliance members talk to us about is they say are two problems are how do we pay for these Solutions? And how do we communicate to rate payers that they that we need to do this? Right? Like how do we communicate and or how do we figure out during a drought, you know, if we have to raise rates, then consumers are paying more for less. and that’s like opposite of capitalism. [laughs] The opposite of what we’ve been raised to believe. But for something like water it’s like kind of a necessity. So how do we like, I don’t know. How do we finesse that I think a big part of it is first talking about like people knowing where their water comes from.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: So we’re you know, we’re working on a couple of really wonky projects around that.

Marissa: Yeah. Can you can you talk about any of them?

Tia: Yeah I totally can.

[00:09:51]
Marissa: Yeah. I want to hear about a wonky water project.

Tia: Hopefully no one falls asleep. [laughs] All right, so there’s this thing called Gasby.

Marissa: I like the name.

Tia: Yea, it’s like Fitzgerald up in here.

Marissa: Oh, yeah.

Tia: It’s a fancy party. Yeah, it’s not.

Marissa: You already have me hooked then.

Tia: Great!

Marissa: Because I want to pay more for less water.

[00:10:22]
Tia: Perfect. Shut it down. I win. Okay, so essentially how we pay for these big infrastructure projects, reservoirs, dams, pumping stations is we float municipal bonds. So what this means is we essentially like take a loan out. Right and we’re able to amortize that over several years. We pay it back slowly. This makes money more accessible like this makes an upfront cost of fifty million dollars possible. But in order to float a bond, according to Gasby, which is the governmental Accounting Standards Board right now that he’s not a fancy party. So according to Gatsby you have to have an asset to show so that you can like, you know, so when you take out a bond or you take out a loan on something it’s like there’s an asset that’s attached to it so that it’s not just like free money flying everywhere. So for a lot of these like sustainable Innovation things. A lot of It is customer rebates and incentives is the way that you get people to actually put these things in their homes. And so it’s very hard to or I guess it just it’s some districts already do this and they’re able to float bonds in order to invest in sustainable Innovation, but some districts don’t feel like they own an asset. So what we’re doing is actually really cool and sexy. We are asking for a technical clarification on the law not even changing the law just a technical clarification. We just want to make it clear to utilities that they’re allowed to use bond financing to bring in sustainable Innovation because the water that is being saved is technically an asset. The water that’s still the reservoir the water that’s not being wasted is the asset and we I mean we’re working with some fancy lawyers and we’re working with, pro bono, non-profit life!

[00:12:05]
Yeah, we’re working with all these people who are like yeah. This is totally legit, but when your utilities See when you’re a public utility and your rate payers the like top things you want are like strong bond ratings. You want to clean budget sheet, you know, all your finances need to be in place or else people freak out. And so they don’t want to take the risk. If it’s not technically clarified that they’re allowed to so it’s super, it’s funny because I used to work on like anti-fracking and climate change and like big sexy things that like people totally like feeling, like GMOs, people like feel really passionate about it. And now I’m like we’re getting technical clarification from Gasby. [laughs] But the thing is it has the potential to unlock like hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and save millions of acre-feet of water. And so it’s actually like a huge impact. It’s just very, you know.

Marissa: So and you guys are reaching out to as many people as possible like company’s, leaders Etc. Do you have people who are coming to you who are interested in your organization?

Tia: Definitely, we are like today this really awesome shower head company joined our mailing list and reached out to us.

Marissa: Oh cool.

Tia: They have this great shower head that I honestly didn’t look into it that much. It was like right before I left the office but like Etc. [laughs]

Marissa: There’s one.

[00:12:00]
Tia: Right. There’s like there’s this great company called Water Smart Software that is doing really cool stuff and like they came to our last summit because okay. So in this big world, right, there’s all these innovators that are doing all the cool stuff and then there’s all these utility leaders who have the power to bring the cool stuff to scale but in California, right? There’s like over 400 separate utilities and the decision makers of all those utilities aren’t talking to each other yet. So if you have a cool invention, you have to go to every single damn utility individually while we’re trying to bring all those people together, so it’s just like right prime market so we have to that’s really exciting. But we also have to be kind of cagey because we don’t want people to feel like they’re just being put in a barrel to be pitched stuff too. So we cut it. We like to vet different innovators to make sure. And there’s a lot of really cool organizations that are already vetting them. They we can kind of latch onto.

Marissa: it’s funny because I remember at the family dinner that we had, you said there was 400 companies, but I think I remember four companies I but like seriously was so fascinating we were talking so I’ve been telling you I’m like, there’s four water companies even that surprised me. That there wasn’t just one like it’s all like a lot of it is the same water source. Is it? or it depends?

Tia: It depends. like San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy. SFPUC is all Hetch Hetchy. We are kind of all over the place.  

Marissa: like Sierra, Nevada,

[00:15:07]
Tia: Yea, Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River supplies a lot of California. So we do import water like Santa Clara Valley is largely groundwater, so they get their water write out the ground and then there’s big federal and state projects that you know, so yea. More facts. Two-thirds of California’s of water is on the Northern side of California, but two-thirds of California’s population is in the South. Okay and water is hard to move like it’s heavy it evaporates. It’s like it’s expensive to move but we as a state, you know, a hundred and fifty years ago built tons of this like crazy big infrastructure in order to ship the water down south and it goes through the Central Valley and all the farmers use it then it goes to LA. So water is like this, you know, it’s often called the like silent utility. We don’t know about it. It’s not sexy. It’s not something like

You know PG&E just kind of like runs everything in California. Right? But all these water utilities are different and so like Water Board elections are actually really important [laughs] like, you know, all these big statewide water schemes that cost tens of billions of dollars. Really important to pay attention to.

[00:16:20]
Marissa: Well speaking of that. Like we have the election coming up in November are there measures that we should be looking at that’s on that.

Tia: We did a big water Bond last November. So this November, I don’t think there’s anything that big.

Marissa: There’s like a ban on fracking in Monterey.

Tia: Yeah, fuck yea there is. It’s killer. I helped start that. That’s great. My parents my parents live in Monterey. Yeah, in Alameda County, we’re also working, Well, they now. found anywhere but there’s also a ban. Did you see that Oakland banned coal shipments. Yeah. I did no on it. Yeah so good. Yeah, we’re doing alright in the bay. Yeah. So yeah. But I don’t think Statewide there really isn’t anything. I mean people you should always look to see if your local water board is up for election.

Marissa: Oh! Ok. Another thing that was said at family dinner. This was an epic family dinner.

Tia: It was epic. What did we make that night? It was delicious.

Marissa: I cooked vegetables.

Tia: ohh! That was that massive family dinner where we had so much food.

Marissa: Yea there was mac and cheese.

Tia: Oh yea.

Marissa: I remember you saying, I’m sure these percentages are slightly off, but it was something like 15% of water consumption in California’s from households. And the rest is Corporate. Is that accurate?

Tia: Yeah.

[00:17:37]
Marissa: Yeah that blows my mind.

Tia: So 80% is AG.

Marissa: Okay. Oh agriculture.

Tia: Uh-huh. Okay, so that’s crazy.

Marissa: Yeah

Tia: And that’s what I used to work on. So. Like I had a big come-to-jesus moment when I went to work on the residential side because I’ve been running around being like fuck saving water. It’s agriculture’s fault like those assholes we could do something about them. Totally legit. I still stand by that but also I think that working on the the corporate side, you know, it’s mostly right. Ag. Ag is the biggest user. We’re shipping a ton of water down South for to grow stupid things like Alfalfa in the Imperial Valley like a desert and we’re shipping a lot of that Alfalfa to China. So we’re like literally just sending our water overseas in the form of alfalfa. We’re growing almonds on the west side of the Central Valley where the ground is so salty it takes four times as much water to grow almonds there than it does in normal almonds climates. So it takes like four gallons per almond.

Marissa: damn crazy.

[00:18:45]
Tia: Yeah, but I was working on that issue for super long and fracking like, I think not necessarily a huge amount of water, but it’s just like that water is permanently destroyed because it’s full of chemicals. So, but, but it’s hard. I don’t think. I feel like working with WaterNow Alliance is playing this long game of like people need to feel it first in their homes and in their taps and get it and understand where their water comes from and have a better, like, water world view before they’re gonna you know, get all hot and bothered about like corporate abuse of water.

Marissa: Yeah, definitely

Tia: That’s not to say that we shouldn’t also be working on it. But for me, I just felt like it was better to be on this residential piece and save a bunch of water here. But yes, yes. Water in California is crazy corporations use a ton of it.

[00:19:37]
Marissa: And even though I mean you’re working on like household water consumption right now, like just to talk about the corporate side of it. Like we were asked to curb so much of our water usage this last year. Even though we had like rain, I think they lifted a lot of the hmm restrictions, but our were corporations asked to make any restrictions to their water usage.

Tia: Hmm. So that’s the problem is that when you look at when you try to get like Ag to stop using so much water. What you’re saying and the political world is like follow your fields and lay off your farm workers and destroy local economies. And you know, so it’s like kind of its way harder.

Marissa: Definitely they allocated less water to farmers, but in California more fun disturbing facts about our water. Water, is, groundwater is considered private property. And so if you are on your own land, you can just drill down and pump as much water as you want out of the ground. That’s why the Central Valley is sinking. It’s called subsidence. So the Central Valley is actually like sinking I think a foot a year or something crazy like that. So even if Farmers got less water, they were pumping water like mad out of the ground and ground water takes so many years to replenish. Its like the most precious of things.

[Cut to Narration]  

[00:20:55]
This next clip is Tia at an event called the March for Real Climate Leadership. It’s an event that she was instrumental in organizing while she was up Food and Water Watch. The march to place right here in Oakland and over 8,000 people attended, making it the largest demonstration against fracking in US history. There’s so much life drum circles every group and ethnicity represented. People really came together to voice their opinion and say to Governor Jerry Brown that there’s no room for fracking in California. I think Tia is work is so inspiring and she did a phenomenal job with her team rallying people together.

[Cut to Recording of Tia yelling to marchers at March for Real Climate Leadership]

We are here today to stand up to big oil. To ban fracking, to move California beyond fossil fuel.

[Continue with Interview]

[00:22:00]
Marissa: So now let’s get into Food and Water Watch. You were the organizer for California and you were working to ban fracking in Monterey County. What are some of the companies that are fracking in Monterey County?

Tia: So Chevron is the biggest fracker.

Marissa: Fracker?

Tia: Yeah, but they’re, yes. There’s there was this company called Occidental them they sold and they became like California something. There’s all these Bad actors, but Chevron is one of them in Monterey County. He’s this, he [laughs] like I just associate evil with this penetrative, attractive looking like

Marissa: Totally

Tia: like he is a motherfucker [laughs] sorry. So fracking we see like fracking in California. It’s got its a mix of like a bunch of different extreme extraction techniques. So to back up we you know oil used to exist kind of in these like big ponds underground and you would just like poop. Like pop in a little well that was vertical. Could be 50 feet, could be 500 feet whatever and like oil would come up. Not the best because climate change is still real but it was like generally that’s how you got oil. As we started to deplete all those bigger pools. The industry was like well where the fuck we gotta find the oil now and so they started looking at alternative ways to get the oil out of the ground. So fracking is one of those so that’s mixing sand and water and chemicals and injecting it at super high levels deep underground in order to fracture the rock and then the oil flows up through the well. But in California, we also do this thing called acidizing which we just kind of group with fracking and acidizing is shooting hydrofluoric acid into the ground to dissolve the rock. So instead of breaking the rocks you dissolve the rocks with this super nasty chemical and then have the water, I mean the oil flow up and the other way is called cyclic steam and that is heading water up. really intense, high, high heat and injecting that in the ground to loosen up the oil in order to bring it back up.

[00:24:10]
There is kind of like this triplet situation of so extreme extraction is what we call it. They all have impacts right there all problematic. They’re all happening in different varying degrees and they’re all you know, as oil gets more expensive. It becomes more profitable to do these more like

Marissa: harmful methods.

Tia: Harmful methods. Yeah and these more like intensive methods yeah of extraction so it’s very interesting. But so in Monterey there hasn’t been too much fracking. But in Monterey, the weird thing is and the oil field, San Ardo oil field is in is on the southern part of the county and the Salinas river that runs up to Moss Landing, which is between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It is a North running River. So this River literally runs from the oil field through the underground river through the oil field and then like up and then goes into the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

[00:25:15]
Marissa: Okay

Tia: And so for extreme extraction to be happening there and be putting that River at risk, it also flows through like the salad bowl of California where we grow, you know, ninety percent of the nation’s artichokes and strawberries and lettuce so it’s you know, it’s putting Ag and tourism and marine life all at risk. And so like two two and a half years ago. I guess it was I met with like five generally, they’re older white women who are awesome. That’s you generally started and we like met in the living room over tea. And they were like this bullshit. Let’s go to the Board of Supervisors. So we went to the Board of Supervisors and he had all the votes and then industry got wind of what we were doing and they hired like three full-time lobbyists to be in Monterey and they swung one of the votes over and we lost the county people the County Supervisors decided not to move forward with a moratorium or a ban. And that really pissed off everyone in Monterey because they were like what the hell! You know, we thought you were with us. This is clearly a toxic practice. Santa Cruz is already banned fracking. San Benito has banned fracking. Like the to two counties to either side of them. And so they were like, we’re putting this on the ballot, which is awesome big heavy lift. So since then my parents live in Monterey, so I’ve been able to keep up on it. But I haven’t been there. They let an all volunteer effort and got like 14,000 signatures.

Marissa: Wow.

Tia: We only needed seven thousand and they got it on the ballot. And so November they’ll be voting for a ban on fracking.

Marissa: Super exciting.

Tia: Pretty badass.

Marissa: Yeah, very badass.

Tia: Mm-hmm

[00:26:55]
Marissa: Going into that. Another thing is like Governor Jerry Brown has been touted as being an environmentalist but has not wanted and I like a ban on fracking.

Tia: No.

Marissa: Yeah, and I think his reasoning is that it wouldn’t decrease our oil dependency and we would just be importing oil from somewhere else and like of course there’s that argument but then it’s you know, it’s destroying water which is one of our most precious resources and also now like looking at Monterey County like agriculture Etc. Like how do you weigh economic concerns with environmental issues? Like what comes out on top?

Tia: Totally. I think it’s some point I mean climate change is undoubtably real and here. Right like it’s man-made and everyone, scientists. Yes science community agrees. Governor Brown agrees. And so to say no we need to keep doing this. No and not only in California. Are we doing it and places agriculture but like 90% of the fracking and oil extraction that’s happening is in low income communities of color. This is a huge justice issue in California we’re poisoning communities. And and so, you know, you can say well we’re just going to get it from somewhere else or you can say I’m the goddamn Governor. I’m going to do something to start to transition us to a renewable energy future more aggressively and I’m not only going to tout all these solutions which are great. Right? We love seeing Energy Efficiency goals. We love seeing renewable energy standards. We love seeing you know, solar subsidies and those kinds of things but you can’t just push solutions without addressing the supply side of things. We are, it fluctuates. But at any given day, we’re about the third largest oil producing state in the nation which people, I don’t think realize that. It’s Texas, North Dakota, Alaska and California like we are a oil-producing state. And you know, you can’t be a climage– and if you think about that. America is you one or two, top three or oil producing nations in the world. So that puts California very high on the list of oil producing regions in the world and you can’t be a climate leader while running one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world.

Like that just doesn’t work. You want it like you got us you gotta keep that shit in the ground. Like that is the way to stop climbing. We can’t necessarily stop climate change at this point. But like if we want to start to address climate change in a really meaningful way, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground and this is something that people have been saying for years and everyone said people are crazy and then you know, I’m not not that into Federal politics, but like if nothing else, I think Bernie Sanders really helped legitimize a lot of these concerns on a national level and bring it to this International stage of saying what does keeping it in the ground look like? You know, how can we actually do this? Is it really possible and it is and there’s support for it it just and like it’s gonna be uncomfortable sometimes but is you know, the viability of a livable planet and justice for you know, all people regardless of income or you know, the color of their skin matter? Yeah, it does matter and all these fights are also intertwined.

[00:30:31]
It’s, I get really really angry.

Marissa: No, it’s great.

Tia: It’s funny too. Cause like in my in my role now it Water Now, you know, Governor Brown is actually pretty good about Residential Water stuff. Like he’s okay. He’s not the best have some some issues with him on some other things that he works. But he’s not my main target. On fracking he was like Governor Brown you’re climate loser! You son of a bitch! Yeah,  so it’s been like a weird transition. So talking about it. Now, I like getting all riled up again.

[laughs]

Marissa: Yeah totally

[Cut to Narration]

The next segment, Tia and I are going to talk about the Trans-Pacific partnership, which is the latest trade agreement signed by the U.S. Between eleven other Pacific Rim countries. One thing I love about Tia is her ability to make broad issues personal and local very quickly. The TPP was abstract thing to me and then I saw this video of Tia hitting the pavement and protesting and I was like damn. All right. I’ve got to pay attention to that. This next clip is Tia being her bad self.

[00:31:31]
Hi everybody. Thank you so much. Here today. My name is Tia Lebherz. I’m Northern California organizer with Food and Water Watch. We are a consumer advocacy watchdog organization out there every day to protect our food and water resources. The TPP means trouble for our food, our water, and our environment and even though we can’t see it, big oil, big gas, and 600 multinational corporations are writing it for us. Thanks to WikiLeaks. We now know some of the threats that will bring, so in general the TPP will equal less local food, more fracking, sketchy seafood imports, no GMO labeling, and more corporate control of our democracy. Earlier this month, we know Fast Track was introduced. We have to stop Fast Track. So we need everyone calling their representatives being out here today in the streets is a huge step. Thank you everyone for being out here. Please get on the phone call your representatives going to Pelosi’s office. Tell her to vote. No on Fast Track and oppose the TPP for the good of our food, our water, and our environment. Thank you everybody.

[Back to Interview]

[00:32:40]
Marissa: So this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade agreement and documents about it were leaked on Wikileaks in 2015 and has since been signed. Mmm-hmm this year February 2016 by 12 countries in the Pacific Rim. Can you talk about what the TPP is?

Tia: So yeah. The TPP is like NAFTA on steroids. Okay. I’ll try to explain this right. So this is a trade agreement to free trade agreement between new countries. So we have this between like Canada and Mexico right free trade it’s easier. And so now we’re doing it among the Pacific Rim and so this is essentially it’s trying to encourage trade between the countries but it’s it’s problematic. I would say. Because you know, there’s this thing called harmonization within the trade agreement which is kind of bringing standards down to the lowest common denominator. So when we think about, you know working with or like trading with someone like Vietnam around seafood or looking at child labor laws or looking at you know other kind of GMO labeling, is another one. Right, like food labeling in general. if those can be seen as barriers to trade then they can be arguably like removed and just forgotten about so I worked on the TPP particularly looking at how it would increase fracking and extraction and how it would deal with food safety standards.

[00:34:16]
And so for fracking and extraction, so Japan is in the TPP agreement. Japan is like one of the largest users of natural gas one of the largest buyers importers. And so it opens up this incredible Market where natural gas exports would be deemed in the public good automatically there wouldn’t be any public review. You could just send send it off. So that’s hugely problematic because that would create a gigantic economic incentive for companies to frack and extract way more. And we know that even if you know, the oil or gas is being burned in Japan we all live on the same planet and so that would still be contributing to climate change. So that was a big a big deal and then I think

For food stuff, right? So I talked a little bit about food stamps safety standards, but you know our borders are already being our border inspection around like things like seafood are already overwhelmed. We already like can’t inspect everything coming in and so to open the floodgates with even more imports, with even lower standards. And then you know through the Free Trade Agreement kind of be able to ignore them. Is you know, it puts a lot of people in danger. [laughs] And so I think it’s yeah, it’s it’s a bummer. It’s like one of the things that I was like a big Obama supporter and I still like want to be as friend. I think he’s the coolest president that we’ve ever had. I think his wife is just the best.

Marissa: Yeah

[00:35:46]
Tia: But you know, he was on Jimmy Fallon the other day and he was doing an awesome, It was like a slow jams. Have you ever watched Jimmy Fallon? Yeah. And I was just like laughing and dying and then he went on about how great the TPP is and I was just kind of like that’s such a bummer. Can you not? Can you not?

Marissa: Yeah emotional roller coaster. Laughing one second. Sad the next.

Tia: Oh, Obama, you sweetie. Oh, you motherfucker. So, yeah, but again, it’s one of these things like corporate water use like climate change, but it’s like this massive gigantic thing that is so hard for us to be able to wrap our minds around and articulated figure out why it’s important and feel any power over that it’s yeah. It’s a it’s a challenge and unfortunately, we lost and the TPP was signed. So we will that will now exist. So we’ll see what happens. I mean, you know, we just have to keep fighting kind of the whatever fights we feel like we can control.

Marissa: Definitely I mean, how how does something like the TPP get passed because I know that a lot of the members of Congress were upset because a lot of the details weren’t even available to them in Congress. So that’s confusing. Like wow, how does that get through?

Tia: So the the TPP was made in secret. There about 600 corporations that were in on it. I mean, you would hear crazy stories. Like if a congressman wanted to look at the TPP, they had to go down a hallway and like, you know get could go on the room, but they couldn’t take any notes with them and they could just read it but it’s like thousands of pages long and so they..  There’s a thing called Fast Track Authority which essentially gives, so Congress votes and says like we’re going to give the up-or-down vote on the TPP as a whole and we’re going to say that we’re going to Grant fast-track authority to this which means that President Obama can just sign it or not. It means that we can’t negotiate like line items because if you’re Japan or another country, you don’t want the American Congress being able to line item vote on a treaty that you’re trying to get together. Yeah, whenever everyone knows that our Congress is broken. And so anyway, so there’s this thing called Fast Track Authority. So they voted to give President Obama Fast Track Authority.

Marissa: Okay

[00:38:10]
Tia: So they say like, yes, you can you got this. You have our best interest at heart. You can negotiate the whole thing.

Marissa: And the secrecy around it, you know, like of course they’re going to say something like well, like there’s a lot of things that we need to keep secret so that we can have the upper hand in negotiations things like that. But I mean is that accurate? Is it more to do with who’s involved?

Tia: It’s like a bit. All right, like it’s a bummer because we’re supposed to be a democracy right like representative democracy. Our representatives should at least be able to be involved in a more like I don’t know. I’m a big proponent of transparency. I think that it’s hard and it makes people uncomfortable but in general like the world would be a better place if processes were for transparent. And so, so yeah, like they can say that all they want but at the end of the day, this is something that’s going to impact at people’s everyday lives. And this is something that is happening on behalf of our government. And so we should have more say and we should have more insight into the process.

[00:39:10]
Marissa: Do do you think that these trade agreements are like fundamentally flawed. Like they’re pretty much always a bad thing or do you think in the future there is a way to get Grassroots movements and things to have more say in them.

Tia: I mean, how candid should I be? I mean, I think our system is broken.

Marissa: Yeah, right.

Tia: I think that as long as corporations are people and money is speech that we will not be able to govern the United States like I want to govern it. You know, I also have some qualms about capitalism in general that’s like economic model. And so I think that it’s a you know, I think that there’s a lot of really big overarching the fights think we need to keep fighting especially on like local and state levels. I think that that’s really where you can you get farther away from federal and I alluded to this earlier and I said, I don’t really like federal politics. I think as you get farther away from federal politics and more localized, you get more power, more people power. More individual empowerment over what’s happening. And so I think that that’s you know, that’s the power of Grassroots right? Like they are on the ground and their Community doing their thing. And so the goal is really to engage people on those local issues. I think the Tea Party did a really good job of this unfortunately. Right? That’s how they were able to elect all of those Congressional representatives and tip Congress into this like weirdo conservatives space.

Marissa: hole that we’ve gone into.

Tia: ya I’m like really divide the country even farther and create this like way more polarizing political scene, but it’s true. I mean, we just you know, like voter turnout is terrible.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: It was I think young people turned out like 13% for the Democratic primary.

Marissa: Really? Oh my God.

Tia: It’s something crazy low. Maybe it was 30.

Marissa: It was all just Facebook posts.

[00:41:17]
Tia: Exactly. Right? People are crazy. Get off your ass and vote.

Marissa: Yeah, yea.

Tia: It’s like the easiest thing you can do. We even have a mail in ballot.

[00:41:27]
Marissa: I don’t have a mail in ballot, I should look into that but I literally walked one block.

Tia: Yeah Taylor Methodist.

Marissa: It took 10 minutes to vote. Like to go in and come out.

Tia: Yea there’s no line. Girl. So when I lived in Detroit. I lived in Detroit, I lived in a low-income community of color. I was I mean, I should probably should not have been there but I was there and I went to vote for Obama in 2012 and I waited five hours in line to vote.

Marissa: Yea

Tia: Five hours in line to vote. And no one left the goddamn line because anytime someone wanted to leave we would start singing. Yeah and everyone be like, I don’t leave girl. You got this. All right. Yeah, here we go. I took me like two minutes to vote over here and people have no excuse. Just get out and vote. It’s like the easiest thing that you can possibly do.

Marissa: They give you a fucking sticker. You can do tag yourself on Facebook. There’s like [laughs]

Tia: check it out. There’s a sticker on my phone.

Marissa: Oh nice.

Tia: I know. It’s great.

Marissa: Yeah, like what is the best thing for people to do then. Because not everyone’s an activist. What would you suggest like signing petitions or like where

Tia: I mean figuring out like what you can bring to the table like if you. If you believe that some that there’s a cause that calls your name. Maybe it’s giving $5 a month to that cause that makes a big difference. It’s a cup of coffee a month. You can sustain an organization. You can help sustain an organization. Maybe it’s its voting and getting you know five of your friends to vote, too. Maybe, if you’re an artist it’s you know, figuring out how you can work with the local nonprofit to mutually benefit each other. But it’s you know, I think it’s more than anything. It’s like getting informed and I as an organizer I always got so mad at people like, public education has the answer. Well, no, it’s not like people can be educated and still sit on their ass, right.

[00:43:32]
So it’s like it’s about getting educated and then it’s about figuring out how you can best fit into whatever you want to see how best you can– how best you can create the future that you want to see because there is a role for everybody.

[Cut to narration]

[00:43:47]
So that wraps up this week’s episode of The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. Check out the website at theundefinedgen.com with links and pictures of Tia out protesting and doing your thing. Hope you enjoyed learning about how water works in the west coast among many other things. Tia is fantastic and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things will do in the future. Next week. I’ll be talking to my friend Alex Vlahov. I was just in New York and I got to go to his performance. He performs for the New York Neo-futurist. He’s an actor writer and director. He’s been in a lot of interesting experimental theater pieces that focus on social dilemmas, and he’s currently working on a play about a priest that was murdered from our high school. Also I interviewed him in Brooklyn when it was pouring in the middle of summer. So you will get to hear New York Thunder and torrential rain in the background. Super raw. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

[Theme Music]

 

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