We Did It: Berkeley Beat Big Soda

20141105kadvictoryThank you, Berkeley, for being so amazing!

Thank you for passing Measure D! Berkeley’s sugar sweetened beverage tax passed last night with a 75% landslide vote. In a time of such political darkness, our local politics are a shining light of true democracy. This is a watershed moment: a tale of a small community taking on one of the world’s largest industries and winning against all odds.

The American Beverage Association (Coke, Pepsi Co, Dr. Pepper) poured millions of dollars into our city and expected to crush us like they have done to so many others. But our community coalition held firm and fought back with grassroots organizing, volunteers, and an effective field campaign.

The Ecology Center was the anchor organization of this campaign, and the community’s long-term commitment to us meant we could fight that fight. We are bursting with appreciation for the years of community support and engagement that got us to today.

Much of what we did for Measure D are the kinds of activities that we do all the time: convene and grow coalitions, create content-rich events to spur community discussion and deeper involvement, take on large corporate interests that are deteriorating our health and ecosystems, engage media on the issues we are tackling, and strategize with others how to change the landscape so that it supports health, resiliency, and justice.

For Yes on D, we unleashed the power of youth. After a summer full of learning and on-the-job training at the Ecology Center, our youth interns were ready for a tangible campaign. Young Ecology Center staffers, who were once youth interns but now hold positions of greater responsibility, served as precinct leaders. In this way, those most impacted by the aggressive, predatory marketing of soda companies were at the forefront of the campaign.

As supporters of the Ecology Center, you know that we have long been parked at the intersection of food and justice, from pioneering food stamps at farmers markets, to our Farm Fresh Choice youth-run community produce stands, to fighting to improve state and federal food legislation for all. We have learned that where soda is cheap and fresh fruits and vegetables are not, you’re not going to get equitable health outcomes.

Fittingly, the Ecology Center spent the last two years building programs that make fresh fruits and vegetables cheaper and more accessible for low-income shoppers, and laying the groundwork to make sugary drinks more expensive. At the state level, we are leading the expansion of Market Match, which doubles food stamp recipients’ buying power at farmers’ markets. At the City level, we pushed for Measure D with all our might, with the hope that the revenue will provide support for valuable child and youth nutrition education like BUSD’s cooking and gardening programs.

If you know the Ecology Center, you know that we’re never content until Berkeley’s successful ideas are replicated elsewhere. The soda tax is no exception. We would not have been successful without the experience shared by other communities that tried before us, so we have a debt to pay forward. We intend to be a resource for other communities who wish to rise up against the soda Goliath and beat back the diabetes epidemic. We will be here to hold the City accountable to voters and make sure that soda taxes support programs in alignment with Measure D’s stated goals.

The Measure D campaign has been an intense and rewarding marathon. We are grateful for the many relationships that were forged and reinforced along the way. We will need your help and support in the coming year to continue this effort, to ensure that implementation of Measure D is a model for other cities. Please consider making a year-end donation that can help us have the strength to do it right.

There’s no better feeling than to be part of a community that unifies around a higher purpose, in this case the health of the next generation. This campaign brought together the best of Berkeley. We crossed all kinds of divisions – race and class, town and gown, young and old, hills and flats – and found common ground in our kids’ health. It’s amazing what we can accomplish together. We made history, and you were part of it.

On behalf of the Ecology Center Staff and Board, thank you.


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2 thoughts on “We Did It: Berkeley Beat Big Soda

  1. Kinda hypocritical attacking soda! Seems like the beverage industry that is destroying individuals, families, and societies health and welfare is the beer, wine, and hard liquor industry! I think they call it denial and projection; you know, when a substance abuser denies they have a problem and then places blame in another direction so they will not have to deal with the real issue. Leave our beer, wine, and liquor alone, so the East Bay can stay drunk on spirits and the success of bullying soda drinkers. Dare your organization and the and the individuals it represents really take a hard look at the facts of how unhealthy alcohol is and how damaging it is to society: diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, deaths associated with drunk driving, spousal abuse, unwanted pregnancies, and a plethora of societies ills. Even though alcohol is taxed, it is still inexpensive and the tax does not even come close to covering all the negative costs to society. There is no justice in your win! It’s just bullying!

    • Edwin – This campaign has always been focused on kids’ health. Alcohol and soda have many health impacts in common – diabetes, fatty liver disease, even cancer. Unlike alcohol, however, soda is rampantly marketed to, and consumed by children. People can still buy and drink soda in Berkeley, as is their right. The large majority of Berkeley voters think paying a little extra is worth it to protect kids’ health. That’s not bullying – it’s democracy.

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