What’s Next for Berkeley’s Soda Tax?

Dear Friends of the Ecology Center,

On November 4th, Measure D passed. Not only that, Berkeley’s sugar-sweetened beverage tax won with 75% of the vote: a landslide! A small community took on one of the world’s largest industries and prevailed, against all odds. The American Beverage Association poured millions of dollars into our city and expected to crush us, like they had so many others. But our community coalition held firm and fought back with the power of relationships: grassroots organizing, volunteers, and thousands of conversations between neighbors, parents, and friends.

We savor this victory and the possibilities that it opens up. For our success to be fully realized, the tax revenue must support effective nutrition education endeavors, like the schools’ cooking and gardening programs. We need your help to see this through to the next step.

The Ecology Center played a crucial role in the campaign, and your support allowed us to do it. Because of you, we were able to be the anchor nonprofit organization in the Healthy Child Coalition, which carried the campaign from its earliest conception. The community’s long-term commitment to us meant we could use our skills and connections to fight that fight. We are very grateful, not only for the member support that enabled us to pursue this initiative, but for the high level of engagement that we saw from Ecology Center members and allies.

What we did for Measure D are the kinds of activities we do all the time:

  • Convene and grow strong community 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.
  • Change the environment so that it supports health, resiliency, and justice.

We also unleashed the power of youth. The Ecology Center invests in young people, many of whom were at the forefront of the campaign. They pounded the pavement as precinct leaders, gave radio interviews, and engaged neighbors. Some were recent graduates of the Ecology Center’s youth environmental academy, where they gained knowledge of food systems, community organizing, and more. The soda companies aim their aggressive, predatory marketing straight at their demographic, so it was powerful to see these passionate young folks raise their voices for a healthier future.

We must make sure that Measure D fulfills its promise, and we need your support to get it right. Election night was exhilarating, no doubt about it. But this community health experiment has only just begun. Other cities and counties are already gathering momentum and soliciting advice from the coalition. Inquiries have come from as far away as England and Bangladesh! The pilot must work well for other places to want to adopt the strategy.

The Ecology Center is committed to two main goals:

  • making sure that the implementation of Measure D proceeds with utmost integrity, and
  • helping to build the larger movement by documenting and disseminating the lessons learned from the campaign.

I will be co-chairing the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition, keeping it working together as a force that holds our government accountable to the will of the voters. We want to ensure that the soda tax advisory panel is filled with individuals who are knowledgeable about public health and nutrition education, and deeply familiar with the community. We intend to provide recommendations to the panel, so that the tax funds flow to projects closely aligned to Measure D’s health goals.

A campaign is temporary. But the Ecology Center is not. Our members have kept us going strong for over 40 years, which has allowed us to see many initiatives through from pilot to mainstream. We are constantly looking ahead to the next step. If you know the Ecology Center, you know that we’re never content until Berkeley’s successful ideas are replicated elsewhere. Our long-term strategy is to build models, then spread them.

The spread of good ideas depends upon relationships, which are like a vast web of roads along which ideas travel. The Ecology Center is a community nexus: we foster relationships among government, academia, residents, school districts, and other nonprofits. We create spaces for those relationships to deepen. It was these strong human networks that made Measure D possible. People power is one of the only things that can counter the influence of the corporate interests that distort our democracy. With your continued support, we can continue to be this hub of connection.

The Measure D campaign was an intense and rewarding marathon. There’s no better feeling than to be part of a community that unifies around a higher purpose, like the health of the next generation. The campaign crossed all kinds of divisions – young and old, race and class, town and gown, 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.

Now we’re looking at the next steps. We need your help and support in the coming year to ensure that implementation of Measure D is a model for other cities. Please consider making a year-end donation to the Ecology Center and giving us the strength to do it right.

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

Martin Bourque signature

Martin Bourque
Executive Director
Ecology Center

P.S. This year, the Ecology Center is moving forward on a number of related fronts: We will continue to grow our youth development program and to expand Market Match throughout the state, making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable and accessible to low-income families. Here’s to a healthier and more resilient 2015! Please give today!

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