Voting is Loving: Thoughts on California Wildfires

This reflection is from Efua Sey, a senior at Macalester College from California. She attends Bethel Christian Fellowship in St. Paul. Efua is active in MNIPL’s Climate Justice Voter campaign.

What does it feel like to be in Minnesota while hearing about the West Coast fires?

I am fortunate to live in Granada Hills, in the valley of Los Angeles, some distance away from the more mountainous areas where the majority of wildfires happen. As a kid, I was so accustomed to wildfires that I wasn’t even very afraid of them. As I grew older and realized that people’s homes would be incinerated, and both firefighters and civilians would be killed every summer, my fear grew. But it wasn’t until I left for college that these wildfires began to increase my anxiety.

In November of 2018, the Woosley fire swept through areas of Los Angeles, and almost reached my neighborhood. It’s the closest a fire has ever been to my home that I can remember. I remember sitting in the cafeteria at my college reading news stories about the fires on my phone. I got scared and called my family when I learned it had burned through Malibu, an area relatively close to where I live. My family told me they were ok, and that they weren’t ordered to evacuate, but had their bags packed in case an order was issued. School was canceled for my brother because the air quality was so bad. I can’t remember a time I’d ever had classes canceled because of a wildfire.

Our conversation left me slightly on edge. I realized that day that when I’m at home, I know where the fire is, I know it is not close enough to us, and so I try not to worry about it. But when I’m watching or reading about a fire on the news, I feel like I don’t know where it is or where it’s going and I worry about my family. It makes me uneasy to think that should anything happen to them, I wouldn’t be able to be with them.

It’s surreal to think that I could lose my house one day. That I could wake up one morning and see my neighborhood on the news, my home burned to the ground. Even worse, it scares me to think that my parents wouldn’t tell me if something like that happened because they wouldn’t want me to worry or be distracted from my studies.

I recently met someone from Northern California whose parents relocated (I assume temporarily) to their place in Nevada for the time being because the fires were getting too close to their home…and that’s when this year’s set of fires became very real for me. I haven’t allowed myself to read the news on them or even think about them. With all that has already happened this year, and my senior capstone project due next month, it has been too much for me to take it all in. It still has not fully hit me that the light reddish clouds that have been looming over St. Paul is actually the smoke from my state, as well as other West Coast states.

Climate change has exacerbated fire conditions, so that the fire season is becoming longer, and more devastating as the years go by. People may not realize that their vote, whether for local or national leaders may ultimately mean life or death for someone who may not live near them. My church has a saying, “Love God, Love people”, and I hope I can use my faith to love people by fighting for policies and voting for leaders who will help keep them safe.

— Efua Sey

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