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Leda Zakarison is JLP intern with Earth Ministry

Leda Zakarison, Earth Ministry outreach coordinator, has supported Earth Ministry/ /Washington Interfaith Power & Light campaigns through 2017 to 2018 at an intern with the Justice Leadership Program.

Jessica Zimmerle, left, and Leda Zakarison, right, with staff from Toxic-Free Future meet with Rep. Joan McBride (second from left), a sponsor of the Healthy Food Packaging Act.
           Photo courtesy of Earth Ministry/WAIPL

The year has confirmed her commitment to social justice.

“I see power in what faith communities and larger faith communities can do together to make positive change in the world,” she said.

Leda grew up in Community Congregational UCC in Pullman from 1995 to 2015, while her mother, Kristine Zakarison, was pastor there.  Leda is also the fourth generation of wheat-growing family with a farm near Pullman.

Her year has given her insights into ways to enable people of faith raise moral concerns on justice and environmental issues, and insights into bringing people of diverse opinions together to seek common solutions.

Fall projects focused on opposition to fossil fuel terminals—a coal one in Longview and an oil one in Vancouver.  Earth Ministry had been working against both for eight years.

“I had a role in empowering people of faith to speak at hearings against the proposed permits being granted by the counties and cities,” Leda said.  “People told why because of their faith values they opposed the terminals. Permits for  both terminals were denied.

In the winter, she worked with Jessica Zimmerle, program and outreach director, in the state legislature supporting two of four bills selected by the Environmental Priorities Coalition and one on clean fuels.

Leda said the coalition recommended priorities, and Earth Ministries chose two bills, the Oil Spill Prevention act and the Healthy Food Packaging Act.

For both, she helped bring people of faith to Olympia to testify on that legislation, to “tell stories to give a moral voice,” said Leda, who  went there for day trips each week for the two-month session.

“Both bills passed and were signed into law,” she said.

The food packaging bill calls for removing cancer-causing toxins, PFAs—perfluoralkoxy alkanes—from packaging.

“We have a moral obligation to get toxic chemicals out of food.  The packaging is paper, coated to be oil and water resistant—such as for muffin wrappers, coffee cups and popcorn bags,” said Leda.

“I was struck during the legislative session with how much difference individuals can make in legislation.  It was heartening to bring folks to speak to representatives to discuss issues and it was good to see how enthusiastic people of faith are to take a day off work to talk with legislators.”

The Oil Spill Prevention Act funds laws passed to increase inspections of barges/vessels and pipelines that bring oil into the state.  It was assuring there is funding for transportation safety. 

Having lived in Washington all her life, Leda was excited to call, email and talk to representatives.

She studied religion and French at Whitman College in Walla Walla, graduating in 2016.  She moved to Seattle in February 2017 with friends and started in the Justice Leadership Program last summer.

“I care about Washington and want to make it a safe, clean place to live and work,” she said.  “When I talked with legislators, I said I’m a person of faith and care about creation.”

In the spring, Leda worked on two programs.

She promoted salmon recovery on the Lower Snake River, working with the Nez Perce, Upper Columbia United Tribes and Save Our Wild Salmon to challenge four dams that make it difficult or impossible for salmon to return to mountain streams to spawn.

“Salmon are sacred to the majority of Inland Northwest native tribes, so they want dams managed in a way so salmon can come back,” she said.

Leda helped organize “Loaves and Fishes” dialogues in April and May in Moscow, Spokane and Walla Walla.

Panel discussions brought together people of faith, farmers, commercial fishermen and tribal members to talk of their love for Eastern Washington and their stakes in dam removal or re-management to see if they could find a solution that would respect all their interests.

Being from a farm family, Leda knows the dams allow barges to transport wheat grown in the Palouse to market.  For tribes and fishermen, dams endanger the salmon runs.

“We sought to help tribes, fishermen and farmers find shared ground that might lead to a solution for all of them,” she said.  “I hope it is the beginning of a process to bring understanding. It’s not about farmers vs. environmentalists.  We all love Eastern Washington and want it to be a place where all can live.”

Another spring project has been informing faith communities about Initiative 1631, written by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. I-1631 will “invest in clean energy like wind and solar, healthy forests and clean water, while creating good-paying jobs and investing in communities most impacted by pollution.  It will be funded by a pollution fee paid by the state’s biggest corporate polluters,” Leda said. It has support from faith  and low-income groups, communities of color, and environmental, labor and health groups, and native tribes.

The goal was for 500 signatures from faith communities, but they have collected 6,000.

“It seeks to create a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, bringing everyone along into jobs in the clean energy economy,” said Leda, who is coordinating an outreach for the faith community to collect signatures through July 1.

Leda, whose year with the JLP ends July 31, finds faith-based organizing for social justice life-giving, and is looking for other opportunities in Seattle to do such work.

She went to N-Sid-Sen every summer as a camper and then as a counselor.  She served on the PNC Board during college, and has attended General Synod, National Youth Events and Annual Meetings.

For information, call 206-632-2426 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church News © Summer 2018


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