Lyla June Johnston is spending the first week of the legislative session in Santa Fe fasting to bring attention to climate crisis. The 30-year-old scholar, organizer and artist announced last month that she'll challenge New Mexico House Speaker Brain Egolf for his seat in the Democratic primary in June. KUNM caught up with Johnston outside the Roundhouse Thursday morning, where she's been praying and talking energy policy this week.
LYLA JUNE JOHNSTON: I'm on the west side of the New Mexico State Capitol building. I've been here, this is my fourth day, I haven't eaten for four days. I'm doing a seven-day fast for the next seven generations. I am half Diné on my mom's side. And on my dad's side, he's from Texas, so he's European mixed with other Plains tribes. And one of the ways that we pray is we fast. It allows us to think more deeply about what we're fasting for. There's a Native American principle that says we should always think about the effect of our actions on the next seven generations to come. So I'm fasting for seven days to pray for the next seven generations to come and to build policy that doesn't just take care of next fiscal quarter but takes care of seven generations to come.
KUNM: I heard you had planned to camp outside the Roundhouse, basically sleeping here during this first week of this session, but that there was maybe some question of whether or not that would be allowed. First, why would you do that? And then second, what happened?
JOHNSTON: I wanted to do that to prove to everyone that I wasn't eating, because we're in a funny world where people will think, 'Oh, she's probably just going home and, you know, pigging out and watching Netflix.' But I wanted to prove, like, no, this is a real stance. This is a real commitment. And this is a real dedication to the next seven generations to come. And I wanted to camp out there day and night to show who and what I stand for. A local church took me in instead, so I'm still not going home at night.
KUNM: This isn't just about methane pollution, which was one of only a couple of brief environmental mentions in [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's] State of the State speech this week. What was she missing?
JOHNSTON: Well, for one thing, it's interesting that the methane advisory panel, the co-chair is a former oil executive from Marathon Oil. Why are we assigning the fox to mind the henhouse, so to speak? Why are we assigning the oil industry to regulate the oil industry? And that's not the only instance that this has happened. That's one thing. Another thing is the Permian Basin is the largest oil producer in the world. And we sit on part of it, Texas sits on the other, and we are exporting incredible amounts of emissions. And we are not including that in our energy transition plans.
KUNM: There are a bunch of ideas that make up your Seven Generations New Deal, like integrating indigenous science and sustainability practices and reducing corporate influence and politics. How are those messages being received in front of the state Capitol during the legislative session?
JOHNSTON: There's only been incredible support. I was expecting more hecklers, or maybe not hecklers, but people who had true dissent, but we haven't come across that. And that's actually very surprising to me.
KUNM: What are a couple of the most important steps government can take right now, this session, to improve life for New Mexicans?
JOHNSTON: There's a lot of things. One is community solar. This allows communities to decide what kind of energy they want to have in their energy mix, and they can pull their resources together and create that.
KUNM: If I go like a half day not eating, I have trouble concentrating. Are you feeling distracted or having difficulty staying on message?
JOHNSTON: We were weighing me yesterday. It was my third day. I had already lost six pounds. And so I was having problems, but what I'm finding is, strangely, on this fourth day, I feel amazing.
KUNM: You've already been here for several days. What's the weekend look like for you?
Johnston: The breaking of the fast is Sunday at 12:15. We're encouraging a huge crowd to come. We hope they do. Bring a dish, a potluck feast. If you want to bring me some food, you know, bring me some vegetable stew. That's what I've told is good to break a fast with.
This story is part of the project: Your N.M. Government. Funding for our legislative coverage is provided, in part, by the Thornburg Foundation, the New Mexico Local News Fund and KUNM listeners like you.