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Clean Water Action is excited to welcome Cynthia Mendes to our Massachusetts team! She joins Elizabeth Saunders as State Co-Director and brings with her a tapestry of experience. Born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Cynthia's journey is deeply influenced by her diverse background, including her Puerto Rican and Tiano maternal heritage, and by her family’s commitment to justice. Before joining Clean Water, she organized in Rhode Island around housing justice and preserving green spaces before winning a breakout grassroots campaign for the Rhode Island State Senate. Her tenure as a state senator was marked by a solid commitment to climate advocacy.  

We are thrilled to welcome her leadership to the Massachusetts team!  

What drives your passion for environmental and justice advocacy? What in your background led you here?

Love is the heart of my passion for environmental justice and advocacy. Dr. Cornel West says, "Justice is what love looks like in public," a statement that resonates deeply with me. Through the lens of love, every aspect of our society demands justice and the relentless pursuit of the common good. Growing up in New Bedford, Mass, in the United Front Projects during the 1980s, my brother and other neighborhood children suffered due to toxic chemicals sprayed in our play areas. This early exposure to environmental racism and classism, coupled with the current climate crisis, fuels my commitment to fight for environmental justice for all communities.  

What campaign in Massachusetts caught your attention?

Clean Water Action Massachusetts has no shortage of inspiring campaigns, but the victory in closing the Saugus ash landfill was very exciting. I've been energized by Clean Water Action Massachusetts's efforts in tackling PFAS and forever chemicals and their groundbreaking work in clean energy and policies for green justice communities.  

Their lead pipe initiative, in particular, holds a special place in my heart. The thought of thousands of children exposed to lead-contaminated water, risking irreversible cognitive harm, is utterly unacceptable to me. Addressing this will protect our children's future and serve as a model for actionable change for states nationwide.

What are you most excited about in this new role?

What excites me the most is the chance to build upon Clean Water Action's solid foundation and deep community trust. As our team expands, I'm thrilled at the prospect of fostering an environment where creativity and growth flourish. Our diverse and dynamic team is our greatest asset, and supporting their campaigns is a privilege I deeply cherish.

What are some significant differences between holding/running for elected office and working as an advocate? What do you bring from your experience in government?

The contrast between elected office and advocacy is stark. In office, one must juggle dozens, if not hundreds, of issues daily, each with profound implications for constituents. This breadth of responsibility is both a privilege and a weighty challenge. In contrast, advocacy allows for a focused approach, enabling us to channel our efforts into specific causes with confidence that other advocates are covering theirs. This advocacy ecosystem creates a sense of community and shared victories that are fulfilling. My experience has taught me the importance of collaboration, which benefits our collective advocacy efforts.  

How do you spend your typical Sunday?

Sundays are for recharging and reconnecting. Whether it's hosting a family game night (we love playing rummy and charades), diving into a good book, enjoying brunch with friends, or engaging in community work with my faith community, especially with those who are unhoused, it is a day to balance personal joy with making a small difference in the lives of others I hold space with.

What is one thing Massachusetts does better than Rhode Island and one thing Rhode Island does better than Massachusetts?

Massachusetts certainly knows how to excel in sports, much to the envy of many states across New England. Rhode Island, though small, boasts a culinary uniqueness that you just can't find elsewhere. From Party Pizza (a cold rectangle pizza with no cheese — I know—I know—don’t knock it until you try it.)  to Onlyville wieners served "all the way," the state's niche food scene is extraordinary