Voices | April 29-May 6

Image: Maxim Hopman

The Shoutout

Cinco de Mayo is this Wednesday.

Your turn:

Since this year’s celebration will be way different than last year’s, we want to hear how you marked the day.

Send a roundup of your Cinco de Mayo exploits to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com.

Image: Heather Ford 

Demand environmental justice on Earth Day 

The following remarks were given at Environmental Justice Earth Day on April 22 outside SEPTA’s Midvale Terminal on Wissahickon Avenue in Nicetown.

It’s wonderful to be out here with you today, being swayed about with wind energy!

I just want to say a word about Earth Day. It’s celebrated in 192 countries, but in my experience, here in the U.S., its meaning has changed. While many of us tend gardens and some plant trees and we agree that mother earth deserves to be honored today, we feel that we must re-align with the original purpose for Earth Day. On April 22, 1970, on the First Earth Day, 20 million people peacefully protested for environmental reform to protect our planet, our health, and our habitats. Just a few months afterwards, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Clean Air Act was passed. In PA, our state adopted a constitutional amendment, the Environmental Rights Amendment, Article 1, Section 27. 

This is what Article 1, Section 27 says: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.”  

Wow! Who knew? Talk about ignoring constitutional rights! 

So, let me tell you why we’ve been so concerned about SEPTA burning “natural” gas – otherwise known as fracked methane gas – in their new power plant right here at SEPTA’s Midvale complex. PGW says it is clean energy. Mayor Kenney says it’s a great idea. But you may have noticed that homes that burn natural gas have chimneys.  Exhaust fumes from burning gas in the house would kill you otherwise.  

It’s really not OK to throw toxic trash into the outside air. It’s now decades past the time to transition away from burning fossil fuels and manufacturing with poison. We have the asthma, the cancers, the cardio-vascular disease, and the brain disorders to prove that.  Exxon Mobile’s scientists and environmentalists have all known for decades that we are facing catastrophic climate change. Now, the world’s people are facing a quadruple unprecedented level of crisis of climate, toxicity, habitat loss, and unprecedented social disparities. As these issues are coming to a head, they are spinning out symptoms like chronic diseases of body and mind, pandemics, famine, and food insecurity for even the wealthiest nations.

I want to pause for 30 seconds and give perspective about the air we breathe. When we look up into the sky, we can’t actually see where the 3.8 mile boundary is, but that’s the end point of where our air goes to being impossible to breathe. It’s just 3.8 miles, approximately the distance of two – going from Broad and Erie to City Hall. So human beings have been hoodwinked to believe that our breathing air was in unlimited supply.

Meanwhile, down here at Wissahickon and Roberts avenues, SEPTA has no practical need for their little gas power plant. It burns fracked methane gas to generate electricity and sends the power a couple of blocks away to run regional trains at Wayne Junction.  Since electrical power from PECO has been highly reliable, SEPTA has never had a true need to pollute here, to run those trains. It’s just a political deal made in 2012 in Harrisburg, with PGW and our city’s elected[s] licking their chops.

It will be a little while now before SEPTA shuts down their gas power plant, but we do want it shut down. We also know that we must work on other effective ways to improve air quality here, as quickly as possible. One thing we can do is get barriers put on Route 1, which will protect people from the particulate pollution coming off that road. Particulates cause asthma and dementia, and they damage children’s learning.

We can organize massive tree planting on SEPTA’s property and in the community. Trees filter out toxins, take in CO2, and add oxygen. But the city needs to guarantee that if a homeowner plants a tree by their sidewalk, the city will maintain the sidewalk.

NAGP is working in an advisory group to the City Council Environment Committee writing new laws to improve air quality, but to get them passed, we will need you. It’s called public pressure. One law we submitted is a ban on burning our trash in Chester, PA. You burn it – you breathe it. Here’s one way we can begin helping to elevate Chester’s 30-year struggle to shut it down. 

Lynn Robinson, Neighbors Against the Gas Plants. For more information, please see Neighbors Against the Gas Plants website, neighborsagainstthegasplants.com/about, or follow NAGP on Facebook, facebook.com/NoSeptaGasPlant.

Image: Bermix Studio

Green Party has cure for Philadelphia gun violence

2021 is off to a bad start for Philadelphia. The murder rate is unnerving, and we are only three months in. The city is on its way to setting a new record that no city wants to hold.  A staggering murder rate. The shootings have begun to happen throughout the day rather than at night which used to be peak crime hours. Our local officials are baffled. They propose the same old ideas: Curfews, more police, etc. The tactics they propose would seem to show a complete misunderstanding of the cause. Do they really not get it, or is this system they designed working?

“It is very revealing that the Democratic and Republican officials do not look at the statistics,” said Chris Robinson, a Green Party of Philadelphia member (GPOP, www.gpop.org). 

“There is no secret to the cause of gun violence: Our history of racism. A study published last year by Dr. Jessica H. Beard, assistant professor of surgery and director of trauma research at Temple University’s school of medicine, showed that gun violence in Philadelphia happens in the areas which were redlined following World War II. Because of our history of racist disinvestment in certain neighborhoods, gun violence has increased there.”

Fortunately, the Green Party has political proposals that will reverse that disinvestment and contribute to a massive lessening of gun violence. The Green Party has called for reparations, a universal basic income, and single-payer health care for all. The Green Party program for a Green New Deal calls for an Economic Bill of Rights, which would employ everyone at a living wage. These measures address systemic problems that contribute to gun violence.

“The Green Party calls for an end to the violence and paints a clear road map to achieving this goal,” said Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture, a member of GPOP and the Black Alliance for Peace. 

“Communities need these types of resources: Jobs and job training; affordable, accessible health care; safe, quality public schools; accessible, culturally competent mental health services that must include anger management, trauma-informed care, etc. To stop gun violence, city officials must have the political will to support the proper funding of these types of community resources.”

In order to repair these areas which have been discriminated against for more than 70 years, the Green Party holds that it’s absolutely necessary to put everyone on a level playing field. One way to do that is through reparations. Evanston, Illinois, has just passed a tax on cannabis, which will benefit Black citizens. That is a great start, but unfortunately, does not go far enough. Philadelphia could take a look at their framework and build on it.

Another important way is through universal basic income. This would provide communities with a sense of security. It’s often hard for young Black and brown people to get a job due to systemic racism. A guaranteed income could keep young adults off the street and away from illegal sources of income. This would allow them to provide for their families or take the extra time to get an education, leading them to be more appealing to an employer. 

Last, but not least, single-payer health care. How often do you hear the horror stories of Americans going broke due to medical bills? Pop in “Sicko” by Michael Moore, if you need a refresher. In America, the sick get punished for being sick. Oftentimes, being under-insured can cost just as much – if not more – than having no insurance. Not only are people going through diseases like cancer and COVID-19, but they are also losing their homes on top of it. 

The corporate duopoly understands the link between economic injustice and violence, and yet they kowtow to lobbyists and corporate donors. They leave the vast majority of Americans to contend with a few trifling survival checks, all the while increasing police presence and enforcing stricter curfews. The Green Party is the only party that is prepared to enact economic justice through laws designed to lift people out of poverty and curb the violence overtaking our fair city. 

Justin Bell is a member of the Green Party of Philadelphia City Committee. 

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