By: Lauren Clapp
No one should have to get sick or die for our energy.
When I asked Ed Byers, the face behind STOP THE POWER, Brockton’s grassroots organization trying to keep a power plant out of its community, what he considers his biggest success has been in the past five years, he said, quite simply, “That the plant hasn’t been built yet”. Ed and his friends, family, and employees at Cindy’s Kitchen have been the driving force building a movement against sleazy businessmen and crooked politicians who are trying to build a natural gas power plant in one of Brockton’s poorest neighborhoods. Ed has put his company and his livelihood on the line for a cause he so passionately believes in, and I truly admire him for that.
Ed became initially involved in this struggle when the plant was proposed to be built next to his company’s offices (Ed, champion for social and environmental justice, owns a large organic salad dressing manufacturing corporation as his “day job”). Brockton Power, which has never built a power plant before, identified a plot of land off of MainStreet as prime location for their project. The area is home to a large, low-income community where English is a second language for many residents. Brockton Power tried to weasel its way into what it thought would be a “cake walk”, as Ed put it; they did not expect any resistance from the community. We learned all about the outrageous ways this company tried to influence community members, from helping to fund small start up businesses to leaving an open tab at the bar and providing financial support to different city governmental officials. Ed has all these facts documented and on display for all to see at his website, and while I was skeptical at first due to the inflammatory manner in which they are published, I believe that they truly are reputable.
So who would benefit from the construction of the Brockton power plant? Clearly not the city of Brockton. Massachusetts already generates all the power it needs. Power generated by the Brockton power plant will be sold to the Connecticut grid. While the Brockton power plant would create about 200 jobs during its construction, once it is built it would only need between 7-25 people to run it daily. Massachusetts has the second highest average asthma rate in the country, and Brockton ishigher than the state average. A large power plant burning fossil fuels and putting more particulates in the air certainly won’t make the people of Brockton breathe any easier.
In light of all of this, Ed started campaigning. He posted dozens of sound bites on local radio stations. He took out an $8,000, “shock and awe” full page ad in the newspaper that showed the power plant superimposed over a Brockton neighborhood. He gave presentations at various church congregations translated into multiple different languages and he bought lots of really bright signs that say “STOP BROCKTON’S POWER PLANT” and passed them out to anyone who supported him. It was because of these signs that we found out about Ed, actually. Many of them are still defiantly displayed around the city, and we did some curious snooping once we saw them. Ed and those he works with researched local politicians to find out who supported the plant and who was opposed it, and made flyers that laid such information out in black and white. When it came around to election time, many people were seen bringing Ed’s flyers into the ballot boxes with them, presumable because they were voting exclusively along those lines. Ed told us he’s put nearly $150,000 of his own money into this movement; he’s put his businesses and his livelihood on the line for this cause. Ed’s passion was so amazing, and I was so inspired talking with him for nearly two hours yesterday. He did what we’re hoping to do through Climate Summer, to organize a community at a grassroots level to take action for a better future.
Environmental justice comes down to this: those who are the main contributors of climate change are not those who suffer the most from its consequences. Brockton Power’s exploitation of the people of Brockton is a story that is not terribly unique. One of our favorite “go to” facts that we learned during training is that 24,000 Americans die every year from breathing in particles emitted from power plants burning fossil fuels. Missing from that statement, however, is exactly who is dying. It’s not the CEOs and white collar business people who can afford to drive their Hummers 75 mph down the highway with the windows rolled down and the air conditioning on high. Toxic power plants are built in low-income neighborhoods because these communities lack the economic and political resources to fight them off. These disadvantaged communities are defenseless targets for organizations like Brockton Power. In Brockton, however, corporate greed and environmental carelessness has been thwarted by the grassroots movement of a community determined to build itself a cleaner and healthier future.