By Lisa Purdy
What do Fitchburg, Greenfield, Holyoke, and Chelsea all have in common? Well, besides the fact that they’ve been graced by our presence… (I kid–we’ve definitely been the lucky ones. But I digress.)
The pattern is the idea of organizing organically–building a better future realistically, one that the community believes in and is ready for. Try imposing ideas on an unwilling population: doomed. But work with groups already in place? A glimmer, a gleam, a gilded ray of hope! In Fitchburg, MOC and the mayor had an emphasis on healthy living; Wisty Rorobacker of Greenfield worked patiently with the school to incorporate gardening into the curriculum.
In Holyoke, the group Nuestras Raíces is doing amazing things to tap into the culture of a city that is 40% Puerto Rican (it’s more densely packed per sq. inch with Puerto Ricans than Puerto Rico). Jesus Espinosa, Farmers Market Coordinator, filled us in on how what began as food justice (“people can eat good, healthy, and cheap”) quickly became environmental justice: considering the 70% asthma rate, it’s an issue that is directly related to fossil fuels (the Mt. Tom Coal Plant and heavy truck trafficto name a couple) yet tangible and immediate as well. Along with youth leadership, Jesus told us about the community gardens and farm that boast native Puerto Rican crops and farm animals, respectively.
This type of organizing sort of came together at our community meeting–an event that was totally autonomous, outreach, agenda, and all. I think we were all feeling a little nervous about the prospect of an empty room, but a few people showed up to the Slice California Café. A fantastic conversation ensued; four people all involved in the goings-on of Holyoke, or at least often passing through, unfolded easily: sharing information on farmer’s markets and organizations, bouncing off ideas about their vision for Holyoke (lots of bike paths!). One of the women, a young white gay woman, recognized that she was not the typical Holyoke resident, but was passionate about the idea of allowing all cultures to mingle together. Talking solutions, a free community Spanish class to bridge that fundamental language gap, was proposed: we can only encourage them to continue with the idea.
That brings me to the next thought: our role in all of this. As vagabonds, us Climate Riders are perennially outsiders. But we do have the power to not only connect people to each other in their communities, but consider this: compared to us, they are immersed in their city. Perhaps the shifting of self-perception–of being in a position to educate others about their own community–will empower people to be more engaged where they live.
Being out and about with a purpose in a town makes me miss each place we leave: I want to share that sense of involvement with everyone!
As for Chelsea: each neighborhood has an environmental justice issue, but there are people working on those issues–DEET-free, and from the ground up!