Friday, March 2, 2012
Hey Friends - I wrote this for Greenpeace, but I figured I'd post it here, too! Peace! -tom
I'm a pastor in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. At a Lutheran Church. I have been for about three years. The largest ministry of our church, as measured by people positively affected, is our clothing pantry, known as God's Closet. We at First Trinity take much pride in the fact that between our clothing distribution, and the food pantry operated by Benton House, our friends down the street, Bridgeport folks, as needed, have pretty good access to the things they need at no cost to them.
After arriving in this neighborhood, as a result of my role in the community, and as a result of First Trinity's partnership with Benton House, I got to meet a lot of really nice people. Good people. Charitable people. Do-gooders. The kind of people you want to know if you want to live a happy life.
But amidst our happiness, there was discontent. The good kind of discontent, of course. That kind that kind of twists your gut a little bit and lets you know you should be doing something more. Something different. We were all doing lots of good, handing out lots of bandages to folks who have been burned by the system. But as of yet, we weren't doing anything to change the system that necessitated our charity.
One issue that charity couldn't fix, (as handing out gas masks was rather impractical and unaffordable), was the damage being done to our community's health by the emissions of the Fisk coal-fired power plant that sits on the border of Bridgeport and Pilsen. Just a mile from the church that I serve, a congregation that strives to be a safe place, a sanctuary, in the community, Fisk was busy pumping out pollution that made sure that no one in the area was truly safe.
Last Fall, Christine Nanicelli from the Sierra Club, a friend and ally, and a key leader in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, had the wisdom and insight to send a Green Corps organizer, Emma Greenbaum, to Bridgeport. Christine and I had talked about working together in some way several times before. Sierra Club had even spoken at our church back in July of 2011 on the issue of the plants. But sending us an intern was the push we do-gooders needed. This was our push to organize. This was also the beginning of what would become a multi-issue grassroots organization known as Bridgeport Alliance.
In September of 2011, we held our first Move Beyond Coal Community Action meeting at Benton House. And Bridgeport turned out. Old and young, white, Latino, Asian, Republican, Democrat, Communist, Lutheran, Catholic, atheist, and on and on. It was our first public meeting and the room was packed. Turns out people really cared. And people who often divide themselves over political ideologies or creeds were all there because they saw Fisk's tower every time they went outside. And they new it was killing people.
From then on, Bridgeport was in the campaign. I can't remember a day going by for months when we not only talked about dirty old Fisk, but strategized and made plans about what we would do next. With Emma, Rene Paquin, and Joe Hopkins, frequenting Field Team meetings, we were wonderfully plugged into a campaign that would help our community in a very concrete way.
Among other things, we gathered hundreds of photo-petitions throughout Bridgeport for an action at City Hall on December 2nd. In two days, we gathered 40 business sign-on's for clean power to deliver to our Alderman, James Balcer. In conjunction with PERRO, we put pressure on our Alderman, hoping he would come out about his support of the Clean Power Ordinance. We built a giant database of supporters, which continues to be helpful, and we turned-out an enthusiastic Bridgeport, again and again to Clean Power Coalition actions and demonstrations. I even had the honor of being one of the speakers for the press conference in December. All the while, with the help of Will Tanzman and Lev Hirschhorn from SOUL (Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation), we moved from being simply "the folks from Bridgeport" into incorporating as the Bridgeport Alliance, with our first issue, of course, officially being signing on to the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.
This past Wednesday, the news leaked to the press that a deal had been reached and that the plants were getting shut down. (We had found this out Monday at the Field Team meeting, and celebrated accordingly). Many from the coalition turned out for an impromptu press conference. I had the pleasure of watching one of the local TV reports again and again, as a parishioner had video taped a story I was interviewed in, and was looping it over and over before our Wednesday night Lent services.
When I announced to the two congregations who were gathered at my church that night the news, they all irrupted in applause.
The scripture from that evening was God's Covenant with Noah and every living thing, from the book of Genesis, where God promises every living thing that God will never destroy the earth. Sadly, humankind has not yet made that promise. But through grassroots organizing, the Chicago Clean Power Coalition and other groups all over the world, are taking real, effective steps, to stop the destruction of this fragile planet, and to reverse some of the damage being done.
I am proud to have worked with the coalition through Bridgeport Alliance, and grateful for the relationships that have been formed in the process.
I am grateful to have been a part of this victory. But of course, the battle has only begun.
Rev. Tom Gaulke
Pastor, First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Bridgeport, Chicago
Leader, Bridgeport Alliance