REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

“If President-elect Trump has his way, we will be standing still on a melting planet. Are we really going to let that happen?” — Sigourney Weaver, Years of Living Dangerously, National Geographic Channel

I finally found time to watch YLD’s season closing episode, “UPRISING,” which weaved Weaver’s exploration of China’s explosive economic growth and its impact on the waukegan-coal-plantenvironment, not only locally but on a massive global scale with America Ferrera’s visit to Waukegan, Illinois. There a still-functioning coal plant, owned by NRG, is creating tension between the community leaders who want to shut it down for the sake of their health and those, including the mayor, who want to keep it open for the jobs. Together the stories connected how climate action requires global attention but must start with local steps.

For over 40 years, SHELTERFORCE has covered the work of practitioners, advocates, and activists for social justice and community development. Some of my November U2Cando blog and some of this month’s blog were posted December 22nd on its ROOFLINES blog website under the title: “You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do.”

I shared how hearing Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, on November 9th served me well as a post-election group therapy. I recalled how his remarks generated flashback memories to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta, who spoke truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the Reagan years of deregulation for profits. Yes, the Reagan Years: when the early days of the Community Reinvestment Act were intentionally stifled; when a promising national investigation and organizing campaign on insurance redlining was suppressed by cancelling one of the final contracts of the Carter Administration.

But then I shared how my community development career started when Nixon was President. Yes, the Nixon Years: when redlining was prevalent as “wise” investing for cities-destroyed-for-cashprofit; when under the watch of HUD Secretary George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) Cities Destroyed for Cash was the outcome. That is the title of the 1973 book by journalist Brian Boyer, which documented how the federal government itself had become the predatory lender that fueled redlining and the withdrawal of private capital from America’s communities. I’ll refrain from reminding us about the George W Years; except to observe that our communities are still hemorrhaging from an economy destroyed by greed.

Yes, we have seen this new Trump movie before. But I don’t remember the CEO of Exxon Mobil being cast as Secretary of State. Personally, I prefer CBS’ Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. Her TV experience is better than the President-Elect. She’s been saving the world; not firing people.

The reality of the current previews for the Trump Years is that this is shaping up to be one of those horror movie sequels with more violence and blood than the earlier ones in the franchise. There is a reason to be scared, horrified in fact. But we cannot retreat.

Thanks to an obstructionist Congress eight years after Wall Street crashed our economy and devastated our communities, government officials still can’t figure out how to employ community residents in rebuilding their own neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant foreclosed homes at affordable prices. The potential for green jobs was never really pursued when the demand for residential energy-efficiency was minimized by a Bush-appointee’s blockage of an innovative financing tool, Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE]. The expansion of solar has been curtailed by public utilities duplicitously working to negate its expansion for residential, commercial and publicly-owned properties; all of which are significant job creating markets.

Our best recourse is to re-engage with our municipal governments to further locally-generated solutions. We must advance the rebuilding of our communities as a core economic strategy to create jobs and assure affordable housing to raise families. It is the antidote to the current plague of hatred. It remains the healing cure for a just and equitable society. We must persevere at the community level, at our roots.

America Ferrera concludes her segment on THE COAL WARS observing:

“The fight against climate change and the transition to clean energy is messy and difficult. But there is so much to be hopeful about. Ordinary people in Waukegan are doing what they can to take on climate change in their corner of the world.”

That’s a theme we should all consider for our New Year’s resolution for 2017 action in our corners of the world.

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LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

REFRESHING MILWAUKEE

What makes ReFresh Milwaukee unique, and the recommendations quite poignant, is the fact that residents set the direction of this planning effort. — Mayor Tom Barrett

ReFresh Milwaukee is the official Sustainability Plan for the City of Milwaukee.ReFresh_MKE_cover It provides a vision for community sustainability over the next 10 years as it seeks to make Milwaukee a world class eco-city and the Fresh Coast Capital of North America. The City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO) is charged with implementing the plan in partnership with other city agencies and community partners.

On my May visit to Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to meet with ECO director Erick Shambarger, community leaders and my longstanding colleague and friend, Howard Snyder. As I have been exploring sustainability initiatives in other US cities, Milwaukee stands out not only for innovative diverse strategies but also for its strong community building approaches.

Groundwork Milwaukee is part of the Groundwork USA network of independent, not-for-profit, environmental businesses called Groundwork Trusts. I first encountered Goundwork Denver last year.

The US programs evolved from a model developed in the UK, where the first Groundwork Trust was founded in 1982 to revitalize abandoned industrial sites in northern England. Since then, Groundwork UK has grown into a network of fifty-two locally based groups.

In 1996, the National Park Service imported this successful program into three pilot communities: Bridgeport, CT; Lawrence, MA; and Providence, RI. Milwaukee was designated a Groundwork USA Pilot Community in 2003. Today there are 19 Groundwork sites in the US and another 9 underdevelopment.

MUG2In 2014, Groundwork Milwaukee merged with Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a non-profit that manages dozens of community gardens throughout the City. Today, they have grown to over 90 gardens that are exclusively run by community leaders and volunteers. Since 2006, Groundwork Milwaukee has worked on 284 projects benefiting 203,163 people and actively involving 2,558 adults (over 18 years) and 1,765 youth (under 18 years) thru partnerships with 30 schools.

The Northwest Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC) has served the economic development needs of Milwaukee’s low-income communities since 1983. It has assisted neighborhood strategic planning to improve safety, land use planning, development to spur retail growth, and numerous business and workforce development programs.

Under the leadership of Howard Snyder, NWSCDC has received 15 Office of Community Services (OCS) awards from 1986 to 2015; making it one of the most successful CDC manager of these impactful federal Community Economic Development (CED) funds. The 12 most recent OCS projects since the year 2000 have all been business expansion loans, totaling $7,545,981 lent. These 12 projects created 985 total jobs (including low-income and non-low-income) during the project periods, and 826 of these new jobs were filled by low-income job-seekers. Two active projects (awards from 2014 and 2015) are still generating new jobs.

On February 15th, 2012, President Barack Obama recognized the innovative efforts of Diamond Precision, a manufacturing plant that received a loan from Northwest Side CDC to expand its operations and create jobs for low-income people in Milwaukee. In his speech, President Obama stressed the importance of “insourcing” for America’s recovery, praised Milwaukee’s impressive job-creation projects and commended Diamond Precision on bringing work previously done overseas back to the US.

In 2008, the NWSCDC lent $580,000 to DRS Technologies as part of an $11 million facility upgrade that created 51 new manufacturing positions for low-income workers. DRSDRS is a high-tech manufacturer of power and control systems for US Navy ships and submarines. The NWSCDC loan also fostered the creation of a business incubator within the DRS facility, which supported 22 jobs for low-income individuals at Universal Housing Systems (a tenant of the incubator).

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago highlighted the DRS project and the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation as “transforming the approach to creating positive economic impact in distressed communities,” and an unique collaboration that could serve as a national template for community-corporate relations.

In 2012, NWSCDC won a $728,750 OCS grant award to assist in financing the purchase of the former Eaton Corporation headquarters, a seven-story 184,309 square-foot tower. Rebranded as Century City Tower, Century City Towerthe building was transitioned from a single-user R&D office building into a multi-disciplinary job accelerator, comprising a multi-tenant facility.

Partnering with the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) was key to saving Century City Tower and turning it into the Energy Innovation Center, an accelerator for businesses in the Energy, Power, and Controls Technology industry cluster. The offices of the NWSCDC and M-WERC are both housed in Century City Tower, further cementing their ongoing economic development partnership.

M-WERC is a consortium of 90 firms and 4 universities. Its Energy Innovation Center creates, tests, and licenses new technologies with lab space for collaborative research, advanced prototyping center, and large scale product piloting space. Current research is focused on: Distributed Energy Resources & Systems (DERS) and Conversion Architecture for Microgrids and Integrations of Renewable Energy Sources as the next big wave to accelerate growth of the building energy efficiency (BEE) market. NWSCDC is partnering with M-WERC to plan and design advanced Microgrid facilities at pilot sites in their community.

In the community development field, we often use “Re” words of reinvest and revitalize. As we now explore sustainability strategies for our communities we can also consider “restoring” vacant land to community gardens and “recharging” our power sources with renewable energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. But as we do so, we must keep focused that to really “rejuvenate” our communities we need to “revive” our local economies.

There are a lot “Re” words to be found in the Thesaurus for “refresh.” Many of them are being deployed in Milwaukee where they should be: in the community and by the community. That’s a “reality” to be remembered across the country in this political season.

BLOGGING FOR JUSTICE OVER A YEAR’S WORTH OF SEEKING

BLOGGING FOR JUSTICE OVER A YEAR’S WORTH OF SEEKING

This is U2Cando Blog #52. So I’ve reached my goal of blogging every week for a year. To my early followers, thanks for your loyalty. To my latest followers, I will return. But I’m cutting back to a monthly commitment to share my future perspectives.

I do want to acknowledge Jan Wilberg, who inspired me last summer with her award-winning daily blogging. What happens on her Red’s Wrap she admits is all over the map. Jan writes about what seems important or interesting at the moment.

That’s what I’ve been striving to do this past year. I wrote about folks from my past, new encounters, and threw in some political harangue. I didn’t know when I posted my first blog that I would also start a weekly U2Cando playlist of song lyrics. When Bono & U2 came up on my son’s playlist while riding in his car with Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, it seemed to be timely for the vocational search I was on still seeking justice.

So as I go on vacation and hiatus, my Top 10 list [with direct links embedded in each title] clearly needs to start with that first blog last August: DOES ANYONE HAVE BONO’S CELL NUMBER?

Gale Cincotta Reclaims America October 13, 1980

Gale Cincotta
Reclaims America
October 13, 1980

Last week, I tweaked the lyrics to a Steve Earle song to mention my mentor Gale Cincotta and embedded a link to my seventh blog, RECLAIMING AMERICA, on her posted last Columbus Day weekend. One of my followers Michael Westgate (author of Gale Force, an oral history on Gale) reminded me that August 15th was the anniversary of her death in 2001. I didn’t remember that as I wrote my most recent blog on August 15th; but I sure felt Gale’s spirit in the composing.

Remembering Gale last October, led to other memories from my days as editor of DISCLOSURE that I recalled in blog #8, FROM THE ROOTS, about other leaders who fought for their community. With a nod to Van Morrison, it’s always proper to “lift your glass and raise it high to the beauty of the days gone by.”

Romero Mural in Ciudad Romero

Romero Mural in Ciudad Romero

This past year saw the Vatican take the next step to finally canonize Oscar Romero as a martyred saint. My 14th blog last November, STILL RESILIENT IN EL SALVADOR, shared reflections from a 2012 community empowerment tour on which my wife and I witnessed the strength of perseverance.

The big news of the year for me was half-way through my blogging year when I announced in blog #26, OUT TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE, that I had accepted the position as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA)-USA. This blog introduced the only lyrics I used twice from Sing for the Climate. If you have never seen the video, do yourself and the world a favor and check it out. On September 22 and 23, 2012, more than 80,000 people in more than 180 Belgian communities sang this song urging politicians to take more ambitious climate measures.

Addressing climate change has become a core mission for me now. Fortunately, I have some influential thought leaders to quote from. My 27th blog, THIS BOOK CHANGES EVERYTHING, led to a book review for SHELTERFORCE of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. As I said then and still do, if there has ever been a book you should read, this is it.

Over the next couple of months, my work will be engaging others in dialogue as requested by Pope Francis and recorded in blog #44, SHOUTING FOR JOY. That should offer sustenance for my September and October blogs.

TJ, Mom & Dad 7-26-15You can’t go a year without having birthdays. Most recently, I used blog #49, GROWING OLDER BUT NOT UP, to wish my son, TJ, well. The tweet link “Let’s Get Some Beers” got some likes.

The blog that received the most views all year was #25, HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY, my birthday and Valentine’s greeting to my wife, Lynne. She not only got me through this past year but also has provided love for what will be 40 years this October. And yes for those of you keeping score, Van Morrison is currently leading the U2Cando playlist with four songs to Bruce Springsteen’s three.

My birthday this year was a milestone, acknowledged in blog #18, CROSSING THE GREAT DIVIDE. I look forward to sharing my thoughts at the end of December on how my 66th year winds up.

So those are my ToP 10 blogs. I enjoyed writing all 52 of them. Whenever you read them, I hope you enjoyed them too. Remember U2Cando!

I’m completing my year of blogging for justice with my favorite hymn. It’s set to an Irish tune that you may have heard in a pub but it’s sung fairly often at our church, Old St. Pat’s.

Old St. Pat's

Old St. Pat’s

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!

Canticle of the Turning
Author: Rory Cooney
Tune: STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN

SHOUTING FOR JOY

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS

I’ve downloaded the Pope’s new encyclical so I can read it on my tablet. Pope FrancisI couldn’t wait for the book version scheduled to be released on July 18th.

Many climate change deniers and politicians couldn’t wait for the encyclical release before questioning the Pope’s authority to question corporate greed. Headlines proclaimed: “Pope takes on climate change.” I was half expecting to see “Is the Pope Catholic?”

I look forward to reading the full encyclical and writing a future blog on the Pope’s insights and call to action. But I already know as a practicing Catholic that climate change is an issue of social justice.

The Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA is already planning a Fall forum on “Faith & Sustainability.” Our mission of “building a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth” is the primary reason I accepted the position as CEO. Spreading our current sustainability initiatives to Chicago congregations and other cities is a priority for us in the coming months and years.

Rev. John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, observed in a Chicago Tribune op-ed piece in the days leading up to the Pope’s message observed:

“The pope’s objective will not be to win an election—he will never stand for any kind of election again in his life. He will be trying to deepen our common reflection and spur action on one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. His goal will be to appeal to consciences.”

It is time for many conversations focused on addressing climate change. Pope Francis’ opening sentence reminds us:

Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”

The title of the encyclical is from St. Francis of Assisi’s “The Canticle of the Sun”; this week’s addition to the U2Cando playlist:

Papal CrestPraise for the rain that waters our fields
And blesses our crops so all the earth yields;
From death unto life her mystery revealed
Springs forth in joy.

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
And all creation is shouting for joy.
Come dance in the forest, come play in the field
And sing, sing to the glory of the Lord.

Canticle of the Sun
Text by St. Francis of Assisi;
adapted & music by Marty Haugen

CULTIVATING THE COURAGE TO CARE

CULTIVATING THE COURAGE TO CARE

“This network defines sustainability very broadly and holistically, which allows me to develop more knowledge, toolkits, language, and connections in these areas, beyond environmental sustainability.”

Community-based sustainability initiatives are taking place across the metropolitan area of Chicago. To date, they have been relatively isolated activities with limited interaction. Though there are many programs and resources to assist local sustainability efforts, many communities are unaware of these opportunities or unfamiliar with ways to access them.

Over 900 Sustainable Initiatives in Chicago

Over 900 Sustainable Initiatives in Chicago’s Communities

The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) has been the organizing sponsor of “accelerate 77” since 2011 and created the program in order to increase the role and positive impact of local community actions. Starting in the Fall of 2011, over 200 students from five Chicago-based Universities began to uncover the organizations, initiatives and individuals working at the community level toward creating a more sustainable Chicago.

ICA’s strategy continues to be:
• IDENTIFY current sustainability initiatives in all of Chicago’s 77 community areas;
• CONNECT them with one another to inspire new ideas, practices, self-consciousness and motivation through peer interchange;
• COLLABORATE in systematic learning, planning, and collective action; and
• ACCELERATE sustainability in a bottom-up fashion driven by practical action, expanded imagination, and greater organizational capacities among local groups.

A key outcome has been the emerging Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) which is a diverse, intergenerational group working on a wide variety of issues in communities across Chicago who are passionate about learning from one another and working across communities for widespread, lasting change.

PrintCSLN connects grassroots leaders from communities across Chicago to share resources, support each other’s work, inspire new thinking across disciplines and best sustainable practices, collaborate, build a stronger collective voice, and nurture equitable and impactful relationships with policy makers. CSLN is the “city-wide” platform that attracted me to the CEO position at ICA-USA. There are many “connecting the dots” opportunities that remind me of my years at the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Organizations (CANDO).

This past week’s bi-monthly Network Meeting was hosted at the William Hill Gallery and Garden, a true treasure in Chicago’s Woodlawn community. Those attending reflected on the results of a recent Network survey, which highlighted the value that CSLN members place on connectivity and collaborating. Besides the opening quote, another commented:

“I have been made aware of a lot (!!) of interesting neighborhood groups that I would not have heard of/or chatted with otherwise. It’s allowed me to think outside the box and engage in new ideas.”

CSLN meet Karen Weigert, Chicago's Chief Sustainability Officer (5th from right)

CSLN meets Karen Weigert, Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer (5th from right)

In looking forward, members prioritized increasing the depth of connectivity and promoting regional community hubs as “living libraries.” ICA will be seeking to expand programing at its own GreenRise Learning Lab in Uptown, while assisting CSLN members to act as ongoing community-based hubs either at their own physical site or at other locations in or near their communities.

CSLN JennyCSLN’S accomplishments, since its launch in October 2013, are a testimony to its “applied cultural anthropologist” Jenny Hirsch, who cultivated and nurtured its emergence. At this past week’s Network meeting, CSLN members wished Jenny farewell as she has accepted a new position, starting in August, at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) to launch and direct its new initiative on sustainable communities.

Of course, Jenny received a rousing singing send-off. But I have chosen the following lyrics for this week’s U2Cando playlist in Jenny’s honor. Thanks for all you have done and for your future dreams.

This world in transition, old forms torn apart;
Creates a new mission, demands a new heart.
The new world is crushing the one that we knew;
Our minds barely touching the change rushing through….

If ever a singer were needed to sing,
If ever a dreamer were needed to dream,
If ever a people were called on to stand,
It’s surely this moment; it’s surely this land.

Hold on to the dream that gives the world
A vision to share
And cherish the hope that gives the people
Courage to care.

The Courage to Care
Lyrics: The ICA Sustainability Song Book
Tune: Theme from Chariots of Fire