Over 500 Illinoisans gathered at the State Capitol in Springfield during 2019 fall veto session of the Illinois General Assembly to show support for the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). The energetic supporters, who filled several buses and crowded the rotunda, were only a fraction of the more than 10,000 “community cosponsors” who have pledged support for the bill. Many of those community voices have been activated through nearly 100 community conversations as part of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition’s (ICJC) Listen. Lead. Share. (LLS) campaign.
LLS conversations are designed to raise awareness about CEJA and gather additional feedback from residents on how to improve the bill. ICA joined the campaign this year, organizing three LLS events in Chicago ahead of the fall veto session.
In late July, our first event engaged Uptown residents on the implications CEJA might have for the neighborhood. In September, we traveled to South Shore to partner with Windsor Park Lutheran Church for an event after their regular Sunday service. On October 27, just two days before supporters rallied in Springfield, we held our final conversation with Bronzeville Alliance at their community garden in Bronzeville.
For the past two years, Bronzeville Alliance has helped organize events as part of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network’s (CSLN) Nourish (comm)Unity series. In 2015 and 2016, Bronzeville Alliance and the Center for New Horizons (CNH) participated in CSLN’s Preparing for Rainy Days (未雨綢繆) project, which identified resonant values connected to energy-related behavior in several Chicago communities as a basis for creating culturally-specific messaging around smart grid technology. They identified Bronzeville’s resiliency, adaptability, and rich heritage regarding historic struggle as capacities that could be engaged in the campaign to take ownership of energy and shift to a new governing image of “Sustainability for the 21st Century.”
The LLS conversation at Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm picked up on those same threads, positioning CEJA as a way for residents to help shape and benefit from a huge statewide investment in clean energy jobs, small business opportunities, and more. As Bronzeville Alliance Media Specialist Amandilo Cuzan put it to the gathered residents, “I wanna hear more from you!”
Amandilo began by introducing the first pillar of CEJA, which will set up Clean Jobs Workforce Hubs that ICJC describes as “a network of frontline organizations that provide direct and sustained support for communities of color and economically disadvantaged members to be hired to install solar, wind, or do energy efficiency.” He pointed to the work of Naomi Davis and Blacks in Green, saying that their recently-launched Green Living Room in Woodlawn provides “all the things necessary for marginalized communities to get on an even playing field.”
Shifting gears, Amandilo described his recent experience of driving a hybrid car for the first time and wondering to himself “why aren’t they everywhere?”. The third pillar of CEJA aims to make that a reality by electrifying transportation in Illinois, removing the equivalent of a million gasoline and diesel vehicles.
But what Amandilo emphasized is that “we’re all responsible for the energy we use. It’s important to bring the conversation back to use and realize that we each have choices.” Those choices are far more than just buying a new electric car, and include informing oneself and one’s neighbors about energy issues and putting public pressure on lawmakers and corporations to make electric vehicles and other clean energy options accessible and affordable for everyone. This way, he believes, we can “transfer over into a whole new way of using energy.”
That transformation, Amandilo suggested, is parallel to the lifestyle change of clean eating that he’s experienced and witnessed in his work with Bronzeville Neighborhood Farm. Throughout the LLS event, Bronzeville Alliance Lead Organizer Johnnie Owens was on hand selling produce to a steady stream of neighbors. Johnnie explained that this is the Farm’s second year growing produce, and its first year hosting community events such as the LLS conversation and healthy cooking demonstrations.
Just after the LLS conversation concluded, Johnnie welcomed guest chef and neighborhood resident Khari B to lead a free, all-vegan cooking demo using eggplant, kale, collards, peppers, and tomatoes all grown on the Farm.