Jun
23

Baltimore Sun: ‘South Baltimore Students Protest Against Planned Plant Near 2 Schools’

South Baltimore Students Protest Against Planned Plant Near 2 Schools 

High-schoolers ask school board to opt out of energy contract 

June 16th, 2014, by Erica Green The Baltimore Sun

A group of Baltimore students are calling on the school board to pull out of its agreement to purchase energy from a planned plant that would burn waste within a mile of two schools in one of the most polluted neighborhoods of the city.

Students from Benjamin Franklin High School have reignited a debate over the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project — what the students and environmental advocates consider an incinerator — that was approved in 2010 and would be the largest of its kind in the nation.

What started as a service-learning initiative at the high school has spurred a group called “Free Your Voice,” which is using poems, songs and compelling testimony to garner the attention of city and state leaders to help stop the industrialization of the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn neighborhoods in South Baltimore. The neighborhoods have been ranked among the most polluted ZIP codes in Maryland and the country.

“We feel like this development just stomps over this whole idea of human rights,” said Destiny Watford, who graduated from Benjamin Franklin last year and now attends Towson University. “We live in a community that’s very polluted, and no one seems to care. It isn’t fair. It isn’t equitable. It isn’t right.”

Patrick Mahoney, president of Energy Answers International, which is building the plant, said the project was approved because it met the strictest of standards set forth by the Department of the Environment and received buy-in from the community.

He said he believes the students are being influenced by environmental groups and wants to invite the group to visit its other site in Massachusetts to get a better view of how the Baltimore plant would operate.

“I respect the students’ choice in looking at things like this and taking a position,” Mahoney said. “The one issue I have is that they don’t have enough nor the right information and are taking a position without the right foundation.”

The students recently made an emotional plea to the school district to halt plans to purchase energy from the plant.

The district signed a contract in April 2011 to join 22 other entities slated to buy energy from the plant, which was to be built within 48 months of the signing of the contract. The plant’s construction has been delayed, however, and the district can pull out with no penalty if it is not built by April.

The project has run into roadblocks, failing to garner enough energy purchasers to finance the nearly $1 billion plant’s construction. Mahoney said that is changing, though.

Shanaysha Sauls, president of the city school board, said staff were reviewing information provided by the group during a presentation — which received a standing ovation from board members — as well as the district’s contract with Albany-based Energy Answers.

“The board was extraordinarily impressed … and will definitely take it up for discussion,” Sauls said.

The plant has been controversial since it was proposed.

The Free Your Voice group has asked whether the company has missed crucial construction deadlines, which would require it to go through the approval process again.

Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the company has received one extension to its original Feb. 12, 2012, deadline for construction to commence. It has 18 months from August 2013 to begin construction, and some preliminary work has been done on the site.

But Apperson said the department will assess the company’s compliance with the Clean Air Act, which requires that construction continue “at a reasonable pace and be completed within a reasonable timeframe,” after Energy Answers files its next progress report, which is due by July 30.

Mahoney said the company considers it a “resource recovery facility” — not an incinerator — that would recover more than the average recycling plant. The plant would be the cleanest in the nation and would generate electricity and steam from waste that otherwise would fill up landfills, he said. He said that pre-construction work on the site has included assessing contamination that would remain on the site if the plant weren’t being built.

“Our goal is to create a sustainable enterprise that is very much better than landfilling, that will have economic benefits as well as environmental benefits,” Mahoney said. “We have gotten permits where nobody else has because this has been an exhaustive process.”

Mahoney said odor would not be an issue. He also said that trucks carrying materials would only take routes agreed upon by the community.

He added that residents had been an integral part of the project, pointing out that community associations signed a memorandum of understanding before the project was approved by the state.

But Free Your Voice contends that the company cannot guarantee that the 240 pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead the plant is legally allowed to emit per year won’t be harmful.

They also point out that a health impact study for the site was not required and therefore never conducted.

Environmental groups also have criticized the project for skirting a law that prohibits building an incinerator within a mile of a school. The Energy Answers project is considered a “power plant” by the state.

It would burn shredded municipal waste, tire chips, auto parts and demolition debris for fuel within a mile of Benjamin Franklin and Curtis Bay Elementary.

“It just seems really selfish that they were able to do that,” said Leah Rozier, a senior at Benjamin Franklin who also resides in Curtis Bay. “It makes you wonder, if this was happening in their neighborhoods, near their children, to their families, if the same decision would have been made.”

Local political leaders have been supportive of the students’ efforts to renew the debate, though they say that not all see the project, which will bring jobs and other benefits to the community, as harmful.

In 2010, the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn community associations signed a memorandum of understanding under which the company would offer the community scholarships and $50,000 to $100,000 a year in donations for community improvements. The company also vowed in the memorandum to spare residents from dust, noise and pollutants.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents the Curtis Bay area, said that while community associations have been generally supportive of the project, he believes the Free Your Voice group has raised awareness of possible environmental justice issues that should be taken into consideration.

“They bring up some very real concerns and have been very successful in presenting a compelling argument that there needs to be a review of this project to make sure there isn’t an over-saturation of pollutants in this neighborhood,” Ferguson said.

While they wait for the next steps, the students — all of whom live in the affected neighborhoods — plan to continue their awareness campaign, which has included petitions, letters to elected officials, and knocking on hundreds of doors in their neighborhoods.

“We met a lot of people who didn’t know what an incinerator was,” Rozier said. “It was very overwhelming how many people didn’t know what was going on in their own backyard.”

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington-based environmental group, found last year that the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn ZIP codes had the highest toxic air pollution from businesses and factories — the neighborhood is home to more than a dozen plants including fuel depots, coal piers and other industrial facilities — in the state.

The plants account for more than one-third of all such emissions in Maryland, the study found, and nearly 90 percent of Baltimore’s total.

“They’re just making this a dumping ground, and it’s not fair to dump on the little people because of money,” said Charles Graham, a senior at Benjamin Franklin. “It’s not fair to possibly have your life shortened because of where you grew up.”

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Jun
09

Photo Slideshow: 9th Annual Human Rights Dinner (2014)

The 9th annual Human Rights Dinner was a wonderful evening of celebration and reflection. Check out the photos from the night on our Flickr page!

 

 

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Jun
05

Leah N Drey Perform Free Your Voice Anthem at Baltimore City School Board Meeting

On Tuesday, May 27th Free Your Voice traveled to the Baltimore City school board meeting to let them know that plans for building the nation’s largest trash incinerator less than a mile from several schools in Curtis Bay is failed developed and that we need to work together to demand Fair Development and stop its construction. During the student presentation the brilliant sister duo, Leah N Drey (formerly Double Impact), performed the Free Your Voice Anthem. Below is a video of their powerful performance.

 

Check out the lyrics to the Free Your Voice Anthem written by Audrey and Leah Rozier (aka Double Impact).

Verse 1:
18 year old girl living in a world where no one cares about the safety of this girl
I’m disgusted, I can’t believe we trusted the world but it’s not too late to be adjusted
Money money money that seems to be the anthem
Destroying the world and always taking it for granted
No more green, only buildings and all that I can see is landfills and
We have our rights according to the amendments
But why do we feel like we’ve been so resented
Ignored, shoved to the side where opinions don’t matter where opinions only die
It’s time to stand up, let our voices be heard
Incinerator move cause you’re not preferred
It’s about that time, to make the choice
Imma stand up and free my voice

Chorus:
It’ll all get better, we can change the world
And it starts with music, get your message heard
You’ve gotta free your voice, from all the boys to the girls
It’ll all get better, we can change the world

Verse 2:
This life starts with the air that we breathe
And trying to succeed
Not the air that we need
The eye is deceived
But with all this pollution
Instead of giving
does all of the killing
How many do we need
Until the smoke clogs up and we can’t feel our chest
With everyone competitive
Just worried bout the money
When you think opportunity
The air quality will help and keep you livin
It’s like good deeds are forbidden
And everyone is looking to take
Not knowing that the bad polluted air
If the incinerator takes away a breath
Until there is nothing thats left
And the ones who don’t catch the symptoms
Are considered blessed
It time for change
Before our planet gets destroyed
Before death, is something we cannot avoid
The time is now before we don’t have a choice
So let’s stand tall together, and free our voice

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Jun
05

Baltimore Brew: “Making Music from a Plea About Airborne Mercury and Materialism”

Making Music from a Plea About Airborne Mercury and Materialism 

Students strage a show to urge Baltimore city schools to end its association with Energy Answers’ planned trash-to-energy incinerator. 

May 29, 2014, by Allison Brickell, Baltimore Brew

Using a video, a rap performance, a Shakespeare-themed soliloquy and cold facts about industrial pollution, a group of student activists asked the school board on Tuesday to withdraw its contract with Energy Answers, a company that is looking to build an incinerator less than a mile from their South Baltimore school.

Free Your Voice, a group organized by United Workers and made up of students from various Baltimore schools and the Curtis Bay area, said the school system should not have supported the planned trash-burning power plant by agreeing to buy power from it.

“The sanctity of human life isn’t being acknowledged or respected,” said Destiny Watford, a Towson University freshman and Benjamin Franklin High School alum, who lead the group presentation at the meeting. “The fact that schools are supporting this shocked us.”

Watford showed a video she and other members of the group had made of their Curtis Bay community featuring points of pride, like the community garden near Benjamin Franklin High School.

The video contrasted the garden imagery with images of nearby industry.

“This is Curtis Bay’s backyard,” Watford said in the video as images of smokestacks appeared on the screen. “I never felt welcome. Now I know why.”

Burning Refuse, Wood Waste, Car Parts

In December, the students marched from the high school to the former chemical plant where Albany-based Energy Answers has been trying to build the 160-megawatt Fairfield Renewable Energy Power Plant.

Opponents have been battling state utility and environmental officials over the estimated $1 billion project for the last four years.

Designed to generate power by burning refuse, tires, wood waste, car parts and other material, the plant would, according to Energy Answers, provide 180 jobs and meet or exceed air quality standards. Environmentalists say it would severely harm the health of an area that is already burdened with the highest levels of toxic pollution in the state.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has said the emissions of particulates, lead and other harmful substances would be within the legal limits. Environmental advocates say the project would not be approved under regulations that have tightened since the plant was approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2010.

Baltimore City Schools has agreed to purchase energy from the incinerator through the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee — a group representing 22 entities in Maryland, including Howard County, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the city of Annapolis, and Baltimore City.

These contracts were signed in 2011, the same year Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that designated waste-to-energy incineration as Tier 1 renewable energy. The new standard put incineration in the same category as solar, wind, and other renewable energy.

Profits and Pollution

Although the students’ Free Your Voice group has been researching the public health and regulatory issues around the Energy Answers project, Tuesday’s presentation was more about fair community development and environmental justice.

After the video concluded, Watford said the Curtis Bay community deserves to be treated as fairly as any other community, that it’s not those who make money from incinerators who suffer health problems because of them.

“The only people paying the consequences are the members of the community,” Watford said.

Watford said the plant should not be built in an area that already has a high rate of respiratory problems and other health problems. “Is it fair to have your life cut short because of where you were born?” Watford said. “We say that it’s not fair, that it’s not right. That incinerator is failed development.”

If built, the Energy Answers incinerator would be among the largest of its kind in the nation and would produce more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland, Watford said, concluding “We’re here to say that we can choose.”

Charles Graham, another member of Free Your Voice, took up the theme of choice. “Our choice is how to respond to climate change while we continue to generate more and more waste. The important thing is Hamlet recognized that he had a choice, and so do we.”

“To burn, or not to burn, that is the question,” Graham said, borrowing liberally from The Bard. “Whether ’tis better for Baltimore to breathe the foul and toxic air surrounding us or to stand up against incinerators, and by opposing stop them? To trash, to burn – waste no more, and by burning, to say we end the mercury and the thousand pounds of lead that trash has within? No – an incinerator gravely to be opposed.”

Audrey and Leah Rozier, who go by the stage name Double Impact, sang the “Free Your Voice Anthem.” Both girls sang extensively about the harmful effects of air pollution and the values they see behind it.

“This life starts with the air that we breathe, with everyone competitive and trying to succeed,” Leah Rozier said. “Just worried ’bout the money, not the air that we need, when you think opportunity the eye is deceived, the air quality will help and keep you livin’, but with all this pollution it’s like good deeds are forbidden and everyone is looking to take instead of giving.”

Commissioners: We Will Take Another Look

The board members applauded the students’ performance, when they concluded. Commissioner Cheryl Casciani said she would take up the invitation to visit Curtis Bay and that she and other members of the board would examine the purchase contract more carefully.

“I’m also on the sustainability commission and we’ve had a chance to hear from a subset of the students as well and we’re definitely in support of what you’re trying to do,” Casciani said.

“I think this is part of a number of other sustainability issues. We need to consider the source of our energy. We’ll talk to people in the operations department so we can understand a little bit more about [the purchase contract]. So I’ll look forward to hearing more about that.”

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Jun
04

Students Present to Baltimore City School Board About Nations’ Largest Incinerator

On Tuesday, May 27, students, parents, and teachers from across Baltimore presented to the Baltimore City School Board on a proposal to build the nation’s largest incinerator in South Baltimore. It was a powerful event. Thank you to everyone who made it out!

For the past two years, students from our Free Your Voice Human Rights Committee at Ben Franklin High School, in Curtis Bay, have been researching the plan to construct the incinerator less than a mile from their school. Through their research they learned that in 2011 Baltimore City Schools, together with 21 other public entities in Maryland, signed a contract to purchase energy from the incinerator.

At the May 27 meeting, the students asked the School Board to begin a process to withdraw Baltimore City Schools from the contract. As a first step in this process, they invited school board members to join them on a tour of their neighborhood. The students also showed one of several videos (below) they have produced on the issue and talked about the positive alternatives to the incineration project.

“Instead of trash incinerators we hope that Curtis Bay and communities like it will be the destination for development that puts our needs first,” says Destiny Watford, a long-time community resident and a member of Free Your Voice. “We would love to see truly green solar energy, recycling and composting – development that would bring good jobs without adding to our health problems.”

At the school board meeting, the students presented thousands of handmade paper sunflowers (see our Flickr photo album below). Each of the sunflowers was signed and included a personal comment from individuals across the state calling for an end to the incinerator. Students also presented school board members with a report card on the incinerator, which they have developed for the past two years. The report cards evaluate the project and provide positive alternatives according to five basic Fair Development principles, which they believe should be at the root of every development project: Equity, Transparency, Participation, Universality, and Accountability.

In the lead-up to the School Board meeting, the students have been reaching out to thousands of students, parents, and teachers from across the city by giving classroom presentations to highlight their research on the incinerator. They have written a song about their struggle against the incinerator and their search for positive alternatives. Last December, they organized a march of over a hundred people from Ben Franklin High School to the site of the proposed incinerator less than a mile away.

Baltimore City Schools agreed to purchase energy from the incinerator through the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee—a group representing 22 entities in Maryland, including Howard County, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the city of Annapolis, and Baltimore City. These contracts were signed in 2011, the same year Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that designated Waste-to-Energy incineration as Tier 1 renewable energy. The new standard put incineration in the same category as solar, wind, and other renewable energy.

If built the Energy Answers incinerator would be the largest of its kind in the nation, producing more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland. The incinerator has been permitted to emit 240 pounds of mercury and 1000 pounds of lead per year, as well as other highly toxic pollutants. According to a recent MIT study, Baltimore already leads the nation in per capita air pollution-related deaths.

“We know that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s,” says Watford. “We know that we have a right to a safe and clean environment and that our lives should not be limited by asthma or cancer just because of where we were born.”

Members of the school board accepted the students invitation to visit their neighborhood. We will keep you updated with more information as it becomes available.

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Jun
04

Images From our Northeast Housing Speakout

On Saturday, May 31, the United Workers together with the Northeast Housing Initiative spoke-out against housing injustice. Speakers shared stories about their challenges with affording rent, foreclosure, homelessness, vacants, and the need to build unity for more equitable housing. Check out the pictures below and stay tuned to audio from the Speakout on our podcast.

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May
19

Come to the United Workers 9th Annual Human Rights Dinner – Sunday, June 8

It has been an incredible year in the life of the United Workers. Please join us to celebrate amazing leaders and breakthroughs in the Fair Development Campaign. Along with our human rights champion awards, this year’s event will also feature a special Dinner Theater where guests will be treated to excerpts from Anu Yadav’s play “Meena’s Dream.” Her play grapples with complexities of poverty, immigration, and our inadequate healthcare system.

When: Sunday June 8th, 6-8pm
Where: 2640 St. Paul St. Baltimore, MD 21218.
How: Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online here.

The Human Rights Dinner is a major way United Workers sustains its work, builds our donor base, and expands capacity. This year, we are also asking our friends and allied organizations to sponsor a table. Please let us know if you can support in this way no later than May 23, 2014.

You can join the Facebook event page, here. We look forward to celebrating with you on June 8th!

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May
19

Images from the Economic Democracy Conference

We had a great time at the Economic Democracy Conference. United Workers leader Michael Coleman spoke at the opening plenary, and we helped to organize workshops on affordable housing, community land trusts, renewable energy, and participatory budgeting. You can check out some of our pictures below, and stay tuned to more media from the weekend from both the United Workers and Its Our Economy.

 

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May
09

United Workers Launches ‘End Poverty Radio’ Podcast

End Poverty Radio @ UnitedWorkers.Podomatic.com

Last week, the United Workers Media Team officially launched the “End Poverty Radio” podcast. You can now subscribe and listen  at Unitedworkers.Podomatic.com. We’ll also be creating a section for the podcast on our website, so stay tuned.

We launched the podcast at a great event on May 1, celebrating our Media Team and its important work over the years. At the Media Team Celebration we also showcased several videos, a series of photo essays with United Workers leaders, and even got on the dance floor to the beats of DJ and United Workers leader Emanuel McCray and Double Impact. Thanks to everyone who came out. You can check out pictures in the photo set below.

The event was also the culmination of a fundraiser to help the Media Team acquire new equipment. We did not reach our goal, but we did a great job. Many thanks to everyone that donated! If you wanted to support, but didn’t already get a chance to do so, you can still donate here. Also, if you have any old digital media equipment or accessories that still work (camera, audio recorder, laptop, tripod, etc.) and that you would like to donate to the United Workers, please let us know.

United Workers Media Team launches End Poverty Radio

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May
09

Come Out to the Economic Democracy Conference – May 16 & 17

Friday - Saturday, May 16 & 17

Baltimore, MD

On May 16 -17, the United Workers is helping to organize several workshops at the upcoming 2014 Economic Democracy Conference. Our members, together with local community members, policymakers, activists, and experts from around the country will attend the event, and we hope you can make it. The conference will begin on Friday night with a panel of national and local leaders who will discuss the current state of the U.S. economy and solutions to the problem of growing inequality. On Saturday, attendees will participate in a dozen workshops covering a wide range of issues including affordable housing solutions, renewable energy, food security, worker-owned cooperatives, and complementary currencies. The conference is FREE but Registration is limited, please check out their website to register and for more details and agenda.

Friday, May 16th, 6:30pm – 9pm, at The Real News Network (235 Holliday St., Baltimore, MD 21202)
Saturday, May 17th, 8am – 4pm, at The University of Maryland School of Social Work (525 West Redwood St., Baltimore, MD 21201)

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Apr
18

Join the United Workers Media Team Celebration! Thursday, May 1st

Join us for an evening of media, music, refreshments, and more!

On May 1, the United Workers Media Team is officially launching the United Workers “End Poverty Radio” podcast. We’ll also be showcasing videos, our new podcast, and a series of photo essays with United Workers leaders. Local artists will perform, including Double Impact and DJ / United Workers leader Emanuel McCray. Join our Facebook Event Page.

When: Thursday, May 1, at 6pm

Where: 2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218 (Sunday Room)

This exciting moment is the culmination of many years of work in which the Media Team has been documenting the untold stories that thousands face every day across Baltimore and Maryland. It is also the close to our fundraiser to raise money for the media team to acquire new equipment. Check out our Razoo Fundraiser page and watch our video (below), please consider donating, and spreading the word.

You can donate here and also check out Media Team videos at Vimeo and YouTube, and see our pictures on Flickr.

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Apr
09

The United Workers is Hiring! Communications & Work With Dignity Organizers

The United Workers is looking to hire two individuals: A Leadership Organizer, with a focus on communications and organizing, and  a Work With Dignity Organizer to build support for a statewide Paid Sick Leave bill. The application is available below. Please help spread the word!

Job Title: Leadership Organizer

Focus: Communications and Organizing

Location: Baltimore, MD

Status: Full-time

Application deadline: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Application Process: To apply, download the application here. Please complete the application, and send it, together with a cover letter and resume to info@unitedworkers.org or to United Workers, PO Box 41547, Baltimore, MD 21203. If you are sending this via email, you should include your last name and “Leadership Organizer Position 2014” in the subject line. In your cover letter, tell us a story about you. How you found out about this opportunity and why you are called to be a Leadership Organizer. Once the application has been received you may be contacted for an interview (this will take place shortly after application deadline of Wednesday, April 23, 2014).

Position Overview: We’re looking for the unique person whose skills and experiences are in both storytelling and organizing. As a storyteller, we’re seeking someone who can write the story as well as push it in the press, asserting our narrative frame, and helping to shape public discourse and policy debate. As an organizer, we’re looking for someone who has experience in community organizing, base-building, and leadership development. Leadership Organizers must be highly self-managing and committed to the vision and values of the organization.

 

###


2. Job Title:
 Work With Dignity Organizer

Focus: Organizing community support for a statewide Paid Sick Leave bill. The position is for six months. We’re looking for someone who has experience in community organizing, base-building, and leadership development. This position requires a deep commitment to a human rights analysis of social ills, a dedication toward developing the leadership of those most directly affected by social injustice, and a willingness to learn.

Location: Maryland – Position will require statewide travel

Status: Full-time for six months (July 7, 2014 – December, 2014)

Application deadline: Monday, May 5, 2014

Application Process: Download the application here. Applicant questionnaire, cover letter, and resume must be submitted by May 5, 2014, either by emailing these materials to info@unitedworkers.org with the subject line “Work with Dignity Position”; or by sending to United Workers, P.O. Box 41547, Baltimore, MD 21203. Once the application has been received you may be contacted for an interview (this will take place shortly after application deadline).

Background on the position: Maryland’s Paid Sick Leave campaign was launched last November and has continued to grow its grassroots and legislative. Everyone gets sick and everyone deserves the opportunity to recover without risking income or job loss. More than 700,000 Maryland workers cannot earn paid sick days and often go to work sick, send sick children to school or daycare, or in the worst situations, lose their job because they cannot come to work. In jurisdictions where state and local standards allow workers to earn paid sick days, surveys show that workers’ lives have improved and businesses succeeded. Having shown national leadership on living wage, and immigrant children’s access to public universities (the DREAM Act), Maryland has the opportunity to turn its attention to the plight of workers who are unable to earn paid sick days.

 

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Apr
03

Support the United Workers Media Team! Help us Launch our New Podcast

On May 1, the United Workers Media Team is officially launching the United Workers “End Poverty Radio” podcast. This exciting moment is the culmination of many years of work in which the Media Team has been documenting the untold stories that thousands face every day across Baltimore and Maryland.

However, in order to make the podcast happen, we need your help. Your support will help us acquire new equipment that will support both the podcast and our growing video work.

Please consider donating today!

The new podcast will be available through iTunes, Podomatic, and UnitedWorkers.org and will showcase our members, allies, and other leaders in this moment to end poverty led by the poor. We’ll feature audio from different events, radio interviews, short testimonials, and round-table discussions on issues that are facing people in Baltimore, Maryland, and across the country.

The podcast is only the latest project in our growing media work. Over the last year, alone, the Media Team has produced photo essays on six United Workers leaders, testimonies from several members of our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign, and a series of videos documenting our fight for Fair Development (to watch these videos and more, visit the United Workers on Youtube and Vimeo). We produced two videos (here and here) last year on our struggle against the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator, which is set to be built less than a mile from several schools in South Baltimore. These videos were retweeted by national environmental leader Bill McKibben and award winning author Margaret Atwood. We are currently working on videos on the Human Right to Housing and our fight to save our rec centers, and of course, have shot hundreds of pictures from United Workers events, actions, and meetings.

Who is the United Workers Media Team?

The United Workers Media Team is composed of United Workers members, leaders, and close allies. Many of the people on the media team had no prior media experience before joining, yet they are now photographing, interviewing, filming, editing, and bottom-lining videos. We encourage you to visit the individual pages of the media team members (at the bottom of our fundraiser page) and those looking to support this crowd funding campaign.

What will the money be used for?

In order to ensure that our podcast is of the highest quality we need to acquire new microphones and a high-quality audio recorder. Although the Media Team has grown to over 10 people, we currently have only one designated Media Team computer. We are in need of a pair of laptops, which our members can use to record the podcast, as well as edit photographs, video, and other audio. This would increase our capacity to work on different projects at the same time. The United Workers currently has only one camera that shoots video. We also hope to purchase a new DSLR camera to do high-quality video, so we can have two cameras for trainings, documentation, and filming. Finally, we are in desperate need of at least one professional tripod.

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Apr
02

Shantress Wise Testimony : Eastside Speakout for Fair Development

On Saturday, March 29, 2014 over 60 workers, community members, and a coalition of Eastside organizations spoke out against vacants and shared their vision for a new housing agenda for Baltimore City. It was an amazing event. United Workers Leadership Council member Shantress Wise has been active in the Housing Roundtable, which is researching solutions to Baltimore’s broken housing system. She was one of those that told her story. Her testimony is below. The video was filmed and edited by the United Workers Media Team.

My name is Shantress Wise. I’m with the United Workers and I’m here to Speak Out about housing, because I’ve faced it head on. Over the last twenty years, I’ve had to move 16 times and have faced countless examples of our broken housing system.

My first experience of dealing with a developer was in 2009. I was living in the West Baltimore Penn-North area and a developer came in, bought up the whole block, and started pushing us out of our homes to redevelop the community. We got a 60-day notice and they wanted us out. They promised us that we could come back after they finished the development, but that wasn’t true. They doubled the rent and nobody was able to go back. I had one neighbor who had lived there since the 1960s and she was pushed out too.

My second experience with our broken housing system was when I lost my home in 2010. I was working as a housekeeper and had to take off time for surgery. When I tried to go back to work, I learned that I had been fired. I lost my home, because that was my only income and I couldn’t pay the rent. I faced homelessness for the first time in my life. It hurt me to lose my home and I couldn’t get help from anyone. At one point I even had to resort to sleeping in the emergency room of a hospital. I ended up in the Karris House Shelter for women and children, and then went into an assisted living program, and finally into Jacob’s Well—transitional housing.

This is just my story and its just one example of how our system of housing is broken. That’s why we are coming together today to reset the agenda around housing and our human rights. We deserve dignity and respect. Housing should be affordable, not just for me, but for everyone.

I’m a part of the Housing Roundtable and we’ve been studying solutions to the housing crisis in Baltimore City. One of the things we have been learning about is community land trusts. They help the community to stay within the community, and the homes to be for the community. And I believe we need community land trusts in Baltimore City, because it’s real permanent affordable housing.
You can stay there as long as you want and not have to move from place to place. No one should have to move from place to place every year because of a broken housing system that puts private gain over people’s needs.

And we need to hold the developers accountable, not to come into our communities and take away our housing and push us out of our homes. And that’s why we are standing up and uniting, homeowners, renters, and homeless, and making our voices heard. We demand Fair Development. Housing Is a Human Right. This is our city and we need to take it back.

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Apr
01

Voices from the Eastside Speakout for Fair Development

Last Saturday’s Eastside Speakout for Fair Development was a huge success. Over 60 people attended the event from across the city. They spoke out against Baltimore City’s broken housing system and shared their vision for a new housing agenda. You can hear the recording of the event below, available through the new United Workers End Poverty Radio podcast.

 

There was some good press coverage of the event. Some of the links are below.

The Baltimore Sun: “Community Being Left out of Baltimore Redevelopment, Activists Say,” by Carrie Wells, March 29, 2014

Baltimore Brew: “Speakers Decry Lack of Affordable Housing in Baltimore,” by Mark Reutter, March 30, 2014

The Real News: “Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing,” by Ray Baker, April 6, 2014

 

Here is a Flickr Slideshow with photos taken by the United Workers Media Team

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Apr
01

Baltimore Sun: ‘Community Being Left out of Baltimore Redevelopment, Activists Say’

Community Being Left out of Baltimore Redevelopment, Activists Say”

Affordable-housing advocates rally for more involvement in process

March 29, 2014, by Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Within the past five years, Shantress Wise says, she has been forced out of one home by a developer, evicted from another apartment after losing her job, and lived in two homeless shelters.

Wise, of Baltimore, said the experience inspired her to join a spirited gathering of housing and community activists Saturday at an East Baltimore church to protest what they called unfair city housing policies and development that leaves the community out of the process.

The group called upon the city to do more to house the homeless and to build additional affordable housing. They also lambasted tax breaks for developers like the one awarded for the Harbor Point project and said community members are able to help rehab vacants through land trusts but aren’t being given enough of an opportunity to do so. Activists also complained that developers aren’t delivering on job promises.

“I feel that this housing situation in Baltimore City is broken and we need to speak up to change the system,” said Wise, 39. “The developers that come in, they’re supposed to give money back to the community and they’re not doing that. And it’s hard to find affordable housing because many of the houses are vacant.”

The rally’s organizers hung large posters with pro-community housing messages around a room in St. Wenceslaus Church in the Middle East neighborhood. In the shadow of Johns Hopkins Hospital, the neighborhood remains plagued by vacant houses despite efforts by Hopkins to revitalize its surrounding areas.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said in an email that the city has several efforts underway to improve housing problems in Baltimore, including the Vacants to Value program, a homebuyer incentive program, a comprehensive plan to make homelessness “rare and brief,” and trimming the property tax rate. Harbor Point and other developments are necessary to create a stronger tax base to improve underserved communities, he said.

“While it’s impossible to always please everyone, it’s difficult to make a credible case that this mayor’s record hasn’t supported communities,” Harris said. “Our goal is asking how can we do more to make sure we are communicating our record to the communities we are supporting.”

The rally included a video of community-based revitalization in Boston’s Dudley area, which once had many of the same vacant housing issues as many parts of Baltimore. Organizers said it was model they hoped to duplicate.

Those who spoke included a longtime renter who felt home ownership was out of reach, a homeowner who said vacant houses pulled down the property values of his neighborhood, and McElderry Park Community Association President Glenn Ross, who described issues with city housing that stretch back generations.

One of the rally’s organizers, Donald Gresham, spoke of the despair that he felt while living in substandard housing — in his case, a third-floor apartment where the roof leaked and ultimately caved in a week after he moved out.

“I’m outpriced of living and I’m just existing,” he said. “We’re tired of the unfair development that’s leaving the community out. We too want to be part of the process, so there’s equal opportunity not just for the rich but for those who are less fortunate.”

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Mar
28

Speak Out for Housing Justice! Tomorrow – Saturday, March 29

 

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow, together with workers, community members, and a coalition of Eastside organizations we will speak out against vacants and share our vision for a new housing agenda for Baltimore City. We hope you can be there! The event will mark the first time that this diverse group has united publicly for this common cause. During the event, renters, homeowners, and homeless will share stories about the impacts of vacants and failed development policies in their neighborhoods.

When: Saturday, March 29, 10:30am.

Where: March begins at outside of Tench Tilghman Elementary School (600 N. Patterson Park Ave) at 10:30am. Speak Out begins at the St. Wenceslaus Church Hall (2100 E. Madison St), at 11:15am. In case of rain, we will meet at the St. Wenceslaus Church Hall at 10:30am.

Baltimore City has roughly 40,000 vacant or abandoned homes. Ironically, the city is also experiencing a deep housing crisis for renters, homeowners, and homeless in East Baltimore and across the city. Market factors have only made the problem worse, often squeezing residents out of their neighborhoods. City development policies that cater to big developers have been inadequate to address the needs of Baltimore residents.

“We want to improve our neighborhoods while ensuring affordable housing for all,” says Pastor Gary Dittman of Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Organizers demand Fair Development, which puts community needs first and respects people’s right to housing with dignity. One example of this is shared-equity housing, a form of permanently affordable, resident-driven development, in which the community plays an active role in the decisions about housing in their neighborhoods. For more information, several of the Speak Out organizers were on The Marc Steiner Show yesterday. Check out the recording, here!

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The Speak Out is being organized by the United Workers and a coalition of organizations working on housing and community-based development in East Baltimore, including Housing Our Neighbors, the Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition of Empowerment, the Monument-McElderry-Fayette Revitalization Plan, the Men and Family Center, and Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.

 

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Mar
12

United Workers Youth : Active and in the News

Free Your Voice Leaders @ the Maryland Climate Organizer Summit

United Workers youth from our Free Your Voice Human Rights committee have been active over the last month. On February 8, they led a session at the Maryland Climate Organizer Summit in College Park with other youth leaders about the pressing environmental justice issues communities face across the state (see above photo).

On Monday, February 24, Free Your Voice was interviewed on the Dan Rodrick’s Show about their struggle against the nation’s largest incinerator, which has been permitted to be built less than a mile from their school in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay. You can hear the segment here, beginning at 36mins.

They’ve also been busy in Annapolis, supporting legislation to address violations of the right to live in a healthy and safe community (below).

Free Your Voice Testifies in Annapolis

One of the bills, House Bill 1373, would close the loophole that allowed the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay incinerator to be permitted to be built less than a mile from two schools. Under the proposed legislation no incinerator could be built within three miles of schools, rec centers, parks, and other community spaces. Free Your Voices videos were presented yesterday in Annapolis hearings on this bill.

Other legislation, Senate Bill 706, seeks to address the fact that some communities across the state are overburdened with lethal levels of toxic air pollution. Currently there is no requirement that Maryland Department of the Environment consider the existing health status of a community or the cumulative burden from existing pollution levels. This bill, under debate in the Senate Education Health & Environmental Affairs Committee, would require MDE to factor in the cumulative impact of previous pollution on a neighborhood before issuing permits for new pollution sources.

On February 25, 2014, students from the United Workers Human Rights committee “Free Your Voice” testified in support of the bill (below). Read Destiny Watford’s written testimony below. The issue continues to be highlighted. Check out the latest in a series of Grist articles covering this story.

Free Your Voice has also started to connect with other students, parents, and teachers in order to build a united city-wide movement against the nation’s largest incinerator. Last night they canvassed in Hamilton and presented to the Hamilton Elementary Middle School Parent Teachers’ Organization (below). If you are connected to a school, let us know. We would love to come make a presentation!

Free Your Voice members present to Hamilton Elementary Middle School PTO

Below is Destiny Watford’s written testimony in support Senate Bill 706.

My name is Destiny Watford. I am a member of Free Your Voice, a human rights group of United Workers. I live in Curtis Bay, a tight knit community in South Baltimore. It is my home and I love it but Curtis Bay is pollution central. Anyone who has been to Curtis Bay knows that, largely due to the industrial area surrounding it, Curtis Bay is not the healthiest place around. In fact, we discovered that Curtis Bay, although it is a rather small community, is one of the most polluted areas in the state. We also know that people die in Curtis Bay of lung cancer, heart disease and lower respiratory disease at some of the highest levels in the city of Baltimore. All of this is enough to make it feel like the community’s fate is to be dirty and polluted. But when we learned about a plan to build the nations’ largest trash burning incinerator less than a mile away from our school – we were still shocked.

Our first question was “why here? Why here in a community that is already so burdened by pollution and bad health?”   — Why add an incinerator that would burn 4,000 tons of tires, metals and plastics and release 240 lbs of mercury per year into the air?  

To be honest, it made us feel like somehow our lives weren’t respected or didn’t matter as much to those making decisions about development. We went out and talked to hundreds of community members and so many of them – particularly those who have lived in Curtis Bay for a long time – said the same thing “What do you expect, Curtis Bay is a dumping ground”…to be clear, we are not saying our neighbors are wrong to express this – in fact we agree and that is why we are here today – We are here to say that no community should be another’s dumping ground.

We know that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s. We know that we have a right to a safe and clean environment and that our lives should not be limited by asthma or cancer just because of where we were born. We have a right to Fair Development that puts the health of all communities first –for a long time we have tried to do this. One way we tried to do this was through requesting a health impact assessment, to look at how the incinerator would affect the lives of Curtis Bay residents. The Baltimore City Health Department told us that although the project deserved a health study, they wouldn’t conduct one because of the fact that permits were already given to Energy Answers. Communities need to know how pollution is going to impact them.

This is why we are so excited to voice our support for this bill because it gets at part of the structure of the problem that we are trying to address. The spirit of this bill is something we all believe in – and that is Equity and fairness. This bill would make it so that communities like mine, communities that have historically had more than their fair share of pollution – and paid the consequences – are respected and recognized when new development decisions are made.

Then, instead of trash incinerators we hope that Curtis Bay and communities like it will be the destination for development that puts our needs first – in the case of Curtis Bay – we would love to see truly green solar energy, recycling and composting – development that would bring good jobs without adding to our health problems.

In a place like Curtis Bay, where it is not uncommon for developments like this one to show up, it’s easy to lose hope that things will ever change. It almost seems as if things will inevitably remain the same. What we’re talking about today really matters and could be a step towards real change not for just communities like Curtis Bay, but for all communities – because our fate as a city and as a state includes everyone.

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Feb
25

Stand for Paid Sick Leave in Maryland!

Dear Friends,

We want to thank you for supporting the campaign for Paid Sick Leave. Last week, we had a pair of great hearings in the House Economic Matters Committee (on Feb. 18) and in the Senate Finance Committee (on Feb. 20). Three panels of individuals spoke from the Working Matters coalition, which is fighting for Paid Sick Leave in Maryland. Among those who testified was a cook (whose entire restaurant staff became sick), an expert from the National Partnership for Woman and Families, and several leaders in the United Workers. We also lobbied our representatives and packed the hearing rooms. Our presence was strong and people’s testimonies were moving. You can see pictures here and here. One of the testimonies is below and more will be available soon at UnitedWorkers.org

As with any legislation, the bill is a process. Despite our strength this year, we are aware that many issues are at the forefront of our representatives’ concerns. The House and Senate committees are currently deliberating over the Paid Sick Leave Bill and now is the time to give them an extra push.

Please contact your representatives ask them to support House Bill 968 and Senate Bill 753, for Paid Sick Leave. You can find your representatives and their contact information at www.mdelect.net. If your representatives are not in support of the bill please ask them why and let us know what they say! Below is a small sample phone script.

Thanks to the support of individuals like you who have taken the time to stand up for Paid Sick Leave, we are confident that if the bill does not go through this year it will take priority next year. But we have a lot of work to do and we have to keep raising awareness of this important issue. Currently 700,000 Maryland residents do not have Paid Sick Leave. Yet, everyone in Maryland deserves the right to Paid Sick Leave, and the longer Maryland employees have to go without it, the more children will go to school with fevers, the more restaurants will spread sickness, and the more employees will labor without dignity. We need your help to continue to show our support in these simple ways:

1) Call or E-mail your representatives

2) Forward this message/email to your friends

3) You can also invite our Paid Sick Leave organizer, Nicole Costen, to speak to your organization, church, or any group. She can be reached at ncosten(at)gmail.com.

Thank you for taking a few moments to help us propel the campaign forward. We can not succeed without it. Have a great day!

 

SAMPLE PHONE SCRIPT:

My name is ________ and I’m a constituent of Delegate / Senator ________. I’m calling today to ask Senator/ Delegate ________ to cosponsor the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act.

The issue of paid sick days is incredibly important to me and my family and I hope Senator / Delegate ________ will join Delegate Olszewski and Senator Pugh in cosponsoring this legislation.

 

 

SAMPLE E-MAIL:

Dear Delegate / Senator ________,

My name is ________ and I’m writing as your constituent to urge you to cosponsor the Earned Sick and Safe

Leave Act. The issue of paid sick days is incredibly important to me and my family. (Insert personal story /perspective here.) I sincerely hope you will join Delegate Olszewski and Senator Pugh in cosponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Thank you,

YOUR NAME
YOUR HOME ADDRESSS

 

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Feb
17

Support Paid Sick Leave in Annapolis – Tues, 2/18 & Thurs, 2/20

Dear Friends,

This Tuesday, February 18, and Thursday, February 20, we are heading to Annapolis to testify in support of Paid Sick Leave legislation and we hope you will join us.

Currently, almost 700,000 Marylanders are without paid sick leave. When they take time off from work, due to illness or family emergency, they risk losing their job and sacrificing much-needed income at a time when they can least afford it.

“Everyone gets sick, but many of us are forced to work regardless,” said United Workers leader Emanuel McCray before the Maryland House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee, last year, “And every time we miss work, we lose money and our managers use it against us.” (See Emanuel’s full testimony here)

This is why the United Workers and the larger Working Matters coalition are standing up to demand paid sick leave. When sick workers are able to stay home everyone benefits, the spread of disease slows, workplace injuries are less frequent, and workplaces are both healthier and more productive.

The hearings will take place in the House Economic Matters committee on Tuesday at 1pm (HB 968) and in the Senate Finance committee on Thursday at 1pm (SB 753).

If you can attend, you can meet the United Workers team on both days at 11am outside of the House Office Building (6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD).

Before the hearings, we will be visiting our representatives at their offices, to express our desire for them to support Paid Sick Leave at the hearing. Please let us know if you can join us or if you would like to submit written testimony. You can either email ncosten(at)gmail.com or call 410.230.1998.

Parking: You may park at the Navy-Marine corps Memorial Stadium and take the trolley to the House building. It is $2.00 and runs every ten minutes. There is also a fee for the parking lot. If you need a ride, please let us know.

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