Parliamentary Researcher: April 27th, 2017

Though I debated about incorporating a few more chapters into this blog series, my final installment in the collection will be what I am currently focussing on — my researcher position for two members of the House of Lords. Fortunately, because of my experience in writing and combing through environmental legislation, my Scottish boss, one of the primary actors in who helped improve Scotland’s green initiative, has me researching UN legislation, agreements, and documents to familiarize him with. For instance, for my first research project, I was to be well-read on the Addis Ababa Action Agreement, and was to extract useful information in order for him to deliver a sustainable development presentation in the Hague.

This is the first time, since I was home in January, that I feel like I have actually been able to make an impact in the Climate Movement — especially under the current administration. Unfortunately, it means having to do it for, and through, another country. While I eagerly await my next project, I am hoping that my new repertoire of UN climate legislation could be of use to the COP23 delegation.

[This post was updated in May to incorporate the new research opportunities.]

Protesting Chris Christie in NH: April 19th, 2017

Throughout my involvement in the anti-fracking movement in New Jersey, the greatest obstruction we faced was, and still is, Governor Chris Christie. One day early in spring semester, I received a call that one of the Bridgegate reporters, and a top New Jersey activist, wanted to know if I would be interested in driving up to New Hampshire (from my college campus in Western Massachusetts) to protest Chris Christie the day of the Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm’s College. That day, Jay, Emily (a college friend), and I drove across New Hampshire to follow Chris Christie at events and to protest his poor record in New Jersey. While Jay focussed on medical marijuana, Bridgegate, and other Christie faux-pas,  I spent the day speaking with reporters, and protesting, on behalf of Christie’s horrific environmental record — with the underline being his unwavering support for fracking. From his private function earlier in the day, to braving fervent RNC supporters, we were able to lead a successful protest campaign as Christie’s poll numbers sunk lower and lower. It was one of the few times where my residence in New England landed me in the center of New Jersey politics, and it was a great way to reconnect with the movement I had just left the month earlier.

Winter Break at the State House: April 18th, 2017

During winter break, instead of relaxing from a tolling semester, I spent my “down time” planning how to oppose the Pinelands Pipeline in the state capital. Alongside mothers, local government officials, and musicians, we marched through torrential downpour, and into the New Jersey State House, I spoke with Assemblymen and State Senators about the pipeline, and helped muster a decent amount of support from those passing through the lobbying area. Though it seemed to be a wash at first, The Trenton Times, a local newspaper with over 80,000 daily subscribers, considered it to be one of the most pressing issues — giving the protest a front-page feature. Largely in part because of the activists’ social media presence, and the circulation of that publication, we were able to garner more public support in a part of the state that is far-removed from the pipeline’s destruction.

Environmental Caucus Chair for CDM: April 17th, 2017

In spring of 2015, I was accepted to solely chair the Environmental Caucus for the College Democrats of Massachusetts. As a proud Warren/Sanders Democrat, I was very excited to help organize demonstrations on environmental policy across Massachusetts. Unfortunately, because my undergraduate was in a more isolated part of the state, most of the campaigns I ran were digital entries either complementing, or criticizing, policies that came from the Obama administration. For instance, the general consensus was that we, as an organization, were happy with the Clean Power Plan, but proceeded to acknowledge the shortcomings of the legislation. As Caucus Chair, I regularly updated social media regarding pressing issues, and was able to coordinate an intersectional message with our other caucuses. Although I know that I could have left a stronger legacy, I was proud that I was able to speak one-on-one with both Representative Joe Kennedy (MA-04), and Representative Jim McGovern (MA-02) about fracking concerns in Massachusetts, as well as our organization’s opposition to the construction of any pipelines. In part with working within the College Democratic network, it was also invigorating to expand my environmental connections beyond SustainUS and the Sierra Club, and to have a great group of young, passionate environmentalists holding the Democratic Party accountable.

The BPU Hearing: April 16th, 2017

In summer of 2015, the Board of Public Utilities held a hearing in which the public was allowed to express concerns regarding the construction of the Pinelands Pipeline — a pipeline that would cut through an endangered biodiverse area under state protection, would pose a risk to groundwater supplies, and brought up concerns about eminent domain and public safety. I distinctly remember when a gas company ruined my grandfather’s garden in order to put a small natural gas pipeline through it. Watching the sheer destruction of soil, and of healthy crops, in order to put toxic piping with yellow warning signs to mark the pipeline’s shallow grave will never leave my memory. That was the first time, as a child, I inconsolably wept for the planet.

On behalf of the Burlington County Young Democrats (an organization I helped co-found), fellow young progressive Democrats and I condemned the execrable risks that the pipeline posed to our community. As a farmer, I made sure to address the fact that this pipeline threatened the safety of the groundwater for my animals. I also made sure to call out the politicization of Hurricane Sandy as a means to justify the pipeline, and other regional concerns. Below, you will find a video of me addressing concerns to two women who sit on the board (one of whom is a Christie appointee).

The Anti-Fracking Movement: April 15th, 2017

During the summer in-between high school graduation, and college, my father gave me contact information for an organization — Food & Water Watch — that he thought would pique my interest. I had always believed that water is a fundamental human right, and that our fresh water reserves are vital for our survival, but I was completely unaware of the fact that people were organizing to protect water rights. Of course, Gasland was a staple part of my environmental studies course, as was the practice of fracking, but it never occurred to me about the proximity of the issue for someone in New Jersey. As I became more and more involved with F&WW, be it speaking at coffee houses promoting the work, or organizing strategies to wane the influence big oil had in the area, the more and more I became encapsulated by it. As I delved into the pedantic of fracking legislation in New Jersey, I noticed how prevalent environmental racism was — where the poorer communities, often people of color, were outlined as places to store excess fracking waste from Pennsylvania. Despite protesting the EPA in Philadelphia, little progress came to fruition. Fortunately, F&WW offered me an opportunity to help co-write legislation with one of their staffers to push for a moratorium in my home town. My rationale was that if a large township of over 60,000 residents would ban fracking waste, we would be able to create a ripple effect throughout the region before working our way into Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, despite our decent turnout at a town council meeting, and my presentation of the legislation with my co-writer, our town council denied our request to look it over because they did not believe it was an imminent threat to the area. I also cowrite legislation to present to a neighboring, slightly more conservative, town council with my friend and constituent of the town’s support, and that, too, was met with reluctance. Considering that our Governor, Chris Christie, was shipping in waste for storage, and even vetoed a State Legislature bill that would have banned it in the state altogether, it seemed futile. New Jersey has some of the best aquifers in the region, and provides water for millions of Americans, and the fact that our politicians are knowingly endangering their purity was infuriating. The momentum stalled a bit that fall, and I soon moved to New England the following spring for college, but I did take my fracking expertise with me to fight against fracked gas pipelines in Massachusetts.

The Environmental Club: April 14th, 2017

As I had mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, during my senior year of high school, my Editor-in-Chief of my high school paper and I reinvigorated our dismantled Environmental Club. Noticing an environmentally aware demographic, but without an outlet to express it, my EIC and I collaborated with a mutual friend to revive our ancient greenhouse, to plant the first school gardens in years, and to educate students who were not taking environmental studies as a course (it is still, unfortunately, an elective). My EIC and I met with the local School Board to discuss improving sustainable practices at the administrative level, and to incorporate more environmentally conscious food into our cafeteria. This hands-on interaction with local government is what primarily got me interested in the legislative aspect of environmentalism. I knew that while I lacked in creativity, despite having a vivid imagination, I was very good at deciphering legalese and reading through legislation. This came into handy while my EIC and I were fighting Agenda 21 conspiracists/climate deniers who were trying to influence our local town council — and, thanks to our organization and broadened support from the Environmental Club, we were successful.

Thanks to the Environmental Club, not only did I learn how to run a functioning organization (I was Class President the year before, and was bureaucratically gridlocked), how to organize to influence local government, and how to expand a message, but I was also fortunate enough to meet one of my most treasured friends — Scott Chernoff — who introduced me to SustainUS. Our organization’s advisor was our former environmental studies teacher, and although Scott graduated years before I did, he was a great mentor in real-life application for environmental policy work.

Thank you, Republicans (for forcing me to get into politics): April 13th, 2017

Like most children, my life’s dream was to become a veterinarian. The combination of living on a farm, and having my selfless mother regularly adopt animals in need, instilled a drive to use my influence to save lives. Many of our cherished pets, like some of our full-sized horses, were rescued immediately prior to slaughter, and others, like some of our donkeys and sheep, were left for dead by previous owners. We were never a particularly wealthy family, but my mother would always make room for a new addition if we knew that they had no viable alternative outside of our home.

However, during my freshman year of high school, I developed severe allergies to most of my animals, and lost all fine motor skills (and a portion of my usage) in my right hand due to a severely damaged nerve in my shoulder. Now unable to operate in veterinary school, I redirected my focus into politics — a medium that I knew I could advocate for animals, and to make (in theory) large-scale change for their welfare. My original pet issue was horse slaughter, considering that so many of our incredible horses and donkeys were almost victims of the industry, and it rapidly grew from there.

During my sophomore year, I penned a letter calling out Michele Bachmann’s historical, Constitutional, and civic errors, purely on the basis of her embarrassing women who were trying to make apt change in politics. Although I was an independent at the time, but a huge supporter of Obama, the vehement backlash from the Republican Party, and the violent threats I received from said party (as a minor, mind you) forced me to introspect into their platform — inadvertently creating an invigorated, progressive liberal.

By that year, I became a staff writer for the local high school newspaper, and regularly wrote pieces on addressing environmental problems plaguing the country. While during my junior and senior years, I was an opinions editor who used the newspapers’ tens of thousands of readers to do spreads and infographics about pressing environmental concerns (aided by the fact that our Editor-in-Chief and I had restarted the school’s environmental club).

Although it was not the avenue I envisioned for myself years ago, I owe my career path to my severe allergies, nerve damage, and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, Republican intolerance. Without such an aggressive response to a simple act, I’m certain that it would have taken me another few years to properly get involved in the political sphere of things. Thanks to the many threats, harassments, and ill-wills, the Republican Party created a diehard activist committed to environmental justice.

Mount Misery: April 12th, 2017

When my father received custody of my siblings and me in elementary school, it was a difficult transition back into suburban life. At a young age, I was very cognizant of how lucky I was to have a backyard, and animals, and access to a seemingly removed part of the world. Living in another congested development, with little backyard, and very busy streets, made me realize how much I missed my home. It was then that I realized that having readily accessible green spaces was a privilege, and that not all children were able to experience nature in the way that I had growing up.

Fortunately, our middle schools offered a week-long trip that enabled everyone, regardless of income, to go camping in the Pine Barrens with their sixth grade class. However, unsurprisingly, when budget cuts rolled around two years later, the first thing the Board of Education considered axing was the “Mount Misery” program. Wealth inequality within my town is very stark, and while many of those I went to school with were privileged enough to go to exclusive sleepaway camps out-of-state, there were equally as many who would never have the same opportunity.

Thankfully, my father was very supportive of my initiative to address the Board of Education. Even without an interest in politics (at the time), I made sure to stress that terminating the Mount Misery program was a classist decision, and disproportionately affected poorer students who did not have the same luxury to attend sleepaway camps. Although I was by far the youngest person in the room, it was validating to have the board members tell me after the hearing that a passionate case from someone who benefitted from Mount Misery was a primary factor in reinstating the program for the following year. Despite the fact that the program is always the first to be ridiculed, I made sure to return each year that the program was on the chopping block to defend children’s right to nature.

Daily Blog Challenge: April 11th, 2017

When I was about four years old, my parents made a life-altering decision to move from a congested suburban lifestyle to a small rural town in the heart of New Jersey. My grandfather was a farmer growing-up, and, as a primary figure in my upbringing, was adamant about using his small backyard garden to introduce his grandchildren to the intrinsic relationship humans have with the earth. He taught me valuable lessons about keeping soil healthy, and respecting creatures — even ones I was terribly frightened of as a child. So, when my parents made the shift, and re-envisioned a simpler life than what we had, my grandfather was the first to ease the transition into a rustic lifestyle. We first started expanding our family with chickens and water fowl, and soon introduced horses and other livestock (seemingly) by the week.

My fondest early childhood memories all involve my grandfather instructing me on how to feed the animals, to collect eggs, and to nurture all of the babies that came around each spring. I took responsibility for newborn lambs whose mothers refused them, and fed them every few hours, on the hour, in small playpens in our kitchen. I tended to the gardens, and picked blueberries, and checked to make sure everyone was well and accounted for. Just beyond our paddocks was a seemingly infinite forest, with deer, snapping turtles, and a very small stream that made just enough sound to fill the forest with a beautiful white noise that I regularly explored. However, I’ll never forget the day I came back to my parents after a solid exploration — riddled with questions about strange metal things I saw deep, deep into the forest in the stream that fed into our little creek.

As a kid, I was exceptionally naive of the roles that airplanes played in agriculture. My grandfather taught pilots how to fly during World War II, and we lived not too far from a military base, so I viewed them simplistically as fascinating, gravity-defying machines — not as tools that spread airborne toxins. We never used pesticides on our farm, nor did we ever plan to, and yet our neighbors clouded fields with pesticides from above, after converting over from Agent Orange — decades-old drums of which littered our stream.

That jarring moment was my first introduction to unsustainable, and harmful, farming practices. We were, and still are, a very small-scale farm that is frequently subjected to excessive agricultural waste from our neighbors. For many in the community, the farming techniques used are irrelevant so long as efficiency, and profits, can be maximized. It was hard to wrap your mind around the fact that a life that appeared so simple, and so wholesome, as a child was surrounded by known carcinogens and toxic agents that strove for “efficiency.” This, to this day, is not a popular opinion for a farmer to have. Nor is for us to criticize the poor treatment of factory farmed animals.

However, as a beekeeper’s apprentice to my stepfather, I saw firsthand of the execrable side effects that pesticides and diesel emissions had on our colonies’ health. How could I accept that my bees (and my other animals’) health must suffer because big agriculture had the monopoly on our water, air, and soil quality? Well, I never have, and that eventually developed into an uncontrollable passion to rival big polluters.

This series of blog posts, none as dense and unorganized as this, will detail the most defining moments of my eventual development into a climate justice activist. I am very honored to share my story with you.

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