July 19, 2011

Coal is Old


Posted by: Louisa Kellogg--Movement Narrative Coordinator for New England Climate Summer, Team RiConn

Not more than a week after RICONN arrived in Bridgeport and stood staring aghast at the Bridgeport Harbor Station coal plant, we were invited to the plant for a meeting with the directors and a tour. All our hard work to get publicity and talk to as many people as possible had paid off; the plant was taking us seriously!

After biking to the plant, we actually had to get in a van (!!!!!) to get to our meeting spot. We were greeted by some very friendly people, including the director of the plant and sat down in a conference room to talk. They gave us a presentation about the plant and PSEG, the company that runs it. The presentation was meant to show that this coal plant was really not so dirty, it is one of the cleanest in the nation. PSEG is ahead of the curve in clean coal, which they import all the way from Indonesia. During their presentation I kept thinking, and later said, that it doesn’t matter how clean this coal plant is. It’s a coal plant, and as long as it’s running it means that it’s still the norm for people to die because of how we get our electricity. Everyone we met at PSEG was kind and respectful to us. They listened to what we had to say and they too want healthier communities. Our fundamental difference lies in the timeframe we see this switch being made.

After the meeting and tour, we rushed to prepare for our event. We had spent all week organizing a potluck and discussion to be followed by a rally at the coal plant. We knew no one in Bridgeport at the beginning of the week, but in seven days we had managed to assemble a diverse group of 35 or so people, some delicious food, and a whole lot of chalk in a local art gallery. This is the beauty of Climate Summer. Each week, we are sad to leave the town we are in, having made real friends and trusted allies in only a few days. At the end of this summer, not only will I have a strong network of wonderful people all across Rhode Island and Connecticut from which to draw, but the communities we visit will also be stronger and better connected. We could not have pulled together such a successful event without the help of John Wilkins from Bridgeport Community Land Trust, Marcia Wilkins from Sierra Club (no relation), and Suzanne Kachmar, who hosted our event at City Lights Gallery.

Our meeting generated some enlightening discussion and debate about what Bridgeport’s energy future should look like and how we can get there (also some flan cake and samosas). My favorite part of the discussion, however, was when we simply asked people to visualize a better community. The visions that were generated ranged from ideas about renewable energy to simply having more connections between local organizations and groups of all kinds. One thing was clear by the end of the discussion, what we’re doing now isn’t working. Everyone seems to be stuck in their own hamster wheel, running frantically, unaware of the people around them, and going nowhere. We need to shut down coal plants, but first and foremost we need to get everyone on the same page and working together to achieve this common goal. I hope I am not too bold in saying that our meeting was a step in the right direction.

After our discussion, we formed a rag-tag caravan and headed over to the coal plant with music, signs, and high spirits. Our intention was to make a sidewalk chalk art statement about the detriments of burning coal and what our community could look like without it. No sooner had the chalk hit the pavement than a police man rolled up and informed us that drawing pictures with sidewalk chalk would be defacing public property, and was illegal. The officer would not budge on the issue, and we ended up spending most of our time doing photo petitions. My friend Dan Fischer had one of the best of the night:


In the end, we didn’t make any tangible mark on the Bridgeport coal plant. We did, however make progress towards creating a strong network of people who can make a mark.

After the meeting, we headed back to the church with our wonderful Summer of Solutions friends and had some much needed fun, including duck pin bowling in the basement of our church! It was an absolutely stupendous day.