We've seen in the recent past the importance of the judiciary to health and the environment. We'll take a look at the judicial system in Pennsylvania, and an effort by the state House to ram through a constitutional amendment allocating appeals court judges to specific districts -- while legislative redistricting reform keeps being blocked. Doug Webster of Fair Districts PA will return to the (virtual) Salon stage to bring us up to speed on this ill-conceived amendment -- and how we can put the brakes on before a referendum materializes in May. (you didn't think our work was done, did you?)
Also returning will be attorney Lisa Middleman, now a candidate for judge on the Court of Common Pleas. Lisa has spent over thirty years fighting for equity and fairness in and out of the courtroom -- as a criminal defense attorney, public defender, informal educator, and union organizer. Most recently, she led a coalition of attorneys providing pro bono legal services to peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors who were wrongfully charged. Lisa sees the connections between environmental justice and the law, and aims to change the Court for the better.
Shifting our focus to election law, as we did once before -- since we can't have a clean, safe, and stable environment without better policies, and we can't have those without electing more thoughtful, informed, and compassionate policymakers -- there have been some improvements in the past few years, such as the mail-in voting which was a gamechanger in a pandemic year. However, things still aren't working the way they should. How many voters tried to reach the elections division and couldn't get through? How many people signed up to be poll workers and didn't hear back? How many people received the wrong ballot? We cannot declare an election a success simply because poll workers and voters overcame barriers put in their way. We should celebrate their perseverance with indignation at conditions that made it necessary, and with determination to redesign the systems that create these barriers. Allegheny County has chronic problems with election administration that need to be addressed. Fair elections advocate Juliet Zavon will share the just-released Report of the Elections Task Force, detailing both flaws in the process (like poll worker recruitment and training) and recommendations for how to rectify the system.
And did I mention that our work isn't done? We're in a very different place than we were just a month or two ago (in so many ways!), but still have lots of work to do on civil rights, racial equity, criminal justice, health care, immigration, guns, election law, and not least the environment. Debra Fyock leads Grassroots Pittsburgh, a local affiliate of the national Indivisible and Swing Left organizations. For several years, she's been connecting people with opportunities to get active (no matter how much or how little time they have to spare) with monthly meetings and a weekly newsletter.
Most years, wintertime Sustainability Salons feature film screenings (and often talks by filmmakers, or activists working on the issues in the films); in large part due to our space being darker and more cinematic when sunset is earlier. However, this year there are so many other virtual film screenings and panel discussions that folks don't need even more screen time. In lieu of our own Winter Film Series, here are a couple of other opportunities to get your popcorn popping: Promote PT presents The Story Of Plastic with the film's director and local activists on February 13th. On the 19th, Interfaith Power and Light will share the short film Unbreathable, about air quality and environmental justice, followed by a panel discussion. Other upcoming events: this coming week, the annual PASA conference on sustainable agriculture -- it's virtual this year, so you can check it out from home! February 11th, an Environmental Town Hall with State Senator Katie Muth. Apropos of our topic this month, PASUP's next community meeting will be about greening election campaigns, date TBA. And a mask update: I have received my second bulk order (read: substantial discount!) of the Breathe99 masks that we featured at November's salon on Pandemics and Air (one of TIME's 100 Best Inventions of last year). Please email me with mask in the Subject line if you're interested!
If you haven't been here before, you may enjoy checking out our roof garden and solar installation (and now apiary!) as well as the many other green and interesting things around our place. If interested folks are online and everything is working smoothly by around 3:30, perhaps I can conduct a virtual tour.