Jan 30: Sustainability Salon on Justice, Judges, and Gerrymandering

The 108th Sustainability Salon this month marks nine years' worth of salons!  

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?)    

Scales-and-gavel photo 
by Sora Shimazaki, via Pexels.com.

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!  

Salons currently run from 4 p.m. to 7:30 or so on Zoom (sadly, no potluck supper these days).  Plan to join the call after 3 p.m., and we aim to start the program right around 4.  If you're new to Zoom, you may find my Zoom Reference Guide helpful.  You'll be able to RSVP via Eventbrite to receive the Zoom registration link right away.  If you're not already on my Eventbrite list, please email me (at maren dot cooke at gmail dot com) with salon in the Subject line to be added!

Please do RSVP each time -- it helps greatly in several ways   (and with a virtual event, it's how you'll get the call-in info!).  Please make every effort to RSVP well in advance -- I'll be sending out the registration link manually, so could miss last-minute registrations while setting up and hosting the event!  Be sure to include salon in the Subject line if you email, as I receive a ridiculous amount of email every day.  And if you're new, please let me know how you heard about the Salons!  

Check back on MarensList (where you can find information on all sorts of environmental and social justice events, as well as better formatting for this event description) for updates.  And if you aren't yet on my list, if you're interested in Sustainability Salons (and our occasional house concert, simply contact me and I'll put you on my email list.  
As always, I'll be sending out directions and such (in this case Zoom instructions), and any late-breaking info, to all the RSVP'd folks by the morning of the salon if not before (usually Friday night).  So if you don't have it yet, please be patient!  One of these days I'll streamline this process a bit, but for now it takes a while to to dot all my i's and cross all my t's.   NEW:Eventbrite should also send you the Zoom registration link after you RSVP.  (I'm working on that streamlining!).
For the uninitiated, a Sustainability Salon is an educational forum;  it's a mini-conference;  it's a venue for discussion and debate about important environmental issues;  fit's a house party with an environmental theme.  We usually have featured speakers on various aspects of a particular topic, interspersed with stimulating conversation, lively debate, delectable potluck food and drink, and music-making through the evening.
Past topics have included consumptionpandemics and air,  election law and activismair quality and environmental justicesocial investment,  local economies, the economics of energymutual aid networksocean healththe rise of the radical rightthe back end of consumptionapproaches to activism on fracking & climateair quality, technology, and citizen sciencesingle-use plasticselection activismelection law, whether to preserve existing nuclear power plantsadvanced nuclear technologiespassenger and freight trainsconsumption, plastics, and pollutionair qualitysolar poweryouth activismgreening businessgreenwashing, the petrochemical buildout in our region, climate/nature/peoplefracking, health, & actionglobalizationecological ethicscommunity inclusionair quality monitoringinformal gatherings that turn out to have lots of speakersgetting STEM into Congresskeeping Pittsburgh's water publicShell's planned petrochemical plantvisualizing air quality, the City of Pittsburgh's sustainability initiativesfossil energy infrastructure, getting money out of politicscommunity solar power and the Solarize Allegheny program, the Paris climate negotiations (beforeduring, and after), air quality (again, with news on the autism connection), reuse (of things and substances), neighborhood-scale food systems, other forms of green community revitalizationsolar powerclimate changeenvironmental art, environmental education (Part I & Part II), community mapping projectsenvironmental journalismgrassroots actionMarcellus shale development and community rightsgreen buildingair qualityhealth care, more solar powertrees and park stewardshipalternative energy and climate policyregional watershed issues, fantastic film screenings and discussions (often led by filmmakers) over the winter with films on Food SystemsClimate Adaptation and MitigationPlastic Paradise, Rachel Carson and the Power Of One VoiceTriple Divide on fracking, You've Been Trumped and A Dangerous GameA Fierce Green FireSustainability Pioneersfilms on consumptionLiving DownstreamBidder 70YERTGas Rush Stories, and food, foodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodand more food (a recurrent theme;  with California running out of water, we'd better gear up to produce a lot more of our own!).

Coronavirus update:   As you know, people in Pittsburgh and around the world are sequestered at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Social distancing is still the rule for most Americans.  That's a bit of a misnomer, though -- we need physical distancing to flatten the curve, but technology now allows for rich interactions even so!  I believe that community is one of our greatest strengths, so in March as events began to be cancelled, I hosted the first virtual Sustainability Salon via Zoom teleconference -- rather than gathering our usual 50-80 people in a contained space.   It went quite well (even engaging participants from hundreds of miles away), and we're looking forward to June's salon!  Please be sure to RSVP (via email with "salon" in the Subject: line, or via Eventbrite) so you'll receive the sign-on information.  

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.

And if you like to make music or listen to homemade music, think back to our evening sings -- we typically ran the gamut from Irish fiddle tunes to protest songs to the Beatles, and a fun time was had by all.  Folks would bring instruments, and/or pick up one of ours.  Conversations would continue through the evening, as well.  With a virtual event this is less likely to happen, but we can share music by turns, reminisce, chat online, and look forward to the post-COVID era!

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