Friday, 13 Dec 2002

HARRISBURG, Penn.

You might think that everything PennFuture does is centered around the state government and the state capitol. But that is far from the truth; we have offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as well as Harrisburg, and our staff travels throughout the state. We are involved in an amazing number of areas and issues and we are always working to bring new coalition partners to the table and involve more and more citizens.

One way we do this is by talking about the environment in many ways. For too long, our opponents have been able to stereotype environmentalists as Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eating, humorless extremists. But environmental activists come in all different stripes and political persuasions, and support for environmental protection is a majority viewpoint. So we work very hard to make sure that we always position the environment as central to the lives of all Pennsylvanians.

Another way we intervene successfully in the political debate is by directly refuting our opponents’ contentions. Despite all evidence to the contrary, these opponents continue to try to portray the need for a clean environment as antithetical to a robust economy. The truth is just the opposite — that a clean environment is a requirement for economic development. So we always explicitly link the environment and the economy in all of our work.

Our definition of the environment is also broader than the usual one — for us, the environment is everything that surrounds us, not just the natural world. Integral to this definition are issues of equity and justice, and we bring those concerns to all our work and all our outreach. Just today, as part of United Pennsylvanians, we were proud to lead the charge to demand that Sen. Trent Lott resign as Senate majority leader and that Pennsylvania’s own U.S. senators join our call for justice.

Because of new approaches and new relationships, we have been able to bring new constituencies to much of our work. We are reaching out to and involving the medical community, particularly on clean air issues. We have worked extensively with unions, cooperating whenever possible and working to form a long-lasting blue-green alliance. The hunting and fishing communities have been extremely supportive of our work to prevent development and highways from harming streams, wetlands, and gamelands. These partners have “hung tough” with us, even when they’ve come under political attack. And we work with businesses throughout the state and across the nation to bring the green energy promise to Pennsylvania through increased financing and bigger and better markets.

We’re also using new tools to make change. Every other week, we issue our “PennFuture Facts” by email, with the latest information and our take on issues affecting Pennsylvanians. On the alternating weeks, we email “E-Cubed,” a more technical newsletter on energy, the environment, and the economy. We have our own video — you can see a clip on our website — and an infomercial. We have just developed a statewide green links directory to create a one-stop shop for environmental organizations and actions. And we are just releasing next year’s CD-Rom calendar, business card, hot links, and screensaver, full of beautiful nature images to put your desktop in a green mood.

But not everything we do is serious. As Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” So we are dancing — and laughing — as we organize.

Just this year, when Farm Aid came to Pennsylvania, we greeted it with a not-so-subtle message about factory farms. When Vice President Dick Cheney came to Pittsburgh to try to sell his energy plan, we rented an airplane and flew over town with the message “Conservation Pays — Big Time!” During our April 15th event, “The Taxman Cometh,” we held a contest for the worst and best use of tax dollars. And of course, we sponsor luncheons, seminars, conferences, receptions, and parties at the drop of a hat!

Every time I think of the powerful forces we are facing, I also realize what a great community we have. With our own coalition partners, friends like Grist, and the support of the majority, I know we will succeed.