Cyatharine Alias:Holyoke council should embrace grassroots organizations

  • Pedestrians cross High Street in front of Holyoke City Hall. Gazette file photo

Published: 5/31/2020 6:00:12 PM

Holyoke City Council decided to turn down grant money to support an energy transition plan. Some council members cited distrust of Neighbor to Neighbor, a local community-led organization that helped close the Mt. Tom plant. Other council members believed that Mayor Alex Morse and Neighbor to Neighbor’s stance against increased natural gas expansion hurt businesses.

The refusal of grant money by the council reveals their old-fashioned beliefs and dependence on fossil fuels. They fail to consider innovative ideas. The council is censoring public participation in democracy and pitting business and labor against environmentalism.

Neighbor to Neighbor’s resident members come from Holyoke’s Puerto Rican and low-income neighborhoods. Their vision of the future is one in which marginalized people’s voices are centered in public decisions, not just those of the old guard. When public institutions, like City Council or Holyoke Gas & Electric, do not respond to community members’ requests to meet, Neighbor to Neighbor uses protest to demand that their voice is heard, a strategy that is part of revolutionary veins of the commonwealth.

What HG&E Superintendent Brian Beauregard missed when stating that Neighbor to Neighbor “stormed” HG&E’s office is that the activists had reached out to HG&E for a meeting but received no response. For councilors David Bartley, Michael Sullivan and James Leahy to deem nonviolent protestors as “unfavorable” is problematic and highlights a large concern for what democracy means to Holyoke’s City Council.

HG&E is a municipal light plant that “answers to you (Holyoke), ratepayers,” part of the Public Power Advantage. As owners of HG&E and constituents that the council represents, the community deserves to be heard and at the table in shaping our energy future. Councilors should trust the strengths of the local grassroots organizations of Holyoke, just like they uplift the voices of businesses.

Neighbor to Neighbor knows how to engage community. Instead of being afraid of them, councilors should look towards Neighbor to Neighbor as experts. To build a green and just future for Holyoke, councilors should have accepted the grant funding to implement a robust, transparent, public process for Holyoke’s energy transition plan.

Cyatharine Alias


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