Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: Racism is not just about words

  • From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. llhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken” countries, as he exploited the nation’s glaring racial divisions for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. aP photo

Published: 7/18/2019 8:00:22 PM
Modified: 7/18/2019 8:00:12 PM

I will admit it: I love Twitter. Well, not all of Twitter, but repartee has always been a favorite and Twitter, when used well, seems to encourage that rhetorical style.

Imagine, if you will, Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker with a Twitter account. Even Shakespeare, the character of Polonius notwithstanding, would have been at home there as well.

In the sea of hashtags and trending topics, love it or hate it, Twitter does give us insight into what people are talking about. In the last few days, one of those trending topics has been #theSquad, in reference to the four progressive first-year congresswomen who were the target of yet another of the president’s racist tweets.

People from all walks of life are now tweeting #IStandWithTheSquad in response, and while we always need to call out blatantly racist comments, my instinct is to dig deeper.

Racism is not just about words. It’s about policy. It is not enough for us to stand with someone who is the target of racist comments; we have to back up the denunciation of racism with anti-racist policies.

Luckily, there are many ways for us to enact anti-racist policy on the state level, giving legislators a chance to #StandWIthTheSquad in tangible ways.

We are going to have an education funding bill where we can choose to fully fund our schools, including giving 100 percent weighting to our poorest districts so that those kids are given the resources they need to break the cycle of poverty. That same legislation can allow schools to manually count economically disadvantaged students so that funding matches real need.

We will have a hearing for the driver’s license bill, which would allow everyone, irrespective of immigration status, to be able to obtain a valid, legal license, making our roads safer and allowing people to drive without fear.

We will likely vote on some form of climate resiliency legislation, which will give us the opportunity to demand that environmental justice be included in the path to addressing the climate emergency. Environmental justice is the simple concept that less-resourced communities should not bear the brunt of climate change as funds and resources are instead allocated to larger, wealthier communities.

Our ability to #StandWithTheSquad isn’t limited to legislation though. We can do it by demanding better regulations as well. For example, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has recently proposed changes that would allow electricity retailers to meet increased renewable energy goals by purchasing energy from polluting biomass power plants.

This would fly in the face of the stringent science-based standards Massachusetts adopted in 2012 that recognized the environmental and public health impacts of biomass energy. Massachusetts is currently the only state in the nation that considers greenhouse gas emissions as criteria for biomass eligibility in its renewable portfolio standard, and only highly efficient plants can qualify.

The proposed regulations would roll this back without any science-based justification for the change, at a time when climate scientists are telling us we need to do more to protect our forests and reduce our carbon emissions.

How does that relate to anti-racist policies and environmental justice? Western Massachusetts, home to some of the poorest and most disenfranchised communities in the state, would be the most affected and likely the location of any new biomass plant.

DOER’s proposed changes would ensure that the Palmer biomass plant proposed in East Springfield would qualify for $5 million to $10 million per year in renewable energy credits, in perpetuity, while adding more air pollution to a low-income community that already suffers alarmingly high rates of asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic health problems.

Springfield has been named “Asthma Capital of the U.S.” by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and the American Lung Association rated Hampden County worst in the state for its high ozone levels in its 2018 State of the Air report.

Public comment on DOER’s proposed change is open until 5 p.m. on Friday, July 26, so if you feel like taking a stand, you can write to John Wassam at DOER.RPS@mass.gov.

It is said that the antidote to despair is action and, right now, tweeting #IStandWithTheSquad is an action many are taking to condemn racist statements. However, let’s remember that the “Squad” is more than a nickname. It refers to a group of newly elected, progressive female legislators who have been vocal when people think they should be quiet, who have spoken truth despite making people uncomfortable, and who have made all of their decisions thus far on the basis of ending inequities.

If we truly want to stand with them, the best way we can do that is emulating those characteristics in our own small ways in our daily lives. That would be a true demonstration of words backed up by action.

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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