This November, we Massachusetts voters will have the chance to support climate action in a powerful way. By voting in favor of the Fair Share Amendment–Voting YES on Question 1–we’ll help our state confront climate change and transition to a safe and healthy future. We desperately need to make this transition—and we need to do it with justice in mind. It’s a lesson I learned nine years ago in Somerset, Massachusetts.
A Community Poisoned by Coal
In 2013 I took part in organizing a protest against Somerset’s Brayton Point Power Station. At the time, it was the worst greenhouse gas emitting coal-fired power plant in New England. Ahead of the protest, I knocked on doors in the nearby neighborhoods to speak with community members. Everyone had a horrific story. I met families struggling with multiple cancer diagnoses. Mothers told me about their kids with asthma and coughing fits. Everyone I met knew that the area was toxic, but there was no escape—no one could sell their homes. In the morning, residents would sweep the soot from their front porches, knowing that all of that black particulate was in their air, their water, and their food. It was inside them, too, in their lungs and their blood.
Coal is a complicated villain. The Brayton Point Power Station spewed murderous clouds of climate changing gas and toxins, yes. And, it provided the community’s power and its livelihood. Tax money from the plant funded the town, even as it ruined lives. Shutting down the plant would leave a gaping hole. The community needed a way forward. They needed what’s called a Just Transition.
A Just Transition
We can’t shut down our current fossil fuel-soaked economy without transitioning to a new, more sustainable one. Along with shuttering coal plants, we need to invest in communities, prepare workers for green jobs, and provide the infrastructure that supports this shift. This philosophy is integral to the Green New Deal and the Build Back Better plan, and it’s approximated in parts of the Inflation Reduction Act.
How do we support a Just Transition? In Massachusetts, voting for the Fair Share Amendment will go a long way.
Why the Fair Share Amendment is Key to a Just Transition
The amendment makes the wealthiest among us pay their fair share. It sets a progressive tax rate that takes an additional 4% of money earned above a million dollars. This means that it only impacts those who earn more than a million dollars, and are therefore most able to contribute. The funds raised—an estimated 1.3-2 billion dollars annually—would go towards transportation and public education, two of our state’s most desperately underfunded systems.
How exactly would this money be used? That’s where things get interesting: The amendment is loosely defined, which means that we can push for the change we want to see. Community organizers often say that political power is the combination of organized money and organized people. The climate movement in Massachusetts certainly has people power, but we don’t have money. The Fair Share Amendment gives us the funds we desperately need to win campaigns and imagine greater victories.
A Transportation Revolution
For climate action in Massachusetts, transportation is key. Our state’s transportation system accounts for over 40% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not just a climate nightmare; everyone knows that this system is riddled with problems, as this summer of T disasters has shown us. With the money from the Fair Share Amendment, we could fund the projects that 350 Mass and its partners have sought for decades, including electrified bus and train fleets, accessible electric vehicles, and bike-safe streets. That’s what a Just Transition looks like.
Schools are a Climate Frontline
Good and safe education is a human right, and our school systems are also on the frontlines of climate change. School buildings with adequate air conditioning, staff, and space provide an oasis from heat islands in urban areas. Adequately funded school meals and after school programs sustain the bodies and minds of students when heat and storms threaten. Plus, schools are connecting, propulsive community spaces where young people can inspire one another to take daring action—but only when they’re safe and well resourced. The money devoted to public education can even go to civic education, climate education, and job retraining programs, which will bolster our movement and provide real opportunities for people to build sustainable infrastructure. We can’t achieve a Just Transition without investment in public education. The Fair Share Amendment will get us there.
Unlocking a Better Future
When we had our action at Brayton point, we had hundreds of activists in attendance. People from across the state joined us to rally and march right up to the power plant itself. We had several local activists among our ranks, people who had campaigned against the plant for a generation. That public pressure, and the focus on a just transition, eventually won. Brayton Point was shut down in 2017.
Brayton Point today offers a view into what a Just Transition can look like for energy infrastructure. The site of the power plant is being converted into the Brayton Point Commerce Center, and it will be where submarine power cables connect Somerset’s energy grid to offshore wind turbines. Now, the Fair Share Amendment can unlock the Just Transition for our public education and transportation infrastructure.
The Fair Share Amendment will not pass without us fighting for it. And when we win, the work continues. To make sure we win this first step: VOTE YES on Question 1 on November 8th. And we need all of our neighbors to do the same. Polling indicates that the amendment is popular, but it will not pass if we do not get people out to vote for it. A Just Transition is essential, but it’s far from inevitable. With the Fair Share Amendment, a bright future is more possible than ever before.
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