‘The Powerful Say We Know What is Better for You’


The following piece was written as a response to a recent Boston Globe article about protestors in East Boston, Mass., trying to stop a substation from being built in a low-income Black and brown neighborhood.

Public meetings are obligated to provide translation by a trained professional. The same way I would like a trained medical interpreter at a meeting with a doctor if translation is needed, there should be professional interpreters at hearings on public health and planetary health.

In a democracy local communities have the right to a free and full hearing and a strong say in what gets built. We have not practiced it that way, but more and more we are realizing in a democracy that is the only way forward. Communities must have the right to protect themselves from polluters. Including global polluters.

Rhode Island has a similar issue in Pawtucket. The city has neglected Morley Field, a 5-acre park in a low-income Black and brown community. The park is protected by gifts and funding so it must remain a park. The city wants to sell it to a developer for a parking lot in a place where there is plenty of parking already available. The park is the only athletic space in the whole neighborhood. The city has a tradition of disinvesting in Black and brown neighborhoods.

The powerful say we know what is better for you. Low-paid jobs instead of a park on the river. Mayor took campaign contributions from the developer. Mayor allowed a public meeting at the white folks’ neighborhood association. We went, and changed the agenda to a fuller discussion of the project and how and why so many people in the neighborhood were opposed. No one in the room who was not connected to the administration supported the project. Two days later the press release touting the meeting came out with no mention of what actually happened.

The construction had to stop because they cannot get permits to build on the park/wetland until they go through the process and the National Park Service gives them a release. Pawtucket has not filed paperwork with NPS but locked the park a year ago. It has developed into an encampment for people without other shelter.

We need our park back, and so do the osprey raising young in the ball field light tower. Environmental justice and climate justice are the key to reviving our communities. Transforming the electrical grid is necessary, but it does not have to come at the cost of green space in lower-income neighborhoods who already face so much of the pollution burden. When we stop siting dangerous facilities primarily in low-income, Black and brown and Indigenous communities, when the Voting Rights Act is strengthened and gerrymandering is gone, when the obstacles to a clean green future for everyone are banished, no one will be holding a picnic at a proposed substation. But until that day we shall protest and ask that you honor the American values of Honesty, Truth, and Justice even if it occasionally feels like work to do so.

Greg Gerritt is the founder/executive director of the Friends of the Moshassuck.


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  1. This isn’t the only project in Pawtucket where an outside developer’s profit overrides the health and quality of life of the residents here. We may not all be rich, but we have a right to live in a place with less pollution and more affordable housing for working people.

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