BY DAVID ROS
Majora Carter said she has something in common with the Tea Party movement in the United States.
Carter, a renowned environmental activist from the South Bronx, N.Y. made this bold statement when delivering her keynote address for the Green Change Exposition and Gala, sponsored by the Jane-Finch Community and Family Centre on Feb. 12.
On paper, one might assume that Carter, who now runs her own environmental consulting firm, The Majora Carter Group, has spent more than a decade actively campaigning for environmental sustainability, particularly in at risk neighbourhoods, would have little, if any common ground with the populist movement which is sweeping up many parts of the United States.
For starters, Tea Partiers, as they are called, are generally opposed to any sort of government spending on social programs, preferring to leave such endeavours up to the will of individuals and the market.
In her speech, Carter, however argued that creating environmentally sustainable initiatives is not more costly to the average taxpayer, but, in fact, it will save them money in the long run.
“I too want to see a smaller government in the United States, but I want to do that by creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for our most expensive citizens,” she said. “Now who, pray tell are our most expensive citizens? Probably pretty similar to the ones you have up here [in the Jane-Finch community].”
Carter explained that environmental sustainability can be a win-win situation for the environment, taxpayers and especially for communities facing severe economic challenges.
“From my understanding, it’s communities like Jane and Finch that have the most to gain from creating a green economy,” she said. “The fact that there is a higher incidence of unemployment in a community like this, you want to make sure that you’re creating opportunities for folks so that they’re not always on the public dole and that they’re supplying the actual kind of services that need to happen.”
According to Carter, many people in at risk communities feel as if there is no hope for them and this in turn, leads to a higher incidence of crime.
“Right now we’re keeping people in jail through that revolving door into the criminal justice system we’re paying for the impacts on their public health, both mental and physical, we’re paying for the fact that their kids don’t do so well in school, we’re paying for any time they self-medicate so we’re already doing that right now and they’re doing it because they don’t feel as if there are other options for them to be full participants in our society,” she said. “If we created opportunities for them to do so, then it’s been my experience and actually studies will prove that if there are options for people to take and one is really illegitimate and one is legitimate then chances are that they’ll take the legitimate one.”
Carter said legitimate opportunities can be created around green jobs.
“Those are the type of jobs that if you realize it, making investments now, actually pays you back in the future and it makes people instead of becoming tax burdens, they become tax payers,” she said.
Anthony Perruzza, Toronto city councillor for Ward 8, said that on a smaller scale, some of these initiatives are beginning to happen in the community.
“I agree with [Carter] very profoundly on the notion that if you take care of the smaller stuff at a community level, then the big problems nationally and internationally take care of themselves and it’s really up to us on a community level and at a local level to focus and produce some of those results,” he said.
One example of this is the Centre for Green Change, the organization for whom the exposition and gala was raising money towards, has been involved in many environmentally positive initiatives in our community through their many green change agents.
“Green change agents are basically community residents who took an environmental training program through the green change project learning about energy conservation waste management and green active living,” said Rosemarie Powell, who organized the Green Change Exposition and Gala. “ after the training, they then went out into their community and went door to door to door to meet with their neighbours and friends and spoke to them about what they could do as an individual to make changes in their community to protect the environment within their own homes.”
In addition to this work, the Centre for Green Change has already created two dedicated community gardens at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) properties at 2999 Jane St., 4400 Jane St and are looking at creating one at Shoreham Court in the spring.
In order to continue with their initiatives, they have received dedicated space from TCHC at 2999 Jane St. However, that space needed to be renovated at an estimated cost of $500,000 and so Powell said the organization decided to turn their second annual Green Change Gala into a fundraiser event to help make this possible.
“This year our aim is to raise about $30,000 on our own to combine with other funds that we’ve requested from the government and also other partnerships,” she said.
One of the partnerships the organization has is with the Carpenters and Allied Workers Local 27, who have donated their time and expertise to help with the renovation process as well as partially funded Carter’s speaking engagement.
“We have existing partnerships with TCHC around a program known as choice, which is a job opportunity training program, employment opportunity training program for young people around the various communities in which the TCHC serves,” said Mike Yorke, President of local 27. “We do greater outreach in the broader community and have young people involved in the training program and come in and renovate TCHC properties.”
Yorke said that local 27 training instructors would be involved in helping community volunteers to complete the renovations.
Carter ended off her speech with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., stating that there is a “legitimate and unavoidable impatience,” in order to create a green economy in communities such as this one.
“We have people that are suffering for no good reason and we’ve got an opportunity to make that we can use right now that can impact everyone positively including our national debts so for that I think there’s no reason to wait at all,” she said.