Gulf of Vermont; Revol-Oceanary Road Diary 7/19/14

This trip wasn’t supposed to have a stop in Vermont, but I
thank Food Solutions New England for changing things up. Although at first I
was perturbed about what appeared to be complication and disruption of plans it
all ended up being exactly how this trip should have started.
Vermont’s role in our fisheries work is more significant than you might think for a landlocked state (if you don’t count Lake Champlain). Fletcher Allen Health Care was the first hospital to work with us on taking on the challenge of incorporating local seafood into their menu. Diane Imrie, director of nutrition services at FAHC made it clear that following seafood certifications such as the MSC and the red/yellow/green lists were a good start, but they didn’t go far enough. FAHC needed to go deeper. 

We’ve been working with FAHC since 2010 through our friends at Health Care Without Harm. And ironically, my friend Paul Bogart is the chief program officer for HCWH, and lives down the road from Putney with his wife Judy Robinson and their family. Paul & Judy are long time activists, and as you’ll see from this blog, have played an important role in my work and life. 

I’ve known Paul for 25 years. We first met in the smoking room of the
Greenpeace office in Washington, DC. Yes, such a place existed and Greenpeace
activists smoked. And probably some still do. Imagine a smoked filled room
where passionate activists had heated discussions, told long tales from long
stretches on the road or on Greenpeace ships, discussed campaign strategies,
and even made some pretty important decisions. The non-smokers who were coming
to the space for its intended purpose – to use the kitchen – were often
justifiably pissed at the smoke-filled environment.

Judy, Paul and Raphael (left) and the kids.

That’s where Paul and I met. At the time, Paul was the head
of the Antarctic Campaign at Greenpeace a campaign veteran with many voyages to
the “ice” to his credit. I was a greenhorn toxics campaigner who had just come
off a three-month stint on a Greenpeace tour of the Great Lakes with the ship M/V
Moby Dick and the bus The Terrapin. From there I’d started working with the
community of East Liverpool, Ohio working on what was to become the watershed
case of toxic waste disposal, particularly incineration. He went on to become
the political director for Greenpeace US, and I moved on to manage the Toxics
Campaign. Our friendship grew as we dove into complex issues together.

This is a much younger me… in the early 90s 
leading a WTI protest at the White House.

But the pivotal moment for me was in early 1994 when Paul
asked me if I would consider switching campaigns to bring the community
organizing strategies of the toxics and environmental justice work to ocean
issues. After much hesitation and to both of our surprise I eventually agreed,
but not until I saw that the ocean work was really about the same thing as the
toxics work: global movement of capital putting communities and environmental at
risk. I move to Gloucester, MA in 1994 sight unseen. Twenty years have gone by,
and Paul and I have worked on various issues together and our friendship has
grown deeper in the process.

Amongst the projects we worked on together was a stint at
the Healthy Building Network, where he was the campaigns director. One of the HBN
projects we collaborated on was Unity Homes, a modular home factory in rural
Mississippi with a non-profit business model designed to bring affordable, well
built, healthy and energy efficient homes to those who lost theirs in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Unity
Homes’ specific focus was on serving those who were marginalized by the
housing, banking and the broader real estate world. In the aftermath of
Katrina, those are the people who had to endure the toxic FEMA trailers. They are
the dispensable ones.

Celebrating Unity Homes ribbon cutting in 2007, serving as the
headquarters of the Gulfport Community Land Trust.
As a side note, my dog Hailey is a Hurricane Katrina survivor who was picked up in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana in the aftermath. 

Unity Homes was a brilliant and moving project. But it could
not weather the perfect economic storm of December 2007 when the housing market
collapsed, the recession started, and the credit market collapsed  just as the factory had been completed .
On top of it all, the likes of Bernie Madoff disasters made philanthropic money
scarce. It was a tough time to start a non-profit, much less an innovative one
like Unity Homes. I felt this crunch as this was the same time I heard NAMA was
looking for a new director and took the helm of the organization, and realized
first hand how hard it was to raise funds during such a time.

On the surface, Unity Homes may not have a direct impact on
fisheries and marine conservation, but the building materials manufacturing,
particularly the production of PVC plastics for various uses including the building
trade, contributes to the toxic burden of the Gulf of Mexico and other bodies
of water. Shifting that manufacturing process to a green one reduces the amount
of persistent bio-accumulative toxins in the marine environment that end up
there as a byproduct of manufacturing. This is why it’s so important that we
look at non-fishing impacts on the marine environment.

Fast forward to today, Paul and I are once again working
together this time marrying the work of Health Care Without Harm, where he
serves as the Chief Program Officer, to our work of protecting the marine
environment and the coastal fishing communities that depend on healthy marine

I met Judy first when I was working on a project to mark the
20th anniversary of the Bhopal Chemical disaster. I was tasked with
planning a US tour for two Bhopal survivors to raise awareness about Dow
Chemicals involvement in and dismissal of what happened in Bhopal. The
survivors were in the US to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Oscar
of the environmental community.

Bhopal survivors Champa Devi Shukla (left) and Rashida Bee flank
fisherwoman and Gulf coast activist Diane Wilson in 2004.
At the time, Judy was at the Environmental Health Fund
coordinating the Coming Clean Collaborative. Today, Coming Clean has become
it’s own entity with Judy as its executive director. NAMA is a member of Coming
Clean, and in fact our inspiration for convening the Fish Locally Collaborative
in 2008 was Coming Clean’s structure and success. More on our collaboration and
work of Coming Clean further down this blog.
As luck would have it, Paul & Judy are now married living
in Vermont. So the FSNE meeting gave me a chance to start my train journey
after spending some time with them. I spoke to Paul and Judy about how our
missions, values and strategies merge. Then I headed to Albany to hop on the
Lakeshore Limited Amtrak train heading to Chicago…. Only to find out a boulder
had fallen on the tracks in Poughkeepsie grounding us for a number of hours. As
of this writing I’m still not sure if I will make my Portland bound train
connection in Chicago. We’ll find out together!
In the meanwhile, onto the conversation with Paul &
What’s Fish Got to do
With Healthcare?
I asked Paul about why the fisheries work is relevant to
their work with the healthcare sector. Here’s Paul’s response:
“Our work is focused on lessening the environmental burden of
the healthcare sector. Healthcare’s responsibility is increasing shifting from
treating chronic disease to treating population health and you can’t have
population health without community, environment and economic health. NAMA’s
work is part of the strategy to shift this burden with positive drivers on both
o   HCWH
drives the issues we are trying to solve through the healthcare market’s impact
on the ecosystem
o   NAMA’s
work contributes to HCWH’s work by addressing population health
A Different Life Cycle
I asked Judy the same question, and she said:

“Coming Clean picks up the problem where it is along the
lifecycle of industrial chemicals and dirty energy, and unites communities and
other interest groups along that lifecycle.

At one of Coming Clean’s general meetings a delegation of a dozen
Native Alaskans, including the major of Savoonga, joined other members of
Coming Clean in Washington DC.  A
special event was arranged for the delegation to present data from a recent
marine monitoring study to EPA and other agency officials.  The indigenous group brought salmon to
share, a cultural offering of something so important to their lives and
survival. It was also the subject of a study they were announcing, which had
found PCB levels in the fish so high it qualified as hazardous waste. Isolated
and without access to grocery stores or other sources of food that we take for
granted, the fish they caught, smoked and brought to DC was truly the source of
life and livelihood for the rest of the year. And they are very respectful of their relationship with the
salmon because of it. They had to bring their fish all the way to DC to show
the government agencies that the They shared cultural dance and presented the
study findings about the toxicity in the fish. Then the meeting was over and
the fish was offered as a cultural gift to the group. It was a very complicated
relationship between everyone in the room and the fish now. Perhaps some people
were at first excited to have freshly caught and smoked wild Alaskan salmon: but
now they all knew the fish had high levels of PCBs.

This brings home that as with the fish, we’re all in this lifecycle
together. The fish and the people may as well be the same thing because that’s
the dependency. That’s how interconnected the relationship.”

It’s a Small World
After All
In the middle of visit, one of their friends, Raphael,
stopped by. All I knew about Raphael till then was that he worked in
architecture and the design/build environment. He told me they work on energy
efficient houses that are more affordable for most of the population, are built
offsite and assembled onsite.
I instinctively turned to Paul and yelled “Unity Homes!” only
to find out that Raphael’s work is in fact Unity Homes. The Unity Homes Paul
and I worked on when we were both at the Healthy Building Network is now Unity Homes where Raphael works. A while ago, the owners of the architectural firm
Raphael works for reached out to Paul asking to buy the Unity Homes domain not
knowing about their relationship. A small world, indeed.
Paul said the value of Unity Homes was in the concept not in
the name, so it wasn’t a hard decision.
Like the original Unity Homes, the New England one uses smart design,
energy conservation, offsite fabrication and onsite installation. But unlike
the original one it targets the population that is a little higher on the
economic food chain.
Paul explains that the significance of the original concept
was the reason behind using the word “unity” as the name of the non-profit
company. “The unity came from that
there were those in the Gulf of Mexico and the Delta who were providing down
payment assistance, others offering credit counseling, and some developing job
programs around housing but no one was building and selling housing using a
non-profit model that is serving specifically the communities that sought out
and utilized these services. We wanted to complete the housing chain.”
It was a bit of a surprise to find out the connection
between Vermont and the Gulf of Mexico, and how one project unified these two completely
different communities.
As I was leaving, I asked Judy about the possibility of
partnering with Coming Clean to work on making sure non-fishing issues such as
the impact of persistent pollutants, mining, oil, gas and chemical industries
are addressed in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery
Conservation and Management Act. We decided we needed to connect our policy
leaders and organizers in our respective collaboratives – Coming Clean and Fish
Locally – so we can build a bottom-up, non-violent force to be reckoned with that holds
these industries accountable when it comes to their impact on the marine
environment and commercial fisheries.
Being with Paul and Judy reminded me of how important our
relationships are, how connected all of our work is, and how important it is to
take the Revol-Oceanary Road.