Commentary

INSPIRING JUSTICE FOR THE MERRIMACK

Local efforts towards climate and environmental justice.

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Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest educational opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

PEG CENTER

The PEG Center is one of Newburyport’s treasures, bringing our community together to follow a moral compass pointed toward social justice. While all of the PEG Center’s efforts have had profound reverberations, perhaps the most immediate one focused on the theme of climate and environmental justice. Living as we do, right on the shores of the Merrimack River, we recognize it as a source of inspiration and joy. The PEG Center’s recent art exhibit, “A River Runs Through Us,” celebrated the history and beauty of the Merrimack, but also sent a clear message about the urgency to protect it. The show ran in conjunction with the speakers’ event, “A River Called Justice.” Here are two responses from community members who were deeply moved to heal our environment by both the art and the speakers:

The exhibit included an array of artwork, both traditional and contemporary. The Merrimack River, with its long history of impacts, was depicted in old photographs on loan from museums, libraries and historical societies. Other mediums included metal and wooden sculptures, fabric sculptures from textiles made by toxic processes, and wooden assemblages combined with old tools and artifacts. Mosaic totems expressed warnings and hope for the future; scanned ocean floor charts became 3-dimensional reliefs showing the impact of global warming and human interference; a mineral boring appears alongside a posted public action to resist fracking.

This show provoked my inner thoughts and feelings. Initially, I felt anxious, yet also determined to return to face the ultimate message—we can have hope as long as individuals and groups commit to healing our planet. I encourage everyone to visit the PEG Center to experience the power of art as a catalyst for change.

Beth Reiter Blanchard

It’s my recurring question: Am I making the world a better place if my individual actions don’t create immediate change? At the recent PEG Center event, “A River Called Justice: Evidence, Experience and What We Can Do,” hosted by the Women In Action Huddle, I heard faithful activists assert their mission: working together to create significant change through unfailing devotion to a shared principle - that all people deserve an environment supporting their health, safety, well-being, and dignity.

Lesly Melendez, The Executive Director of Groundwork Lawrence, spoke of making Lawrence a cleaner, greener, healthier place to live. Informed by people whose voices have historically not been heard, this organization works to combat environmental degradation.

Dr. Neenah Estrella-Luna spoke of environmental justice as a civil rights issue, encouraging each of us to “turn the mirror on ourselves” and do what we can in response to what we see.

Judith Black performed a one-person drama depicting environmental injustice in the daily lives of marginalized people, who suffer disproportionately from health-related issues. Her moving monologue pitted the urgency of a child's health against the lethargy of an economic engine too preoccupied with profits to care.

These three speakers delineated the real effects of climate change on people's health, including physical and emotional wellbeing. Their words challenge us to make another life better, showing compassion for people in need, suffering, forgotten and overlooked… even if that makes us uncomfortable.

Of course, listening alone is not enough. The PEG Center and Huddle call us to action, while educating us around inequities, injustices and entrenched disparities in our collective treatment and attitudes towards marginalized communities. Sometimes we may feel that our one small act isn’t making a difference. However, even the smallest motion can manifest profound changes through the “butterfly effect,” one flap of our wings at a time until we’ve created a massive wind of change.

We are all participants in the social fabric of our world, and the PEG Center offers each of us a path towards making a difference.

Ann Haaser

Ann and Beth are members of the PEG Center and Huddle team and may be reached via info@thepegcenter.org

ACES Youth Corps team members encourage you to take actions that will contribute to the health of the Merrimack River. Please share any thoughts about other opportunities to benefit the health of our waters and send us a note at acesnewburyport@gmail.com .To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit https://www.aces-alliance.org.

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Featuring
Ann Haaser

Ann Haaser is a retired IM Systems Analyst, Project Leader and part-time Paralegal, who now spends most of her time volunteering for organizations that seek to prevent harm to ourselves, our neighbors, our companions in nature and the planet. Specifically and most urgently, she volunteers for non-profits that advocate for the prevention of gun violence in America.

about the co-authors
Beth Blanchard

Beth Blanchard always emphasized community-building skills as the way to support meaningful
and quality learning. Now retired after 42 years of teaching (Preschool, K-4 and adults), Beth
continues to work in various groups aligned with social justice issues. She is also exploring the
arts and how they empower calling attention to issues in the natural, spiritual, and political world
around us.