“We Have to Create a Sense That There’s Enough for Us All” – Building the Just Transition to Offshore Wind in Salem

Clean Water Action, SAFE’s partner in much of its work to protect and improve our environment, recently published a blog post about the new offshore wind development coming to Salem. Kerry Doyle interviewed board co-chair Pat Gozemba and our part-time staffer, Bonnie Bain. As Doyle noted, Pat and Bonnie talked about “the trailblazing work SAFE is doing to make sure that the people who build Massachusetts’ wind industry are representative of the state’s environmental justice communities.” An excerpt from the interview appears below. You can read the entire interview at the Clean Water Action blog.

SAFE members Rob Bonney (left), Patricia Gozemba, Bonnie Bain and Jim Mulloy with Clean Water Action New England Director Cindy Luppi (second from left).

Your recent organizing work has been focused on fighting for a ‘just transition’ for the Salem community from coal to offshore wind. Can you talk about what a ‘just transition’ looks like?

Bonnie: In my previous work, I was the only woman in a team of all men, so I understand personally what it’s like to be in an underrepresented group out in this field. We have to be proactive and intentional to make sure that we work to get people into these coming jobs in the wind industry who might not see themselves represented in this type of work yet. I love that SAFE fought for wind to be here, and now we’re pushing to make sure that it is actually a just transition and that our frontline communities are the first to benefit from these jobs.

I love that SAFE fought for wind to be here, and now we’re pushing to make sure that it is actually a just transition and that our frontline communities are the first to benefit from these jobs.

It’s really about creating the spark for people right now because we’re still wrapping our heads around the specifics of what the jobs will be, and what the skills are that folks will need. We are behind the scenes, reaching out to local partners, hopefully creating a pipeline and getting the word out about wind jobs that are a few years away. A few years might seem like a long time, but these jobs require technical training, so we need people to start training now. Is it really a just transition if these jobs aren’t going to the local people here? I don’t think so.

What kind of local community outreach is SAFE engaged in?

Pat: Environmental justice is language justice. You have to speak in the language of the people you are speaking to. We want everybody’s boat to rise, and for that to happen, people have to understand the problems in their own language. We needed to add more local voices to our Board and support folks who speak Spanish who could go out into the community and speak to neighbors. We recruited two outstanding women from the community in Salem: Esmeralda Bisono, Sustainability & Resiliency Manager for the City of Salem and my neighbor Ana Nuncio who is an ESL editor, educator, and founding member of the Latino Leadership Coalition. 

Bonnie: Webinars in Spanish: we thought that would be fairly easy, but it was a challenge. Ana was fantastic in keeping us honest. Yes, we can translate this new language around a new industry… kind of… but it hasn’t really been translated yet, so we’re making the road as we walk together. She is such an incredible resource with a wealth of information and resources. Ana connected us with a Bilingual Senior Administrator and Family Engagement Facilitator at Salem Public Schools. This is a trusted person in the community for her work with teachers, parents and students. In our view, having a person who is already known in the community presenting information is better than hiring outside for a translator. 

We also had a Salem high schooler who took the KidWind summer program write a blog about her experience and help get the word out that way too. We are hosting events for parents, sharing information, and just working to spread the word that these jobs are coming, and we need to prepare for them. We’re really scrapping it together, and it’s fun! It’s a really incredible space to be in right now. 

Pat: We’re also working with our partners in the labor movement – the North Shore Labor Council. When this wind opportunity came up, I really believed that one of the first things we needed to do was connect with labor. I’m an old union president myself. We’re really pleased with what the unions have extracted from industry so far, like the project labor agreement that was put in place with the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council for the first offshore wind project coming to Massachusetts. I think connecting with labor, and being aware of the concerns of labor, where they are being shut out or let into this new industry, and how we can stand together with labor, is an environmental justice issue.

One of the roles we are playing is making sure that people from underrepresented communities get access to these union jobs. Often those training programs that the unions run, that are sort of pre-apprentice training programs, have not been really aggressive in looking for minorities and women to be in them. And that’s one of the roles that we’re trying to play is saying, “Hey, this community really should be a part of it.” It’s heartening for me to hear when we meet with labor, white men talking the language. I do think that some of them are really getting it. They are thinking of the girls in their families and their potential opportunities.

What do you want the future to look like for the kids in Salem?

Bonnie: I could not in good conscience have a child without committing a lot of time to making sure that their world, and their future, was somewhat secure. That’s why I do what I do and why I do it locally. We have to create a sense that there’s enough for us all. We’ve got a scarcity mindset in the US. I want my child and her peers to be able to think in an abundance mindset. This is about all of her peers and her generation. We’ve got to step up to ensure their future.

Read the entire interview.