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Unions, Churches, & Schools

The power to make a green transition

Two new groups in the state of Washington are melding an awareness of the urgency of climate change with the organizing tools of the Industrial Areas Foundation to produce jobs that employ young people and can’t be moved overseas.

Founded in Chicago in 1940 by Saul Alinsky, the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) fosters social change by organizing among natural allies in trade unions, churches, education, nonprofits, and other voluntary associations. The IAF is founded on a belief in deep democracy, and it draws its members and leaders from all strata of society.

The Spokane Alliance, an IAF affiliate started in 2002, took on as an early project a demand that the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) stop hiring out-of-area workers for public-works projects. When 750 Spokane Alliance members showed up at a hearing to negotiate with the BPA, the result was a commitment to local hires, with 80 percent of the work on a half-billion dollar repair job done by locals.

In a world where buildings produce more than 30 to 40 percent of CO2, the future is in making buildings cleaner. The building trades that belong to the Spokane Alliance are training young people in the skills that will transform existing buildings and build new ones to operate on tiny carbon budgets. Negotiations with the Spokane School Board around a $161 million bond for energy efficiency in school buildings resulted in training 63 apprentices during building retrofits. An offshoot of the Spokane Alliance, Sustainable Works NW, is working on four retrofit projects, with more in the pipeline.

Soph Davenport is a young sheet-metal worker from the Puget-Sound based Sound Alliance. “In college, I did some token stuff about the environment,” Davenport says, “but I had no sense of being able to do anything about climate change. Now I’m doing something that really makes a difference.”

“That sense of purpose is critical for the many young people who will not be going to college,” says Tom Cruver, of the Bethel Education Associ-ation. In his 37 years of teaching, Cruver has seen a steady decline in programs to prepare young people for the trades. He’s joined with the Sound Alliance to push for developing a skill center in the Bethel School District, near Tacoma, Washington, to bring back the classes that give direction to kids not headed for college.

During the next 30 years, 75 percent of buildings will be replaced nationally, according to Dick Harmon, IAF Northwest lead organizer. With green building techniques, new buildings can reduce energy use by more than half, Harmon says. The IAF plans to be there, putting its empowered citizens to work in “good green jobs that can’t be outsourced.”

Stopping climate change is not a job for the elite. “You have to have the middle class and the working poor to build political power to do anything about climate change,” Harmon says. The Spokane and Sound Alliances and their citizen leaders are making those groups leaders in confronting climate change.


Doug Pibel wrote this article as part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Doug is YES! managing editor. Photo of Doug Pibel
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