By Katie Talbot, Holyoke Organizer for Neighbor to Neighbor

The Barr Foundation rescinding the $275,000 grant to the city of Holyoke is a sad loss for the city’s residents and future. The grant was an opportunity for the city of Holyoke to analyze its energy use with the pro-bono support of Rocky Mount Institute (a nationally recognized organization), Conservation Law Foundation and UMass. It was an opportunity for residents, business owners, city departments and the utility company to come together to re-imagine Holyoke, as a 100% green renewable energy city.

The lack of action from a few city councilors based on misinformation and fear, yet again, leaves the people of Holyoke out. Throughout the debates in the city Council the concern of having Neighbor to Neighbor as a player in this partnership, whose role was to share education and bring the voices of the community to the table, has been cited as the reason for not accepting these much needed resources. What we see from the council is a lack of interest in broadening civic participation beyond the subcommittees of the council, a lack of faith in their city residents to be entrusted with determining their own energy future, a blatant disregard of marginalized voices, and in truth, a silencing of community voices.

We have witnessed the benefits of having the community involved in the decision-making process with the closing of the Mt. Tom Coal plant which has been beneficial to Holyoke’s residents and environment. We have also witnessed the long-term failures of projects when the community voices are not heard in the decision making process.

We are witnessing the protests throughout our country, black people and allies screaming to be heard and valued after centuries of being left out of the process.

A city councilor expressed concern that Neighbor to Neighbor hoped to advance an agenda through the climate action process. To which I say: yes, absolutely, guilty as charged. Yes, we want to push an agenda that values the lives of what we know as the new majority, working class people, black people, brown folks, the poor, Immigrants and LGBTQ folks.

Yes, we absolutely want to push an agenda that prioritizes the public interest, that puts people and the planet before private profit. Yes we want to drive an agenda that acknowledges the climate crisis we are ALL facing and seeks alternatives to fossil fuel dependency for the future of our children. Yes, we want to champion an agenda that creates space and opportunity to bring folks into the decision making processes that have left them out for far too long.

I am saddened for the residents of Holyoke that fear won over hope and opportunity. Neighbor to Neighbor will continue to strengthen the voices of Holyoke, we will continue to support residents of Holyoke to take leadership roles in their communities and we will continue to support structural changes in Holyoke that value the new majority.

Katie Talbot is a Holyoke organizer for Neighbor to Neighbor