Last Wednesday, I took a group of Haverford students to a non-violent direct action led by the Earth Quaker Action Team at the headquarters of PECO, the largest utility in Pennsylvania. We rose very early and took the train to the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia where we met up with the rest of the group before departing for the PECO building. Days before, several of us had attended a training where we learned about the goals of the action and prepared for the action to come. Now it was time to put all that we had learned to use.
Dirty electricity is an assault on our communities and climate. Our region suffers from high rates of asthma, smog days, and increasingly hot and wet weather. These human-made crises steal our health, security, and economic opportunity, but they hit communities of color and economically vulnerable communities the hardest.
PECO built this system and profits over a million dollars every day from it.
PECO has a problem. In March, severe storms fueled by the warming arctic caused as many outages as Hurricane Sandy. And chronic smog is getting worse in every county in our metro region and South Jersey. The culprit? Climate change and dirty power, with emissions from fossil fuels trapped in ever hotter air.
Yet instead of cleaning up its electricity and using solar to bring new jobs and lower bills to impoverished neighborhoods, PECO is maneuvering for a rate increase.
At my first worshipful action at PECO, I joined the circle of worshipers and tried to tune into spirit but it was really hard, almost impossible. My eyes darted around the lobby as a steady flow of people came in and out of the revolving doors. Everyone had to scan a badge as they passed through the lobby. Security personnel were taking pictures of us and alerting someone higher up that “EQAT is in the lobby.” As I watched, one of the guards moved a partition around our group, boxing us in.
I also watched in amazement as many of the other friends closed their eyes and held the silent peace.
One by one each volunteer stepped up to the shallow pans of water. Against a backdrop of security personnel, each one carefully leaned on two supporters and allowed a third to remove their shoes and socks and gently wash their feet. Eighteen times, Rev. Holston of POWER lay his hands on their backs and offered a blessing. They carried the blessings of all of us as they faced arrest to interrupt PECO's daily profit from dirty energy, and demand transformation for green jobs and justice.
At a powerful action on Tuesday, March 27, more than 60 members of the Power Local Green Jobs Campaign processed in silence to PECO headquarters. Our action was a Day of Mourning for the lives and opportunities lost because of PECO’s continued reliance on fossil fuels. These losses are not abstract. In front of the largest utility in our state, we heard personal stories about children struggling with painful asthma, neighbors trying to foster community in the midst of oil refinery pollution, and Philadelphians struggling with poverty because of the lack of good jobs. We honored this loss with religious symbolism from different traditions - tearing of fabric, wailing, dance, and the mourner’s kaddish.