Will PECO be the missing piece?

by Duncan Wright and Christy Tavernelli

On a sunny day, over 70 Earth Quaker Action Team members and allies met on the Porch, a public patio next to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. The group ranged from age 4 to 86. We had with us nine giant puzzle pieces, many good singers, and many new supporters.

This was the first action of our Power Local Green Jobs campaign, which demands that PECO (Philadelphia’s local electric utility) support the local economy by buying electricity from rooftop solar in North Philadelphia. We are asking PECO to contract with companies training local workers, especially unionized workers and people of color.

Before the action, the group rehearsed. The emcee stressed that at this very first action, the spirit was “invitational, not adversarial.” A member serving as spiritual anchor asked EQAT to remember that we would be putting together not just literal puzzle pieces, but pieces of a peaceful world. She reminded EQAT that groups all around the world are doing what we are doing. She asked us to remember the “spirit within us and between us.”

We walked over the Market Street Bridge to PECO singing “Woke Up This Morning” and carrying our puzzle pieces, and stood in front of the PECO building. The puzzle pieces formed an 8x12 picture of the Center City skyline from North Philadelphia. Each piece of the puzzle represented the capacities already present to create a just and sustainable city. One represented the sun, and the possibility of limitless renewable energy that could help stop climate change. Another piece represented North Philadelphia, a potential leader in rooftop solar where people could flourish working green jobs.

After eight of the nine pieces had been put in place, the puzzle was almost complete. The one piece left included the PECO building. This piece represented PECO’s potential to spur a large rooftop solar project in North Philadelphia, responding to climate change and our city’s unemployment crisis.

Would PECO put their piece in the puzzle to complete it?

We needed to find out.

Three EQAT members walked into the PECO lobby with piece number nine. They spoke with several PECO employees and asked them to call CEO Craig Adams down to make a public commitment to green jobs in North Philadelphia. Staff reported that Craig Adams was “not available” -- despite EQAT making their action date public to PECO. PECO declined to send anyone else out to put the piece in place. EQATers engaged staff for several minutes about the message of the puzzle and our demand that PECO power local green jobs.

Meanwhile allies spoke to the EQATers outside. Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark from the Sisters of Saint Joseph cited Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. She said that environmental degradation is a sin -- and that where there is a sin, we are supposed to do something. Rabbi Julie Greenberg from POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) also spoke. Laura Rigell (Swarthmore College ‘15) reported that Serenity House in North Philadelphia is planning to start a worker-owned solar installation cooperative, and she looked forward to working together.

The three EQATers who had been inside the building returned with PECO’s piece, which PECO had declined to put in place. The Power Local Green Jobs puzzle remains incomplete. The three reported that PECO officials said they “understood” EQAT’s message and demands, but would not respond during the puzzle action.

EQAT committed to continuing to push PECO. “We’ll be back!” announced the emcee, to loud cheers.

The group walked back across the bridge singing to debrief. EQAT members discussed emotions that came up during the action: “clarity,” “unity,” and “appreciation” for the preparation that went into the action. EQATers shared surprising things about the action, including the clear positive reaction from passersby. Pedestrians could understand clearly the message of the puzzle.

One customer who had come to PECO just to pay a bill was moved to jump into the action! “We need this” the person said, affirming the clear and logical message of local renewables for PECO.

The group also welcomed a representative from Hands Off Appalachia, celebrating solidarity and the connection of the current campaign to EQAT’s past Bank Like Appalachia Matters! (BLAM!) Campaign.

The group discussed shared expectations and excitement for next steps, and closed with a song (“Guide My Feet”) and a moment of silence in the midst of the traffic noises. EQAT members left excited to fulfill our promise to keep pushing PECO, at our next action on October 12th.

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