How a 100% Clean Energy Resolution Brought a Community Together

I started Reading for 100, the Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 group in Reading, Pennsylvania, because I believe in a better future. On Monday, that future became more tangible than ever.

On what was already a monumental day for Pennsylvania, the 100th anniversary of the state ratifying women’s voting rights, I stood with my community before a female-majority city council as they unanimously passed a resolution committing Reading to 100% clean energy by 2050. Just as it had been a hundred years earlier, a community that for too long felt voiceless, powerless, and inconsequential, had now united toward a better vision of the future. This time our mark on history made Reading the 130th city in the US to commit to clean energy.  

The women’s movement, which took life in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, started with a vision, codified in a resolution that defined the goal of a future in which women could vote. That vision united and inspired women far and wide to have the courage to join the effort. 

The example set forth by those women made it clear that visions -- resolutions -- connect us with something extremely powerful: each other. Now, in the face of a climate catastrophe, we need each other more than ever. 

Supporters outside Reading City Hall before the city council voted on the 100% renewable energy resolution. Photo by Joanne Kilgour

As a teacher and mother of six, I am inspired by my children’s and my students’ hope for the future. I want to protect that future that is full of opportunity, unity, and hope, not just for my kids but for every kid. I want to ensure a transition to 100% clean energy works for our whole community -- every one of us. 

As with the women’s movement in 1848, which only secured the vote for white women in 1919, not everyone has benefited equally from visions of a better future. That reality is clear when we acknowledge that, even today, Reading remains a deeply inequitable city with a historically high poverty rate. We know that when the heat waves come, the richest among us will just turn up the air conditioning. When the floods come, the wealthy will move to higher ground. But what about the people who can’t pay more for power? Who can’t move to higher ground? Who can’t pay more for medical care or medications? Their voices matter, too. 

On March 9, 2019, Reading for 100, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Make the Road PA hosted a public event to learn about and discuss a 100% clean, renewable energy transition. Photo by Amberly Geoghegan

“It’s easy to feel insignificant,” said Wangari Maathai, another of my inspirations for starting the Reading for 100 campaign in 2017. Maathai was a Kenyan activist who founded the Green Belt Movement, responsible for planting over 51 million trees, in response to devastating deforestation and food insecurity.

“There’s such a sense of powerlessness,” Maathai once said as a segue into the telling of her story of the hummingbird. It goes like this: A huge forest is burning down, and all of the animals run out of the forest to escape the devastation. They stand on the edge of the forest just watching it burn, overwhelmed. But one hummingbird sees a stream in the distance. And she goes to the stream, takes a drop of water in her beak, flies back over the forest, and drops it on the flames. Then she returns to the stream for another drop. Back and forth she goes, dropping tiny drops of water on the flames while the rest of the animals stand and watch, bigger animals like elephants who could do much more to help. “What are you doing?” they ask her. “Are you crazy? You’re too small! The fire is too big!”

The hummingbird turns back only for a second to answer. She tells them, “I’m doing the best I can.” 

This is one benchmark in a long-term campaign to build an equitable and just energy future for Reading. This resolution and the vision it represents is the sound of public will, the strength of collective voice.

Starting Reading for 100 was my way of doing the best I can. But it would have been futile if it hadn’t connected me with my community. I can still remember the first few clumsy times I stood before community members, the Reading City Council, and the Reading Environmental Advisory Council, and how nervously and inarticulately I explained this idea of a future of 100% clean energy in our city. But the more I spoke, the more others responded. Little by little, the relationships I cultivated gave me the knowledge and confidence to push harder. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t alone, not by a long shot. 

The resolution took shape as a result of many conversations, voices, and efforts. In fact, community relationships have been responsible for every step of this initiative. Wangari Maathai inspired me to take the first daunting steps, but the people of the greater Reading community were the ones to show me what is truly possible. 

This is one benchmark in a long-term campaign to build an equitable and just energy future for Reading. This resolution and the vision it represents are the sound of public will, the strength of collective voice. By passing it, we commit ourselves to each other, to the work of making 100% clean and renewable energy a reality that benefits us all. The technology is out there. The funding is out there. The path is achievable. But most importantly, we are here, together, as a community. 

One hummingbird can bring a drop of water to the flames. But a community of hummingbirds can make it rain. Reading has already demonstrated the power of community work. Together, I know we will build the future this resolution defines.

Reading is now one of 19 communities in Pennsylvania committed to transitioning to 100% clean, renewable energy for all residences, businesses, and city operations. To see if a Ready For 100 campaign is already active in your city, check here. If not, sign up to attend the next New Orientation Webinar.

Image by Sierra Club

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