(Tompkins Weekly, 1-31-24, by Fenya Bartram and Sunrise Ithaca)
In 2019, after years of community organizing, the City of Ithaca passed the Ithaca Green New Deal. Inspired by the Green New Deal proposed to Congress by the national Sunrise Movement, it sets two main goals. One is to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, given the urgent need to slash emissions to meet internationally agreed upon targets for a safe planet. The other main goal is to ensure that the benefits of the Ithaca Green New Deal are shared among all local communities to reduce historical, social, and economic inequities. These are both ambitious and broad goals, and it is crucial that the City follow these up with a sustained commitment.
Although it’s been four years, the City still hasn’t committed to any comprehensive plan for incorporating the aforementioned equity component; the proposed framework known as Justice50 seeks to serve this role. Modeled after the federal Justice40 program, it requires that at least 50% of investments involved in the Ithaca Green New Deal will go to “climate justice communities.” This will help to ensure that funds go to those who will be most impacted by climate change, including BIPOC, low-income, unhoused, disabled, and other disadvantaged communities. While there are various definitions for “climate justice communities” at different levels of government, the City of Ithaca has developed its own definition to best serve Ithaca’s needs. The definition is based on household-level criteria such as income, food insecurity, education level, and eligibility for needs-based assistance, among others.
Another proposed component of the program is participatory budgeting, which would enable residents to vote directly on how they want to see a portion of tax dollars spent. The current proposal allocates ten percent of the capital budget to participatory budgeting, and includes a broader voting body than is able to vote in current elections; Ithaca residents at least 16 years old would be able to vote regardless of citizenship or voter registration status. The proposals being funded through participatory budgeting wouldn’t need to be related to climate change; the idea is to let people decide what their communities need. As Rebecca Evans, Director of Sustainability for the City, has argued, democratic engagement is necessary for long term sustainability. Giving people, including younger people and those traditionally left out of democratic processes, experience creating and voting on proposals can help these people learn what it means to be engaged community members, as well as empowering them to have a voice in their future which is at stake.
If we want the City to follow through on its promises of equity and climate justice, we must keep pressure on decision makers to move forward with and support Justice50. It is particularly crucial for those whom the program is intended to serve to have a voice in shaping it. Tell the Common Council why Justice50 matters to you and your community and how it can be implemented in the most beneficial and productive way. Public meetings, such as Common Council meetings, provide an opportunity for people to share public comments. This is a valuable way for residents to make their voices heard. There are a few ways to offer public comments (see tinyurl.com/Justice50-Public-Comment). Spoken comments may be made at the beginning of the meeting, either in-person or via Zoom. Alternatively, short written comments may be submitted until 4PM the day of the meeting. We will update the document linked here when important opportunities for public commenting about Justice50 arise.
Sunrise Ithaca has been working to let people know about Justice50 and get feedback from the community through hosting community meetings. These include presentations and allow participants time to ask questions. Furthermore, participants are invited to discuss in small groups, giving feedback which is written down by facilitators and brought to the City.
Our next community meeting will be held at Southside Community Center on February 3rd from 3-5 PM (see tinyurl.com/Justice50Meeting). In addition, Sunrise is collecting feedback via a form (see tinyurl.com/Justice50-Survey) for those who can’t attend the meeting or have further thoughts to share. If you can, please take the time to fill out this form so we can hear your insight. Feel free to get in touch with us anytime via email at su***************@gm***.com if you have questions or would like to get involved. Help us make the Ithaca Green New Deal serve everyone in our community, not just the rich and privileged!
Fenya Bartram is a member of Sunrise Ithaca, a youth-centered climate justice organization, and a junior at Cornell majoring in Environmental Engineering.
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