Next Steps for Local Government
By Patricia DeMarco, Ph.D., Chair of CONNECT, Vice President of Forest Hills Borough Council
The Marshall Plan for Middle America Summit took place virtually on September 27, 28 and October 4,5 in partnership with The City of Pittsburgh, Heartland Capital Strategies, ReImagine Appalachia, and Resilient Cities Catalyst.
As we have been deliberating over these last four days about how the communities of Middle America can address the challenges and opportunities facing us together, we must recognize that we are collectively in an existential battle for the survival of our children. There is no more time to play games, for political posturing and jousting. If we do not take bold action to address climate change NOW, more people will die. And our children will face a bleak future. The laws of Nature are not negotiable; we must stop burning fossil fuels, or the Earth will continue warming beyond the range of tolerance for life as we know it.
Given that we face a crisis, it is exciting to come together to plan the transformation of our economy and our society so we can address the climate issues in ways that also address equity, build resilience, bring more inclusive practices to our operations, and redress social and environmental injustice. Solving the interlocking problems associated with moving away from fossil fuels also offers the opportunity to take the skills of our workers who built America and re-direct them to re-building America for the 21st century and beyond. We are beginning to count and value not only the next quarter profits but the community benefits: good paying union jobs, cleaner air and water, healthier people, and safer communities.
Capacity building for local communities is a key to the success of our transformation to a resilient sustainable society. Local governments are on the front line when people need help. Yet, many small communities like mine are constrained in the competition for big government funded programs. We have no “Planning Department.” We have no grant writer or development office. We certainly do not have 50::50 or worse 90::10 matching funds to access federal grants. So, we succeed by coalition building. CONNECT- The Congress of Neighboring Communities including the City of Pittsburgh and 42 neighbors- work together to solve common problems and share resources. We also connect the intellectual capital of the university of Pittsburgh to applied problems in our communities in real time. Problems like opioid addiction and planning for climate change, and shared police, fire, and emergency services. We also join coalitions on a regional basis like ReImagine Appalachia, a Blueprint for a New Deal that works for all of us in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky to build on our strengths and come together as a block in Congress so we are at the table, not on the menu. Along with the Marshall Plan for Middle America, we will have shovel-ready projects to cue up when federal programs materialize.
In all of this, the workers are essential. When we include workers and labor unions in the discussions about what the future can be and how we can get there, they keep focus on real jobs that pay well. We are not seeking to retrain people for jobs they don’t want in places they don’t want to go. We need to restructure the fossil extractive industry workforce to capture their excellent skills and turn them toward the essential work of the green economy. We need to be sure there are pathways to good union jobs as we create new enterprises for renewable energy systems, a circular materials management system, and regenerative agriculture and permaculture, especially to heal abandoned mined lands. Workers deserve the right to organize and negotiate for fair wages and safe working conditions. When we invest in communities, we invest in building the local workforce too.
Finally, it is critical that we keep building the story. We have a vision of a more just, equitable and inclusive society, a better America. We are already seeing the technology penetrate for net zero energy buildings, for electrified public transit and vehicles, for advanced manufacturing. We do not have a technology problem! We do have a problem of moral fortitude to commit to making the necessary political choices to move forward. Ignoring these issues will not solve them but articulating the vision for a better tomorrow will change the tide of obstruction. People do not move toward what they cannot visualize. People will not move to something they perceive as a hardship. We are building a better America already. We need to tell the stories of success and multiply the impact of our work by standing together. The power of this country is vested in the People in our Constitution. We must use that power wisely and use it well to solve this crisis and reach the next plateau of excellence in a resilient sustainable future with justice, equity and inclusion for all of the people.
 Marshall Plan for Middle America Roadmap https://www.sustainablebusiness.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/marshall_plan_for_middle_america_roadmap_0.pdf
 CONNECT- The Congress of Neighboring Communities operated through the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. https://www.connect.pitt.edu
 See the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint, jobs reports and resources here https://reimagineappalachia.org