From May 26-28, solutionaries from St. Paul, St. Louis and Omaha gathered in Omaha to discuss the Midwestern Summer of Solutions programs just weeks before they started. At the gathering, we brainstormed safe space ideas as well as goals for SOS. We then discussed ways of defining what it means to be a solutionary and ways of orienting new solutionaries to our programs.
Much of the rest of the time was spent planning how to ensure successful communication occurs within our teams, between teams, and with the broader climate movement, as well as how we can make Summer of Solutions and Grand Aspirations grow ever-larger while maintaining sustainable sources of funding. We also had time to relax and get to know one another better, including a hike in the nearby Loess Hills of Western Iowa.
Summer of Solutions had a bit of a slow start here in Omaha, partly because some of us were not in Omaha before summer began. We also had challenges with communications and research because we do not have internet in our house. This changed a few weeks ago, however, when we got a new office space near our house. In recent weeks we have begun to get involved with a few large projects.
One of our goals is to engage the North Omaha community on issues like environmental justice, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green jobs. This area of the city contains some of the nation’s most impoverished black neighborhoods, and (probably not coincidentally) one of the country’s most-polluting coal-burning power plants. Although we are still mostly in the research stage, our goals are to educate the residents of “North O” and help people realize how harmful the plant is. Ultimately, we would love to see the plant shut down in the future. The electricity from the plant could be replaced with renewable energy options—Nebraska has incredible potential for wind and biomass energy—and the lost jobs could be replaced with a green jobs corps.
On the subject of green jobs and energy, we are also helping to inform community members about a government-sponsored home weatherization program for low-income households. Currently, the program has not been advertised much, and we want people to be able to get the help if they are eligible for it. It has been challenging to find the resources to be able to inform thousands of people of the program since we have limited money and people, but we have been fostering relationships with other people who are excited to help us.
Local foods access is another of our projects. Several farmers’ markets exist in Omaha right now, but none in Midtown or the Gifford Park neighborhood. With the number of community and household gardens in the neighborhood, as well as numerous community-supported agriculture farms in Greater Omaha, we think that Gifford Park could use a market for people to share and sell the foods they grow. We would also like to get local foods into the stores and restaurants in the area. The people we have talked to already seem excited to help us out with this venture.
So far, my experience in Omaha has been great! I was slightly confused and overwhelmed at first, but the gathering helped me gain a better understanding of the program. As the summer flies by, I am becoming more and more excited about the future of Omaha. While meeting with various individuals and organizations, I have discovered that many Omahans are just as excited about creating a more ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable city. I had never really thought of it as a very progressive place, but now I realize that is changing. We still have challenges ahead of us, of course, but I am thrilled to be a part of the first Omaha Summer of Solutions!