-from Summer of Solutions Omaha organizer and Midwesterner extraordinaire: Lance Brisbois-
Creating the Space…
This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Omaha Summer of Solutions program. The Summer of Solutions began in the summer of 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota by an ambitious group of student environmental activists. Being from the greater Omaha area, I decided that I would love to get involved with something like that in Omaha for summer 2009. Planning began many months in advance and became a very inclusive process with anyone who wanted to help out…either from a distance or on the ground. Dozens of people expressed interest in the program. The possibilities seemed endless—we could work on energy efficiency, clean energy, transportation, local food, building community, and myriad other sustainability-based initiatives.
Planning was difficult since most of us were not actually in Omaha during spring semester. Fortunately, we were able to secure one grant for our work. By the time summer rolled around, it came down to only four people who were seriously interested in making the program work. With so few people and such little money, we had to re-think our entire strategy. By the end of June we decided to focus mainly on the North Omaha Station coal-fired power plant. Though not situated in the Gifford Park neighborhood, the coal plant has far-reaching detrimental effects for all of Omaha.
We quickly began researching about the plant and created a strategic campaign plan. Our ultimate goal is to see the dirty coal plant be shut down and replaced with clean, renewable energy sources. The neighborhoods around the plant, literall one of the in the country, receive a disproportionate brunt of the filthy pollutants from the burning of coal. This is a terrible, likely not coincidental, injustice for the residents of North Omaha.
It was challenging to find some information about the power plant, so research ended up taking more time than we had originally thought it would. We hope to continue working on this campaign as much as we can this fall and beyond by engaging impacted communities in dialogues about the North Omaha Station and educating people about its many negative effects. We also plan to meet with OPPD and city officials at some point to see what their thoughts are on incorporating more renewable energy into the city’s energy systems.
Aside from that coal campaign, we had a few other accomplishments. We helped educated the Gifford Park and Joslyn Castle neighborhoods about a government-sponsored home weatherization and energy efficiency program for low-income households. We volunteered at the Gifford Park Community Bike Co-Op, where we helped fix bicycles for our neighbors. After acquiring approval from the owner, we created a small park and garden in what was formerly a vacant lot, aptly titled “People’s Park”.
We attended meetings and events with other sustainability-minded folks in the Omaha area, which helped establish a broad network of people to collaborate with in the future. By working with these various organizations, as well as getting to know our neighbors, we created a strong sense of community. We made the best of what little resources we had, and established firm grounding for our future work in the Omaha area.