Tonawanda Coke Campaign Team

This post comes to you from the Tonawanda Coke campaign team: Maria Tisby, Sue Kelley, Kristen Cascio, Mr. Red, James Jones, Joel Bernosky, Gary Schulenberg and Emily Terrana.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth in Octavia Butler’s wisdom that “the only lasting truth is change.” This year has brought with it a number of changes and shifts in how and at what speed we do our work, but the one thing that has remained constant is the passion that we have for grassroots community organizing for environmental justice. This year we organized against the impossible to make our demands inevitable, and we won.

In spite of being up against some of the most well funded and politically connected people in WNY, our team carried through. This summer, we successfully organized for and won a community advisory group at Tonawanda Coke that gives the community a real seat at the table with decision makers to demand this toxic site be cleaned up properly. Our team united with a dedicated and brilliant team of geologists, engineers, hydro geologists, chemists, environmental scientists and epidemiologists to shine a bright light on the decades long list of environmental and public health dangers at Tonawanda Coke.

Through our organizing, we were able to mobilize dozens of community members, elected officials and public agencies to submit technical comments to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation on the proposed testing plan at the tax-payer funded Tonawanda Coke remediation site, we held the Environmental Protection Agency accountable to report back to the larger community on their role in the cleanup and we successfully campaigned for 74 acres of the 160 acre site to be cleaned up by the primary polluter, Honeywell International. We even made three animated videos to break down the ins and outs of the Superfund and Brownfield programs for all of our members to engage with now and for years to come. Our organizing made a difference, and we’re not done yet.

In our work, we are often told “no.” We are told by people with power, over and over again, that our stories aren’t true, that our research isn’t good enough, that our dreams are unreasonable and unrealistic and that we need to stay in our lane. We are told that we do not have enough power to win. This year, during a global pandemic and a chaotic and divisive election cycle, we proved them wrong. Our dedication to our community’s dignity, health, joy and justice has been, and will always be, more powerful than those who are clinging to the death rattle of white supremacy, environmental and economic injustice and an economy that does not care if we live or die.We believe that we borrow our land to live. It gives us trust that we will undo harm when we move on, and we must honor that in all we do.

As we reflect on this year and look into 2021, we know that our work is far from finished. We will continue to organize for a robust cleanup at Tonawanda Coke, and we will not stop until we know that every inch of the site is taken care of. We also know that Tonawanda Coke is not the only hazardous waste site in our communities, and we are committed to ensuring that each and every site that pollutes our backyards is cleaned up and that those responsible are brought to justice.

But we cannot do this work alone. We need you to join us in supporting our bold dreams for a world that centers health, dignity, joy and justice. When you join our work, you are joining a community that cares for one another and puts in the hard work to make our visions a reality.

Can you join us by becoming a member or supporter of Clean Air today so that we can take flight in our fight?

With love and justice,

The Tonawanda Coke Team

Maria Tisby, Sue Kelley, Kristen Cascio, Mr. Red, James Jones, Joel Bernosky, Gary Schulenberg and Emily Terrana

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