Making Change and Community in Chester/Rockingham

Cheryl Joy-Lipton & Laurel Green met at a climate justice protest and have been working to make grassroots climate solutions happen ever since. Working with 350VT field organizer Jaiel Pulskamp they successfully passed Climate Solutions Resolutions, as well as created a new local climate action group.

Cheryl Joy-Lipton’s Story

I’m Cheryl Joy Lipton and I live in Chester. I’m on the Planning Commission here and Laurel and I started the node. 

Why did I choose to do the resolution? I became aware of it before the election in November, but couldn’t move quickly enough to get anything done because I’m actually new to Vermont; in April it was two years.

The week after I moved, I got on a red-eye bus down to Washington with 350Vermont for the climate March. I have been active for many years and I was looking to be active here in Vermont. I decided that I was going to start a 350Vermont node right where I live because it was too far to go to either Manchester or Brattleboro. I also knew people in my community who needed that kind of education and support.

I had heard about the resolution being passed in Rockingham and I wanted to do a resolution in Chester as well. I wanted to get any information I could from somebody who had done it, so I called 350Vermont. I got Laurel’s contact information and connected with her. I got information about how her community passed the resolution, though it was different because she put it on the ballot and we didn’t have that; the resolution here was going to be part of Town Meeting so it was a little bit different, but I still had to get signatures. 

So I wanted to start the group. I didn’t want to do it by myself because I didn’t have enough time to do the things I already had going. But I felt like I had to because I’ve been trying to fight climate change for so long and I just had to keep on working on it since the problem is still not fixed.

I met Laurel first when we had the Juliana versus the United States rally. It was a pretty good rally: 28 people came. I know Boston only had 48 people at theirs, so the numbers in this tiny little area in Vermont versus Boston made me pretty impressed with us, given that we threw that together in just a couple of weeks.

Fast forward to the resolution. I changed the wording a little bit, not much, and then I sent it to Jaiel, the Solutions Campaign Field Organizer for 350VT, and asked how she liked it. Jaiel changed the renewable energy goal to a hundred percent by 2030 and we left it like that. I printed out a bunch of sheets and Melody and I went to get the signatures. 

We had a limited time to get the signatures and it was an extremely cold January. I was really nervous, standing outside at various places, like the post office, walking around in the frigid temperatures. 

One day I was out on Main Street. I parked my car at the white church and there were a couple of women in the kitchen there. I said, “Do you mind if I just park my car here because I want to get some signatures for a petition on climate change?” They said sure and asked about the petition, so I got their signatures. When I was finished and came back to get my car, there was an old woman walking in the cold with a walker. She was very old and she didn’t have any gloves or mittens on. The walker was metal and she had bare hands. I looked down and on the ground was a candy that my grandfather used to always have, and it was like a sign from him to go talk to that lady. So I did and she signed the resolution. She told me she had been meaning to get gloves and I told her that mittens are actually much better. Later on, I got her some mittens and two weeks later I brought them over to her. She still hadn’t gotten them so it was wonderful. She was really appreciative. 

I met a lot of great people in the community collecting signatures. These people care but are busy and don’t have time to do this stuff. Me too, but I guess we just have to do it anyway. To be safe, I got an extra 30 signatures, so we had a good cushion. 

Now we had the signatures and enough people. At the Town Meeting, I was very nervous. Melody was there with Wally and I sat right behind them. The place was packed. A lot of stuff went on and it was a really long meeting as they were talking about money, about budgets. This resolution was the very last thing on the ballot, like number 28. When we started talking about it, other people said things; because I was so nervous, I was just going to wait to see what other people said, and then I would fill in with things that were missing. 

There was a lot of back-and-forth, a lot of people arguing. One person wanted to table it, and another motioned to table it indefinitely, which would have meant that it was gone for good. It was this huge roller coaster, with some real touchy moments where we almost lost. This went on for about 45 minutes which felt long. 

People said wise things and expressed strong emotions. One person cried, which was really moving. There were some very salient points brought up and there was also silly things, like, “Oh, we’re not responsible…” At the end there was a vote, a verbal vote. The moderator said that we had won, that we had passed the resolution. Somebody wanted to have a hand count but the moderator said he was going to exercise his discretion and said we wouldn’t have a hand count, that the resolution passed. So it was very exciting. A lot of people said it was one of the most exciting town meetings they’ve ever been to. 

Now I’m on the Planning Commission, which is a very important place to have somebody who wants to work on climate change. We have a new town plan coming, new zoning, new development bylaws. In the town plan, we have an energy chapter. We do not have an Energy Committee yet and I want to have one, but we have an energy plan, and it’s a good one. When we’re making our rules on zoning and we’re doing the other stuff, it’s very difficult. I can see the connection with things, but the resolution is not being followed like it ought to in the Planning Commission. I am continuing to push for it. 

The town hasn’t done anything for a just transition, not so far. There are some members of the Planning Commission who want to allow people with land outside of town to continue to be able to cut their property into smaller pieces and be in three R or six R zoning, which has a negative impact on climate work. People in those areas don’t have a lot of money and they want to be able to give a piece of their land to their kids to put a house up. I’m not sure how justice is going to happen for those rural people who are not as well-off. Additionally, the transportation issue is important as well. And we also have some agriculture, which could contribute positively or negatively to climate change. Those people should be reached too. I think we are not doing enough to reach them, it feels important to say this now. The resolution passing shows that climate change is an important issue to many of the residents in this town, but it also shows how the town is a bit divided because it was such a close vote.

Laurel Green’s Story

I’m Laurel Green and I live in Rockingham. I contacted Jaiel, 350VT’s Solutions Campaign Field Organizer, in June last year to find out about the resolution. I had decided to start farming half-time so I could give attention to climate stuff. 

The first step to getting involved was going on the 350Vermont website. I looked at campaigns, and the resolution looked like something I could just pick up and do. Everybody knows about 350Vermont, right? At least that’s how I felt. It was like, okay, where do I turn? I wanted to start being more active and I turned to 350Vermont because I wanted to do local work and the organization was really supportive of me when I had questions, when I was trying to set things up, which was helpful. 

I looked for something I could just plug into it. By the Fourth of July, I had sort of adopted the resolution to work on for my town.

I went and got signatures; I talked to everybody I could. Just that process was transformative for me. It helped me get out the door with an excuse, to figure out how to say things to different people and read who I was talking to.

One of the most exciting stories for me happened when I approached some people on their porch. It was an older man with two grown sons and the older man said, “We don’t do stuff like that. The government never did anything for us, why should we do anything for the government?” But one of the young guys said, “Let me see what you’ve got.” He was interested. And in my conversation with him, I talked about the fair and just transition, saying that this needs to happen, that we need to have renewable energy for everybody in this state, not just rich people and not just urban people, and that’s what won him over. He signed it. Then his brother signed. The old guy never did sign, but that was okay. It really took changing my story from just saying, “This is about climate,” to saying why this could make a difference for them as people who were not middle class.

A man who’s on the town Energy Committee decided to help me with the petitions and so between the two of us, we got a sufficient number of signatures. The town clerk’s office had told me how many signatures we needed, and we actually got more than that. This was good because some signatures weren’t valid. 

Then she said, “I forgot to tell you, you also have to present it at the Select Board meeting.” But I was going to be out of town on the day of that meeting. Because I wasn’t going to be there, I called and talked to all of the people on the Select Board or left a message saying what we were doing and why, so if they had questions they could talk about it beforehand. 

The other person who’d collected signatures was just arriving back in town that night, but he said he’d try to get there. He arrived at the end of the meeting, which was lucky because it was the last thing on the agenda. 

I had conversations with a couple of people; the one I had the longest conversation with ended by saying he was in support of the resolution. But in fact, he tried to prevent it from going on the November ballot. The other person who helped get signatures told him, “You’re welcome to your opinion, but almost 200 people in our town have said they want to have a chance to vote on this. Let everybody else have their vote and you can have yours too.” He was able to sway things so it did go on the ballot.

Then I ran out of energy. Fall harvest was in full swing and I didn’t get to do any other work in support of the resolution. I think the day before the vote, I emailed everybody I knew in town and asked them to please vote yes. I reached about 30 people – I live in a town of 5,000 people – and the resolution passed by more than three quarters. That let me know that there are people in my town who are like-minded, so that’s been really great. 

Doing the resolution really was a springboard for me to become more active in lots of different ways. I’m the transformation story!

After the resolution passed, I started attending Energy Committee meetings. Usually it’s only two people; it’s a volunteer committee. After the vote, I emailed to let them know it had passed and that I was excited. I got an email back from the chair of the committee saying, “Now help us write this into the town energy plan,” which was exciting. The energy plan is being revised now.

At our Town Meeting in March, I rose when it was time for other businesses, and I thanked the town for passing the resolution with such a strong vote. And I thanked the Energy Committee for their work specifically, so I’m pleased I got to do that. 

During the school portion of Town Meeting, I rose and asked why they haven’t set up solar panels or bought into community solar for our schools. One school has it, but we need to do that for the whole town. They gave me lots of procedural information, but they couldn’t give me an actual answer. At least I brought it up. Speaking up is going better for me.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the just transition is happening. People who have money can buy their own solar panels or buy an electric vehicle, which is great, but I don’t see how it’s really working for people without money. 

On the other hand, there are community solar arrays around. One of the people on the Energy Committee has worked really hard and succeeded in getting one school to benefit from the net metering. 

Also, the man who helped me is really interested in home weatherization. I don’t know the details, but there’s a very high percentage of rental properties in our town and most of them are not well weatherized. I personally know somebody who moved into a really nice apartment, which was great in the summer, but when winter came, she had a $500 heating bill for her tiny place. She actually had to move out because she couldn’t afford the heat on a fixed income. The guys at the Energy Committee are well aware of that and apparently if an apartment building has a number of people who are on subsidized housing who want to have the apartment weatherized, they can put things in motion. So doing some tenant organising might be useful to get that moving. That definitely fits into the just transition piece.

I’m at the beginning of helping people stay involved. I’m taking the Power Up training and learning about community organizing, which is really exciting. I’m moving into a village center after living rurally, and what’s ahead of me after the move settles is to follow up with the people who signed the petition, and follow up with the people I’ve met. The new member engagement work is what’s exciting to me right now. That’s what’s happening next.

I wanted to mention that at Town Meeting, I rose when it was time for other business, and I thanked the town for passing the resolution with such a strong vote. And I thanked the Energy Committee for their work specifically, so I’m pleased I got to do that. 

And then during the school portion, I rose and asked why they haven’t set up solar panels or bought into community solar for our schools. One school has it, but we need to do that for the whole town. They gave me lots of procedural information but they couldn’t give me an actual answer. But at least I brought it up. Speaking up is going better for me.