Pennsylvania

Mayor John Fetterman

Mayor John Fetterman (or Mayor John, as he likes to be called) is the -you guessed it- Mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania. After coming to Braddock in 2001 to work in a youth program, he was inspired by the towns “malignant beauty” and decided to stay. Wanting some leverage to help revitalize the post-industrial town in disrepair, he ran for Mayor and won by one vote. Since then, he’s been on a misson to save the city that has lost 90% of its population and business since its steel industry left in the 1980s.

Braddock, Pennsylvania is a small town near Pittsburgh with a population less than 3,000 (down from a former population of 20,000). In its heyday, it was bustling and prosperous. However, because of America’s tendency to have a “laissez-faire” approach to failing cities (unlike its approach to failing banks), once the industry left town, there were few attempts to preserve the community. People left in droves and buildings lost so much of their value that landlords resorted to burning them down. The town, however, has not lost its strong-willed and they are the residents that give Mayor John hope to turn the area around. He believes that no community deserves to be abandoned.

Already having reached its low point, Mayor John believes that Braddock has no way to go but up. With a 25% unemployment rate, Mayor John’s vision is for Braddock to have a green-infused rejuvenation. He sees the abandoned steel plants and buildings as a foundation for a green energy sector. He sees the 1,000 vacant lots from demolished structures as spaces to institute urban agriculture (the town no longer has a grocery store). With an influx of wind turbine and solar panel production, the town would have jobs for its residents in a field that marks America’s future. Urban gardens would not only provide a healthy source of food for the community but would also provide kids with something productive to do- an alternative to getting involved in the streets.

Mayor John’s number one focus is to give Braddock hope, by focusing on improving its social justice. As he says, “everyone deserves to live in a community where they’re safe and where conditions are continually improving”. He has used art as one way to inspire the community and promote its expansion. His non-profit, Braddock Redux, helps run the Braddock Youth Project, a summer program for teens that teaches them silkscreening skills and how to create PSAs. It also offers a renovated art space with cheap rent to attract more artists to the community. Mayor John also supports graffiti art and has allowed local groups to make their mark in ways that enhance the community’s landscape. He believes that all of his efforts are part of a larger “organic grassroots community building”.

With median housing prices around $5,000, Braddock has potential for newcomers to start afresh. The Mayor’s website describes the town as: “richly historic, large enough to matter, small enough to impact, [presenting] an unparallelled opportunity for the urban pioneer, artist, or misfit to join in building a new kind of community.” Braddock and other rust belt cities represent a new “frontier” for 21st century development, which Mayor John sees in the green revolution. He doesn’t plan on leaving the town anytime soon and will continue to fight for its revival.

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Jen and Jim Slotterback

Jen and Jim Slotterback are a wife and husband team from Pennsylvania who have become newfound activists against fracking. One day while walking her dog, Jen noticed a well pad stake (for drilling) in her local Rider Park. She discovered that the park had been surveyed for its natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) potential and that in 11 days, the community foundation that controlled the park was going to make a decision on whether to allow fracking to begin. Although Jen had never campaigned before, she felt that her park’s health and beauty were deeply at risk- so, she joined with Jim to organize their community to try to influence the board’s vote.

Jen and Jim realized that opening up the park to fracking would mean a plethora of new, crisscrossing access roads and pipelines. Three acres of forest would be leveled for each well pad, and noise and dust would ensue. Furthermore, the millions of gallons of chemical wastewater produced in the process could potentially contaminate the local water systems. Jen and Jim decided to use a multi-tier approach to prevent these catastrophes. They wrote a letter to the editor of their newspaper, they created a website about the issue, they distributed a petition to influence the board, and they formed a facebook group to mobilize the public. They also allied with Responsible Drilling Alliance, a grassroots, all-volunteer organization that sponsored an ad in support of Rider Park in the local paper.

The victorious results of their 11-day efforts were 4,000 signatures and a unanimous vote by the board against drilling in the park. After saving their 850 acres of paradise, Jen and Jim felt moved to protect more endangered land in the state. Currently, all of Pennsylvania’s state parks are subject to being leased for natural gas drilling. The Governor, Tom Corbett, strongly supports fracking and took in $800,000 in election contributions from the oil and gas companies. He opposes the ability of communities to create ordinances prohibiting fracking and the issuance of taxes or fees on drilling companies.

Jen and Jim, with Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA), desire stronger regulations in the natural gas industry, a moratorium on drilling in state forests and more help for citizens harmed by the fracking process. Drilling in Pennsylvania is continuing at a rapid rate and state enforcement capability is limited. Each fracking rig typically drills 8000 feet vertically and 4000 feet horizontally, so a great quantity of priceless state land is at stake. Jen, Jim and RDA have teamed up with the larger environmental organization, Earthjustice, which has featured their petition on its website and created a Citizen’s Tip Guide to fighting fracking. RDA also has posted an incredible stream of YouTube videos explaining the fracking process and its impacts.

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