Annemarie Coman, Edith Avila Olea, and Kayla Jacobs
By: Annemarie Coman
Originally published in The Visitation, the newspaper of the Nativity House Catholic Worker, a house of hospitality for expectant mothers located in Lockport, IL. Annemarie currently serves as the full time intern at Nativity House. She also served as the 2017/18 CCHD Intern with the Justice and Peace Ministry.
Recently I had the privilege of joining the contingent from the Diocese of Joliet for the Environmental Lobby Day in Springfield. This was my second time ever doing a legislative visit, and my first time lobbying in Springfield. It was quite an experience to say the least.
On April 26th, our group met at the Diocesan Office bright and early and made the drive together out to Springfield. Once there, we stopped at the Catholic Conference of Illinois, one of the main organizers of the Environmental Lobby Day. They gave us some tips before we went out into the field. Another main organizer was Faith in Place, an organization based in Chicago that brings together people of different faiths to work on environmental issues.
The first part of the Environmental Lobby Day consisted of visiting senators and representatives to bring their attention to current environmental bills. The issues supported by the Catholic Conference of Illinois included: a Resolution on Laudato Si, House Bill 5044/Senate Bill 3080: Access to Affordable and Clean Water, and House Bill 4469: Voting Rights for All Illinois Citizens.
We walked around the Capitol and spoke to the different legislators in the districts where we had constituents. We especially focused on the House Bills in order to convince lawmakers to vote yes for Clean Water and Voting Rights for All Illinois Citizens.
As we know, the poor are disproportionately negatively affected by environmental degradation. The clean water bill (HB 5044, SB 3080) was especially striking to me because of the statistics it included. A recent Chicago Tribune report showed that out of nearly 3,000 homes tested in Chicago, 70% had lead in their tap water. This kind of water crisis is absolutely unacceptable and reminds us of the horrors of Flint, Michigan. The bill calls for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to develop a program to help low-income individuals and families get access to affordable, clean water. The bill also requires that within 1 year, every community water system in Illinois must create a plan to remove all public and private lead-pipe service lines connecting to the water main within 10 years.
Another main focus of our lobby day was House Bill 4469, Voting Rights for All Illinois Citizens. This bill protects voting rights of former inmates and those who are detained in a county jail during an election. Currently, most people in these situations do not know that they can vote, or do not have access to a poll, and therefore cannot exercise their right to vote. You may wonder, what does this bill have to do with protecting the environment? The bill also features the Illinois’ Future Energy Job Act, which targets former inmates to fill new jobs in the alternative energy industry.
Overall, I feel that our Environmental Lobby day was very successful. We spoke to several legislators face to face, and for those we could not visit, we left information and a number to call. After the legislative visits, we went to the rally, which was located on the front lawn of the Capitol building. The rally was filled with cheers and rousing speeches of those who support caring for our common home. One adorable moment included a speech by a group of girl scouts requesting that our earth be protected, especially to encourage the thriving of wildlife like butterflies.
Several legislators came forward showing support for the clean water bill and the bill about voting rights. Another major issue that was addressed is the coal bailout. Currently, there is a large coal company called Dynegy (based in Texas) that would like to tax Illinois citizens in order to bail out its failing plants in Illinois. These aging and failing plants are polluting our air significantly, as well as causing dangerous conditions for those who live and work in and around the plants. Also, a recent report from February 2018 reveals that Illinois has plenty of energy without the Dynegy coal plants. In my mind, the bail out is absolutely ridiculous. Asking Illinois citizens to pay to allow Dynegy to continue to pollute our air just doesn’t make any sense. Instead, we need to invest in energy efficient jobs so as to provide safe working conditions for all people while also protecting our common home.
As a Catholic Christian, I am inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, to continue to work for the sake of our earth and all those who call it home, especially the poor and those most vulnerable to the negative impact of environmental degradation. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis compels every single one of us to make a change, “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
In my own life, I am trying to reduce my use of plastic, especially by never using single-use plastics like plastic water bottles and plastic grocery bags. It is a simple and easy switch to use a reusable water bottle and reusable shopping bags. The unfortunate truth is that plastic items are filling our earth and oceans to a shocking degree, and they do not decompose. Instead, growing levels of plastic particles contaminate our ocean water and our animals including fish and birds. It is the poorest of the poor who pay the price, living in areas where piles of plastic garbage are their only “scenery.” In our own lives, let us reflect on changes we can make to care for our common home. Let us stop our sins against creation and instead live in a way that leads to the fullness of life for all of God’s handiwork.