Fair Development Victory! Celebrate with us RSVP to the Concert for Fair Development

Baltimore City Board of Estimates Votes to End Agreement with Energy Answers Incinerator Project

Baltimore City School Board today is ending a similar agreement with the Curtis Bay project

This follows Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee decision in February to end its support for trash burning project

Baltimore City leaders reverse years of support for the troubled Energy Answers trash-burning incinerator, when the Board of Estimates voted to terminate its energy purchasing agreement with the company.  The action by the Board of Estimates removes an important source of revenue for the project in the Fairfield neighborhood of far south Baltimore.  Additionally, the Baltimore City School Board has decided to end its agreement with the incinerator project as well and is in the process of informing Energy Answers. Students, community members and environmentalists have been protesting the massive waste-to-energy incinerator because it would cause more air pollution to a community that already suffers some of the most toxic air pollution in Maryland.

Public scrutiny of the purchasing contract grew when students, parents, and teachers from Free Your Voice, a human rights committee of United Workers based in Curtis Bay, called on the Baltimore City School Board to opt out of this agreement last spring. Free Your Voice mounted a public pressure campaign across the region leading to the larger Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee’s decision to end its support for the project. Media also grew with national stories in the New York Times,, and viral videos on social media promoted by and Pulitzer prize winning author Margaret Atwood.

Josh Acevedo, Free Your Voice leader, “There’s already a lot of pollution and Curtis Bay has been treated like a dumping ground for far too long. Breathing clean air is a basic human right. This milestone shows that the city is acknowledging that this incinerator isn’t a good idea and that there are humans whose lives would be affected if it were to be built.”


Free Your Voice is organizing a celebratory Concert for Fair Development the week of Earth Day on April 25th at Benjamin Franklin High School that will highlight healthy and equitable alternatives including solar farm projects, zero waste reuse and recycling industries, and local agricultural initiatives.

Amanda Maminski, Curtis Bay resident, “We believe there are other alternatives to the proposed incinerator, alternatives that will not involve poisoning the already-toxic environment within and around the Curtis Bay community. One of those alternatives gaining popular community support is a solar facility, a solar farm, on the tract of land currently owned by FMC Corporation.”

Concert for Fair Development:  RSVP Now!


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Concert for Fair Development

Free Your Voice and Sing Out!

Celebrate a major win for our human right to breathe clean air and envision our Fair Development future!

Sign up for the concert now!


Free Your Voice, a student-led human rights group of United Workers has over three years pressured the school system and other public entities to end their support of the nation’s largest trash burning incinerator. We are excited to announce a major breakthrough and celebrate the creativity and leadership that has paved the way. As we celebrate this breakthrough in solving a Failed Development problem we will also be focusing the event on envisioning our Fair Development future. We will shine a light on a series of ideas that can help shape a future that is rooted in our basic human rights and responds to our shared needs.

During the week of Earth Day we are hosting an outdoor concert at Benjamin Franklin High School to both celebrate and build this movement for the beloved community. If there is one thing that we have learned over the course of the Fair Development Campaign to Stop the Incinerator it is this: Art is powerful. It is a vehicle for change and can change the fate of our community, but we can’t do it alone. 

Join us on Saturday April 25th in Curtis Bay! Sign up for the concert now!

What: Concert for Fair Development

Where: Benjamin Franklin High School 1201 Cambria St. Baltimore MD 21225

When: Saturday April 25th 3pm




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RSVP Today for the 2015 Fair Development Strategic Dialogue

Registration is now open for the 2015 Fair Development Strategic Dialogue

Saturday, January 17th – 10am-3pm

Join people from across the state and beyond to explore positive alternatives to the crises we face in the environment, housing, the workplace and healthcare. Save the date! You won’t want to miss it. 

Click here to RSVP today. 

strategic dialogue


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We Made It to the Finish Line!

We did it!  


On the rainy morning of November 1st United Workers Team Exercise Your Rights completed our 2nd Annual Run/Walk & Children’s race. Thank you to all the runners & walkers who participated in this year’s race. We appreciate everyone who made a donation to sustain our movement for human rights & fair development in Baltimore and throughout the state of Maryland. This year we  surpassed our original fundraising goal.

We reached a grand total of $12, 259 because of your support.


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United Workers & The Poor People’s Campaign Gulf Coast Tour- Days 2 & 3

United Workers leadership organizer Luis Larin joined the Poverty Initiative and other leaders in the movement to end poverty  on a tour of the Gulf Coast. Check out Luis’ thoughts and reflections on Day 2 & Day 3 as he travels the South connecting with local leaders fighting for life and dignity & wrestles with what it would take to realize a Poor People’s Campaign today.

 Day 2

November 4th, 2014- I started day two  feeling sick but fortunately for me the day wasn’t too packed with meetings.  After some medicine, rest and food, I was feeling a little bit better and decided to go out to explore the city and be a tourist with Jose Vasquez form Iraqi Veterans Against the War.  While touring the city, we spent time talking about our backgrounds and how we ended up here doing the work that we are doing.  After a trolley trip, we arrived downtown.  I was trying to enjoy the city.  However, pretty soon my “organizer hat” started to function.  I saw economic development here and there. My brain started to question if it was fair development or just another example of failed development produced by global capital. I decide to go with the second option.  I walked around the city, bought some souvenirs and tried some good local food.   As I took pictures of places that at one point belonged to Spain (where people spoke Spanish), I began to think about the unfair immigration policies that are being pushed in this country.  Even as a tourist I saw signs hidden in plain sight that screamed exploitation, failed development, and poverty.

 We went close to the water and it was a feeling of deja-vu of the day. I looked in the water and I saw a very familiar picture.  It was just like being in Baltimore. I saw the ships and the vestiges of a once commercial area, now with contaminated water, extreme poverty, and homelessness. We were just few blocks from downtown.  I immediately started to think about the political and economic connections that were becoming more and more clear between Baltimore and New Orleans and beyond.   One ship was pushing a big container with coal, and thought about the pollution and the fight to stop the incinerator.  While the incinerator in Curtis Bay will directly impact Baltimore city, it will also have a larger impact on air pollution throughout other parts of the country.veolia

After taking some pictures, we decided make our way back home to get ready for an exciting meeting.  As we were walking back downtown I noticed a bus, very similar to the free circulator in Baltimore. When I looked closer I noticed something else and wondered if it was another deja-vu? No!  There was another connection to global capital, the bus was operated by VEOLIA. This company also operates the circulator in Baltimore and is vying for a contract to conduct a water study that could potentially end with the privatization of the water system in Baltimore. Not only that, but this is the same company that has been in court in Guatemala for causing environmental destruction.  It became clear in my head that to confront such a well-structured economic and political system would require an organized movement to end poverty like the Poor People’s Campaign.

 That evening we met with members of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and Stand with Dignity. The meeting place felt so familiar. I felt another wave of deja-vu. The meeting was in a house in a poor neighborhood. Members were packed into the room forming a circle.  It felt just like a United Workers meeting and the house felt like our old office on Highland Avenue, back when I first joined United Workers.   I felt like I was back in time and reliving those first emotions of been part of something.  The meeting started with setting the agenda.  After the updates for the members of STAND with dignity the discussion leaders introduced us. We shared what we are trying to accomplish by working with other organizations in shaping the Poor People’s Campaign.  STAND then presented who they are and what they are confronting in New Orleans.  For a second time, the deja-vu got so deep that I felt like I was back in the Highland Avenue office and was “recognizing” some of the members and their passion, anger and desire to fight for justice and for human rights.  They told us about their struggles and for a moment it was hard for me to know if I was in New Orleans or Baltimore.  They shared their problems with economic development and the lack of local hiring for those projects.  A common thread that they shared included how new things are being built with public resources, yet the communities can’t find work in those projects. The multiple issues with housing that they are confronting, for example vacant buildings, are affecting homeowners, renters and homeless people. I heard problems surrounding the lack of participation, the lack of accountability and the lack of transparency. It sounded so familiar to what the Fair Development Campaign has been fighting against.

 Hearing the members of the community talking about the need for more unity within the community and with other organizations and seeing that members were fired up and tired of being exploited and lied to makes me think that the conditions for a revolution of ideas is not that far away.   They spoke about their upcoming studies, one of which will include the history of labor in the US.  It was important to hear this because it highlighted what United Workers stands for—developing leaders that are able to understand the problem, analyze the system and develop plans and strategies that are effective. The meeting ended with a powerful ritual. We recited together three times over, the words of Assata Shakur, former member of the Black Panther Party & Black Liberation Army, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love each other and support each other.  We have nothing to lose, but our chains.”  With the tour of the city and the encounter with STAND, I’m learned that the struggle is the same whether you’re in Baltimore or New Orleans. This is exactly why the Poor People’s Campaign is making more and more sense.

Day 3

November 5th, 2014- After we spent some time in New Orleans, we traveled to Mississippi to meet with the Mississippi Center for Justice, an organization that provides legal services to low income residents.  They use the law as a way to support poor communities because legal services for low-income communities in Mississippi are limited.  Their main campaigns work for access to healthcare, consumer protection, disaster recovery, education, and housing.  After Katrina and the BP oil disaster the need for healthcare, disaster recovery and housing was even greater than before.  The law center works hard to advance better policies for disaster recovery and partnered with a community organization to start a Community Land Trust. The community organization has 60 properties that were taken from the city and redeveloped by the community and for the community.  The intersection between legal strategy and organizing is clear and needed. This relationship made reminded me of the three-year fight that the ESPN Zone Workers had in Baltimore.  It was not about the money, it was about the power, as our members said during the lawsuit against Disney.  In the thick of lawsuit it was difficult to imagine winning, and yet, we won.  It was important for us to understand that a legal strategy without an organizing strategy is an empty action to develop laws that are not connected to the reality.

 MCJWhile at the Center for Justice we also met with Cedric McGee from Hope Community Development Agency. Hope has teamed up with the Mississippi Center for Justice to create sustainable communities in Mississippi, mainly after Katrina. This partnership reminded me of the work of the Housing Roundtable in Baltimore which has created a space where lawyers, community organizations and neighbors are thinking about how to create permanent affordable housing.  When I shared our vision with the people from the Center for Justice, they said, “If it can be done in Mississippi, it can be done in Baltimore.”  They are clear about the historical importance of Mississippi in terms of the fight for human rights, starting with the civil rights movement. They are aware of the challenges that they have because they are in the South and the importance of connecting their work with the Poor People’s Campaign.

 After a very inspiring meeting with the Mississippi Center for Justice, Cedric took us to our next meeting with Thao Vu, an organizer for the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisherfolks & Families.  The meeting was in East Biloxi, Mississippi. In the same way that Baltimore has been separated by East and West sides, Biloxi has also been separated by the east-west dividing line.  It is clear that East Biloxi is a poor area and lacks the investment of public resources. Thao and Cedric spoke about the difference between East Biloxi and West Biloxi.  West Biloxi has received more resources than East Biloxi, but why? Economic development segregates and divides communities for the same reason we create super expensive houses in one side of Baltimore to “bring the right people” into the city.  Just a few blocks from the restaurant where we ate, Cedric pointed and said, “look at those buildings and all of that development.  That is part of East Biloxi, but they don’t call it East Biloxi because it’s closer to downtown and they are redeveloping the area and building very expensive houses.” It sounds very familiar. These community leaders have been uniting with other organizations to fight back against this manifestation of Failed Development.  Thao told us about the difficulty for East Biloxi fishermen to find work after Katrina and the BP oil disaster. East Biloxi was one of the hardest hit areas by Katrina.  The community has experienced two disasters and yet the government decided to spend resources on casinos and other economic development. Thao is one of two part time organizers. The two part-time organizers have been supported by strong community leadership, which has proved to be key in achieving some advances. Kim Long

 To me this is just too familiar.  Baltimore, Biloxi and New Orleans are all reflections of trickle down economics that have created Failed Development.  Leaving some communities out of the equation—the destruction of the environment or the exploitation of working people is how the system works.  However, for every action you have a reaction. Organizing to build the political power that is needed to change the conversation and change the priorities is also part of the situation.  Resistance, unity, thinking, study and understanding the problem are key factors in making sure that the “reaction” adequately takes up the problem that we are confronting.


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United Workers & The Poor People’s Campaign Gulf Coast Tour- Day 1

Yesterday, United Workers leadership organizer Luis Larin joined the Poverty Initiative and other leaders (like UW leader Ashley Hufnagel) in the movement to end poverty, on Day 1 of the Poor People’s Campaign Gulf Coast TourCheck out Luis’ thoughts and reflections as he travels the South connecting with local leaders fighting for life and dignity & wrestles with what it would take to realize a Poor People’s Campaign today. 

Check back for more photos and updates from Luis. 

Ted and Al

NOVEMBER 3, 2014 was my first morning in New Orleans.  After a 27 hour train ride, in which I had time to reflect, think and understand more about the political and economic context of the south, I felt overwhelmed by thinking about what I want to learn from this trip, what to contribute and how I can represent UW better in the Poor People’s Campaign.  After a while I decided to just to listen and be present.

 While I was on the train, I was thinking about the idea of re-igniting the Poor People’s Campaign and what that means.  What are the implications?  What kind of power do we need to be successful?  What does a Poor People’s campaign look like in the times that we are living in?  What kinds of demands make sense?  How can our “small” victories be strategic for a national movement?  And of course, is this even possible?   All those questions wrestling with my ideological self, that reflect upon history and respect history, and that is saying of course it does makes sense, it is more than important for these times to fight for human rights.

 Before I left everyone was saying what a great view I would have by riding the train. While I was riding the train, I put on the “thinker hat” as a good friend of mine says and I couldn’t “enjoy” the view without using my political and economical lens.  That lens was saying things like, look that building, and it’s empty and is huge! How many jobs did we lose? Look at those houses, they are part of a community, really close to the train track, and clearly poor, why do you choose to live there? Did you even have a choice? How do you sleep with so much noise?  Is that safe if you have young kids?  There was no barrier that prevents kids from running onto the tracks, and the house was just a few feet away from the tracks.  Those questions immediately made me think about the global connection, remembering where my family lived just 35 years ago and where a lot of people including some of my friends still live, which is just few feet away from the train tracks.  This made me think about the implications of start a Poor People’s Campaign in the US, and what could be the global impact.  center for Ethical & Social Justice

We arrived at the first meeting at a Unitarian Church, with Monique Harden, an environmental justice lawyer who also runs the Center for Ethical Living & Social Justice Renewal.  After introductions Monique started to tell us about the struggles that they are having with the oil industry and destruction of the environment and polluting the community.  It was more and more clear for me that when we talked about uniting across lines of divisions, is imperative to build a movement to achieve human rights.  It is not as if I didn’t know this before; my experience coming from Guatemala to the US taught me that, but its easy to forget the strategic importance of unity in a serious way.  Intellectually of course it makes sense, but seeing the “practical” side of the situation is a wake up call.

Monique HardenI was thinking about the organizing that is happening against the incinerator in Curtis Bay, and how the system is a system that feeds off of profit and profit comes from exploitation of labor and resources.  Thinking about the political situation in Baltimore and hearing how similar the situation is here, where corporations are not accountable because the government supports the trickle down economics; and at same time seeing people getting more and more awake and organized.

Then we went to meet with Ted Quant and Al Alcazar to hear about his experienced involvement fighting for social justice since the 1970’s.  He knows a lot and yet he was interested in hearing about what are we are looking for and trying to do.  We didn’t have much time to hear more from him and about his experiences, but it was clear that he was also thinking about the importance of a national movement.

 The dinner was with Sage Crump and Wendi O’Neal, discussing the racial inequality and how race is used to keep people divided.  This was not something new for me, but it was refreshing to hear that African American organizers are recognizing that we need to organize not only based on race but also class, since there are poor whites too.  We are documenting the trip and when we started to take pictures, one of the organizers asked why.  That opened the conversation to expose skepticism to any form of “regional or national coalition,” since New Orleans has been an object of “study” for outsiders after Katrina.Sage and local organizers and artist  It reminded me of the reason why I’m part of this; not only UW, but the whole movement to end poverty because there are so many organizations that think that they know what we, the community, needs without having real participation in the decision making process.  Hearing how organizations here are working on organizing across color lines and language barriers, as well other type of divisions, helped reassure me that the movement for economic human rights is possible and it will happen, but it will require that we get organized in an ideological and strategic way.



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Take a Look at Original Media Team Photos & Video of the One Baltimore Rally

The One Baltimore United rally on Monday had a strong showing of faith, labor, and community organizations supporting a shared vision for permanent affordable housing, keeping our public services like our water public, good jobs, quality education & safe neighborhoods.

United Workers arrived to the rally strong and kept up the energy. UW leader Emmanuel McCray led the crowd in song and chant. Plus, our very own Shantress Wise closed up the rally with a powerful and personal message on the  failures of our current for-profit housing system and the need for permanent affordable housing for all residents. Check out the photo slideshow and original media team video below.





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One Baltimore Rally today @ 4:30pm in front of City Hall. Join us!

Want good jobs, quality education, public services, safe neighborhoods & permanent affordable housing in Baltimore, then join us this afternoon at 4:30pm as a we rally with hundreds of other community members in front of city hall? 

*United Workers will begin to gather at 4pm on the far end of City Hall, across from the War Memorial Building. Also, be sure to wear your United Workers t-shirt if you have one.

Flyer_Baltimore One.indd


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Donate to Team Exercise Your Rights Running Race Today

The 2nd Annual United Workers Walk/Run & Children’s Race is less than a week away! We still need your support. Visit the Team Exercise Your Rights web page  to donate today.

Your donation of $10, $25, $50, $100, $250, or more, will help sustain our growing network of Human Rights Committees across Baltimore and throughout Maryland (currently in 10 Counties.) Human Rights Committee members participate in year-long study courses on political economy, history, human rights, and current struggles for social and economic justice. They transform this knowledge into action, fighting for Fair Development and human rights in our communities. iletha team exercise your rights

Be sure to visit the personal page of United Workers leader Iletha Joynes to find out why she joined United Workers & decided to participate in this year’s race! 

I started with United Workers five years ago during one of our major inner harbor campaigns. I entered with the idea that I could just be an extra pair of hands and not really making a real commitment. But as I got to know the other members on a personal level and listened to their stories of hardships and injustice I was in a state of shock…From that moment on I was committed to do whatever I could to keep our movement going strong…


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And the 2014 City Paper vote for “Best Activism” goes to…Free Your Voice!

The City Paper recently published their “Best of Baltimore 2014″ edition. Free Your Voice took the prize for “Best Activism” in Baltimore. Cheers to  the creativity and commitment  of the students and community members of Curtis Bay and beyond in the fight for the human right to clean air and a healthy community!

To learn more about the work of Free Your Voice to stop the construction of what would be the nation’s largest incinerator within a mile of Benjamin Franklin High School in South Baltimore, be sure to check out



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Photos from Human Rights Rally at Maryland Statehouse (All Lives Matter!)

Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday to support the Moral Monday’s solidarity human rights rally. It was a powerful moment to have so many different communities and organizations coming together across the lines of differences to make it clear that all lives matter.

Forward together, not one step back!

Check out the photos below!


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[UPDATE] ACTION ALERT: Human Rights Rally in Annapolis, Aug. 27, 4pm

Come join us on Wednesday, August 27th at 4pm on the Lawyer’s Mall (100 State Circle, Annapolis) as community members, people of faith, students, and environmental allies rally before the Maryland State House to make it known that “all lives matter.” We, along with dozens of other local communities across the country, will gather in solidarity with the North Carolina “Forward Together Moral Monday” movement. Speakers and participants from across our state will share their stories and call for the need for healthcare for all, paid sick leave, a clean and healthy environment, police accountability, voting rights, and economic equality. Our stories and fights are connected. All lives do matter!

The “Forward Together Moral Monday” movement officially began in North Carolina in April 2013 when 17 North Carolinians, including leaders of the North Carolina NAACP, lifted up their voices in protest and participated in acts of civil disobedience to denounce the wave of voter suppression and the further undermining of the rights of people of color, women, children, and the LGBTQ community on the state level. Since 2013 tens of thousands of people from across North Carolina have come together, despite political, racial or religious affiliations, to rally outside the state capitol every Monday during the legislative session.

Tomorrow we will raise our voices in solidarity with North Carolina as we call for human rights and Fair Development across the state of Maryland.

WHO: United Workers, Free Your Voice, Anne Arundel NAACP, Healthcare is a Human Right-Maryland, the Caucus of African American Leaders, local clergy, local community members and YOU!

WHEN: Tomorrow! [Wednesday, August 27th at 4pm]

WHERE: 100 State Circle- Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, MD

If you have any questions call Matt @ 410- 236-5488. Be sure to check out the event on facebook.

MoralMonday_flier_UW_highres (1)


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ACTION ALERT: Human Rights Rally in Annapolis – Wednesday, August 27th @ 4pm


MoralMonday_flier_UW_highres (1)



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Watch NEW United Workers Media Team Video on Our Fight to Make Housing a Human Right

Watch the  NEW United Workers Media Team Video on Our Fight for Fair Development and the  Human Right to Housing 

Housing is a Human Right (part 1): Maryland’s Housing Crisis from United Workers on Vimeo.

In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described a housing crisis in America when he explained, “Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.”

Today, Maryland is facing a housing crisis. Baltimore alone has over 40,000 vacants. United Workers is organizing to tell our untold stories and to create permanently affordable housing for everyone across the region. Renters, homeowners and the homeless are building unity and standing up to find solutions to the housing crisis we face.

In this video, we articulate our shared challenge around housing and highlight the growing movement to realize Fair Development and our human right to housing.

With the Housing Roundtable, community members from across the city—including homeowners, homeless, and renters—are working together to research, study, and discuss the current housing crisis as well as viable solutions to change Baltimore’s broken housing system.

This citywide group has successfully continued to meet for over a year, developed committed working groups, and organized 3 housing speak outs, with plans for another this winter!

Join the fight for Fair Development! Email: for more information.


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Baltimore Sun: ‘South Baltimore Students Protest Against Planned Plant Near 2 Schools’

South Baltimore Students Protest Against Planned Plant Near 2 Schools 

High-schoolers ask school board to opt out of energy contract 

June 16th, 2014, by Erica Green The Baltimore Sun

A group of Baltimore students are calling on the school board to pull out of its agreement to purchase energy from a planned plant that would burn waste within a mile of two schools in one of the most polluted neighborhoods of the city.

Students from Benjamin Franklin High School have reignited a debate over the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project — what the students and environmental advocates consider an incinerator — that was approved in 2010 and would be the largest of its kind in the nation.

What started as a service-learning initiative at the high school has spurred a group called “Free Your Voice,” which is using poems, songs and compelling testimony to garner the attention of city and state leaders to help stop the industrialization of the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn neighborhoods in South Baltimore. The neighborhoods have been ranked among the most polluted ZIP codes in Maryland and the country.

“We feel like this development just stomps over this whole idea of human rights,” said Destiny Watford, who graduated from Benjamin Franklin last year and now attends Towson University. “We live in a community that’s very polluted, and no one seems to care. It isn’t fair. It isn’t equitable. It isn’t right.”

Patrick Mahoney, president of Energy Answers International, which is building the plant, said the project was approved because it met the strictest of standards set forth by the Department of the Environment and received buy-in from the community.

He said he believes the students are being influenced by environmental groups and wants to invite the group to visit its other site in Massachusetts to get a better view of how the Baltimore plant would operate.

“I respect the students’ choice in looking at things like this and taking a position,” Mahoney said. “The one issue I have is that they don’t have enough nor the right information and are taking a position without the right foundation.”

The students recently made an emotional plea to the school district to halt plans to purchase energy from the plant.

The district signed a contract in April 2011 to join 22 other entities slated to buy energy from the plant, which was to be built within 48 months of the signing of the contract. The plant’s construction has been delayed, however, and the district can pull out with no penalty if it is not built by April.

The project has run into roadblocks, failing to garner enough energy purchasers to finance the nearly $1 billion plant’s construction. Mahoney said that is changing, though.

Shanaysha Sauls, president of the city school board, said staff were reviewing information provided by the group during a presentation — which received a standing ovation from board members — as well as the district’s contract with Albany-based Energy Answers.

“The board was extraordinarily impressed … and will definitely take it up for discussion,” Sauls said.

The plant has been controversial since it was proposed.

The Free Your Voice group has asked whether the company has missed crucial construction deadlines, which would require it to go through the approval process again.

Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the company has received one extension to its original Feb. 12, 2012, deadline for construction to commence. It has 18 months from August 2013 to begin construction, and some preliminary work has been done on the site.

But Apperson said the department will assess the company’s compliance with the Clean Air Act, which requires that construction continue “at a reasonable pace and be completed within a reasonable timeframe,” after Energy Answers files its next progress report, which is due by July 30.

Mahoney said the company considers it a “resource recovery facility” — not an incinerator — that would recover more than the average recycling plant. The plant would be the cleanest in the nation and would generate electricity and steam from waste that otherwise would fill up landfills, he said. He said that pre-construction work on the site has included assessing contamination that would remain on the site if the plant weren’t being built.

“Our goal is to create a sustainable enterprise that is very much better than landfilling, that will have economic benefits as well as environmental benefits,” Mahoney said. “We have gotten permits where nobody else has because this has been an exhaustive process.”

Mahoney said odor would not be an issue. He also said that trucks carrying materials would only take routes agreed upon by the community.

He added that residents had been an integral part of the project, pointing out that community associations signed a memorandum of understanding before the project was approved by the state.

But Free Your Voice contends that the company cannot guarantee that the 240 pounds of mercury and 1,000 pounds of lead the plant is legally allowed to emit per year won’t be harmful.

They also point out that a health impact study for the site was not required and therefore never conducted.

Environmental groups also have criticized the project for skirting a law that prohibits building an incinerator within a mile of a school. The Energy Answers project is considered a “power plant” by the state.

It would burn shredded municipal waste, tire chips, auto parts and demolition debris for fuel within a mile of Benjamin Franklin and Curtis Bay Elementary.

“It just seems really selfish that they were able to do that,” said Leah Rozier, a senior at Benjamin Franklin who also resides in Curtis Bay. “It makes you wonder, if this was happening in their neighborhoods, near their children, to their families, if the same decision would have been made.”

Local political leaders have been supportive of the students’ efforts to renew the debate, though they say that not all see the project, which will bring jobs and other benefits to the community, as harmful.

In 2010, the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn community associations signed a memorandum of understanding under which the company would offer the community scholarships and $50,000 to $100,000 a year in donations for community improvements. The company also vowed in the memorandum to spare residents from dust, noise and pollutants.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents the Curtis Bay area, said that while community associations have been generally supportive of the project, he believes the Free Your Voice group has raised awareness of possible environmental justice issues that should be taken into consideration.

“They bring up some very real concerns and have been very successful in presenting a compelling argument that there needs to be a review of this project to make sure there isn’t an over-saturation of pollutants in this neighborhood,” Ferguson said.

While they wait for the next steps, the students — all of whom live in the affected neighborhoods — plan to continue their awareness campaign, which has included petitions, letters to elected officials, and knocking on hundreds of doors in their neighborhoods.

“We met a lot of people who didn’t know what an incinerator was,” Rozier said. “It was very overwhelming how many people didn’t know what was going on in their own backyard.”

Drawing on federal data, the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington-based environmental group, found last year that the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn ZIP codes had the highest toxic air pollution from businesses and factories — the neighborhood is home to more than a dozen plants including fuel depots, coal piers and other industrial facilities — in the state.

The plants account for more than one-third of all such emissions in Maryland, the study found, and nearly 90 percent of Baltimore’s total.

“They’re just making this a dumping ground, and it’s not fair to dump on the little people because of money,” said Charles Graham, a senior at Benjamin Franklin. “It’s not fair to possibly have your life shortened because of where you grew up.”

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Photo Slideshow: 9th Annual Human Rights Dinner (2014)

The 9th annual Human Rights Dinner was a wonderful evening of celebration and reflection. Check out the photos from the night on our Flickr page!




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Leah N Drey Perform Free Your Voice Anthem at Baltimore City School Board Meeting

On Tuesday, May 27th Free Your Voice traveled to the Baltimore City school board meeting to let them know that plans for building the nation’s largest trash incinerator less than a mile from several schools in Curtis Bay is failed developed and that we need to work together to demand Fair Development and stop its construction. During the student presentation the brilliant sister duo, Leah N Drey (formerly Double Impact), performed the Free Your Voice Anthem. Below is a video of their powerful performance.


Check out the lyrics to the Free Your Voice Anthem written by Audrey and Leah Rozier (aka Double Impact).

Verse 1:
18 year old girl living in a world where no one cares about the safety of this girl
I’m disgusted, I can’t believe we trusted the world but it’s not too late to be adjusted
Money money money that seems to be the anthem
Destroying the world and always taking it for granted
No more green, only buildings and all that I can see is landfills and
We have our rights according to the amendments
But why do we feel like we’ve been so resented
Ignored, shoved to the side where opinions don’t matter where opinions only die
It’s time to stand up, let our voices be heard
Incinerator move cause you’re not preferred
It’s about that time, to make the choice
Imma stand up and free my voice

It’ll all get better, we can change the world
And it starts with music, get your message heard
You’ve gotta free your voice, from all the boys to the girls
It’ll all get better, we can change the world

Verse 2:
This life starts with the air that we breathe
And trying to succeed
Not the air that we need
The eye is deceived
But with all this pollution
Instead of giving
does all of the killing
How many do we need
Until the smoke clogs up and we can’t feel our chest
With everyone competitive
Just worried bout the money
When you think opportunity
The air quality will help and keep you livin
It’s like good deeds are forbidden
And everyone is looking to take
Not knowing that the bad polluted air
If the incinerator takes away a breath
Until there is nothing thats left
And the ones who don’t catch the symptoms
Are considered blessed
It time for change
Before our planet gets destroyed
Before death, is something we cannot avoid
The time is now before we don’t have a choice
So let’s stand tall together, and free our voice


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Baltimore Brew: “Making Music from a Plea About Airborne Mercury and Materialism”

Making Music from a Plea About Airborne Mercury and Materialism 

Students strage a show to urge Baltimore city schools to end its association with Energy Answers’ planned trash-to-energy incinerator. 

May 29, 2014, by Allison Brickell, Baltimore Brew

Using a video, a rap performance, a Shakespeare-themed soliloquy and cold facts about industrial pollution, a group of student activists asked the school board on Tuesday to withdraw its contract with Energy Answers, a company that is looking to build an incinerator less than a mile from their South Baltimore school.

Free Your Voice, a group organized by United Workers and made up of students from various Baltimore schools and the Curtis Bay area, said the school system should not have supported the planned trash-burning power plant by agreeing to buy power from it.

“The sanctity of human life isn’t being acknowledged or respected,” said Destiny Watford, a Towson University freshman and Benjamin Franklin High School alum, who lead the group presentation at the meeting. “The fact that schools are supporting this shocked us.”

Watford showed a video she and other members of the group had made of their Curtis Bay community featuring points of pride, like the community garden near Benjamin Franklin High School.

The video contrasted the garden imagery with images of nearby industry.

“This is Curtis Bay’s backyard,” Watford said in the video as images of smokestacks appeared on the screen. “I never felt welcome. Now I know why.”

Burning Refuse, Wood Waste, Car Parts

In December, the students marched from the high school to the former chemical plant where Albany-based Energy Answers has been trying to build the 160-megawatt Fairfield Renewable Energy Power Plant.

Opponents have been battling state utility and environmental officials over the estimated $1 billion project for the last four years.

Designed to generate power by burning refuse, tires, wood waste, car parts and other material, the plant would, according to Energy Answers, provide 180 jobs and meet or exceed air quality standards. Environmentalists say it would severely harm the health of an area that is already burdened with the highest levels of toxic pollution in the state.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has said the emissions of particulates, lead and other harmful substances would be within the legal limits. Environmental advocates say the project would not be approved under regulations that have tightened since the plant was approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2010.

Baltimore City Schools has agreed to purchase energy from the incinerator through the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee — a group representing 22 entities in Maryland, including Howard County, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the city of Annapolis, and Baltimore City.

These contracts were signed in 2011, the same year Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that designated waste-to-energy incineration as Tier 1 renewable energy. The new standard put incineration in the same category as solar, wind, and other renewable energy.

Profits and Pollution

Although the students’ Free Your Voice group has been researching the public health and regulatory issues around the Energy Answers project, Tuesday’s presentation was more about fair community development and environmental justice.

After the video concluded, Watford said the Curtis Bay community deserves to be treated as fairly as any other community, that it’s not those who make money from incinerators who suffer health problems because of them.

“The only people paying the consequences are the members of the community,” Watford said.

Watford said the plant should not be built in an area that already has a high rate of respiratory problems and other health problems. “Is it fair to have your life cut short because of where you were born?” Watford said. “We say that it’s not fair, that it’s not right. That incinerator is failed development.”

If built, the Energy Answers incinerator would be among the largest of its kind in the nation and would produce more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland, Watford said, concluding “We’re here to say that we can choose.”

Charles Graham, another member of Free Your Voice, took up the theme of choice. “Our choice is how to respond to climate change while we continue to generate more and more waste. The important thing is Hamlet recognized that he had a choice, and so do we.”

“To burn, or not to burn, that is the question,” Graham said, borrowing liberally from The Bard. “Whether ’tis better for Baltimore to breathe the foul and toxic air surrounding us or to stand up against incinerators, and by opposing stop them? To trash, to burn – waste no more, and by burning, to say we end the mercury and the thousand pounds of lead that trash has within? No – an incinerator gravely to be opposed.”

Audrey and Leah Rozier, who go by the stage name Double Impact, sang the “Free Your Voice Anthem.” Both girls sang extensively about the harmful effects of air pollution and the values they see behind it.

“This life starts with the air that we breathe, with everyone competitive and trying to succeed,” Leah Rozier said. “Just worried ’bout the money, not the air that we need, when you think opportunity the eye is deceived, the air quality will help and keep you livin’, but with all this pollution it’s like good deeds are forbidden and everyone is looking to take instead of giving.”

Commissioners: We Will Take Another Look

The board members applauded the students’ performance, when they concluded. Commissioner Cheryl Casciani said she would take up the invitation to visit Curtis Bay and that she and other members of the board would examine the purchase contract more carefully.

“I’m also on the sustainability commission and we’ve had a chance to hear from a subset of the students as well and we’re definitely in support of what you’re trying to do,” Casciani said.

“I think this is part of a number of other sustainability issues. We need to consider the source of our energy. We’ll talk to people in the operations department so we can understand a little bit more about [the purchase contract]. So I’ll look forward to hearing more about that.”

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Students Present to Baltimore City School Board About Nations’ Largest Incinerator

On Tuesday, May 27, students, parents, and teachers from across Baltimore presented to the Baltimore City School Board on a proposal to build the nation’s largest incinerator in South Baltimore. It was a powerful event. Thank you to everyone who made it out!

For the past two years, students from our Free Your Voice Human Rights Committee at Ben Franklin High School, in Curtis Bay, have been researching the plan to construct the incinerator less than a mile from their school. Through their research they learned that in 2011 Baltimore City Schools, together with 21 other public entities in Maryland, signed a contract to purchase energy from the incinerator.

At the May 27 meeting, the students asked the School Board to begin a process to withdraw Baltimore City Schools from the contract. As a first step in this process, they invited school board members to join them on a tour of their neighborhood. The students also showed one of several videos (below) they have produced on the issue and talked about the positive alternatives to the incineration project.

“Instead of trash incinerators we hope that Curtis Bay and communities like it will be the destination for development that puts our needs first,” says Destiny Watford, a long-time community resident and a member of Free Your Voice. “We would love to see truly green solar energy, recycling and composting – development that would bring good jobs without adding to our health problems.”

At the school board meeting, the students presented thousands of handmade paper sunflowers (see our Flickr photo album below). Each of the sunflowers was signed and included a personal comment from individuals across the state calling for an end to the incinerator. Students also presented school board members with a report card on the incinerator, which they have developed for the past two years. The report cards evaluate the project and provide positive alternatives according to five basic Fair Development principles, which they believe should be at the root of every development project: Equity, Transparency, Participation, Universality, and Accountability.

In the lead-up to the School Board meeting, the students have been reaching out to thousands of students, parents, and teachers from across the city by giving classroom presentations to highlight their research on the incinerator. They have written a song about their struggle against the incinerator and their search for positive alternatives. Last December, they organized a march of over a hundred people from Ben Franklin High School to the site of the proposed incinerator less than a mile away.

Baltimore City Schools agreed to purchase energy from the incinerator through the Baltimore Regional Cooperative Purchasing Committee—a group representing 22 entities in Maryland, including Howard County, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the city of Annapolis, and Baltimore City. These contracts were signed in 2011, the same year Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that designated Waste-to-Energy incineration as Tier 1 renewable energy. The new standard put incineration in the same category as solar, wind, and other renewable energy.

If built the Energy Answers incinerator would be the largest of its kind in the nation, producing more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland. The incinerator has been permitted to emit 240 pounds of mercury and 1000 pounds of lead per year, as well as other highly toxic pollutants. According to a recent MIT study, Baltimore already leads the nation in per capita air pollution-related deaths.

“We know that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s,” says Watford. “We know that we have a right to a safe and clean environment and that our lives should not be limited by asthma or cancer just because of where we were born.”

Members of the school board accepted the students invitation to visit their neighborhood. We will keep you updated with more information as it becomes available.


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Images From our Northeast Housing Speakout

On Saturday, May 31, the United Workers together with the Northeast Housing Initiative spoke-out against housing injustice. Speakers shared stories about their challenges with affording rent, foreclosure, homelessness, vacants, and the need to build unity for more equitable housing. Check out the pictures below and stay tuned to audio from the Speakout on our podcast.


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