A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change
July | 2021
Message from the Steering Committee
A Message From This Month's Chair,
Bonnie Isman
Among the many issues facing the Steering Committee, I am pleased to say that fall elections and voting rights have been front and center at our latest meetings.  

Voting rights in Massachusetts are being cut back as we return to pre-COVID elections restrictions.  Unless we see the adoption of the VOTES Act in the next few months, there will be NO early voting, NO vote by mail, and NO extended voter registration period for Amherst’s Town Elections this fall.  State and local elections have a direct impact on people’s daily lives. Making voting more accessible and available is essential to make democracy work for everyone. 

Twenty states and Washington, D.C. already benefit from same day voter registration, welcoming new voters on Election Day. We need to offer this option in order to engage new and intermittent voters here in Massachusetts. The VOTES Act includes same day registration and other proven practices that will modernize Massachusetts elections and improve security for voting data. 
When you hear about repressive voting legislation being passed in states across the country, don’t forget that Massachusetts has also taken several steps backwards by not making the 2020 election reforms permanent.  You can help by contacting our legislators and urging them to support the VOTES Act. 
Don’t forget what Congressman John Lewis said. “The Vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” 

~ Bonnie Isman
All Hands on Deck!
It's Election Time

Amherst’s first complete set of municipal elections under its new home rule charter will take place in fewer than four months on November 2. In these elections, ALL Amherst elected offices will be up grabs. That's 13 Town Councilors, 6 Jones Library Trustees, 5 members of the School Committee, the 3 elected seats on the Housing Authority and the Oliver Smith Will Elector. LWVA has a lot of work to do!

We won't know until September 14 how many candidates there will be for each of these offices. But traditionally LWVA has organized candidate forums for all contested elections. 

Cynthia Brubaker is leading the effort to organize these forums, starting this summer with planning as well as we can without knowing how many we will actually need. Not to mention whether or not it will be possible to hold these forums in person. Logistics talent is useful but not necessary; there is plenty of work for all: if you can help, contact Cynthia.

Then there is the Election Extra, a.k.a. the Voters Guide. There are fewer uncertainties here, but we still need to think about what questions we want to ask to elicit useful information in just a few words from each candidate. Bonnie Isman is leading this effort: contact her here to help.

And then there is voter registration, targeting populations that tend not to show up for municipal elections. And get-out-the-vote efforts as early voting and Election Day approach. Here again we do not know exactly what we will be dealing with: will any of the emergency measures that were legislated to cope with voter registration and voting during the COVID lock-down still be in place?

Many League members have expressed interest in such voter mobilization efforts. What is needed is one or two people to step forward to take the lead in arranging them.

And finally there is the Election Night Live event that we have traditionally co-sponsored with Amherst Media. We have talent for this in the League; is that you?

So please decide where YOU fit in, and contact Cynthia, Bonnie or any member of the Steering Committee to let us know what part of this work you want to help with.
This is what the League is all about!

~ Katherine Campbell
Convention Report
Report on LWVMA Convention, June 26, 2021

As one of the larger Leagues, Amherst is permitted seven delegates; we sent six.

The Convention Experience: four Delegates’ responses:

Elizabeth Davis: I was impressed by how well (and glitch-free) a convention by Zoom went! More importantly, I was very impressed (and moved) by the keynote speaker, Representative Liz Miranda. Her district, Roxbury, is 94% people of color and is very low income. She works with special emphasis on criminal justice issues, issues affecting disabled persons, voting rights for prisoners and DEI policies. LWVMA is an ally with Representative Miranda on bills before the legislature.
Jessica Ryan: Rep Liz Miranda was a force! The word “inspiring” is so abused, but in this case, it is the correct word—she is an inspiring person and was a wonderful choice, in tone and substance, for the keynote. The break-out sessions were a great way to get to talk to other leagues, seeing the function of a convention and being a delegate was really fun and interesting!
Andrea Battle: I was proud to talk about the Racial Justice Task Force in my break-out room. There were questions and interest from others. I also was happy to realize how serious the LWVMA is about DEI Issues.
Marcie Sclove: I was impressed that the new LWVMA budget reflects their ambitious goals for DEI, increasing their budget considerably to support these inspiring efforts. 
The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for LWVMA

Andrea saw the importance of DEI in the Convention, and it is the most important project before us. In adopting the Program for 2021-23, the League made this commitment:

First and foremost, we will Develop an Action Plan to encourage understanding of racial justice issues by Massachusetts Leagues. We will
·      Encourage the continued education of our local League members on fundamental aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion  
·      We will utilize and implement tools provided by the LWVUS DEI training modules and other applicable resources to ensure members understand and are committed to achieving racial equity       
·      Assess our individual local league programming, with Black people, Indigenous people and all people of color (BIPOC), and other marginalized representatives in mind, to ensure diversity that represents the inclusion of all of our community and further advances racial equity  
·      Work to create opportunities to meaningfully partner with BIPOC and underrepresented members of our communities through inclusive engagement and community capacity building 
As we advocate for the action priorities and goals accepted at Convention or added as circumstances demand, we will always use the lens of DEI. 
In addition, the Action Priorities include Racial Justice with the goal:
Take action to identify, educate, and advocate to eradicate systemic racism in the state of Massachusetts as it exists in education, housing, employment, healthcare, and every aspect of American life, since such racism and socio-economic inequalities have marginalized, discriminated against, and harmed Black people, Indigenous people, and all people of color (BIPOC). “ 
The Budget reflects the importance of the DEI work within the League

As Marcie commented, the budget is larger than usual because it includes money for work on DEI such as training for the Board and the membership, and expanding and diversifying membership. In my break-out group, a member commented that the last attempt at diversifying LWVMA appears to have failed because there was no money to support it.

 LWVMA will be encouraging individual members to give to support DEI work. Of its 3,050 members, less than a quarter, only about 700, donated to LWVMA last year. We tend to stop with dues and perhaps an annual donation from our League (like Amherst’s.) Even small individual gifts help when many give them: and the more individual members support the organization financially, the better the prospect for grant support, which LWVMA is seeking. 
Why the Work is Valuable

Rep Miranda, who impressed—enthralled might be more accurate—us Convention-goers, is testimony to what the League can gain from diversifying. Yes, DEI is worth the work. 
A concluding remark about Convention is Jessica’s “My first convention, but hopefully not my last!”

Rep Miranda’s keynote can be seen here:
~ Susan Millinger
News from our Committees

All hands on deck. Again:
Please contact Cynthia Brubaker if you would like to help out in any way….large or small. It is going to be a busy election!
SACAC is still fighting the threat of biomass power plants.

Please consider an email to Sen. Barrett, co-chair of TUE (Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy) urging TUE to hold hearings to enable the public to comment on the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) biomass rule changes. You can also email Sen. Adam Hinds and Rep. Paul W. Mark, co- vice-chair, the legislators from western Massachusetts on TUE. The TUE Committee has until August 5 to hold a hearing and make recommendations. 

The proposed amendments dramatically expand eligibility for woody biomass energy in Massachusetts’ Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS): that is, make them eligible for renewable energy credits. 
What can and can’t TUE doWhat can you do?

TUE cannot override DOER’s recommendations, but they can hold public hearings which can lead to increased publicity and encourage citizens to contact their legislators urging the passage of bills keeping the older rules in place.  LWVMA is supporting three bills which would do this: H3362, H3333 and S2197. For an excellent summary of what these bills would do, click on the League supported legislation link below, scrolling down to Environment: Natural Resources, and click on the summary for these bills. 
You can make your legislators aware that you consider these bills very important.

How? By thanking those already co-sponsoring them, asking others to become co-sponsors. Sen Comerford is co-sponsoring H3333 and S 2197. Rep Sabadosa, who is supporting the two House bills, seems to be the only Rep from our area supporting any of these bills. We all know that important bills aren’t always passed, so we can’t pass up the chance to influence public opinion and legislators through TUE hearings.

Why the changes are a bad idea:

DOER is proposing to roll back critical health and environmental standards that currently make Massachusetts’ RPS biomass standards the strongest in the nation. The proposed amendments would allow dozens of existing polluting biomass power plants throughout the Northeast to potentially qualify for renewable energy credits in Massachusetts, credits paid for by electric utility customers. Biomass power plants pump out health-harming air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and turn our forests into fuel.

~ Susan Millinger
Greetings from the Racial Justice Task Force. We kicked off our Brown Bag Series of programs with a bang! 43 participants enjoyed a presentation from Jennifer Moyston, a driving force behind the DEI initiatives in Amherst Town Government. We will be sharing the recording on our LWVA website soon.

We will be continuing the Brown Bag Series in the fall. Please let us know if you have any programming ideas or requests. We’d love to hear from you!

Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) reading suggestions:

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall is not to be missed. Her analysis is outstanding and we can all learn so much from her. Let’s see if there is interest in discussing this book as a party of the Brown Bag Series?
Enjoy this beautiful season!
~ Marcie Slove, Chair Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF)
Pandemic-related Rental Assistance 

The Amherst Afforable Housing Trust has ended its program for subsidizing rents in Amherst for tenants behind on their rent due to the pandemic. The program distributed $99,060.50 over the year it was in operation, with 50 approved applications. Those included 8 households of one person (16%), 12 households of two persons (24%), 10 households of three persons (20%), and 20 households of four or more persons (40%). Applicants were similarly distributed. 

Because of significantly decreased applications in the later months of the program, the Trust voted not to continue it beyond June. During the same period, Wayfinders, which administers the State RAFT program, showed a large increase in rental assistance awards to Amherst households in the first six months of 2021. 
Update on East Street-Belchertown Road RFP 

The town is moving forward on developing a Request for Proposals for the combined project of the East Street school location and the recently-purchased property on Belchertown Road. We expect the RFP to be released soon. 

Strong Street 

A property on Strong Street has recently become town property. The town is evaluating whether it is suitable for housing (including wetlands assessment, etc).

Northampton Road Studio Apartment project 

Valley Community Development is awaiting word on its application for state funding.

~ Elisa Campbell

Tested water samples from Deerfield, Westfield, Chicopee and Millers Rivers all contained traces of harmful man-made chemicals called PFAS. Last year the U.S. Geological Survey and Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection began a study that collected three rounds of river samples at 48 locations to analyze dozens of different PFAS chemicals. 

PFAS were found everywhere in varying compound forms and concentrations. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl) substances are a class with thousands of chemicals that are used widely in commercial and industrial products from fire suppressants to waterproof clothing, ski wax to construction materials, food packaging to carpets, furniture to nonstick cookware. These chemicals are known to increase the risk of certain cancers among other health effects.

Last year MA implemented its first-ever drinking water safety standard of 20 parts per trillion of PFAS and began offering free water testing to public suppliers and private well owners.
– Connecticut River Conservancy newsletter, 7/2/21

~ Elizabeth Davis
Want to get started or to advance your knowledge of racial justice issues? Consult the resources LWVMA has assembled here: 
A young woman from the Pioneer Valley took second place in LWVMA’s Democracy Challenge. LWVMA invited Massachusetts high school students to create 30-second videos demonstrating what they learned about our democracy in 2020. The winning videos were selected from a group of 125 entries from across the Commonwealth. Watch “United is Power” by Maya Baudrand, Stoneleigh Burnham School:
League of Women Voters Launches ‘Women Power Democracy’ 

On 7/8/21 the League of Women Voters launched ‘Women Power Democracy,’ a new programmatic focus of the organization that will advance a stronger, more representative American democracyThe focus will cover countering mis- and disinformation, increasing election participation, advancing voter access, and reforming redistricting.   
For more details on what the program involves, click below:

This monthly message is for anyone interested in the League, not just members. If you know someone who might be interested, forward this message and invite them to subscribe themselves, using the link below.
The Editor of the LWVAmherst e-Bulletin, Jessica Ryan can be contacted here. The Associate Editors are Trish Farrington and Susan Millinger; Assistant Editors are Janice Ratner, Phyllis Lehrer, and Kay Fite who checks the links. Contributors to the July 2021 e-Bulletin include LWVA members Elisa Campbell, Katherine Campbell, Elizabeth Davis, Bonnie Isman, Susan Millinger, and Marcie Slove. Material on LWVMA and LWVUS comes from the website lwvma.org and the newsletter League Update, respectively, selected by Susan Millinger.