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Teen Conference Questions
Budget Priorities

by Nick Fuller, MCHC

BOSTON, July 25 – Nearly 300 teenagers convened on Northeastern University’s campus on Friday for the annual Environmental Justice Youth Summit. Organized and run for the 8th year in a row by the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP), the Summit drew youth from all over Massachusetts and as far away as Harlem and the Bronx.

Teens played the roles of the Mayor Menino, Governor Romney, and the Superintendent of Schools, Thomas Payzant.
Highlights of the six hour summit included four workshops. The summit’s organizers, REEP, ran a workshop called “Pollution in the Hood” where youth learned to discern and label various types and sources of air pollution as well as the effect toxins in the air have on the human respiratory system. Splitting the crowd up into two teams, the workshop leaders had the participants play an interactive game which eventually made clear that low-income, colored communities, such as Roxbury, face far more environmental injustice than higher-income, white communities.

The other three workshops included “Reproductive Health and the Environment” run by West Harlem Environmental Action, “Environmental Justice in Our Neighborhoods” run by the United Puerto Ricans Organization of Sunset Park, and “Health and Safety in the Work Place”, run by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

The main event of the day was the mock town meeting where participants role-played different groups of Massachusetts citizens and presented their grievances and demands to a panel of six community leaders. The panel’s job was to listen to people’s needs and respond with what, if anything, the State was doing in order to address the problems.

Over 300 teens attended the summit.

The conference organizers had invited the following people to participate as panelists: Mayor Thomas Menino, Governor Mitt Romney, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Payzant, City Councilor Chuck Turner, Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities president Jill Stein, and Tony Chaves from the State’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Unfortunately the Mayor, Governor, and Superintendent all declined their invitations, so their positions were filled by three role-playing members of REEP.

The three hundred-some youth were split up into four groups for the mock town meeting. The different groups represented Massachusetts teachers, senior citizens, youth concerned about jobs, and citizens concerned with environmental injustice. After coming up with a list of problems the recent budget cuts has created, each group then drafted a list of requests for the “Governor”, “Mayor”, and “Superintendent”.

The senior citizens asked that the state reinstate their prescription benefits under Medicaid. The teachers asked that the State cease making the MCAS test a mandatory graduation requirement, noting that many MCAS after school study sessions have been canceled due to budget cuts. The youth concerned about jobs asked that government “stop allocating money to juvenile detention centers and start putting more towards youth programs”.

Governor Romney, played by REEP organizer David Noiles, issued the familiar political statements on why he found it absolutely necessary to cut services rather than close corporate loopholes or implement a system of fair taxation. Panelists Chuck Turner and Jill Stein generally disputed the Governor’s reasoning and the soundness of his policies.

The Governor defends tax breaks for the wealthy and service cuts for everyone else.

When asked why there is a healthy allocation of funds for prisons but budget cuts for detox centers and rehab programs, Councilor Turner mused that “Maybe the war on drugs is really a war on Blacks and Latinos . . . Maybe it’s easier to lock us up than to deal with the problem.”

Panelist Jill Stein responds to a question.
Responding to the cuts in Medicaid for the elderly, Jill Stein remarked that as human services are slashed to balance the budget “we’re seeing the social safety net come apart. Our legislators gave away the store through 43 separate tax cuts. We hear about how great tax cuts are for taxpayers, but guess what? The poor aren’t the ones receiving them. They go overwhelmingly to the wealthiest taxpayers.”

The mock town meeting ended with Tuner emphasizing the need for youth to stay involved, if not out of concern for themselves, then out of concern for their children and their children’s children.

Photos by Nick Fuller

To find out more about the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP), contact Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, Tel. (617) 442-3343 x23, [email protected] .


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