By Katie Fehrenbacher
Prince, at times, had a love-hate relationship with technology.
While beloved musician Prince was inspiring fans through his creativity, it turns out he had a secret life as a clean energy philanthropist.
According to Prince’s friend and longtime green advocate Van Jones, Prince was a major backer of Jones’s group Green For All, which has worked on installing solar panels on the roofs of buildings in Oakland. Jones tells SFGatethat “there are people who have solar panels right now on their houses in Oakland, California that don’t know Prince paid for them.”
Prince was found dead at the age of 57 last Thursday at his home at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
Jones says Prince funded many other charitable organizations as well as the solar projects, and that Prince quietly worked behind the scenes on initiatives combatting gun violence and police brutality. According to Reverend Al Sharpton, he donated money to the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
The nonprofit’s website paid tribute to Prince through a short note:
#YesWeCode would like to honor Prince and thank him for his inspired vision for #YesWeCode. Prince’s commitment to ensuring young people of color have a voice in the tech sector continues to impact the lives of future visionaries creating the tech of tomorrow.
Prince, at times, had a love-hate relationship with technology. He was a pioneer of the early Web, and he was one of the first musicians to sell an album online. However, in recent years, Prince spent time removing much of his music from the Internet.
Last year, Prince moved all of his music over to steam exclusively online via the service Tidal, which is owned by fellow musician Jay Z. Prince said on Twitter at the time, “Essentially, streaming has offered labels the ability to pay themselves twice while reducing what is owed to artists…” The year prior, Prince removed all of his music from YouTube.
By Vien Truong
It feels fitting that in the run-up to Earth Day, a day meant to have us reflect on how we treat the earth and its delicate resources, the first criminal charges were filed in the ongoing Flint water crisis. One of the worst environmental racism cases in recent memory, three low and mid-level bureaucrats and scientists were charged with data manipulation and misleading the government that contributed to the poisoning of thousands of men, women and children. It’s a ray of hope for accountability in the never ending nightmare for the people of Flint.
But it’s also far from a closed case: people in Flint are still getting rashes and their homes are worth nothing. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder took the news earlier this week to theatrically pose with the water and pledge to drink it for the month, despite many contaminants beyond lead continuing to leach into the water. Governor Snyder has repeatedly resisted calls to resign, while doing little to change the situation on the ground for Flint’s residents.
We should all be furious. Not just by how this crisis has been handled, but by the fact that it had been allowed to occur in the first place and for so long.
Last month, Green For All travelled to Flint to witness first-hand the water crisis with local residents, who are still living entirely on bottled water.
We first met Desiree Dual, who recounted the process of watching her children getting progressively sick for months, and then one day stepped out of the shower to find blood coming out of her ears. Now, she’s organizing water deliveries for local residents and fighting for the resources for her pipes to be fixed — all while taking care of her sick children and her own health.
Then we met Harold Harrington, business manager of the local plumbers and pipefitters union, United Association Local 370. Their union is working to replace pipes, all the while living with poisoned water and pipes themselves. Harold told us his home, which his family spent years paying for, is now worth nothing because of Gov. Snyder’s actions.
Harold Harrington touring news media around the local pipefitters union, which is working to replace Flint’s lead-contaminated pipes
Existing laws make it illegal to sell a home with known water quality issues. Flint residents are trapped in their homes, with poisonous water continuing to stream from their taps. And their homes are now worth nothing.
As Congressman Matt Cartwright so powerfully stated during Congressional hearings last month, this is a man-made disaster created by Snyder himself, who thought saving a buck was more important than the health and wealth of an entire city. And amidst all of this, the cost of handling the crisis is ultimately falling on the families of Flint — with their failing businesses, dropping home values, and rising medical bills.
Gov. Snyder’s experiment with putting toxic water through Flint’s pipes has corroded ever pipe in Flint, poisoned the water of 100,000 people, and wiped out the wealth of an entire city. This leaves only one path forward to getting Flint’s residents access to water again: Gov. Snyder must flix Flint’s pipes immediately, and he needs do it with local labor.
The state and federal governments haven’t yet stepped in to fix it, other than the band-aid of bottled-water pickup stations available to mobile residents. That’s not a solution.
Residents have set up their own systems for distributing clean bottled water and caring for disabled, elderly, and homebound residents — but this isn’t sustainable. either Many of those providing help, like Desiree Dual, are struggling with their own health issues from the water.
Every corroded pipe in Flint is Snyder’s responsibility; every child struggling at school in Flint because of lead poisoning deserves Snyder’s financial support to do better; and every family who has watched and been affected by this economic devastation deserves the investment in Flint’s infrastructure that is essential to recovery.
Flint is our line in the sand: people of color aren’t going to stay silent while our lives are sacrificed for the sake of “cost-cutting.”
We deserve investments in our communities after years of deliberate actions to poison our air, water, and land. As we move to fix this problem by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and investing in clean and renewable energy, the first investments in new infrastructure have to go to the communities who have been on the receiving end of our country’s worst political and corporate greed.
By Alejandeo Davila Fragoso
Environmental pollution used to be an inconsequential act for industries and communities. Yet as science has evolved and explained the many effects of pollution, including climate change, the notion of having a free pass to pollute has ended.
The big question now is often not how or what is being affected by pollution, but who should pay for it. For Vien Truong, director of Green For All, the answer is simple: whoever creates the pollution should pay for it.
“We are calling for polluters to pay for what they break, to make polluters pay for what they do to our communities,” said Truong. To make that statement a reality, this week Green For All, a group focused on giving people of color a voice in the environmental movement, launched a national campaign for each state to create a Polluters Pay Fund. Truong said the funds would go to environmentally and economically disadvantaged communities via programs that communities develop.
We are calling for polluters to pay for what they break.
The way this would work, according to Green For All, is that as states draft plans to reduce their carbon, they would make polluters pay for the carbon allowances given under the Clean Power Plan, and then invest that money back into the communities hardest hit by their pollution. Essentially, it would be a carbon tax, an anathema concept for many politicians.
Green For All is doing its first push for the Polluters Pay campaign in Flint, Michigan, a city that’s been battling a lead poisoning crisis for several months. High chloride levels made the water excessively corrosive to Flint’s pipes, which polluted the water with lead. The chloride polluting the Flint River likely came from salts used to keep ice off the roads during the winter, and Flint did not apply corrosion inhibitor chemicals commonly used to mitigate such problems.
Two state and one city official so far have been charged over the water crisis, while various lawsuits are ongoing.
“Families in Flint are sick of paying to fix Governor Snyder’s mistakes,” Truong said. “This Earth Day, it’s time to talk about the people affected by pollution — starting with Flint. Fixing pipes is just the beginning. Justice is bringing back not only Flint’s water, but also Flint’s wealth.”
Green For All is inviting celebrities, community leaders, and organizations across the country to sign a petition and take part in a day of online action this Earth Day using #PollutersPay and #FixFlint on social media. The campaign has already been favored by actor Mark Ruffalo, though Green For All said more are likely to join in the coming weeks.
In the coming weeks, Green For All will be releasing toolkits in partnership with major environmental groups laying out recommendations for how states can implement their own polluters pay fund. There will also be a series of events across the country to educate stakeholders on this policy model.
This Polluters Pay campaign might seem grandiose due to its national scope. But it’s not unprecedented in the United States. In fact, it’s based on California’s Climate Investments Fund, a law that Truong designed and pushed for some five years ago. The Climate Investment Fund mandates that 25 percent of the state cap and trade funds are spent on disadvantaged communities.
The fund has helped people all over California in the last couple of years, and it’s growing fast.
“By the time we get to 2020 it’s going to be close to $12 billion,” said Truong. “It’s created the biggest fund in history for low-income families in any state.” And the benefits are already trickling down. In 2015, for instance, GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit, received $14.7 million in climate investment funding to install solar panels on low-income households.
“We expect to put solar on the homes of 1,600 low-income families across the state through 2016 with these funds,” Julian Foley, Grid Alternatives director of communications, told ThinkProgress via email, “and in the process provide 150,000 hours of job training and 400 paid work opportunities. These systems will provide families over $38 million in energy cost savings over their anticipated 25-year lifetimes.”
The California experience could be a sign that so-called polluters pay funds could multiply across the nation. After all, California is a pioneer in progressive laws and programs that other states then pick up. Yet, creating a polluters pay fund puts communities against polluters, which are often wealthy businesses or corporations that oppose more stringent laws in the first place. What’s more, Green For All proposes the Clean Power Plan, a court-challenged rule that calls for reductions in carbon emissions from the electricity sector, to be used as a vessel for the fund.
The plan, now under a Supreme Court stay, has been opposed by many lawmakers and multiple states. However, the rule also enjoys its share of support and some states are moving forward with it. Truong said a polluters pay fund attached to the plan could bring communities to rally around the controversial rule.
“Right now when you say Clean Power Plan people close their eyes and fall asleep,” she said. But if the plan means tangible benefits, Truong said, “people are going to race to support it because, you know what, it’s going to fund the things that they want to see.”
Truong is convinced on the opportunity, despite the bad reputation carbon taxes have among many lawmakers. “What we saw in California is that even the Republicans began supporting the program because they like ribbon-cutting as much as anybody,” she said.
Michael E. Kraft, professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, said pushing for any form of a carbon tax is daunting. “The political divisions and incivility that often characterize debates over climate change make it quite difficult to succeed in arguing for a carbon tax,” he told ThinkProgress, “even for a fee and dividend system … where all of the taxes are returned to the public.”
Still, he said public opinion surveys that show that the public is strongly in favor of many actions to address environmental problems like climate change. And Green For All — along with the organizations partnering with it — is determined to make the campaign a success.
“It is a challenge to get corporations to pay their fair share of taxes to environmental justice, that is very true,” said Jessica Juarez Scruggs, deputy director of policy at National People’s Action. “But it’s about building power in our communities so that we can force corporations to pay their fair share, you know, that’s what we need to do.”
Statement from Vien Truong, Director of Green for All:
“What is happening in Flint is criminal, but the person ultimately responsible is Governor Rick Snyder, who made the call to poison Flint’s residents for the sake of Michigan’s budget. This isn’t a closed case, people in Flint are still getting rashes and homes are worth nothing until Governor Snyder fixes every pipe in town. While we applaud the move towards criminal charges, what’s needed is the money to rebuild and fix Flint.”
Statement from Tony Palladeno, local Flint resident:
"People should go to jail for what's happened in Flint -- but that doesn't change the fact that we need our pipes fixed today. Our homes are worth nothing, businesses have closed. Governor Snyder is responsible, as the person in charge, and he needs to fix every pipe in Flint, with local labor, to rebuild our city."
Statement from Melissa Mays, Flint Resident and Founder of ‘Water You Fighting For’:
"I'm organizing water deliveries while dealing with health issues from the water crisis. I'm happy to see criminal charges, but Governor Snyder should be on the list. He needs to pay for what he has done -- to rebuild our lives and our economy, and to fix every pipe in Flint."
Green for All is organizing a national day of action for Governor Snyder to Fix Flint on Friday, Earth Day. More information will be released on that day of action later this afternoon. The action is part of a national Make #PollutersPay campaign.
See the petition for Governor Snyder to fix Flint here: MakePollutersPay.Us
Earth Day, on April 22, is a moment for us to reflect on how we’re protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the species that share our habitats, and the spectacular landscapes we cherish. In honor of Earth Day 2016, the Hewlett Foundation is showcasing seven grantees who are working to help make the planet more sustainable. We’re rolling out a weeklong Q&A series with up-and-coming leaders who are passionate about the environment.
Kicking off the series, we spoke with Vien Truong, director of Green For All, a national initiative to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.
How did you become involved with the environment cause?
When I was growing up, my family lived in some of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland, California. We were refugees from Vietnam and my parents didn’t speak any English. We struggled to make ends meet. As a child, it was normal for me to see families dealing with severe economic, mental and social problems.
It wasn’t until I was able to travel and live in other parts of the United States that I understood it was not normal for families to live in cramped apartments festering with cockroaches; kids to attend schools that are surrounded with chain-linked fences that look like prisons; neighborhoods to have regular drive by shootings. When I began understanding that these conditions were abnormal, I decided to dedicate my life to alleviating poverty and building the beloved communities that Dr. Martin Luther King envisioned.
As I continued working on anti-poverty solutions, I became more sensitive to environmental concerns like droughts, polluted air, and lack of reliable clean drinking water. Fighting for poverty felt like an immediate need – there are families out there suffering and starving. It was hard, however, to silence the nagging thoughts that we were burning up our planet and that environmental issues also need our attention.
When I learned that one can work to solve environmental problems and economic justice – I was hooked. I joined Green For All in 2008 to lead their state policy work. It was a great time to join the green jobs movement and we were able to pass a number of policies in a few years.
Can you describe a recent effort that you are proud of working on?
Green For All decided to support the residents in Flint, Michigan, who have been struggling with a toxic water crisis. We reached out to local organizers to ask whether we can help them in getting their stories out to a national audience. At the time, major media outlets were beginning to move on to the next news cycle. News that did cover Flint did not give residents a more central role in their stories.
We wanted to lend our access to media, artists, influencers and policymakers to support Flint residents. By doing so, we were able to direct major media outlets to listen to their stories, struggles and needs. It was a proud moment for our team to stand in solidarity with the local Flint leaders and to make sure that resources were directed to them from around the country. We are now working to ensure no other city experience the tragedies that befell Flint.
What is one message you would most want to tell world leaders?
For too long, the traditional wisdom has been that the problems of poverty and pollution are so big they can’t be handled together. We now know that these issues are so connected we can’t solve either of them unless we think about them together. Solutions like California’s SB 535 model, legislation passed in 2012 which caps the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, charges polluters for the damage they cause, and directs hundreds of millions of dollars to disadvantaged communities most impacted by climate change, is a great example of the possibility of tackling both issues simultaneously.
We can build on this model nationally through the Clean Power Plan or through state policies. By regulating polluters and investing in low-income communities, we can begin to clean up our air and improve the quality of life for all citizens while reducing the costs of living.
What sustains you?
I’m increasingly aware of the number of nonprofit leaders who are burned out and leave the field. Given that reality, I’ve made a conscious decision to find time to rejuvenate myself by spending time with my loved ones -- family and friends. Most recently, I’ve also started exploring classes on the weekends – these classes range from learning how to do handstands to Muay Thai. It’s been a lot of fun.
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