Power Local Green Jobs Wants PECO to Look into the Sun

Eileen Flanagan, for the Shuttle
Kaytee Ray-Riek photo
Protesters’ coffin represents the deadly effects of burning fossil fuel.

On March 27, I was handcuffed by the Philadelphia police and led, along with six others, out of PECO’s customer-service center and into a waiting police van. Our offense? Sharing the truth about solar energy with fellow PECO customers and refusing to leave when the utility got nervous about it. Weavers Way members featured prominently in the action.

We were there to pressure PECO into making a major commitment to local solar, which could bring jobs and economic opportunity to southeastern Pennsylvania while reducing our reliance on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. The investor-owned utility currently procures only 0.5% of its default electric supply from solar. The Power Local Green Jobs campaign, led by Earth Quaker Action Team and Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, is asking PECO to move to 20% solar by 2025. 

My arrest came on the first of three days of action centered on the themes of mourning, vision, and reckoning.

The day began with 60 solemn, black-clad “mourners” proceeding to PECO’s Market Street headquarters, bearing a cardboard coffin with the words “asthma, poverty, environmental racism and climate change.” We gathered on the PECO plaza, where the Rev. Rhetta Morgan keened while dancer Lela Aisha Jones expressed grief through movement. Rabbis Shawn Zevit, Sheila Weinberg and Julie Greenberg chanted Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, and the Rev. Linda Noonan led the crowd in the South African liberation song “Senzenina.” We heard moving stories about the health effects of living near an oil refinery, and the way these risks are shared unequally across racial lines.

After the mourning rituals, the seven of us willing to risk arrest that day carried a box of asthma inhalers into the adjacent PECO service center. We sat down around the inhalers, singing old protest songs and sharing stories about what inspired us to take this action. It wasn’t until we stood and shared these stories with other PECO customers that the police threatened to arrest us. Undaunted, POWER executive director the Rev. Gregory Holston declared to the rapt room that PECO nets $1 million a day from our region, so it can afford to invest in our future. 

We were soon put in plastic handcuffs and led outside, amid much singing. Co-op members in the group were Noonan, of Chestnut Hill United; Greenberg, of Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City; Walter Hjelt Sullivan, of Green Street Friends Meeting; and myself, a member of Chestnut Hill Friends. Also arrested were Holston, pastor of Janes Memorial United Methodist; the Rev. John Bergen of Germantown Mennonite; and Christy Tavernelli. We were all held briefly and released with citations.

The second day of action, which centered on vision, featured children and youth, who led adults in the chant “Let them in!” when their delegation was prevented from delivering a letter to PECO’s incoming CEO Mike Innocenzo. After some negotiation, security agreed to deliver the letter, which said that our future depends on clean energy and local jobs. While the hip-hop group Hardwork Movement performed, the upbeat crowd illustrated a green future in colorful chalk drawings on the PECO plaza.

“The solution to dirty energy could bring jobs to people who need them,” said Kindred Brix, 13.

The third day of action began with the pre-Easter ritual of foot-washing, familiar in churches but an unusual sight outside PECO. After the ritual, 18 people lay down and were eventually arrested.

The Power Local Green Jobs campaign intends to keep increasing the pressure. To learn more or get involved, visit eqat.org.

Eileen Flanagan is a Weavers Way member. Her website is eileenflanagan.com.