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Massachusetts legislators and residents push for local option to divest

Massachusetts legislators and residents push for local option to divest

Massachusetts Chapter | Corporate Responsibility Action Group

Two Massachusetts legislators joined the Massachusetts Climate Action Call on Thursday, July 15 to share ideas about the best ways for residents to reach out to local elected officials. The 58 attendees later phoned and emailed state legislators requesting support for two bills, S.722 and H.2640, that would enable local pension boards to divest from fossil fuels.

Climate Action Calls organized by Mothers Out Front give participants information about critical climate issues, time to take meaningful action, and the chance to connect with fellow advocates, all in less than an hour. By the end of the call, participants sent 40 emails and made 18 phone calls. Massachusetts residents can continue advocating for these bills using tools provided by Mothers Out Front

Senator Marc R. Pacheco (1st Plymouth and Bristol District) and Representative Jay D. Livingstone
(8th Suffolk District) discussed challenges and opportunities for people contacting their representatives during this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rep. Livingstone said that email is the most effective tool right now because most people are not staffing the phones at the State House on a regular basis. He added that some representatives are holding office hours, which offer opportunities for helpful one-on-one conversations about constituent concerns. He urged caution when using social media to make contact, noting that people use it to call out legislators for not taking a particular action. “Sometimes people can get their backs up when they are called out in that way, particularly if there isn’t a conversation first,” he said. 

Sen. Pacheco encouraged attendees to contact their senators in any way they can. He seconded using email, although he said that legislators are experiencing backlogs during the pandemic. He suggested that constituents write letters to their legislators at their home addresses—which are listed on ballots—to guarantee that they read their messages. Other options include writing letters to the editor or calling into local talk shows or radio programs. “All of those strategies are very effective, especially when they are done all at once, together,” he said. “They can be very powerful in getting the legislator to understand how many people in their district really care about this particular issue.”

Sen. Pacheco also mentioned that if constituents connect with staffers and request to speak with their senator, in many cases that senator will reach back out to them. He echoed Rep. Livingstone’s remarks about using social media, although he noted that constituents may organize a social media campaign if they have had a conversation with their senator and do not agree with their position. Mothers Out Front member Toby Woll reiterated the recommendation that advocates “call in” first before they “call out” legislators on social media. 

Following the legislators’ remarks, Mothers Out Front member Sue Stafford introduced two bills that would allow local retirement boards to divest from fossil fuels. She asked participants to recall the Merrimack Valley gas explosions of 2018 and imagine fighting those fires without the option of turning off the gas. Independent retirement boards in Massachusetts face a somewhat analogous situation. They are tasked with stewarding resources for future retirees, without the option to divest from fossil fuels.

Two bills sponsored by Sen. Pacheco and Rep. Livingstone seek to remove this obstacle. S.722 and H.2640 specify that any independent retirement system may divest, in whole or in part, from any investment in fossil fuel companies under their direct control or management. These bills protect the pensions of public servants, like firefighters and social service workers, by enabling fund managers to make the best choices when investing. If pension funds stay tethered to fossil fuels, which may become riskier investments over time, taxpayers may foot the bill for shortfalls. Meanwhile, the opportunity to divest helps free up funds that can be invested in renewable energy, as opposed to fuels that contribute to climate change.

After learning about Local Option bills, participants were given time to call their senators and representatives, send follow-up emails, and tell other people in their networks how they can help. In the chat, one attendee noted that the outreach tools “made personalizing an email very easy!” Several participants made contact with legislators or their staff during the event—one staff person reported receiving “tons of calls” and asked if there was a lobby day on these bills. This energy reflected a comment from Sen. Pacheco, who said “a group of mothers who get together are the most powerful group I have been involved with over the years.” 

Register for the Next Climate Action Call

The next Climate Action Call will take place Thursday, August 12, 12:00-12:45 pm. At each Climate Action Call, Mothers Out Front organizers will offer a different impactful climate action for participants to take during the event. Attendees do not need prior experience or knowledge to participate. Register Here.

Michelle Scott is a volunteer with Mothers Out Front in Medford. She is a transportation planner, an amateur birder and gardener, and mother to an energetic one-year-old explorer.