New Humanities Action Lab Class Joins a Fight for Climate Justice in Albany
Imagine you are walking down a street. To your left, you see your neighbor’s house and, to your right, a bustling gas-fired power plant that towers over the neighborhood. This is the reality for the residents of the frontline community of Sheridan Hollow – a small environmental justice neighborhood in Albany - and the NGO advocacy efforts of Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE).
Myself as well as other students in the ESS/MDOCS Humanities Action Lab class are fighting alongside SHARE to change Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to build a new fracked natural gas power plant (in Sheridan Hollow) to heat, cool, and power the Empire State Plaza.
Our class, Environmental Justice in the Capital Region, is focused on helping this community fight against these injustices. Through numerous trips to Albany, video recorded interviews and focus groups, photography, and online petitions to the Governor, we’re creating a touring exhibit that will make this case of injustice heard around the world.
The travelling exhibit incorporates videos, photography, virtual reality headsets, and viewfinder images, with the goal to not only pressure Governor Cuomo to change his ill-conceived plan, but to make sure that these injustices are no longer the norm in lower-income communities.
Professor of the course A.J. Schneller explained how “our Humanities Action Lab course is such a great learning opportunity, as well as an avenue for us to take action on climate justice. Not only are we working hand-in-hand with Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy to work for the protection of an Environmental Justice community, but we're creatively advocating for much needed changes to how the state of New York produces energy.”
In 1981, former Governor Mario Cuomo burdened the community with a trash incinerator. Residents fought to have the incinerator closed from the moment it was up and running, as it covered their homes, cars, and soils in black soot laden with illegal levels of lead and cadmium. Children and adults alike became sick with asthma and even cancer as they ingested the chemicals from the plant. However, it wasn’t until 1994 when the soot landed on the lawn of the governor’s mansion that the plant was finally shut down.
To add insult to injury, Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing to convert the old incinerator into a power plant that will be fueled by fracked natural gas, sparking renewed anger and backlash from residents across New York.
Schneller designed the course and explained “I’ve never taught a course structured like this before, and I hesitate to even use the term “teach”- as this has been a collaborative advocacy effort between myself, students, community stakeholders, MDOCS, and two- dozen colleges worldwide.”
Sophomore Parker Heuer ’21 explained how for her, this class “more than any other class, has given me the chance to take what I have learned and truly apply it to the real world. This semester in this class I have used that knowledge to be active for an environmental community, working with the community directly to raise awareness and fight for their cause.”
Through five more weeks of petition signing, lobbying, and press conferences, my classmates and I hope to design an exhibit that helps Sheridan Hollow win the fight for renewable energy – possibly by taking the $88 million set aside for the power plant out of the state budget.
Merton Simpson, co-chair of SHARE and an Albany County Legislator explained how “at a time when the nation is looking for strong leadership, it amazes us that we’d do anything but run our government on renewable energy. For the health of our community and for the health of the planet, we call on Governor Cuomo to once and for all commit to 100% renewables for the Plaza.”
The community of Sheridan Hollow deserves better than to be treated with as much injustice as they are now. In order to get Governor Cuomo to change his plans and consider renewable options instead of a gas- fired powered plant, residents of New York and around the country alike need to step in. Please consider signing our petition, as one thousand signatures are needed to make a difference.
Photo courtesy of A.J. Schneller