Via Basel: Interview with Kyra Woods, Part 2


As a reminder to EIL readers this is 2nd part of my interview with Kyra Woods on May 25th, 2018, at the downtown offices of the Chicago Chapter of the Sierra Club. Please refer to Part 1 in link below if you have not read it earlier.

Basel: Kyra, before we go on to suggestions for our readers, can you talk about the mechanism of what RF100 is trying achieve in the local community.

Kyra: Sure, we mentioned earlier community education and involvement and those are major aspects. Affecting political change means influencing your representatives which can only be achieved by influencing the voter and that is best done by educating and engaging him/her. Our local Ready for 100 campaign has identified thousands of supporters in Chicago by collecting petitions at various events across the city, working with partner organizations, and helping to organize events like last year’s Chicago Community Climate Forum at the Field Museum which had nearly 2,500 attendees. We are trying to get people to talk about energy use, wind turbines, or solar panels whether they are sitting on their porch, enjoying the sunset and feeling the cool summer breeze, or attending their block club party or neighborhood church. Over the summer, we’ll be putting together community dialogue groups to meet in their local communities as we listen and learn about their community’s priorities as it relates to this clean energy transition and take their lead in crafting solutions.

Basel: I love that, listening instead of lecturing. If more followed that advice the world would be a better place. But, back to reality, can you give the average Illinoisan and Chicagoan 2 or 3 suggestions in that area …apart from joining the Sierra Club (laughing)?

Kyra: Oh, yes, a good cause, come out and join us or volunteer if you can. Now that it is the summer, consider leaving your car at home and walking, biking—there are lots of new dockless bike programs—in addition to using public transportation. Not only you will contribute significantly to reduction in emissions and pollution but it’s healthier for you. Win/win situation.

Basel: From a health perspective too much comfort is not good for our bodies, which need to be stressed from time to time to boost our immune system. They can get used to the summer heat and winter cold without having to turn the AC or heat up and down all the time. My favorite tip is for taking cold showers which has many health benefits and at same time you conserve  water since it’s less likely you will linger in the shower for too long. But I digress…

Kyra: I also suggest people do some research. Here in Chicago there are a number of organizations that are doing work around environmental issues in so many different ways: the engineering, scientific, management aspects, workforce development or legal. And these organizations are all over the city! Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) in Little Village, People for Community Recovery on the far southside, or Indivisible chapters in various neighborhoods.

Basel: You’re advocating for people to get involved especially if they are not satisfied with global, federal, or even local inaction on environmental issues they care about. I may add that redirecting anger,despair, and frustration into action (with no expectations of certain outcomes) is a lot healthier than just talking and complaining about it.

Kyra: Exactly, and please don’t forget to vote and urge others to do the same. If you are busy and unable to fully evaluate the candidates and your values are in line with ours, the Sierra Club does a lot of investigating in that area to come up with the best candidates so just check their endorsements in your locality…Be an educated voter.

Basel: So, Kyra, before we end this informative and exciting interview, can you tell us a short story or memory from your past regarding the environment that may resonate with our readers.

Kyra: I did mention earlier I am a Chicago native and proud of it. In fact my family has been here for 4 generations.

Basel: Probably came here with the great migration.* 

Kyra: My mother, grandmother, and great grandparents have been here, so I say that to say this is home. I grew up in Beverly on the far southwest side of the city and have always traveled outside of my community to go to school and other activities like music lessons, etc. I can remember driving along the Dan Ryan expressway with my mother and as we approached the western side of the city, you could see smokestacks in the distance. From time to time, smoke would billow from them. I asked my mom, “Is this the bad smoke that’s polluting us?” I had just learned about acid rain and pollution in school. My mother (probably trying to comfort her child) did not seem concerned and said something to the effect of “look how quickly it clears, it’s not as black, and it dissipates.” Later on as an adult I learned about the Crawford and Fisk coal-fired power plants in the middle of the city and the damage done to communities near them. I was devastated to find out; we had never talked about this at home, at school, or in any of the groups I belonged to. It’s a tragedy that we, as Chicago, helped birth and bring visibility to the environmental justice movement, and yet our youth aren’t taught about some of the greatest activists from Chicago who are still fighting for all. That, to me, is not acceptable. I can recognize my miseducation and simple naivete as a young child, adolescent, and young adult about what was in my own city. Now that I know better, it’s my job to do something. I’m grateful to all of our partners who worked for more than 10 years to close those power plants. And it is unacceptable for any politician to claim that they were the reason that it happened. It happened because the community and activists were tired and sick, literally. They took a stand until the plants were shut down.

Basel: Kyra, I have witnessed your enthusiasm in action before, but telling your story today, your passion and full emotional expression are off the chart. You are incensed by the injustices in your own back yard.

Kyra: It is not called environmental injustice for just any reason. Whether you are fighting for lead free water in Flint, Michigan or clean air in communities along Chicago’s industrial corridor, our environment affects us all. We are in it together and people have to wake up.

Basel: What a powerful and positive end to this fascinating interview….as we are witnessing a great awakening in our small towns,  larger cities, and all over our beautiful USA . Thanks so much, Kyra, for your time, effort and patience with me …as we both invite you our readers to be part of this great awakening.

Kyra: You’re welcome. Hope to see some of you at the Sierra Club soon.

Interview with Kyra Woods, Sierra Club, Part 1

New York Times Review of The Warmth of Other Suns

*Refers to the migration of millions of black Americans in 1st half of last century from the south to north, east, and west, as described in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.