Recap of the 2017 Miami Group Retreat

The 2017 Retreat at the Schott Pavilion at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford was a huge success, with about 60 people in attendance!

The fun began with loads of goodies to eat for breakfast (and throughout the day). MC Marci Taylor started with an “icebreaker”: She gave everyone a list of questions to ask people they didn’t know. That got folks engaged with one another early-on!

The first panel discussion was entitled Back to Our Roots: 2017 Conservation Initiatives. Matt Trokan described the many water-related accomplishments achieved in 2016, and his plans to expand the program this year. Marilyn Wall reviewed our decades-long struggle to get MSD to fix our huge problems with combined-sewer overflows. Much progress was made in 2016, but much more remains to be done. Nathan Alley discussed progress on alternate forms of transportation. The “streetcar” went into operation in 2016, new bike lanes were added, and bike trail segments were added. Progress appears to be accelerating! All three speakers encouraged more member participation to move these programs forward.

The second panel discussion was entitled What Can We Do Now? With all that has happened since the election, many of us are shell-shocked, and some are nearing despair. Yet, there are strong signs of hope, as people have turned-out in the tens of thousands all over the USA and across the world as well. The big question is where we go from here.

The first speaker was Dave Altman, a lawyer with decades of experience using lawsuits to make companies stop breaking the law. He says it’s a three-step process: Organize, Strategize, and then Litigate. Whatever happens with the EPA, he notes that anyone “adversely impacted” by an action can, like the EPA, sue to rectify the situation. So, in essence, We are the EPA!

The next speaker was Michelle Young, who has been an activist her entire life. She described many of the campaigns she has worked on, and decided to run for office herself last year, losing to Steve Chabot in Ohio’s First Congressional District. She encourages like-minded people to run for office as well. At this point, she feels we must “go back to the beginning” like we did I the 60’s, and “we MUST WIN this time!”

The next speaker was Larry Falkin, who heads Cincinnati’s Sustainability Office. He believes that things may not be as bad as they seem, since bureaucracies change slowly. The points out that “despair is not empowerment”.  The city has been on-track for nine years now in meeting climate-footprint reduction goals. He praised the city’s “solarize” program and their decision to make downtown parking free for all-electric vehicles. In 2017, the city will employ anaerobic digesters, begin textile recycling, and renegotiate our electric power aggregation contract (help with keeping it 100% green!).

Marilyn Wall kept her comments brief in order to give the others extra time. Her bottom-line: “We MUST organize, and we need more people to get involved”.

Melissa English of Ohio Citizen Action recapped her 28 years as an activist, focusing on her now 14 years with OCA. She explained OCA’s grassroots approach: Organize the “fence-line” neighbors that are directly impacted by a polluting business. OCA plays the “outside game”, going door-to-door gathering signatures and encouraging people to “comment” on pending actions. She gave this example: To get the Ohio Energy Table to “thaw the freeze” on alternative energy standards, OCA gathered 12,000 Comments and 32,000 Signatures!

A lively discussion followed. Dave Altman made one key point: The reason the Tea Party was so effective at organizing is that every participant was given a copy of (ultra-liberal) Saul Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals”. They learned those lessons and applied them well. Perhaps we should do the same!

A buffet luncheon was served downstairs. It was delicious, with plenty to go around.

After lunch, there was a free period. A few people went on a short hike at a nearby preserve. Many attended a Water Sampling demo by Matt Trokan. Others just chatted and/or took a short walk.

The first afternoon session was on area bike paths, with Frank Henson of Queen City Bike presenting. He gave a recap of how bike trails have evolved over the years, leading to a new organization named Tri-State Trails, which is a coalition of trail advocate & stakeholders, a physical network of trails, and a vision and plan to interconnect existing trails in the tri-state area. The top three challenges for trail construction are obtaining right-of-ways, funding, and public & political support. Much has been accomplished, and there is now a well-organized and funded program for filling in the blanks. The full presentation is available on miamigroup.org.

The second afternoon session was on the Edge of Appalachia Preserve and the Sunshine Project, presented by Martin McAlister of the Nature Conservancy. Martin detailed how a small parcel donated by one person has grown into a large preserve which is now within 1000 yards of Shawnee State Forest. The preserve is one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions of the world, especially for songbirds, salamanders, mussels and land snails. The full presentation is available on miamigroup.org.

After a well-attended Happy Hour, we enjoyed another terrific meal.

The final presentation of the day was a slide show by Marci Taylor and her husband Warren regarding their recent visit to Israel. Their tour was jointly sponsored by Muslim, Jewish and Christian churches in Cincinnati. As a result, they got guided tours of sites cherishes by all three faiths. They had many wonderful pictures to show and stories to tell.

Hats-off to our GREP Committee for another great Retreat: Randy Johnson, Marci Taylor, Karen Nagel, Elizabeth Durrell, and Jean Kantor  (And Martha Walker as registrar).