Author: Christopher Cocca

Christopher Cocca is a Pennsylvania-based writer and community organizer. His fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in Brevity, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Geez Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Generate, and elsewhere. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School in 2005 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing (fiction) from The New School in 2011. He helps lead the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley - Berks and is the Associate for Urban Mission at FPC Allentown. Opinions expressed on-line are solely his. Quotation does not equal endorsement, except for when it does.

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance

Allentown Residents for Clean Air

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
6/6/2014

CONTACT:
Rich Fegley 610-509-8996

Allentown Residents for Clean Air Renews Court Fight for Clean Air Ordinance 

ALLENTOWN – Members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air (ARCA) filed a motion in the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas to bring a clean air ordinance to the Allentown voters.  Last year, ARCA members collected nearly 3,500 signatures, exceeding the 2,000 signature requirement for Allentown voters to put an initiative on the ballot.  The Allentown Clean Air Ordinance initiative would require any company building a new incinerator in the city to continuously monitor about 20 air pollutants, release the emissions data to a website real-time, and to cap emissions for four of those pollutants.

Only one company currently aims to build an incinerator in Allentown: Delta Thermo Energy A, LLC.  They hope to find adequate investors to start building their proposed facility soon, which would burn 150 tons per day of processed trash and sewage sludge.  Delta Thermo Energy was recently awarded air pollution and waste permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The air permit requires only five pollutants to be monitored on a continuous basis, plus the darkness of the smoke and the global warming pollutant, CO2 — far short of what the Allentown Clean Air Ordinance would require.

Last October, the court refused to compel the county Board of Elections to put the ordinance on the ballot, siding with the county and Delta Thermo Energy’s claims that the ordinance is not legal because it requires approval from the state DEP.  That decision was not technically final, however, and could not be appealed for that reason.  The motion for summary judgment filed with the court seeks a final decision from the court.

ARCA members, including Rich Fegley, argue in a detailed 53-page brief that state law grants local governments the power to adopt their own stricter air pollution laws without needing DEP approval, and that such laws are needed in Allentown because the city is 14th worst in the nation for sooty-air and is the nation’s 11th worst asthma capital.

This motion introduces new arguments from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case decided in late December, in which the state’s highest court struck down major parts of Act 13, a 2012 law that the court said went too far in supporting the oil and gas industry.  The law, designed to support hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, overrode local governments’ rights to adopt any sort of ordinance to restrict gas industry development.  For the first time, the court found that the rights to clean air and pure water in the Pennsylvania constitution can be enforced to protect the rights of the people.  It also found that the Commonwealth (including local governments) has a duty to protect these rights.

“If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can find that our constitutional rights to clean air and water make it illegal for the state to take actions that interfere with those rights, then surely the constitution backs up the clear language in our state law that gives Allentown the authority to adopt its own clean air ordinance. The highest court in the state has clarified that municipalities are obligated to protect the health and welfare of citizens, and that environmental rights are guarantees that have to be protected at every level of government.” says Breena Holland, political science professor at Lehigh University.

The motion also argues that Delta Thermo Energy and Lehigh County misrepresented election law to the county court.  These parties convinced the court last year that Boards of Election are empowered to keep an ordinance off of the ballot if they think it’s not legal.  However, ARCA members’ motion argues that these cases say the opposite.  “Pennsylvania’s law is clear on this,” says Diane Teti, one of the plaintiffs.  “Boards of Elections are empowered to make sure that signatures and notarizations are valid and sufficient, but that’s it.  There is no dispute that we met those requirements, and the Board of Elections is required to put it on the ballot.  Legality of ordinances is for the courts to decide.”

And decide they will.  The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas has given Delta Thermo Energy and the Board of Elections until July 1st to respond, after which the court will make a final decision.

“This fight is not over,” says Fegley.  “No incinerator will be built in Allentown, and if we have to appeal this all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to bring our right to clean air to the Allentown voters, we will.”

###


Sources:

Motion for Summary Judgment Brief:
http://stoptheburn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-06-01-ARCA-final-brief.pdf

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling on Act 13:
http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-127A-D-2012oajc.pdf

Asthma ranking: “Asthma Capitals 2013,” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.asthmacapitals.com ;http://www.aafa.org/pdfs/2013_AC_FinalPublicList1.pdf

Strength (and proof) in Numbers: Housing First Works, is Cheaper than Alternatives to Ending Homelessness

Being Queer is a Choice

Christopher Cocca:

A lot of important considerations here. I choose to be queer. I think God does, too. Sure, I’m straight. That’s not what I mean.

Originally posted on A Node in the Network:

A lot’s been made of whether or not being gay is a choice. Whatever the precise ratio of heritable to environmental factors leading to our physically attraction to some people and not others, it’s safe to say that few spend their pre-pubescent years consciously cultivating proclivities and predilections.  Because we are social beings bound up in the contingency of our relationships to one another, biological creatures regulated by neurochemicals, participants in particular political and economic systems constrained by our access to power and capital, and a million other these-kinds-of-beings in those-kinds-of-structures, any facile treatment of choice should be met with suspicion, especially when it comes to a freighted issue like human sexuality.

I think a sufficient number of philosophers, academics, pop psychologists, neurobiologists, and internet pontificators have undertaken analyses of the nature of free will and choice, so that’s not really where I’m headed here.  For my purposes, same-sex attraction…

View original 637 more words

Allentown won’t have its ‘miracle’ without affordable housing

Please click through to my recent op-ed in The Morning Call.

 

“In the wake of John Tarbay’s death at the Hamilton Street Bridge, just yards away from the Allentown Rescue Mission and not far from other agencies, a familiar chorus from social service providers and even some activists is likely to emerge: “Someone like John just didn’t want to come inside,” or “John was a ‘rough-sleeper.’ We tried,” or “John was this, that, or the other. John couldn’t live by the rules of society, or didn’t want to.”

All of those things may be true.

With the worst winter in memory finally behind us, it’s tempting to let the calls that more be done for Allentown’s and the Lehigh Valley’s homeless subside. It’s tempting to forget that “not being able to live by the rules of society” is obviously another way of talking about mental health, and mental health issues are the reasons most folks are on the street…”

Read more:

100 Homeless Tent Cities Across America? Try 1000. Maybe More.

“the shelters…there’s just not enough room.”

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/16/pf/tent-city/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The guy who says “this is a conscientious choice” (people LOVE living in tent cities!) is part of the problem.

100 tent cities across America? Try 1000. There are at least 3 in the Lehigh Valley. I doubt we own 3 percent of this issue.

And yes, the City of Allentown is shutting them down, even though there’s really no place for people to go.

 

Thinking About Chicago

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.

Today is Casimir Pulaski Day; Because of Sufjan and Slavery, I Offer This

It’s mostly an Illinois thing, but there’s also an important Lehigh Valley connection.  I wrote about this a few years ago, but because I love Sufjan Stevens and hate injustice, I’ll tell you about it again:

Pulaski was a Polish noble and general who helped the American colonies win their independence from Great Britain by training and leading American soldiers throughout the Revolution.  Pulaski died from wounds sustained during the Siege of Savannah, and is remembered today as a proto-typical Polish-American hero in many Polish-American communities.  Though his holiday is mostly celebrated in Illinois, two years ago I discovered a connection between the Duke and the Lehigh Valley’s very own Bethlehem, PA.

I was walking around the grounds of the old Moravian settlements in Bethlehem and come upon this grave in the historic Moravian Cemetery:

A few yards away, I found this historical marker, explaining Duke Pulaski’s role in defending the early settlement and the fact that women from the Moravian community created the war banner he carried into Savannah, an even later llionized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski’s Banner.

Reconciling the image of pacifist Moravians sewing banners meant for war is one thing.  But Cornelia’s grave made me hot with rage and then it made me weep.

When I got home, I wrote the piece below.  You need to know that Bethlehem, PA, was founded by pacifist Moravians (who were fleeing religious persecution) in 1741 and christened for its namesake on Christmas Eve.

CORNELIA
NEW YORK
1728-1757
MULATTO SLAVE
(THE HORSFIELD’S)
1755 RECEIVED INTO THE CHURCH

What scandal, these Moravians, these Peace Church nuns and friars rending martial banners? Duke Pulaski, their protector, marches to Savannah, is recalled in Illinois among the Polish and in the frontier psalter for his sword. How ancient, their Count’s mission, in its context on the Lehigh, infant, pre-incarnate by their Christmas City’s namesake — Bethlehem, Palestine?

Cornelia, theirs in life, (the Horsfields’), not her own or God’s, sewn in Pennsylvania with the city’s founding mythos. December 24, 17whatever. Theirs in death, the Horsfields, these Peace Church nuns and friars.

The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

’99 Problems: Jimmy Fallon Lost Me at Bitch

A few nights ago, Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” special was on.  Because I remember it being from 1999 and also hilarious, I watched it for a while.  A few things stuck out this time around.

  • Because it was made in 1999, it looks like it could have been made yesterday (Rock’s update on the Raw-era Eddie Murphy leather suit notwithstanding).
  • A lot of the jokes themselves still stand up.   Most of the ones that don’t have to do with gender roles and outdated (and even then, largely feigned) attitudes toward women.

The next day, I saw the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake bringing their History of Rap bit to The Tonight Show.  Near the end of the medley, we’re treated to “Move, bitch! Get out the way!” and “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” in rapid succession.

Watching two wealthy, talented, powerful men grunt bitch the way they did was, quite frankly, shocking.  In both cases, bitch is meant as a pronoun, a somehow acceptable substitute for woman.  “Demeaning” doesn’t begin to capture it, and, while they should be embarrassed by it, embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word.  It was lyrical misogyny and it was shameful.  Because we all love you, Jimmy Fallon, we may be inclined to give you a pass.  Poor judgement happens.  But this felt like watching little boys learning how to marginalize and mistreat other people.   It looked like grown men who should know better legitimizing their part of a culture that treats women like objects worthy of derision, possession, and shame.   Aren’t we past all of this?

IronPigs-Liberty-Bell-2014

Not Just Bacon: The IronPigs, the Liberty Bell, and Allentown’s Revolution Legacy

The new bacon hats are getting all of the attention (and a lot of it) in the regional and even national press.  But for me, the most interesting new look in the ‘Pigs’ line up this year is the powder-blue/burgundy combo complete with a new alternate logo wedding the Liberty Bell to the local steel industry.   From the IronPigs:

“The IronPigs will don a new powder blue and burgundy two-tone Sunday cap this season that connects the rich histories of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia regions with a fresh-take on the world-famous Liberty Bell. In this new design, the Bell is suspended by an I-beam, a symbol of the Lehigh Valley’s steelmaking prowess, and features metal rivets to indicate the Bell’s iconic crack. Lehigh Valley residents may also be familiar with the fact that in 1777, the Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown so that the British army wouldn’t melt it down for munitions. The cap will be worn with the retro mesh IronPigs jersey which was introduced in 2013 to pay homage to the Phillies’ tradition-rich teams of the 1970s and 1980s in which the Phillies went to the postseason in six of eight seasons and won their first World Championship in 1980. “

Frankly, you had me (and always will) at powder blue and burgundy.  But there’s something even more interesting and historically important here, which the front office mentions but I’d like to expand on.   As many locals know, Allentown, then known as Northampton Town, did indeed hide the Liberty Bell (then known as the State House Bell) from the British during the American Revolution.  Specifically, the bell and ten other Philadelphia bells were hidden under the floor boards of Zion’s German Reformed Church (now known as Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ).   Also rendered Zion’s Liberty Bell Church, the site at Church and Hamilton (between 7th and 6th) has housed Allentown’s Liberty Bell Shrine and Museum since 1962.

From Zion’s website (libertybellchurch.org):

“Zion is known as the Liberty Bell Church because in 1777, eleven bells were brought here from Philadelphia for safe‑keeping during the Revolutionary War. Those bells included the State House bell B, now better known as the Liberty Bell. They were hidden under the floor boards on this very site so that the British would not find and melt them to make cannons.

Our Liberty Bell Museum on the lower level of the building commemorates this and other historic events at the church, and houses the Harry S. Trexler Portraits of Freedom collection as well as changing exhibits. Because of its historical importance, Zion is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

As the tour guides at Zion’s will tell you, the Liberty Bell did not become “The Liberty Bell” for another 80 years after the colonies were liberated from Great Britain.  Seizing upon the message emblazoned across the bell (Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof),  abolitionists in the 19th century made it a symbol in the fight to end slavery and a reminder of the degree to which we’d failed as a body politic to proclaim the ideals of the revolution in their fullest, truest sense.

It’s not often that the cities respectively hosting a big league club and their top affiliate have this kind of connection in terms of history, iconography, and branding.  I’ll be sporting the new hat (reserved by the ‘Pigs, of course, for Sundays) in proud support of my city and the role it played in preserving one of liberty’s greatest symbols.

Bullets With Butterfly Wings: A Writing Prompt About Nerves, Dread, and Fear

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The prompt (not the awesome title reference) came today from WordPress.  Butterflies like bullets.  You know what that’s about.  That song came out in 1995, which is probably exactly when my own strongest moment of heart-pounding, belly-twiting nervousness happened.  To make another reference, it was almost certainly about a girl.

And now I need to watch this, and so do you:

A few years ago I was on an obsessive workout regimen and dropped a million pounds.  Nirvana Unplugged was my cardio jam.  I wonder what that was about.

How Letterman Keeps Winning

Jay Leno may have delivered more viewers in the long run, but Letterman’s move to CBS 21 years ago created the late night ethos dominating NBC and cable even now.

Notes David Bauder:

“Like most comics of his generation, Meyers worships at the altar of David Letterman, but a more enduring influence is Conan O’Brien.” There’s no Meyers (or Conan, Fallon, Colebert, Stewart, or Ferguson) without David Letterman.