MCAF: What is unique about protecting the resources in your district?
Leader Heard: The challenge we face in an urban area is not necessarily the drying up of a river where everyone fishes, the pollution of a special stream or other natural cluster or attraction, it is really about the air. We are most challenged by a huge industrial pocket on the south side of Columbus which is not always responsible or responsive to EPA directives. Even when a violation or activity is identified, and the EPA responds to the call, it is a very long and cumbersome process. The negative impact on the community and the people who live there just continues during what can be a lengthy investigation and appeal process. That is what makes urban areas unique — the situations being faced by the community are not readily apparent. People living in urban and low-income areas do not have the resources, the time, or the money to bring in scientists to do studies of their communities. They do not have the wherewithal to know what resources and options are available to them through government agencies. They are working two and three jobs just trying to survive, and these other critical issues are often ignored.
Are you worried about the effects of climate change on Ohio’s children?
Impacts from climate cover a wide range of issues. For example, climate impacts education. Having extreme temperature swings and weather dynamics like we are facing now in Ohio has resulted in back to back snow days, versus a day off here and there. That impacts a student’s academics.
We also see real impacts on children with asthma, especially in the summertime. That brings us back to air quality in urban areas. We are already challenged by industrial pollution. Adding to that temperature increases resulting from climate change, and our children face incredible challenges. These are young kids living in homes with no air conditioning. They have to stay inside during the summer because it is 100 degrees outside and their asthma is already exacerbated by poor air quality. In these situations, it is still 95 degrees in their homes, posing unique challenges.
Finally, there are impacts on access to food sources in low-income communities. Those living in low-income areas may only have access to money for food at the first of the month. If fresh food choices that week are poor because of the negative fallout from a drought or a specific shortage, they will not have the opportunity to make healthy food choices that month. Climate has such expansive impacts on children and communities at large—impacts that we don’t always talk about or connect the dots to understand. These impacts affect thousands of children in my district all at the same time.
Why is a bipartisan effort so important and how can these efforts be achieved in our politically polarizing culture?
We will not be successful in these efforts if we don’t get around the partisan wall that we keep running into. We will only meet the challenge of all important issues facing the government through citizen engagement. That is why it is such a big part of the work I do. It is also why I’m proud to have joined Moms Clean Air Force in Ohio. Through MCAF, we see people taking the power and responsibility back. That is how it is supposed to work in a democracy. The power belongs to the people, but the people have to engage, pay attention, and hold their leaders accountable. You must demand your issues be addressed. If civic engagement is absent on an issue, you will never get anything different than what you have right now. As legislators, we respond to our constituents. If you are silent, we are left to our own devices and crazy things will continue to happen. People have to say, “This is important, and if you’re not going to address it, then we will send someone to the legislature who will.” We are public servants, but we don’t always act that way. Civic involvement is an appropriate and necessary part of democratic dynamics.
Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?
I encourage you not to stop your work, but rather double down on your efforts, because the work that you are doing is necessary and appropriate. It is exactly how citizens in a democracy should be engaging their government and their public systems. There is something wrong, so together we are standing up to say that it isn’t acceptable on these levels for these reasons, and we expect you to take action. That is how we are supposed to function as citizens fortunate enough to live in a democracy. We have access to our leaders as free citizens. We are empowered with the ability to say that some things are unacceptable and needing fixing. That is why the work being done by Moms Clean Air Force is so important.
Thank you, Leader Heard!
Tracy Maxwell Heard is the Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives for the 130th General Assembly of Ohio. For seven years, Leader Heard has represented the 26th District in the House, which includes eastern and southern parts of Ohio’s capital city–Columbus. She made history when House Democrats elected her the first African American woman to be Majority Floor Leader in 2009; and only the second African American to hold that position. Leader Heard is dedicated to securing an adequate and equitable school funding formula for Ohio’s children, strengthening the state’s communities and local governments, and ensuring the political process is inclusive of Ohio’s diverse population.