It’s a Wonderful Fight: Downwinders Wins First-Ever Green Source Environmental Leadership Award

From the tragically ridiculous, to the sweet sublimity of community…..Only hours after being kicked-out of Dallas City Hall, Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck showed up at the first annual Green Source Environmental Leadership Awards dinner and ceremony to accept the honor, and terribly heavy piece of sculpture, that goes with winning in the Grassroots Organization category. For hours before then, he’d been in exile, watching on a computer screen as the Dallas Gas Task Force disassembled the progress he and others thought they had made over the last 6 month of work. He had lots of time to reflect on when he’d ever even come close to getting thrown out of a meeting before…..More than 12 years now, during an clean air planning session in Arlington with former Collin County Judge Harris presiding. Back then he and Downwinders members were trying to to tell officialdom that the Midlothian cement plants really did contribute to DFW smog, should be included in these clean air plans, and should be required to put on new controls. Crazy talk like that. Schermbeck would not shut up from his seat on the outside of the decision-making circle that the state was purposely underestimating the bad impact of the cement plants’ pollution. He and Harris almost took it out in the Hall. As it turns out, that same pair would later collaborate on the best clean air plan DFW ever cobbled together, and yes, as a matter of fact it did include new controls for those cement plants. So here Schermbeck was in 2012, taking on the gas industry juggernaut as it nudges its way into the City of Dallas. Adopting the crazy stand that allowing natural gas mining in Dallas without better controls will make already bad air worse, and put residents in harms way. That city Park land should not be Gasland. Openly quarreling with traditional allies. Going out on an unpopular limb – again. Schermbeck believed he’d done the right thing at City Hall in so publicly standing up against the last-minute roll back that was going on, but as an organizer, one always keeps a seed of doubt alive. Coming directly from the very late and frustrated ending of the Task Force into the Awards party already on-going at the new Eco-op near White Rock Lake, that seed of doubt withered. Beekeepers. Worm Ranchers. Eco-friendly event planners. Old-fashioned Hell-Raisers. Community icons. People who’ve been doing this for 30 years that you haven’t seen in 20. People you’re meeting for the first time but already have three friends in common. Approximately 120 of DFW’s most ardent green folk and activists were gathered together – and it wasn’t even an Earth Day event! And the crowd looked like Dallas itself does these days, with a more diverse collection of skin tones. And here they were in their own space, a real-life mortar and bricks expression of a commitment to needed infrastructure in the regional environmental scene. It was an overdue celebratory meeting of the tribe. When Downwinders’ name was read as the winner in its category, Schermbeck had a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment. The enthusiasm of the reception caught him off-guard. He’s not used to being that popular in public, and of course, he’d just been so unpopular in public he was escorted out of City Hall. Even more than the title, or the award itself, it was that rousing reception from peers and comrades that turned out to be the biggest prize anybody could ever take home. And for that especially, the Staff and board of Downwinders at Risk sincerely thank the Memnosyne Foundation, Green Source DFW, and everyone who attended and voted for us for what we’ll take as a right-in-the-nick-of-time fateful affirmation of our mission to get out front and lead, even if that means occasional friction with the status quo, and alternative seating arrangements.