Joel Wool is a very busy man. In between his community organizing work with Clean Water Action, advising Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on sustainability issues and helming the city’s first winter farmers market, he found the time to answer four of my questions.
You work on sustainability issues in Boston, which can be a pretty broad topic. What are some of the projects you’ve been working on lately, and what’s the common thread that attracted you to them?
As an advocate and activist, I’ve focused on fostering community growth and development while combating issues of structural violence—that is, systemic injustices that disproportionately affect vulnerable and disenfranchised communities. “Focused” might be the wrong word––I tend to get excited by new challenges all too frequently. I’ve spent the past few years involved in efforts related to food systems and food justice; air pollution, health and housing; energy and the green economy; and community access to information and public planning processes. I’ve supported an effort in Dorchester to organize a cooperatively owned grocery store and helped found the city’s first winter farmers market; partnered with the academic community on air quality monitoring and health education; united municipal officials in a call for improved access to energy efficiency for low-to-moderate income communities; fought to pass legislation on gas pipeline leak repair; and engaged in any number of other areas ranging from the arts to workers’ rights.
My concept of the environment is pretty far from the common notion of forest and trees, land and water—if you called me an “environmentalist,” I’d be a bit insulted. I believe poverty, violence and the many overlapping conditions facing women and immigrant communities are fundamentally environmental issues. This is both literally and figuratively true: gender-based violence, for example, emerges out of many of the same conditions that have led a consumptive, capitalist society to devastate the environment, and our disregard for the environment is gendered, having a disproportionate impact on women, young children and communities of color.
You worked on Marty Walsh’s campaign for mayor. What does he have in mind for making the city more sustainable?
I have great respect for Marty Walsh, principally because of his humility and willingness to listen. He’s said multiple times that, during his campaign, he heard the most from the arts and environmental communities, and from my perspective he’s responded to those interest groups quite actively. Broadly, I see a commitment to tackle climate change from a standpoint of community resiliency and community growth. Building a sustainable and climate-resilient Boston comes naturally to a leader who emerged from the Building Trades, and making progress in this area doesn’t simply mean making the city more durable; it also means expanding housing options and access to public transit while reducing carbon emissions across the board.
One ongoing challenge the city is contemplating—at the behest of advocates—is how to boost Boston’s abysmal recycling rate and look at creative ways to generate living-wage jobs in the waste and recycling industries. Upon being elected, Marty was also playing defense on two different ordinances relating to tracking energy data and inspecting rental units to ensure tenant health and safety—he deserves some serious props for seeing those through.
Does your Judaism inform your activism? If so, how?
I draw great meaning and hope from the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam—the repair of the world. Climate change and economic inequality are two stark examples of world repair requiring a massive shift in the way our society operates and a redistribution of traditional power to those who have been marginalized. I do come to that struggle as a Jewish activist. When it comes to the environment, the breach in the world literally occurs at the site of the body, with damage from toxic cosmetics, carcinogenic children’s toys or coal plant pollutants striking at the cellular level. The struggle is quite personal.
And the winter farmers market? My goodness, you’re so busy! What’s your favorite stall at the market?
I’m not going to lie—while I love getting kale and beets from the farmers who come out to Dorchester, I’m really into the boutique donuts. Guilty pleasure? Really, my favorite thing is the people who come out. Farmers markets don’t solve the general lack of affordable, healthy food in urban neighborhoods, but they are wonderful, warm community spaces and an investment in a very different food system.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!