Bob Massie, Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts, may just be the most serious and experienced climate advocate to run for high office in this country since Al Gore ran for president in 2000. And yet the labels “climate advocate” or “environmentalist” don’t begin to capture a résumé and a life story with few, if any, comparisons.
Massie launched his run on May 16 at the Armory in working-class Somerville, where he’s lived since arriving 32 years ago as a young Episcopal priest, racial-justice activist, and doctoral student at Harvard Business School. (You read that correctly.) When he entered Yale Divinity School in 1978 after graduating from Princeton, where he was a student leader in the anti-apartheid movement on American campuses, Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore told him that the church needed more people, like Massie, with a “prophetic” view of economic and social justice. No doubt Harvard Business School needed a few more as well.
Massie left active parish ministry behind (though he is still an ordained priest) when he received his doctorate and began teaching, but as he told me when we sat down for a long conversation at his home in Somerville’s Winter Hill last week, “I feel that all people of faith—just as I feel that all people—should be engaged in translating their most deeply held values into their private and public actions.” Of course, he added, we all constantly fail at this, but that’s no excuse for not trying.
But even this doesn’t fully capture the person Massie is. His story, which he tells in his excellent 2012 memoir, A Song in the Night, is so improbable that no serious novelist would dare write it. Born in 1956 with classical hemophilia, a potentially deadly genetic disease that robbed him of his ability to walk at age 5 and confined him to leg braces and a wheelchair into his teens, Massie contracted HIV (though he was spared AIDS) and hepatitis C from blood transfusions as an adult, and would have died had he not received a liver transplant. The transplant, as though miraculously, cured the HIV, hepatitis, and even the hemophilia. Today, after almost a decade of new health, Massie says he is more energized than ever in his life.
Which is saying something. Through all of his health adversity, Massie taught for years at Harvard Divinity School; wrote the definitive, prize-winning history of the anti-apartheid movement, Loosing the Bonds: America and South Africa in the Apartheid Years; won the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts lieutenant governor in 1994 (when Democrat Mark Roosevelt lost the governor’s race to Republican Bill Weld); led Ceres, the international alliance of businesses, investors, and environmental organizations; created two influential sustainability organizations, the Global Reporting Initiative and the Investor Network on Climate Risk; and, following his recovery, became president of the New Economics Institute, leading its re-launch as the New Economy Coalition, a driving force in the movement to replace exploitive and extractive global capitalism with just and sustainable local economies. For the past two years, he led the Sustainable Solutions Lab at UMass Boston, with an emphasis on climate justice in low-income communities.