This is the fourth of an occasional series profiling Connecticut people who frequently share their insights, passions and opinions with fellow readers in CT Viewpoints commentaries.
“It used to be quieter here before all of this, but you know — progress,” Melinda Tuhus said. She gestures across the street from the Institute Library in New Haven, where construction crews are working on a new structure.
Wearing a pink T-shirt, white shorts, and her glasses hanging around her neck, she sits down in an armchair, illuminated by the window.
“It’s probably going to be apartments with retail on the first floor,” she said. “That’s all it ever is,” she said, noting that the new structure will likely block the light from the window in the future.
Tuhus, 75, is originally from Buffalo, NY and now lives in Hamden with her husband, Robert Dubrow. While she volunteers at the Institute Library in New Haven for three hours each week, her main passion lies in activism — particularly relating to climate change.
“I think we are in big trouble,” Tuhus said of the climate crisis. Because of this, her dedication to the cause is clear.
“I’ve been arrested about a dozen times — my first arrest was actually against the first Iraq war — but most have been climate [protesting] related,” Tuhus said. While she never spent more than 24 hours in jail during these arrests, Tuhus explained that she was also “always with [her] female comrades so not alone,” and “because of [their] white privilege and [their] age in many cases, [they] were not treated badly, as so many other incarcerated people are.”
Her interest in the state of the global climate began when she read Bill McKibben’s book, “The End of Nature” not long after it came out in 1989.
But Tuhus has been an activist for longer than that. She traces her activism back to attending college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied history and protested the Vietnam War as a student.
Throughout her career, Tuhus has been a jack-of-all-trades. During school and post-grad in Boston she did secretarial work, where she was “very exploited.” Consequently, Tuhus got into daycare, social work, and teaching. Only then did she meander into journalism.
“I went to Nicaragua in ‘81, and ended up writing some stories for little community papers and things,” Tuhus said. “Then someone said, ‘Oh you’re a good writer, you should be a journalist.’”
Shortly after hearing this, Tuhus took a few journalism courses where, “the professors were very happy to have a serious person” and eventually got her first paid journalism job.
“I’ve sort of alternated between doing full-time journalism and doing it on the side with jobs that were more like communications for nonprofits,” Tuhus explained. “So then I ended up doing a fair amount of traveling, and I would report for a whole bunch of different outlets.”
Tuhus went to New Orleans four times to cover the devastation after Hurricane Katrina.
She also took multiple trips to West Virginia, covering mountaintop-removal coal mining. This is a method of coal mining that requires blasting the tops off mountains to reach the coal seams underneath, then dumping the earth and rock in the valleys below, Tuhus’ reporting explains. Climate crisis advocates often cite the environmental harm this mining process can cause, including Tuhus, for whom this is a very personal matter.
“I love mountains,” she said. “I live on the shore and I never go to the shore, I always go to the mountains for vacations. And I just couldn’t believe that they were blowing the mountains up. I felt like ‘I can’t believe this is happening, so I gotta go see it,’ and then it was true.”
Tuhus’ involvements in advocacy and career as a journalist are not two things that typically coincide. Journalists are commonly warned against being activists in any sense, as it can be perceived as bias.
Tuhus has found this to be the case — partially. Though her career as an independent journalist has spanned the past 25 years, she does acknowledge her activism has limited her reporting.
“I was not able to do a lot of reporting because of it,” Tuhus said. “Although some people were kind of flexible about it. I’m reporting now for an outlet that said it’s fine. They let me do reporting for them but I can’t report on environmental stuff.”
This outlet is WPKN, a community radio station reaching listeners in Connecticut, Long Island, parts of New York and Massachusetts. Also on WPKN, Tuhus has a weekly radio segment called “Between the Lines,” which she has been doing for 25 years.
“It’s anything really — I do lots of stuff,” Tuhus said. The show “featuring progressive perspectives on national and international political, economic and social issues,” includes a short summary of under-reported news stories from the week and in-depth interview segments regarding important international, national, and regional issues.
Tuhus said she is currently working to feature infringements on the rights of various Indigenous groups.
Additionally, while she has hobbies outside of activism — including knitting and crocheting — one of her other main interests, cycling, is also a form of advocacy for Tuhus. For over 20 years she has also supported biking and cycling advocacy in New Haven specifically.
“I’m a bike commuter and I bike as much as I can,” she said. She is involved in a few Elm City cycling groups.
Tuhus said that another aspect of her activism nowadays is writing for CT Mirror’s Viewpoints. However, she questions if her writing reaches a wide audience.
She writes because she “likes to try to convince people of [her] point of view,” she said chuckling. “But then a lot of times, most people who write, including me, are just preaching to the choir.”
Tuhus believes that “a lot of people probably will see the headline or get the gist of what an article is about, but if they’re not into it, they won’t read it.”
This does not stop her from writing.
“The goal would be to reach people with a different view, but how often I succeed I don’t know,” she said.
Still, Tuhus remains vigilant. The urgency and direness of the climate crisis keep her going — and sometimes, her advocacy work sees success.
Tuhus explained that when multiple climate advocacy groups that she is a part of “came together to fight [a proposed] frack gas power plant in Killingly,” they won. Tuhus said this win was “really exciting.” Still, she shows no signs of slowing down her advocacy anytime soon.