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H2O Man

H2O Man's Journal
H2O Man's Journal
January 23, 2013

Three Daze

“And while the pope owns 51% of general motors
the stock exchange is the only thing he’s qualified to quote us.”
-- George Harrison; Awaiting on You All

What a difference a day can make.

Two days ago, I spent some time going door-to-door in the most polluted community in Delaware County, in upstate New York, handing out the health survey that is part of our epidemiological study there. The majority of people were polite and interested; two voiced concerns that I was “attacking” one industry, but agreed to participate; and one person was unwilling to consider taking part in it.

(That individual reminded me of a story that the Hurricane told me years ago: a man was going door to door, taking a survey on what people considered to be a bigger problem -- ignorance or apathy? One man said, “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”, before slamming the door shut.)

I was tired when I got home, and being rather pathetic in my old age, fell on the ice in my driveway. Mind you, I boxed hundreds of fights, and sparred thousands of rounds, and never was knocked out cold before. First time for everything.

I spent much of yesterday celebrating feeling mighty sorry for myself, only to be interrupted by an associate. But to explain the significance of this, we must briefly head to Ohio.

In Ohio, a gas company has been pressuring a friend of my associate, to sign a lease that would allow the company to destroy their property to make money for some executives who don’t live in Ohio. The landowner made clear the company reps were not welcome there, and so they left in a huff. But rather than kicking the dust off their feet as they left, as prescribed by the Good Book, they instead dropped a document on the ground. (The moral of the story is, of course, do not leave in a huff.)

The document is marked “SECRET,” as it outlines five pages of “talking points,” ranging from how to avoid the truth, to how to distort the truth, to how to outright lie to the public about the dangers of “fracking.” Now, I have that formerly secret document.


Today, I have decided to attend a town board meeting in a community in yet another upstate county, where an effort to prevent hydrofracking is being met with intense pressure by the gas industry. Although I really do not feel up to doing much more than snoring, I cannot ignore the requests from that area’s grass roots leadership that I go.

Some local news media will be there, too. And as I have been asked to speak, I’ve spent a bit of time studying the five-page formerly secret document that I’ll be bringing with me, to distribute to both the board and the media.

With patience, as Rubin likes to say, even the smallest animal can climb the highest mountain.

H2O Man

January 14, 2013

Where Sod Meets Sky

“Whenever our people are ready to take any kind of action necessary to get results, they’ll get results. They’ll never get results so long as they play by the ground rules laid down by the power structure.”
-- Minister Malcolm X; WBIA-FM radio interview; January 28, 1965.

Yesterday, as a friend and I handed out the “health survey” that is part of our epidemiological study of the most polluted community in New York State, our pace was slowed by the number of people who wanted to talk with us. These are people from a wide range of backgrounds and social statuses, but they have one significant thing in common: after years, even decades, of concerns and frustrations regarding living in a contaminated environment, they believe that someone is finally paying attention to them.

One of the first people we spoke with is an elderly gentleman. He is well-educated, though he suffers from a major mental illness and is now classified as “disabled.” He told us that, in his opinion, human beings are born one of two ways: potentially intelligent, or potentially republican. He also made an interesting point: “I’ll give President Obama credit for the killing of Usama bin Laden. But, by the same measure, he has to be credited with the killing of innocent children with drone attacks.”

Others expressed anger that the local, state, and federal government has ignored their needs, despite the fact that their properties were severely damaged by major floods in 2006 and 2011. Several neighborhoods located near the community’s large military industry were left to deal with literally hundreds of barrels of toxic wastes polluting their properties. One man told us that, a week after the flood, he saw employees from the industry actually emptying barrels of waste over his fence, onto his back lawn. They ignored him when he told them to stop, so he began taking photographs to document what they were doing. They called the police, who told the man that if he didn’t stop “harassing” the workers, they would arrest him.

He said that he called some state officials, but they never responded. I said that I would assist him in getting a response.

The most troubling thing we heard came a block away. A young man told us that his five year old daughter had died from cancer, a disease that is not common in his wife or his extended families. He said that a health official told them that they should not have consumed the produce from their garden, as -- unknown to them -- they lived on the edge of a toxic industrial waste dump site. He thanked us for what we were doing, and said that he hoped our effort might help save other families from dealing with the type of tragedy that they have to deal with.

I didn’t sleep well last night. I’m old, and deal with physical disabilities myself. But I went back today, and spent some time handing out the health survey in another neighborhood. I listened to a young man (40 seems young to me these days) who is dealing with chemotherapy. He vented for a few minutes about all of the pollution from the industry, that is poisoning the local population. He tired quickly though, cutting our conversation short. As I was leaving his porch, he said, “Hey! Thanks for what you’re doing.”

I’ll be going back to that community tomorrow. I’m tired out, and sore as hell. But I believe that what I’m doing is important.

H2O Man

January 7, 2013

Please Help !

“The shale army has arrived. Resistance is futile.”
-- Bill Gwozd, v.p, of gas services for Ziff Energy.

“I choose not to believe the second half of that statement.

“The shale army is an accident-prone, carcinogen-dependent industry with no boundaries. The shale army seeks to use our land as its beachhead, our water as its battering ram, and our air as its receptacle for its toxic fumes. The proposed regs for New York are no defense. They do not prohibit flare stacks, open pits, or indefinite venting of toxic gases.

“Resistance is not only necessary, it feels like a fundamental responsibility of parenthood.

“There is nothing more important. Not your kid's soccer practice. Not your yoga class. Not your career. We still have a chance here-in the still unfractured state of New York-to stop a brutal and extreme form of fossil fuel extraction, to show the world how to build a green energy economy, and to help Governor Cuomo keep his promise to lead on climate change. All that necessitates saying NO to fracking. Our children's lives depend on our success.”
-- Dr. Sandra Steingraber

On Wednesday, January 9, Governor Andrew Cuomo will be delivering his “State of the State” address in Albany, NY. There will be a large pro-environmental safety, anti-fracking rally from 11 am to 3 pm, outside the auditorium where Governor Cuomo is speaking. Should any forum members be in the Albany area, I would strongly recommend that they attend the rally.

Because most folks on the Democratic Underground are not in the Albany area, I would like to suggest another way that you can support our effort. Please call Governor Cuomo’s office, to let him know that you oppose hydrofracking. The number is:

(518) 474-8390

Calls should be made today, tomorrow, and on Wednesday. There are two important points to be made: first, the Governor should not make any decision until the results of his health-impact study are completed; and second, Governor Cuomo should consider the results of the epidemiology now being conducted in the village of Sidney (as reported upon on the front page of the January 3 edition of that community’s weekly newspaper, The Tri-Town News).

Thank you for your participation. And, if possible, I hope that you will consider assisting me in keeping this OP/thread “current” on the General Discussion forum.
H2O Man

January 4, 2013

Sinks & Systems

Soldier, your eyes,
they shine like the sun
I wonder why.
Soldier, your eyes
shine like the sun
I wonder why.
Jesus, I saw you
walkin' on the river
I don't believe you.
You can't deliver right away
I wonder why.
Jesus, your eyes
shine like the sun
I wonder why.
-- Neil Young; Soldier

An older gentleman who I’ve known for decades through Democratic Party political advocacy seemed uneasy when looking over the “health survey” that I am handing out door-to-door in an upstate New York village. He looked up from the paper, and said, “You are going to do damage to our community with this.”

I told him that, at least in my opinion, the people from the industries that dumped toxic wastes, often illegally, around the area had done the actual damage. And that all the epidemiology would do was provide some type of measure, in human costs, of that damage.

He said that he agreed, and told me about his bout with cancer. He had a type that the oncologists told him was extremely rare. More, other people who worked in the same department as he had, where they were exposed to the same toxic chemicals that would be dumped in the township, had had the exact same type of cancer. Still, he said, the health study would do damage to the community’s reputation.

I find myself thinking about a thread that I participated on, here on DU:GD, a couple of days ago. The OP asked the difference between “liberals” and “progressives.” The correct answer is that liberals seek to fine-tune the socio-political system, to better meet everyone’s needs; while progressives seek to make structural changes in the very foundation of the system, because they believe the current structure cannot treat everyone fairly.

Most liberals belong to the Democratic Party. They are to the left of moderate and conservative Democrats. Some progressives belong to the party, too; they are to the left of the liberals. Still other progressives do not belong to the party, but are -- along with those progressives in the party -- part of the Democratic Left.

The gentleman I spoke with is a moderate Democrat. He is a good man. Although we view the epidemiology very differently, that does not change my opinion of him. His wife is a liberal Democrat, who was one of the area’s most active young people in the 1960s. She is by nature far more comfortable with progressive democratic ideals, than is her husband.

I am a progressive member of the Democratic Party. Although I no longer live in the community where we are doing the health study, I attend most of the local party meetings there. In the past two years or so, I have been engaged in an experiment in the unnatural laboratory of that “small town,” which hosts a factory that is an important part of the military-industrial complex. Although other area industries have also added to the high levels of toxic wastes that pollute the local environment, that war industry is the primary culprit.

The industry’s “leaders” are pressuring local and state government officials for gas …..in this case, lobbying for hydrofracking, to insure a large supply of cheap energy. By no coincidence, fracking injects large quantities of some of the same toxins that the war industry has already polluted the air, soil, and water with.

Since at least the 1940s, both the village- and town board have always followed the instructions of the industry’s leaders. Usually, this has been those leaders who live, temporarily, in the community. On a few occasions, the higher-level leaders have come to the town to pressure local, county, and state officials. This has included some notable democrats, as well as republicans. (I’ve posted information about meeting Senator Clinton after one such meeting. More recently, Governor Cuomo has followed their instructions.)

Without exception, when the industry leaders say “dance,” the elected officials have danced. Yet there is a price to pay for dancing with the devil. Many people are blinded by the income the industry brings into the region, even though it is far less than it was before the 1990s. This includes the many local residents who, although dimly aware of the extraordinarily high rates of cancer among local residents, still believe that they can’t live without the industry. Hence, many believe that there is no option but to frack for gas.

In order to make a serious attempt to change the socio-political dynamics in that community, there are several factors that I have to deal with. First, as when dealing with any “system” -- just as in my career in social work, I dealt with family systems and agency systems -- I have to be able to step outside the frame, to objectively view the big picture. That includes accessing the roles that each member of the system plays. More, it involves understanding what forces keep what members entrenched in their particular position.

“Dysfunctional” systems (re: sick systems, such as one that causes high rates of disease) de-humanize individuals and groups. Those individuals/groups will at first react to the dehumanizing pressures. Then they adopt to those pressures. And thus, they become part of that system. Thus, to change the individual’s behaviors, one must help them to step outside that frame, too, in order to objectively see that big picture. Minister Malcolm X often taught that you must change a person’s view of the system, in order to change their thinking; then, and only then, can they make the conscious changes in their behavior that can change the system itself. Indeed, when one piece in the system changes, all those around him/her must also adjust their position in the mobile/system.

At a campaign-planning meeting this summer, the head of the county Democratic Party noted that we depend upon the “left wing” to do the door-to-door work. While I know that there are others who will also invest that time and energy, it is true that the Democratic Left provides the most activists. Yet, it would be foolish for me to limit myself to working with progressives -- would it not?

In the past two years, the coalition of Democrats and the Democratic Left have won five of five election contests in this community. Not only did we elect democratic candidates in a town in which less than one-quarter of registered voters are Democrats, but in November, our candidates’ got record-setting numbers of votes. More, inside sources have told me that our two biggest targets -- the Town Supervisor and his step-son councilman, both rabid tea-partiers -- have decided not to run for re-election in 2013.

Yesterday, the community’s weekly newspaper, which is a conservative republican publication, ran a font-page article, encouraging participation in the epidemiology. Some health issues have made the door-to-door delivery of the health survey slower than I’d like, I am making progress. And people are returning the surveys (in the SASE we provide) at an impressive rate.

There have been plenty of times, over the decades, when I’ve felt like Randle Patrick McMurphy in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next,” tugging on the huge sink. Doing the work of social/political activism is frequently an unrewarding hobby. But anything worthwhile is as difficult as it is valuable. That includes trying to get along with others who, to some extent, have different opinions and values. But, if we are serious about instituting meaningful change, it is the only way.

Thanks for reading this.
H2O Man

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