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H2O Man

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Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 07:49 PM
Number of posts: 66,808

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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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