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Thu Apr 19, 2012, 12:44 PM

Back to the Garden

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Monday, April 16, was a beautiful day in the northeast. I had asked environmental attorney Robert Kennedy, Jr., who is serving on Governor Andrew Cuomo's hydrofracking advisory committee, to meet with representatives of the "grass roots." I had woke up at 3:30 am to begin the trip to White Plains. The early morning darkness gave way to a dense fog, which soon lifted to reveal a sunny, warm spring day.

There were people traveling from Albany, Binghamton, Ithaca, Oneonta, and Rochester; others from the small towns and rural hamlets that dot upstate New York. We would meet our counterparts from New York City at the campus, finalize our strategy, and then go into one of the university's larger conference rooms to converse with representatives from the Pace Law Clinic and RiverKeeper.

Most, if not all of us, were primarily focused on talking with Robert Kennedy, Jr. This included everyone from the four high school students traveling with the Sidney-based car pool, to the doctors and university proffesors, to the most experienced of community organizers among us. Indeed, although I've known Robert for over twenty years, I still find every communication to be a significant experience. Certainly, he is a part of history: one uncle was among the most beloved US Presidents; another, one of the greatest Senators in our nation's history. And his father was the best US Attorney General, before becoming a NYS Senator and 1968 presidential contender. But, much more impressive to me is the way that Robert has focused his abilities and talents to become the best environmental attorney in America.

Yet no such meeting comes off without a hitch. That just does not happen. And when one gathers even a medium-sized group, from distant locations, who have a variety of backgrounds and beliefs about the "best" way -- and even the "only" way -- to combat the powerful energy corporations seeking to harvest our lands' natural resources in a dangerous, health-threatening way, conflicts will arise. Some are internal: I had about a dozen calls in the 36 hours leading up to the meeting, with people asking, "Is it really going to happen?" And another half-dozen questioning, "Is this really a good idea?" Yes, and yes.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

About a decade ago, I "retired" from community organizing/grass roots activism. While I would still spend some time at the county Democratic Headquarters, and continue to speak in public (maimly at high schools) now and then, physical issues have kept me from much activity. Then, a couple of years back, two issues -- hydrofracking and the anti-Muslim hatred dripping from the Sidney Town Board -- resulted in people asking for my assistance.

Although I'm not the brightest bulb in the drawer, some of my past experiences seemed to offer some beneficial lessons for these "current events." I had worked with Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman on environmental issues; and with Dr. Rubin Carter on conflicts rooted in fear and hatred. I decided to try to contribute to these issues of social justice.

Early on in the hydrofracking conflict, I determined that there were three people that I would need to meet with: Robert Kennedy, Jr.; NYS Senator Thomas Libous; and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Originally, I anticipated my meeting with them in that order. However, as John Lennon sang, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. A meeting with Libous took place in January, as the result of a hunger-strike I engaged in. Next would be the Kennedy meeting.

Thus, the sequence of meetings was not exactly what I had hoped for. But that was not as important as laying that foundation that myself and others would build upon. On that early morning ride, before we hit the heavy traffic, I was confident that we would accomplish some meaningful things before leaving Pace University's Environmental Law Clinic.

***** ****** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

On the evening of the 15th, I had told a good friend that I anticipated two more mini-crises that night, and two more before the meeting began in the morning. So when everything seemed to be running smoothly, I was temporarily puzzled. Luckily, when we all met on the lawn of the campus, a few people were engaged in disagreements with others, about what they believed should be thetone of the meeting .....and what, if any, demands we should make.

I do not mistake myself for a "leader." To paraphrase an old Groucho Marxism, I wouldn't be caught alive belonging to any group that had a leader like me. But as tempers began to rise, and two wonderful ladies from NYC pointed out that I had coordinated this meeting, I recommended that people set their anger aside, and trust that the meeting would unfold to all of our satisfaction. I had had the experience of listening to almost everyobne's ideas or agendas in the previous weeks. I was confident we would create an attractive, powerful grass roots salad.

And we did.

For such meetings, I carry the wampum that Chief Waterman assigned to me. So, I opened the meeting with a variation of the traditional "greeting of thankfulness." Then, as Chief Waterman had instructed me for such contexts, I noted that the people gathered together followed many different paths, and that each of these lead to the same place. Today, I said, we have the opportunity to explain our path to others, and to listen to others describe their paths. More, even if we did not fully understand or agree with other paths, we had the chance to be respectful to those walking those paths. Let us put our minds together, and determine what type of future we can create.

And so we did. Perhaps my favorite speaker was Dr. Sandra Steingraber of Ithaca. I'm at a point in life where concepts of age, race, sex, etc, do not influence my views on what actually defines "leadership." And I hesitate to assign such as restrictive role to any human being. But when this lady spoke, I was 100% aware of the power of her gentle, rational, and fully informed being. It has been rare in this long life that many individuals have made that strong an impression upon me.

Robert Kennedy, Jr., is known for his fascination of birds of prey. I thought of this as I sat next to him, watching the man listen intently to every word said in the meeting. He would then speak his mind on the topics associated with hydrofracking: the politics, the intense pressures, the environmental dangers, the need for alternative energy, and the role of the grass roots. By the time the meeting ended, everyone there was as convinced as I had been on the ride down, that Robert knew exactly what goal he had identified as both urgent and necessary.

We broke for lunch on the Pace campus. All of the previous anxiety and agitation had lifted. While it was only one meeting, I dare say it was an important one. I dined on two cups of coffee, as I listen to a lady from RiverKeeper talk to my older daughter about doing an internship there. Then we climbed back into our automobiles for the ride home .... and I closed my eyes and turned my attention towards arranging a meeting between this same general group and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

24 replies, 3752 views

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Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 24 replies Author Time Post
Reply Back to the Garden (Original post)
H2O Man Apr 2012 OP
Uncle Joe Apr 2012 #1
H2O Man Apr 2012 #12
livetohike Apr 2012 #2
H2O Man Apr 2012 #13
Octafish Apr 2012 #3
H2O Man Apr 2012 #14
kentuck Apr 2012 #4
H2O Man Apr 2012 #5
zeemike Apr 2012 #8
bigtree Apr 2012 #6
H2O Man Apr 2012 #15
AnotherDreamWeaver Apr 2012 #7
H2O Man Apr 2012 #16
KT2000 Apr 2012 #9
hootinholler Apr 2012 #10
gateley Apr 2012 #11
myrna minx Apr 2012 #17
Blue_Tires Apr 2012 #18
spanone Apr 2012 #19
mmonk Apr 2012 #20
raouldukelives Apr 2012 #21
byronius Apr 2012 #22
G_j Apr 2012 #23
ellisonz Apr 2012 #24

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:01 PM

1. Well done.

Thanks for the update, H20 Man.

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Response to Uncle Joe (Reply #1)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 04:42 PM

12. Thanks, Joe!

It felt good .....some meetings just stand out.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:04 PM

2. Thanks for the report H20 Man

and thank you for your work on this issue.

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Response to livetohike (Reply #2)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 04:43 PM

13. Thank you!

I am glad that you find it of interest.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:50 PM

3. Boddhisatva

From H2O Man:

For such meetings, I carry the wampum that Chief Waterman assigned to me. So, I opened the meeting with a variation of the traditional "greeting of thankfulness." Then, as Chief Waterman had instructed me for such contexts, I noted that the people gathered together followed many different paths, and that each of these lead to the same place. Today, I said, we have the opportunity to explain our path to others, and to listen to others describe their paths. More, even if we did not fully understand or agree with other paths, we had the chance to be respectful to those walking those paths. Let us put our minds together, and determine what type of future we can create.

A truly great Spirit.

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Response to Octafish (Reply #3)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 07:57 PM

14. Thanks.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:53 PM

4. I almost cut my hair...



k & r

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Response to kentuck (Reply #4)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:57 PM

5. I like short-haired people.

Some of my best friends have short hair. And I wasn't too upset when a short-haired family moved into the neighborhood. But I'm not comfortable with the idea of one of my daughters dating a short-haired fellow.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #5)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 02:34 PM

8. plus the make property values go down.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 01:58 PM

6. this sounds very promising

. . . and you described events beautifully; your explanation, in and of itself, an illustrative lesson in organizing a cause.

Glad to see Robert so focused and organized in his commitment to this issue. One meeting. A success? it looks like it. Here's to much more of this, Pat, and, thanks so much for your renewed activism

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Response to bigtree (Reply #6)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:04 AM

15. Thank you, my Friend!

I'm glad that you liked it. You know, Rubin used to say to me: really smart people learn from others' mistakes; most of us must learn from our own; and fools .... well, they just don't learn at all. And so a very important part of my work now, is to try to teach other folks the proper approach to a given situation .... because we simply do not have the luxury of spare time to make mistakes at this point.

One of my favorite parts of the entire event came two days later .... when I attended a high school track meet, at our school. Those students who had come along with my daughters came over between their races, and talked to me about their impressions from Monday. They picked up on both the positives and negatives of the day. Knowing that there are really smart young folks, ready and able to carry on the Good Fight, does this old man good!

Also, teachers and parents and other community members, all aware of Monday's event, spoke of their impressions of the event. Word has spread mighty quickly! I like that. I like it a lot.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 02:06 PM

7. Thank you for all the work you have dedicated to this issue.

And Many Blessings along the path ahead, for you, and all our relations.

ADW

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Response to AnotherDreamWeaver (Reply #7)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:04 AM

16. Thank you!

I appreciate your support.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 02:34 PM

9. Fantastic!!

You are getting it done!
I have been working on an environmental problem in our community. It had passed the 15 year mark. I have learned - never give up! That is what they expect and count on. We are getting there - a superfund cleanup site will be cleaned.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 03:03 PM

10. I wouldn't know how to start

To get a meeting like this together.

I'm certain I'm not alone in being awed.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Thu Apr 19, 2012, 03:43 PM

11. Thank you from all of us, H2O Man! This is so very important!! nt

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:13 AM

17. Thank you for all that you do. K&R n/t

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:20 AM

18. kick to the top!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:22 AM

19. k&r...

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 08:32 AM

20. Great job.

Is Dr. Steingraber associated wuth Cornell?

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 09:24 AM

21. K&R nt

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 11:01 AM

22. Go H2OMan Go!

Savin' the world. Doin' the job.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 11:32 AM

23. good work!

& a big THANK YOU!!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Apr 20, 2012, 01:11 PM

24. I think you are a leader. n/t

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