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H2O Man

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Member since: Mon Dec 29, 2003, 08:49 PM
Number of posts: 64,819

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“Well it's too bad that our friends, can't be with us today.
Well it's too bad
The machine, that we built, would never save us', that's what they say
That's why they ain't coming with us today
And they also said it's impossible for a man to live and breathe underwater, forever, was their main complaint
And they also threw this in my face, they said:
Anyway, you know good and well it would be beyond the will of God, and the grace of the King ….”
-- Jimi Hendrix; 1983 (A Mermaid I Should Be)

Originally, I had planned to attend the high school concert that my youngest daughter was performing in last night. However, in the mid-afternoon, I had a phone call, requesting that I go to a Democratic Party meeting in Sidney. Two important issues were going to be discussed: the plans for the democratic majority on the Town Board to prevent hydro- fracking in the township; and the early planning for the 2013 elections, which include three positions (Town Supervisor, and two Council seats). My daughter agreed that I should attend the meeting.

There were some disagreements, going into the meeting, about both the tactics and the possible candidates for the coming year. This is not only to be expected, but it is a good thing …..for if everyone thought just alike, it would be proof that only one person is thinking. And that, of course, is a definition of the reality of the republican party in general. In Sidney, the Democratic Party has joined with its most natural ally, the Democratic Left, and the range of beliefs and opinions has resulted in creative tension. But because those same tensions can become a negative, I wanted to be there.

“Grass roots politics” has many levels. The most basic foundation stone is “lobbying“; hence it is protected in Amendment 1 of the Bill of Rights. Citizen lobbying is, of course, distinct from corporate lobbying. It includes everything from writing letters to elected officials and/or newspapers, to visiting a congressman’s office, to protest rallies. The next level is organized participation in elections. It’s important for us to let politicians know that their position on a given issue will determine if we will vote for or against them. And it’s even more important to tell them that you are part of an organization, which has many people who will vote for or against them, based upon that issue.

The next level is running your own candidates for local elections. This is closely connected with becoming a significant part of the larger group that runs the candidates for higher offices. The truth is that even if a lone individual has a good idea, he or she will not be taken as seriously by the Democratic Party’s “higher-ups” than is the case if that person is part of a larger, active group. Maybe that “ain’t right,” but it is reality. Indeed, if one considers all the good ideas they hear from individuals that never get traction, compared to the lower-quality ones that are acted upon, that reality helps explain the difference.

The next level, of course, is found in the process of serving as an elected (or appointed) official. Here, too, there is a huge difference between having a good idea, and being able to actually institute meaning change. Frequently, there is a public perception that elected officials can “do the right thing,” if only they wanted to. But it is not that easy. Even on a small, local level -- and I am comfortable using the example of serving on a public school’s board of education -- one can know what is the right thing, but without citizens active on that first level of lobbying, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the attention of state officials. Meaningful change can only be instituted when there is on-going and coordinated efforts by citizens, directed at all levels of government.

Although Sidney appears to be of no more significance than any other small, rural community in upstate New York, it is of special interest. It is the home of one of the largest war-machine factories in the nation. In the late 1950s, for example, a national magazine ran a story, “Sidney: The Town We Can’t Live Without.” The defense industry there was essential in WW2. And issues that involve the military-industrial complex, while they may not make the news in the same manner as the then tea party majority of the town board’s attempt in 2010 to force the removal of Islamic graves from Sidney’s soil, impact the town, state, and nation.

The issues involved in hydrofracking are more than just a local, town ordinance. The forces advocating the destruction of the upstate environment for “energy” and financial profit aren’t limited to the local or regional gas and oil distributors. Thus, for example, one is restricted from photographing the “Constitution Pipeline,” which is proposed to run from Pennsylvania to the east coast -- going through Sidney -- to supply for sales to foreign nations, because it is deemed “national security.”

I told the others at the meeting that, when the Democratic Party had successfully run two candidates for the Town Board in 2011, the powers-that-be were not particularly concerned. The local republican leaders were upset, but it wasn’t necessarily considered a big deal to the those at the next level. But the 2012 elections, which were a much tougher fight, resulted in the first democratic majority in the town’s 238-year history. (Uniting the Democratic Party and the Democratic Left also resulted in our two candidates’ getting recording-setting vote totals.)

At this point, the board can probably prevent both hydrofracking and the running of gas pipelines in the town. Should the Democrats win even one of the three open positions next fall, that ability is enhanced; more, the concept of moving from lobbying and protests will continue to spread to neighboring communities. Thus, we can expect that our opposition will not be limited to the town’s republican leadership’s meetings at a local bar.

One idea that I planned to propose last night was having meetings with the attorneys who have successfully authored to stop fracking in other upstate communities. They have also won the cases that have been brought by the gas industry in New York’s State Supreme Court. I was pleased to find that two other group members not only had the same idea, but both had independently contacted the lawyers earlier in the day. It is essential, in my opinion, for grass roots activists/groups to have solid relationships with attorneys. I could easily list dozens of examples from personal experiences over the decades when that very contact has made the difference between being able to take a contest to the next level, and being the doors shut on us.

Finally, I was pleased to receive the funds necessary to conduct the epidemiology that a small group of progressives have been working on. Our study will focus upon documenting the unacceptable rates of cancer found in the village of Sidney. We have had the assistance of local medical professionals and employees of two state and one federal agency in preparing this. Those individuals know the truth: the cancers are connected to the long-term poisoning of the soil, water, and air by that defense industry. But, with very few exceptions, both the health professionals and government officials have not dared to speak out; more, the local and regional media has refused to cover the issue, including the federal court case the industry took to place the responsibility for clean-up costs on the local community. Or a recent federal case that members of a village neighborhood won for damages to their properties.

Many of the same toxic chemicals dumped by that industry are the same as those used by energy corporations in fracking today. Thus, when some of the more conservative democrats said last night that this study “will make Sidney look bad,” I pointed out that it is important to tell the truth, even when it may be unpleasant. For it is not just that the energy corporations are willing to designate New York’s Southern Tier as a “sacrifice area,” they are okay with poisoning its population with toxic wastes that will cause high levels of disease and death. Pointing that out is not the threat endangering the people in the Southern Tier, although I expect it may be considered a problem for some industry leaders elsewhere.

Keep fighting the Good Fight!
H2O Man
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