On the eve of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day press conference/ rally in Binghamton, N.Y., where I announced a hunger strike, I read the introduction to Thomas Merton's 1964 book, “Gandhi on Non-Violence.” Dr. King was, of course, influenced by Gandhi and Christian theologians, such as Father Merton. Likewise, my hunger strike – undertaken to pressure NYS Senator Tom Libous to meet with a couple of the grass roots leaders of the pro-environment, anti-hydrofracking groups – was as a result of my understanding of these men's examples.
Merton wrote about Western Civilization as a One-Eyed Giant. This giant has succeeded in its attempts to master “matter,” but had failed to comprehend its meaning. The giant attempts to tame the wilderness, because he feels alone and uncomfortable in the Natural World. The One-Eyed Giant has fallen from grace.
The giant lacks the wisdom of his older sibling, the natural, Native People of the Earth. In order to reduce his high level of anxiety, the giant also attempts to tame the Native People. In the case of the United States, Dr. King wrote, “We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population.” This national policy is not a relic of the distant past.
I told the people at the rally about a time, in 1980, when Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons told a group of non-Indian people in Binghamton to be aware that, in a relatively short time, the combination of corporations and government would treat them in exactly the same manner that they currently treated the residents of Indian Territory. We witness this today, when corporate-government selects specific regions as “national sacrifice areas.” The large gas industries are fully aware, for example, that hydrofracking will destroy the land, air, and water in huge segments of upstate New York. They are equally aware that this environmental devastation will result in sky-rocketing cancer rates among today's younger generation. But profit motives dictate.
Merton wrote that, “It is true that neither the ancient wisdom nor the modern sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone.” Certainly, modern science offers many benefits. The rally was held within walking distance of two good hospitals. Modern medicine brings about many miracles. Most of us have a member of our extended family who is fighting cancer. The medical community continues to make advances in the technology needed to treat such brutal diseases.
The medical community also has the wisdom to tell individuals not to increase the risks to their health by smoking. And in 2011, the Bassett Medical Group of Cooperstown, which is the largest health care provider in the three-county area, has come out against hydrofracking. Both their board of directors and their medical staff have issued position papers that document the risks that hydrofracking poses to the public's health.
Yet the One-Eyed Giant lacks the depth perception needed to see the long-term consequences of hydrofracking. The giant is blinded by gluttony, and can only see the illusion of immediate financial gratification. This simplistic view is contagious: the gas corporations have spread trhe virus of greed to politicians and to some land-owners who are desperate for income.
Those politicians and land-owners call the pro-environment, anti-hydrofracking community “tree-huggers.” In some of the gas corporations' internal documents, they refer to us as “insurgents.” This is so wrong. We are university professors and high school students; attornies and physicians; factory workers and farmers; military veterans and patriots. And we call upon the pro-hydrofracking community's sense of humanity, so that they might see that we are their friends and neighbors. We are not, to paraphrase Willard Romney, jealous of them. No, we are working for what we know is best for our communities.
In his December, 2011 letter, Senator Libous thanked me for sharing “the wisdom of Chief Paul Waterman” with him. But, he noted, his mind was already made up, and there was no chance of his changing his mind. As I spoke about this, at the Martin Luther King Day rally in Binghamton, the audience recognized how this fit Merton's One-Eyed Giant. One lady had brought documentation of how much the gas industries had contributed to Senator Libous. Small wonder that Libous would not want to talk with us.
A week later, I was able to participate in a large rally of pro-environment, anti-hydrofracking citizens, at the Capital Building in Albany, NY. I was honored to be among the speakers there, addressing about 750 people. I outlined the communications and failures to communicate between Senator Libous and myself. I spoke of my experiences while employed at the Chenango County Mental Health Clinic, where my duties included “community crises response.” I said that no matter if a crisis involved a single family, a neighborhood, or a community, that the failure to communicate respectfully always increases tensions. And more, that initiating some level of communication is always required to lessen tensions.
I spoke about a group of high school students, who were writing letters-to-the-editor of local newspapers, and taking up a petition to Senator Libous. Not all of these students were absolutely anti-hydrofracking. But they wanted to let Senator Libous know that his behavior was absolutely the opposite of what they were learning in their classes, about how government was supposed to work. They were saying that the Amendment 1 right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” was vital to our Constitutional democracy – and that this implies that elected officials listen to the citizens they are supposed to represent. Indeed, these students were organizing a rally, to be held at Senator Libous's Binghamton office.
Word travels quickly inside the Capital Building. A couple hours later, I was meeting with Tom Libous. He attempted to impress on me the amount of work he does on behalf of the students in his district. This confirmed my belief that he would not welcome the publicity that these high school students would bring about.
He also said that there were thousands of people in his district who are strongly opposed to hydrofracking, and that he couldn't possibly meet with every one of them. I noted that there were 750 such citizens there, most of whom were wearing “I Support Patrick's Hunger Strike” stickers, and carrying large signs that said the same thing ….and that all of them were asking him to meet with me. Libous would later tell an Albany reporter that our meeting was “cordial.” I would agree with that, but add that it made no sense to avoid meeting with me to begin with.
The struggle is not over. There will be more communications between myself and Senator Libous and his staff. However, to be fair and accurate, of the three people I have focused on – Libous, Governor Cuomo, and Robert Kennedy, Jr. – only Senator Libous has responded. Because my family is concerned about the toll this hunger strike took on my health, I have promised to take some time to heal. But I am examining the options for doing a second hunger strike, either outside Andrew Cuomo's office in Albany, or at Kennedy's office at Pace University. It's a shame that those two are less willing to talkto the grass roots leaders of the anti-hydrofracking community, than a republican politician who accepts thousands of dollars from the gas industry.