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H2O Man Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 12:18 PM
Original message
The Celebrated Dumping Grounds
of Delaware County




Almost every year, for the past decade, I've been invited to serve as a witness in a mock trial held in an area high school. Each year, the students there spend several months investigating the role of a large defense industry in the community the jobs it provides, the contributions to national defense, and also some toxic waste dump sites. A local Justice of the Peace hears the trial, and on occasion, students have sought the help of attorneys in preparing their cases.

I've had some mixed feelings about participating over the years. On one hand, I enjoy being able to provide students with clear documentation that destroys any credibility that the industry spokespersons testifying in the trial might otherwise have. On the other hand, years ago there was a rather eager young man, prepped by his lawyer father, who bragged to others that he was prepared destroy me on the witness stand. Gracious. When this young man found that no facts could justify the legal and illegal dumping, he resorted to attacking me personally asking if it was not true that (I am) a socialist?

The Town Justice was prepared to overrule the question, until I asked to be allowed to answer it. I explained that in 1999, the defense industry went to federal court, to challenge the US EPA's solid waste policy; the result was that three towns were billed for the proposed clean-up for the 120-acre site. Was this not by definition industrial socialism, I asked? When the people in the theater began laughing, the young man literally burst into tears, and ran out.

My goal wasn't to humiliate some youngster with an oversized sense of ego I would have very much preferred his daddy, who injected that nonsense into his thinking had been there to question me. Indeed, most teenaged boys have that ego bit and outgrow it. My critics might suggest that I haven't, and they may have a point. I had decided not to participate again after that experience, until the following year; a group of students approached me and said that their teacher told them that I was the smartest person that they will ever meet. Sucked me right in.

Recently, I was approached by another group of students. Though I had agreed to assist them about six weeks ago, our initial meeting had to be put off several times two family members and a close friend died, and I broke a bone in a recent fall. (Note: Do not attempt to treat broken bones with Icy-Hot tape. One of my doctors requested that I strike a compromise with myself, and seek medical care for broken bones, without a month's delay.) So, I figured, What the heck? I'll pull out all the stops on this one.

Now, I do not believe in fate. But I do think that there are times in life when you encounter individuals that you are destined to meet. Life is funny that way. Last week, I pulled out a large amount of information from my files of twenty years effort on this toxic waste dump site, and met with a couple of students at a McDonald's. My faith in the future is rooted entirely upon my encounters with young people like these.

I started with some history. A couple years after I graduated high school, and was working on other toxic dump sites in fact, including the now nearly empty plaza this McDonald's is located on two of my resources were my former science teachers. One actually would win the national teacher of the year award, and worked summers in Ithaca with Carl Sagan. One morning, they were both called into the school's superintendent's office. Two representatives of the local defense industry were there, also. The teachers were told that if they continued to do anything on the dump site, they would be immediately fired. (While one did stop, the award-winner would advise me secretly.)

Over a period of a couple of hours, we reviewed stacks of documents how the site was selected; what industries actually dumped there; the state's closing the dump; the continued illegal dumping; a lake on fire; my struggle to get the document from page 100,556; touring the site with a co-worker of Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s and a representative of New York City's environmental agency; threats; and bringing witnesses to Washington to meet at the EPA and Justice Department.

At times, I've assisted students who I thought were primarily interested in scoring an A. But these two young men were different than that. They were becoming aware of some environmental dynamics that were absolutely new to them. And they were not limiting their questions to how did this happen?

They were asking, Why?

And not just in terms of why the heads of industry would knowingly poison the land and water of other community members. They understood greed, amoral and immoral behaviors associated with profit margins. But they were asking me why I had devoted twenty years of my life, and a fair chunk of the small income I was earning at work to provide for my family, to this cause? Now, that is the first time that I've had students associated with the mock trial ask me that.

I didn't do it to make money, obviously. Or for a job. It wasn't out of boredom. Or a sense of destiny, anticipating the day some snotty-nosed brat would give me shit about socialism.

I did it because I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. And the resistence from the industry and some dehumanized cogs in government agencies reinforced the sense that it was the right thing to do.

Buth, the students asked, at some point, you must have recognized that you were not really going to win. Why did you continue?

I did that yesterday, I explained, so that I could assist your generation today. Because my time here will one day soon come to an end, and it will be up to you to carry on the Good Fight .to learn from others' successes and errors; to not become discouraged when some authority figure tells you not to do something that you know is right; and to not restrict your thinking with stumbling blocks like greed, or other people's definition on winning and losing.

Life is interesting, sometimes.
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Gregorian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 01:12 PM
Response to Original message
1. My hope is that people start asking why poisons are being created in the first place.
Hearing about your encounter with that son who tried to pin a demonized label on you, gave me insight into my own life. I found it hilarious. That kind of thing is a great freedom. One I have rarely experienced. I'm emotional, and tend to run away from those kinds of situations in a rush of adrenaline. I've learned so much from this forum. That is an example of one. I am slowly gaining an ability to do just what you are attempting to do. I can fight back now.

There is a step I think most people don't take. I saw it with logging. Spikes in a redwood tree. Trees are being cut, leaving devastation to what was diverse ecosystems. Mining. Poisonous dumps. Whether or not these are done in a legal fashion or otherwise is part of what you've mentioned here. But I dearly hope that those young people see what very few see. Why these things happen in the first place. This shouldn't be a difficult thing to understand or discuss. Ultimately we are placing the order. Each of us with every little individual thing we do is magnified through the multiplicity of our combined demands to the very results that you are working on. It's a transitional time in the history of the human being. The planet was infinite until recently. Now it's finite. And very quickly it will be insufficiently small. We must take the next step of questioning. What have we done to the environment. But then ask how was it created. Not just how to clean it up, and dispose of it properly.
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H2O Man Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 02:34 PM
Response to Reply #1
5. I've been called
every bad name at some time or another. I doubt that more than 90% of the time accurately.

A good debate is always fun. Years ago, in our governor's office, Chief Waterman had me, alone, debate the panel of "experts" hired by an industry -- an attorney, archaeologist, and two others. My belief is that if you are telling the truth, you can handle any such a debate. Within a month of that one, I had a job offer from the Governor's attorney, so I think I did well enough. However, my loyalties were with the Council, not the state government.

The position that human beings can exploit nature without consequence is a great lie. It is sometimes even a delusion. Natural Law is, in the end, more powerful than man-made laws/industrial policies. Good lawyers can't help. No plea bargaining, no probation. Just there sometimes beautiful, and sometimes harsh, cruel realities of nature.
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hootinholler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 01:27 PM
Response to Original message
2. Their understanding will be critical in the Fracking battles to come...
I someday hope to have similar opportunities and teaching moments.

You done good.

-Hoot

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H2O Man Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 06:57 PM
Response to Reply #2
6. Right.
It's their turn. And not just high school, or even college students. I have some nieces and nephews in their late twenties and early thirties, and people their age need to step up to the plate now.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 01:42 PM
Response to Original message
3. That's a great story.
:)
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me b zola Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 02:07 PM
Response to Original message
4. Recommeded
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Octafish Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 07:43 PM
Response to Original message
7. Integrity.
Just one word to describe "Who?"

Thank you, H20 Man.
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