Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Environmentalists and Occupy Wall Street:
Fighting a Common Enemy

Creative Commons Flickr image by Kimberlyki
While what seems like the fifteenth or sixteenth Republican debate garnered the usual headlines for zingers, one-liners and who called who a liar, there has been a political happening going on that has proved much more poignant, timely and ,frankly, tethered to reality.  The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, which started off as a loose collection of people dissatisfied with our imbalanced economic system, has blossomed into a full-fledged movement, spreading to numerous cities across the country, even to those without a Wall Street (I’m not sure what they call their protests). And while some arms of the media and certain political pundits categorize the protesters as bored hipsters, malcontents and hippie liberal troublemakers, let’s remember how these same politicos and elements of the media embraced the Tea Party protesters as ‘true Americans expressing their outrage at a broken system’. This is exactly what is happening at the OWS protests, albeit without guys dressed up as Ben Franklin (although I bet by now someone has dressed like him for one reason or another). And the same folks casting stones at ‘selfish spoiled college kids’  demanding to get college loan relief, please remember you had no problem with ‘patriotic concerned citizens’ rallying against big government and universal health care but balking when it came to their own social security and Medicare checks.

But I digress. Of course, all protests, once they reach a certain size, will attract all types of groups who will use it to try and bring attention to their cause, whether it is related to the original idea or not. But lately, environmentalists have been adding their voice to OWS, and for good reason. The economic imbalance and protection of corporate interests in our country has definite negative impacts on our environment, specifically in the dismantling of laws, policies and regulations that serve to protect not only the environment but our health as well.
A hot topic recently has been hydrofracking, the process of injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals (some of them toxic) into gas and oil wells in order to create more fissures and cracks, enabling the oil or gas to flow more freely. There are many anti-fracking signs in evidence at OWS, and for good reason. The byproduct of hydrofracking is a toxic sludge that is difficult to clean up and there have been numerous incidents of contaminated groundwater in areas where hydrofracking occurs, not to mention an increase in earthquakes as well. Local community groups and landowners who oppose hydrofracking out of fear for their safety and health find themselves pitted against a giant and powerful industry with deep pockets and unimaginable lobbying power. Corporate interests versus the health of our citizens. Who will win?

Bill McKibben, uber-activist and founder of (which I have written about in previous articles), recently gave a speech at OWS about the Keystone Pipeline, among other things. He shed light on the recently revealed fact that the entire environmental impact  statement process for this controversial pipeline that will run from Alberta, Canada to Illinois was corrupt,  with the company building the pipeline being allowed to hand-pick the company that conducted the environmental impact statement. Surprise, surprise, they picked a company that had extensive contracts with them and, shocking as it may seem, this company determined the environmental impact of a gas pipeline over 2,000 miles long would be negligible. Once again, small communities and grass-root organizations have been banding together to fight Keystone in scenarios reminiscent of David versus Goliath. Once again, I have to wonder who will win.

The OWS protesters are a diverse bunch, and like in any large group, there are going to be some fringe elements that don’t merit the press attention they will receive. But the majority of protesters are exercising their rights, standing up for what they believe in, and working for a better future for everyone, as opposed to the few. Seems to me these are the principles this fine country of ours was founded upon.

This article originally appeared in the Monadnock Shopper News 10/19/11

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