Tomorrow, I’ll be heading up Mount Washington, home of the world’s worst weather, with my friend, photographer Stetson Hundgen and his outdoor guide company, Brooklyn Outfitters. We’re hoping to get all the way to the summit, but conditions look pretty gnarly right now. Looks like Old Man Winter arrived just it time to make the trek challenging!
I originally wrote this on November 11, 2011, but didn’t publish it immediately because I instead submitted it as an op-ed piece to the Washington Post. The guidelines of many big newspapers, such as the Post and New York Times, require that submissions are completely unpublished, in any form, including personal blogs. Such big papers also can take up to two weeks to accept or reject submitted writing, and in that time this piece became a little dated, and I never got around to self publishing it after it was rejected. However, I did put a lot of time into writing this, and with all the new controversies surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ve decided to post it to my blog in its original form. Was I the only one who saw the “delay” as a cop out at the time? Bill McKibben, perhaps you need my phone number…
United States President Barack Obama today announced that he will delay the decision of whether or not to approve the 1700 mile Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring dirty, toxic tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. Tar sands are terribly inefficient fuel sources; huge quantities of water are needed to heat and separate oil from the other materials in tar sands. In order to make the tar sands viscous enough to be pumped from the earth and through the pipeline, toxic chemicals must be added to the crude material. The process is so wasteful that it takes roughly two tons of tar sands to produce a single barrel of oil, and the process of mining and refining tar sands releases two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases as the production of conventional oil (which isn’t all that great either). Tar sands are dirty, toxic, and inefficient and promoting them is an awfully terrible idea.
So when Obama’s administration announced that the decision as to whether or not to approve the pipeline was going to be pushed off until early 2013, after the 2012 election, I found it hard to feel as victorious as Bill McKibben and other Tar Sands Action advocates. Sure, I’m glad the proposal wasn’t approved, and I’m darn proud to be one of the 12,000 demonstrators who protested outside the White House this past Sunday, but there is a lot of language surrounding the decision to postpone the decision that worries me.
For one, there is a lot of talk about alternative routes. Nebraskans adamantly oppose the tar sands, concerned that the chemicals will ruin their farmland and further threaten the already endangered Sand Hill crane. They showed up in droves to the November 6th protest, wearing “corn fingers” that touted “Stop TransCanada Pipeline” and “No Oil in Our Soil.” Clearly, they made an impression.
Alternative routes don’t sound like a good idea to me. While I applaud the President for realizing the risk of cutting through Nebraska’s sand hills with a giant pipeline full of dirty, crude oil, I’m positive that putting a tar sands pipeline anywhere is a bad idea. The only acceptable alternative is to stop the pipeline altogether, something the President seems afraid to do.
Obama, put your big boy pants on. While campaigning in 2007 and 2008, you said “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.” You said that the government should invest in clean energy and green jobs. So when faced with the decision to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that really doesn’t have anything positive going for it, why the hold up?
The pipeline will not create green jobs. In fact, it will destroy as many jobs as it creates, and it will destroy our environment along with it. In a November 5 article, the Washington Post revealed that pipeline proponents grossly overestimated the number of jobs the pipeline would create, and a report by the Cornell University Global Labor Institute suggested that the number of jobs lost from potential pipeline disasters, increased health care costs, and increased cost of gasoline due to diverting tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast will negate any employment gain from the pipeline’s temporary jobs.
Unfortunately, it seems that Canadian parliament supports the Keystone XL pipeline. “We remain hopeful the project will be decided on its merits and eventually approved,” said a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “Our government will continue to promote Canada, and the oil sands, as a stable, secure, and ethical source of energy for the world.” Mr. Harper, are you out of your mind?
Tar sands oil is toxic and inefficient. Creation of the Keystone XL pipeline would create some jobs, but temporary ones, and would kill at least as many. It would endanger the health and lifestyles of millions of Americans and Canadians, many of which will lose their homes and farmland when TransCanada uses eminent domain to seize property for construction of the pipeline. Further development of the tar sands will continue to pollute our air and water, and will contribute catastrophically to a rapidly changing global climate.
I like you Obama. You’re charming, you’ve managed to stay pretty scandal free, and you’re a heck of a lot better than the alternative. But you seem cowardly right now. Bill McKibben says I should praise you for your most recent move, but I’m finding it hard to want to pat you on the back for this one.
I wanted you to be my President because you launched your 2008 bid for the White House on an ethical foundation that spoke of compassion for our country, our planet, and its people. I wanted you to take office because I thought you would make the lives of Americans better, because I felt you had good judgement, good morals, and wanted the best for us.
Where is that President now?
What happens, Obama, if you don’t get reelected in 2012? By pushing off your decision about Keystone XL, you are gambling with more than just your Presidency. You are gambling with our health. You are gambling with our trust. You are gambling with the future of our planet, the planet you will leave your little girls. Why take that risk?
By pushing off your decision, Mr. President, you are leaving an open door, and that door is a closet with skeletons and ghouls and goblins inside. You are betting that those of us who have supported you won’t start to worry about your commitment to the environment and public health, and that we will continue to support you in the 2012 elections. You are betting that proponents of the pipeline will bank on you signing off on the disaster in 2013, and will vote for you over conservative candidates who openly support Keystone XL. You are betting that you will win in 2012 and even get the chance to make that decision.
Maybe you’d rather lose the election in 2012 and allow a Republican to make that decision because you are too scared to take a definitive stand yourself.
HOPE. I elected you because I had hope for the future and your presidency. I still do.
While you are still in a position of power, make the right decision, Mr. President. Do what is the best for your country, for your people. Trust that making the right decision will lead to your reelection in 2012, and will ensure the prosperity of the people and country you swore to serve.
When I first heard that a bunch of ordinary people had begun camping outside of Wall Street in opposition to the disparity of wealth and power in our country, I was impressed. I’m easily one of the 99% that the occupiers represent, and their presence at Zuccotti Park has brought worldwide attention to a growing problem in our society. Since the Wall Streets protesters first took up residence near Wall Street on September 17th, the occupation has spread globally; hundreds of thousands of people have flooded occupations on every continent (except Antarctica, which lacks a permanent sustainable human population).
This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit Occupy D.C. McPherson Square (Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, has two occupation movements, one in McPherson Square and one at Liberty Plaza) and spend a few hours there prior to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline protest at the White House. Upon approaching the park, my heart filled with pride and excitement as I saw the small tent city plopped in the middle of our urban capital, just blocks from the White House. Yet, as I walked down the concrete pathway leading through the square, I began to feel like I didn’t belong, as if this occupation didn’t actually represent me.
I tried not to be too quick to pass judgement, and stayed awhile, observing the people at McPherson. It was clear that for some, occupying had become their full time occupation, while others were obviously visitors from elsewhere, and a bunch fell in between, indistinct as to what their connection (or lack of) with the McPherson Square movement was. In residence were unkempt vagabond types, granola crunchy hippie types, working class folk, artists, caretakers who could cook, clean, and provide basic medical care, families with small children, blacks and whites, young and old, and others you would expect to see representing the 99%. I saw not a single suit or tie.
McPherson Square had a kitchen that provided three meals a day to occupiers and a medical tent off limits to the media. There was a tent with cold weather clothes and spare blankets for people needing to stay warm on cold nights and a media tent where folks could stay up to date (and keep the rest of the world up to date) on the occupy movement. Also, a small library of eclectic books and an overflowing waste center complete with recycling but no compost.
None of this was the problem (except maybe, the lack of compost). I hadn’t expected to see white collar suit and tie business men on the streets playing chess with the homeless. The problem, for me, was what this occupation meant, what it and the people who brought it to life, who were it, stood for. The problem for me were the signs.
There was an area of grass where dozens of signs, written on scrap cardboard, fresh poster paper, and pieces of fabric, were placed for all to see. Signs also surrounded the statue in the center of the square and decorated tents and lawn space throughout the occupation. Among these were messages like “Keep your filthy hands off my American dream” and the ever popular “This is what democracy looks like” mixed with quotes from various famous people, recommendations to provide medicare for all and cancel all debt, a variety of interesting definitions of the 99%, and a sign promoting the legalization of marijuana. As much as I wanted to back the occupation, I honestly couldn’t support half of the messages its members had scribbled down.
At one point, the gentleman who passed out snacks from the kitchen came around with a pack of cigarettes, feeding the nicotine addition of McPherson’s vagrant protesters while puffing on one of his own. As someone who thinks smoking is one of the most unattractive and disgusting of habits (and has personally been affected by how deadly a habit it is), I was appalled. (It is sadly ironic that so many who advocate for public healthcare and the environment are addicted to sucking clouds of noxious carcinogens directly into their bodies from pollutants produced by greedy corporate persons who, without a doubt, value profit over the lives of human beings.)
My initial reaction was one of feeling disenchanted, almost as if I had been played the fool. Here I had been, a supporter of the people’s movement, avidly following news of Wall Street and elsewhere, even updating my Facebook status to read “Occupations are occupying my heart. I love the 99%!”, and I was not even sure I agreed with these people, or even that I actually had very much in common with them. I felt silly, hurt, and even a little betrayed, as if I had placed my trust in those brave enough to sleep on the streets for me, and they were somehow letting me down by being less than perfect.
Fear not, though. A few days of reflection (and much needed rest) have opened my eyes to the beauty of the Occupy Movement, and a thing of beauty it truly is. At Occupations, different views and beliefs are represented, often honestly and openly. Individuals can represent their individual beliefs, regardless of their age, gender, class, culture, or lifestyle. I don’t agree with all the messages that individuals at the Occupy Movements have come up with. Frankly, I don’t have sympathy for those who won’t work, or who have landed themselves deep in debt because they’ve lived for years frivolously beyond their means, and I think anyone trying to endorse the legalization of marijuana when there are so many other problems with our world has got their priorities seriously mixed up…
But many have taken to the streets and are making their voices heard. Including people who are in debt solely due to college loans and now find themselves overqualified and underpaid for the jobs that are available in our current economic crisis, unable to pay back their loans faster than the interest that accumulates on them. Including people who have never had debt up until recently, when job cuts left them unable to feed their families, pay their rent, or get medical care. Including people whose taxes have been used to bail out greedy corporations and banks, throwing our own country further into debt. I am one of those people, and, if you live in the United States, you are too.
Perhaps the Occupy Movement lacks a clear voice, but it does send a message. Occupations are a visible, living, breathing reminder that all is not right with the world. They are a sign that the corruption that permeates our society has not gone unnoticed, and that the disadvantaged refuse to keep laying down, mute and blissfully ignorant while the 1% unfairly and immorally touts its power and wealth. The Occupy Movement provides opportunities for discussion and a means to educate the greater public about what is wrong and what is right with our country. The fact that we can Occupy speaks to being American, and living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That is something to be proud of (and thankful for). The fact that so many unsettled people have caused such a huge scene and nothing has yet changed (and perhaps nothing will for quite some time) speaks to absurd power of the 1%. And if that doesn’t scare you, re-read what I just wrote; it should.
So, despite the fact that the message of Occupy Wall Street is still poorly defined and largely unclear, the Occupy Movements have initiated a dialogue, a conversation, about our current state of being. The Occupy Movement has created public awareness about the inequities of our current system, a system failing to guarantee to all the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as it supposedly should.
The occupation of occupations is education. I don’t care whether they realize that or not.
I don’t need to agree with all of the viewpoints expressed at Wall Street or in D.C. to be one of the 99% represented by the Occupy Movement. Or to benefit from it either. Thanks to some courageous souls who were so fed up with the injustices of our system that they set up tents near Wall Street in protest, a mass movement of social consciousness has occurred, and people have started talking. The public is becoming an informed public.
Most importantly, a conversation has begun in which the 99% are no longer silent.
Pretty soon, I will have a fancy new website for you all to enjoy. In the meantime, hang tight and follow me on Twitter or Facebook to stay in the loop and receive updates about the status of my site. Thanks!