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Building a Better Tomorrow #7 — Here We Go!

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world needs 01 200 world needs 02

What the world needs now? I’ve worked on that question for 40 years and now I’ve come up with some answers. Step two: Making the answers happen.

It’s simple, really. The world needs people, lots of people, soon, working together in new ways for healing and transformation in order to live in the new world that’s already upon us. There’s many ways to help make that happen. I’ve thought of a healthy handful in the last six years. The time has come to start making them happen.

Between now and Labor Day I’ll be building infrastructure, recruiting allies and fans, and explaining the plan. After Labor Day I’ll be raising funds, recruiting sponsors, and putting projects into action.

The needs are big and we’re in a hurry. My plan is to start a number of projects and attract people and resources and money to keep them going. I’ve got a whole lot of ideas and a limited number of productive years left. I’m not giving up on any of the really good ideas.

Probably

Probably

For more than 40 years I’ve worked hard against intense social anxiety. That work has gone well. There’s intentionally a time in my plan when I must leave social anxiety behind. That time is now. From now on I’ll have to explain myself, ask people to join me, inspire people, sell, build teams, lead.

I know this seems general and vague. I’ll explain as we go along. And soon there will be visible results. A lot of people believe in me and will support me. At any rate, I’m not turning back. There’s a chance you’ll be one of the people who will be coming along with me. I really hope so.

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This Day in Civil Rights
Our Friendly Town
Little House on the Planet
Northern Westchester for a Better Tomorrow
This Day in Civil Rights
Our Friendly Town
Little House on the Planet
Northern Westchester for a Better Tomorrow

Hi Everyone! #86 — Here’s the Good Thing Though

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Joanna Macy, Rebecca Solnit, Grace Lee Boggs

Joanna Macy, Rebecca Solnit, Grace Lee Boggs

Here’s the good thing, though. I know it’s all scary and depressing and the neo-liberal criminal and the neo-fascist criminal and everything. But after all these years, I’ve grown weary of the whole “I apologize to the world for the crimes of my government — cut off his air” worldview. This is an exciting time of new possibilities. Everything is going to change, and even the ways in which things are going to change in dangerous and tragic ways, they’re going to change in ways that increase freedom and occasions for empathy and right action.

Joanna Macy: What an exciting time you’ve chosen to be alive. Rebecca Solnit: Catastrophe brings opportunity for extraordinary new ways for ordinary people to relate and deal with each other and their circumstances. Let those twin understandings be emblazoned across the first two big orange gates we’re going through the get from here to our brand new future. And a third: Grace Lee Boggs: “Visionary organizing. Because the crisis we’re in is really an opportunity. We can change the way it is. And in the devastation that is Detroit’s de-industrialization, there is opportunity to create a new society.”

So, wait and see. There’s release here, and new chances. Wait and see if I don’t get a crowdsourced podcast about the many stories of a newly engaged citizenry made and listened to. Wait and see if I don’t produce four short plays based on the cemetery scene from Our Town with casts drawn from the different racial communities of my new hometown, and get people on stage and butts in seats. Wait and see if I don’t create an umbrella organization that supports people aching to be catalysts for ushering in new ways of dealing with each other in their own communities and get money to make it go and donated tech to make it work. Better yet, don’t wait and see, come and help make some it happen.

There. That’s what I’ve been wanting to say. I feel better now. Thanks for listening. Looking forward to working with some of you.

Hi Everyone! #85 — My Ten Minute Play about a Sad Event in Peekskill

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10 minute play cover pageI just finished a 10 minute play about a young woman who dies of an overdose. I’d love for you to read it. Despite its upsetting premise, it’s a positive and upbeat piece. And it’s very short. Check it out here. Stay tuned, I’m trying to organize a reading.

It was a shocking event for many of us, the death of this young and beloved woman. It was particularly shocking in our family. I wanted to do something to memorialize her. And I wanted to tell some truths about how her death was received by different parts of our community.

We’d been seeing a lot of her. She had family dinner with us just a couple days before we lost her. She was an innocent spirit, and my impression was that she was striving to make sense of her life and be open to what’s positive in the world. Other people, including people I love, were much more deeply connected to her. And everyone who knew her, in a sincere place in their hearts, wanted so much for things to turn out well for her.

You can check it out here: Tragedy, Not Unpredictable — 10 minute play by Paul Stark

I Told You So, Floods, Adam McKay, and Climate Change

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Four parts:

Floods in West Virginia

Floods in West Virginia

One: I heard about floods. Over the weekend. Every summer, people I know volunteer in Appalachia. They do carpentry and construction, to make people’s houses “Warmer, Safer, Drier.” All year: pizza meetings, car washes, then they take their tools and head down to West Virginia.

This summer though, there are floods. Four feet of water. This year, “Warmer, Safer, Drier” means flood recovery. There was a house off its foundation, in flames and floating down a river. It hit a bridge.

Two: Adam McKay directed The Big Short. I’ve seen it twice. It’s an awesome movie. Surprisingly awesome. It’s about the collapse of the housing bubble, which cost Americans trillions of dollars and nearly collapsed the global economy. It tells the stories of people who knew it was going to happen. People who went around the finance industry yelling about the sky falling. The responses they got resembled the responses Chicken Little got.

Adam KcKay

Adam KcKay

Adam McKay also directed Talladega Nights and Anchorman and was head writer at Saturday Night Live.

Two and a half: Adam McKay and Adam Davidson run a podcast called “Surprisingly Awesome” and episode 14 is all about “I told you so’s” The real-life people from The Big Short discovered that saying “I told you so” to people they warned before the crash was deeply unsatisfying.

Three: Some people have known about climate change a long time. Way longer than me, and I’ve known for a while. Knew in 1988, or even 1975. 41 years of knowing since 1975. People I know changed their West Virginia plans because of climate change. In fact, we’re getting close to the time when everyone will know someone who’s changed his or her plans because of climate change. You probably already do. Where were you for Superstorm Sandy? “Warm air holds more water.” Here’s Bill McKibben saying, for the seven millionth time “Warm air holds more water.”

West Virginia got 7 inches of rain in 3 hours. Here’s video of the house floating away – a floating house that’s also on fire. Here’s prison inmates leaving their cells to fight wildfires – 24 hour shifts for $1.00 per hour.

Oh look, the climate, it changed!

Oh look, the climate, it changed!

Four: The conclusion? There’s no joy in saying “I told you so” about climate change. Watching these perfectly predictable things happen in real life is nightmarish. Predictable decades ago, as in you can only run the numbers one way. Literally nightmarish as in resembling a terrible dream that proceeds by its own inexorable logic to terrifying conclusions. We said there’d be burning houses floating away, or could have. We said there’d be prison inmates killed by burning falling trees, or could have. Climate change is by far the biggest challenge our species has ever faced. And climate change provides by far the biggest “I told you so” our species has ever been told.

My Peekskill — # 23 The Peekskill Democrats’ Spring Fling, starring Darren Rigger

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Darren's last day at City Hall

Darren’s last day at City Hall

If you haven’t heard, the Peekskill Democratic City Committee is throwing a big party. It’s called the Spring Fling and it’ll happen on May 14th – Find out all about it here (Facebook.com/Events/969290683159894)

Anyone who’s anyone, or hoping to be, among Westchester Democrats will be there, along with the people who love them. You should be there, too!

Though he’ll tell you he feels like an old man, put out to pasture with a lifetime achievement award like the Clint Eastwood of Peekskill Democrats, he’s being a good sport about being the guest of honor.

I recently caught up with him at the nearly completely Wonderstruck Peekskill Coffee House and asked him five questions:

1. What do you believe Peekskill politics needs most now?

A printed, independent newspaper that’s verified and fact checked. We need a paper we can trust, that will do real investigative journalism and host community discussion, letters to editors, guest columnists.

2. What’s the best reason to come to the Spring Fling?

To help celebrate all the great work Democratic elected officials have done in last 10 years. A lot of people of people are going to be there – community leaders, business leaders, activists, elected officials. It’s going to be the place to be. Don’t be somewhere else.

3. What should the Democrats do to encourage the future leaders of the party?

My theme is summed up by something by Dad used to say: don’t ever confuse kindness with weakness. You can be strong and fight against injustice without being mean. Mean politics is causing many people to reject party politics altogether.

4. What’s your favorite memory of your time as an elected official?

After Sandy Hook I suggested a Gun Buyback to the Mayor, the Council, and the Chief of Police. We put the whole thing together – from fundraisers and contributions, without a dime of taxpayer money – and took in 70 guns, including an assault rifle, a gun with the serial numbers filed off, and a sawed-off shotgun. Any of those guns could have been used to hurt a child. That was my most satisfying moment, seeing that big pile of guns taken off the street. It made some people really angry. I was cursed, got hate mail, and I’m glad I did it.

5. Have you given any consideration to running for mayor yourself?

(Laughs heartily for quite a while, then:) No Comment.


If you show up at the Spring Fling, be sure to talk to Darren about some of his political insights and experiences. He was in Florida for the Bush v. Gore recount. We remembered together the deeply upsetting moment the Supreme Court gave the Presidency to Bush – I’d always been less anxious because if things ever got bad enough the Supreme Court would step in to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. Having lost that confidence made life in this country that much more vertiginous.

Darren’s worked on more than 100 campaigns in his 25 year political career. He’s worked with such Democratic luminaries as David Dinkins, Dick Gephardt, Charlie Rangel, John Hall, Al Gore. He spent the turn of the millennium in the White House, where he met Jack Nicholson.

He wants the Spring Fling to be PDCC’s biggest and most financially successful fundraiser. He’s proud of Peekskill’s Democrats, “The Democratic surge started with Drew Claxton who proved, after many years, that a Democrat could be elected, and once elected, could be effective. She led the charge, and worked as the only Democrat in a very hostile environment. Since then, there was a moment when Peekskill’s representatives, from Mayor to Albany to Congress and the White House were all Democrats. He’d love to see you on May 14th to help celebrate as many of those Democrats as possible.

Hi Everyone! #84 — Where There’s Hope …

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The Revolution will not be animated ...

The Revolution will not be animated …

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about Bernie and the future of the movement. What does it mean, this tremendous outpouring of excitement and political work by people who haven’t done anything political before? Things have gotten to a certain point. It’s clear to more and more people that existing institutions and methods are not going to make things better. And that it’s deeply, deeply urgent things start getting better in a big damn hurry. And if there’s a credible way to try to accomplish that, a whole lot of people will pitch in. The next 30 years will be completely unprecedented, and there’s not many people on earth who are remotely close to guessing how it’s all going to shake out.

There’s a notion that I first ran into in Howard Zinn’s writing, that the ‘60’s were not a self-indulgent and unwashed failure, that it was taken very seriously by people very high up in the powers that be, and we were a lot closer to a fundamental transformation than anyone realized at the time. And certainly closer than the nostalgic, things-of-childhood, charming but spectacularly naïve politically incompetent failure it’s portrayed as in the standard history.

In the same way that Occupy Wall Street is portrayed as having its heart in the right place maybe, but it fell apart behind not getting its act together. Never mind the deeply intense physical repression that ended it. And never mind its very significant accomplishments. In many circles of common understanding, it’s another piece of evidence that you can’t fight city hall, that it’s already too late, that we’ve already lost.

And rest assured. Whatever happens in the rest of the Bernie story, there will be forces interested in portraying it as a kind of spasm born of an optimistic and exciting energy that never really understood how the world actually works. Never understood why things can’t be much different from how they already are. And leaving aside for the moment questions of how much conspiracy is currently operating, if the status quo can be said to want something, it wants us to believe that Resistance is Futile. And yes, in many hearts, there are beliefs like those expressed in A Bug’s Life, and by Shelley, after yet another massacre, this one in 1819:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!

(the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre will occur on August 16th, 2019. Hope to see you then!)

When the power of the state is made available to serve corporate interests, what's that called again?

When the power of the state is made available to serve corporate interests, what’s that called again?

My Peekskill — # 22 The Guardians of our Only Earth Offer a Better Future and Free Ice Cream! Show Up!

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Show up Wednesday April 20th (Tomorrow! Today!) at 7:00 PM at the Black Cow in Croton. There will be free Blue Pig ice cream. And refreshments.

The Facebook Event is here. Invite the young people you know. Invite people you know who know young people. Up in the upper right, under the big picture, click the Invite button with the little envelope. Let’s get at least 500 people invited by lunch time.

Making a difference -- and you can too!

Making a difference — and you can too!

If you’re between 13 and 20 you’re hurtling toward a future created by choices you didn’t make.

You probably wish a different future were coming. So do I. I’ve been thinking about it a long time, and I still sometimes find it hard to think about.

Some of you are going to find a way to accept the future that’s on its way, embrace it, and start working for a future that’s as healthy, just, and intelligent as possible.

Terrible, idiotic, destructive choices have been made. And continue to be made.

Kelsey's been working.

Kelsey’s been working.

Some people are already working hard to create the best possible future and to start making, and demanding, much better choices.

Earth Guardians believe that this work will be done by people working together in the own home towns – and led by people who are now between 12 and 20. Earth Guardians believe grownups of today are legally required to protect the biosphere for the young and the unborn and have gone to court to demand it. And they’re winning.

And Earth Guardians believe that it is right for grownups – with their skills and resources and connections and money – to help the people doing this work as much as we can. A lot of these grownups, some of them pretty famous and a lot of them not, are already working hard – and there’s a lot more coming.

Meet some of the people already on the job. Be there when the local crews get started. You’ve got no choice but to live in the future – So start making history now.

Young People! Go out on your “InstaChats” and Reddits and tell people to show up. Grownups, tell people between 12 and 20 to show up. You can show up too.

I met some of the Earth Guardians in RYSE (Rising Youth For A Sustainable Earth) two weekends ago and was really impressed. I wrote about it here.

Lisa Moir organized the event and owns the Blue Pig. That's her daughter. She'll be there.

Lisa Moir organized the event and owns the Blue Pig. That’s her with her daughter. They’ll both be there.

My Peekskill — # 21 Amazing! You Could Be in a Play: A Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Play, OR a play Right Here in Peekskill.

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HVSF-OurTown-Final2Something amazing is happening in our stretch of the Hudson Valley. If you haven’t heard, it’s good I got to you in time.

If you’re going to get in on it, this Saturday, April 2nd, is your last chance in Peekskill.

It’s been exactly two years since it was announced that Davis McCallum was the new artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. The Festival under his leadership has been unpredictable and more alive than ever, and his Winter’s Tale was legitimately extraordinary.

The amazing thing is connected with their 30th anniversary. They’re producing Our Town and casting nearly the whole thing from among us local regular folk. You, yourself, could appear on the Festival’s stage. They’re running workshops (way more fun than auditions) right here in Peekskill, as well as Cold Spring/Garrison, Newburgh, and Beacon. If you’re tempted to be in it, they want to meet you. Here’s their very broad criteria: “HVSF is searching for a wide cross-section of our community, including people ages 11 and up who are of all genders, races and levels of ability and experience, to be a part of our ensemble.” That’s from their website that explains it all to you (here (HVShakespeare.org/whats-playing/our-town.html)). You can also find the schedule of the workshops, and a very good video from the director. From all reports, the first Peekskill workshop was very, very good. 21 people of all different experience levels, and everyone jumped right in.

Our Town is a play that’s meant to be done. It’s easy. A ladder, some folding chairs, no costumes you couldn’t get from someone’s Mom and Dad. My estimate is that since it premiered in 1938 it’s been produced 80,000 times. Figure a cast and crew of 30, that’s more than 2 million people who have been part of their home town’s Our Town. And figure, over the course of a run, an average audience of 300, that’s 20 million people. I played the Stage Manager in my high school’s production in 1976. That was 40 years ago. If you’re counting.

Our Town is a play that’s made a difference. It’s an expression of our most uninflected longings about who we’d like to be and where we want to be. Being a part of one of those 80,000 productions put something deeply enough inside to make a difference for just about everyone involved. Look at the HVSF website, show up for a workshop, meet the director, and maybe being in an Our Town will make a difference for you.

ourtown_blue_colorAnd That’s Not All!

I’m producing an evening of scenes, called Our Friendly Town, inspired by HVSF’s production. Our Town was written in 1938, about the years between 1901 and 1913, and set in Grover’s Corners, a fictional New Hampshire town. There’s something essential to the American experience in the play, even something aspirational. And it’s significantly different from the American experience of a great many people. And Grover’s Corners doesn’t look very much like Peekskill.

The last scene in Our Town takes place in the cemetery. Emily, whose romance and marriage with George comprise the emotional arc of the first two acts, has died in childbirth and is joining her family and fellow citizens who have died before her. Sitting in those folding chairS, they look down at the town while “the earth part of ’em burns away.” In my scenes, they’re not looking down on Grover’s Corners, they’re looking down at Peekskill, and all the actors and directors will be Peekskillians. Maybe there will be a Black cast, a Hispanic cast, an artist-and-other-newcomers cast, a cast made up of people born and raised in Peekskill. Maybe everyone mixed together – we’ll see what happens.

I’m really doing this. I want you to be part of it. I’m going to get casts together and find directors, maybe get some funding. We’ll develop scripts through improvisation, centered in people’s real experience of life in Peekskill – in all its reality. And we’ll perform at the end of the summer. So, stay tuned.

My Peekskill — # 20 – A Partial Pipeline Victory

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Every victory is a partial victory.

school house rock FB cover photoThere are people who have natural strengths that help them succeed in politics. Like being able to make an instant human-to-human connection with just about anyone. Call it charisma, call it the common touch. Call it something I don’t got.

That human strength is just about at the bottom of my list of qualities. By nature I am not good at politics, or persuasion, or sales. By nurture, I’ve just arrived at the point where I can see how far I have to go.

It’s exciting that the impulse I set in motion last month resulted in a resolution unanimously passing the Peekskill Common Council last week. It’s a very good resolution. You can see it here (CityofPeekskill.com/sites/peekskillny/files/agenda/agenda-file/j-2_spectra_resolution.pdf). It calls for a “comprehensive, independent and transparent risk assessment,” paid for by Spectra, and seeks to protect Peekskill citizens and infrastructure should Spectra decide their process needs explosives.

The resolution I started with was also about political impact and moral leadership. It was rewritten for very sensible reasons, which I wrote about here (PaulStark.name/my-peekskill/my-peekskill-19-an-extra-large-thank-you-to-the-peekskill-common-council). I’m pretty sure the Council is in substantial agreement with what I originally proposed – I was just too much of a political amateur to get it done. Here’s what I didn’t want left out:

– It’s an outrage that we’re disenfranchised by federal law and regulatory agencies. I said in that first meeting, “if they were building a bowling alley, a paint factory, or a slaughterhouse they’d fall under all kinds of City jurisdiction.” But because it’s methane, they can do pretty much what they please. That’s wrong – un-American and anti-democratic. Peekskill should loudly and formally object to this disenfranchisement.

– A rallying cry to greatly expand the popular activation about the pipeline. A call to the community leaders of Peekskill and nearby communities to influence the people who look to them for leadership to become active and engaged in opposition to the pipeline.

– A call on all our federal representatives, especially Senators Schumer (get in touch with him here (Schumer.Senate.gov/Contact/EMail-Chuck)) (And, lest we forget, #SpeakUpChuck (I made that up!)) and Gillibrand (get in touch with her here (Gillibrand.Senate.gov/Contact)), to use their power and influence to vigorously oppose the pipeline, to hold congressional hearings on the captured regulatory agencies FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and their irresponsible disregard for the wishes and welfare of all those harmed and endangered by the projects they blithely continue to approve. And to sponsor legislation that undoes the unconscionable privilege the fossil fuel industry enjoys.

– A call to take a leadership role among the surrounding municipalities to stake out similar bold and uncompromising positions.

I haven’t given up, and neither has PPP (here) (PPP-Fights.org). And perhaps part of the lesson here is that it needs to come from us, the grassroots. PPP is founded on the proposition that a lot more people need to get a lot (or at least a little) more active about opposing the pipeline.

Here’s the thing. I started my most recent life in activism trying to raise awareness and foster hope about climate change. The same night the resolution was being voted on in Peekskill I was watching Josh Fox’s latest film (about climate change) and seeing him take questions. What I realized at the screening is that what’s happening now, which wasn’t happening five years ago, is that these issues are starting to break mainstream. There are very serious issues: whether it’s the pipeline, climate change, the TPP, surveillance, politics, corruption, the violence pointed to by Black Lives Matter. Opinions which once would have been impossibly radical – understandings about what’s happening and what ordinary people might do about it – are beginning to seem normal and obvious.

I’m not exactly sure what to do about that. And my lack of political ability isn’t helpful. But I do know a lot of people have gotten to a certain point, or are about to, and are beginning to wonder what’s next. There’s an opportunity here to be deeply responsible to our times and our descendents. And I won’t stop trying to invest in that opportunity.

My Peekskill — # 19 – An Extra-Large Thank You to the Peekskill Common Council

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The Common Council has taken, once again, a stand for the rights and safety of Peekskillians and 20 million others. Monday night they passed a resolution calling for
“a comprehensive, independent and transparent risk assessment of a potential rupture of a 42-inch diameter high-pressure pipeline in close proximity to Indian Point Nuclear Facility”

We all owe them an oversize THANK YOU for unanimously passing this resolution.

Fracked methane infrastructure is dangerous in so many ways

Fracked methane infrastructure is dangerous in so many ways

Dozens of elected officials, grassroots groups, and activists have, for many long months, been calling for just such an assessment. Recently Governor Cuomo has joined in. So far, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the only agency with the authority to cancel the project, has been unimpressed.

On February 8th I proposed a resolution I wrote at a Council meeting. (You can refresh your memory here) It nearly passed on the spot but it was decided legal review was needed to make sure the City didn’t open itself up to liability. Which makes sense – methane and other extreme energy companies have often tried to use the courts to cripple municipalities who displeased them. Our conscientious and competent Corporation Counsel, Melissa Ferraro, made sure the resolution made its point without putting the City in jeopardy. Nothing runs in a straight line. Though I (and People Preventing Pipelines) provided the initial impulse, the resolution which passed on Monday was different than the one I wrote.

Here’s a summary of the risks of a pipeline failure near our aging, leaking, and unlicensed nuclear power plant. Worst case: a methane explosion and fire causes the failure of the plant’s cooling systems, leading to Fukushima on the Hudson: meltdown, containment breach, death or injury of 20 million people, Westchester County and New York City uninhabitable for decades, and the collapse of the world economy. It is, of course, impossible to justify this risk. Especially since the pipeline’s ultimate purpose is to make possible the selling of Pennsylvania fracked gas to foreign markets so executives and shareholders of Spectra, a Texas company, can significantly increase their net worths. There’s no reason anyone in Peekskill, or anywhere else along the pipeline’s route, should be endangered, harmed, or even inconvenienced to facilitate such an outcome.

This engineering-at-its-worst was obtained by Paul Blanch

This engineering-at-its-worst was obtained by Paul Blanch

Given the risks, Peekskill believes the unsigned, undated and back-of-an-old-envelope “engineering” “assessment” to be too unbelievable for even the blackest comedy. Produced by some Entergy employee, this drawing was used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conclude that the proposed pipeline posed no risk at all. (more here)

The resolution also urges county, state, and federal permitting agencies to make permission contingent on the successful completion of independent risk assessment and other reviews.

Setting off high explosives is a potent symbol of disregard for public safety in pursuit of private gain. A number of Peekskill residents recently received notices that Spectra Energy wants to begin blasting in pursuit of its pipeline goals. Peekskill doesn’t like Spectra’s plans. We don’t like any of their plans that involve explosives. And this week our representatives drew a line in the sand about it.

The resolution’s message to Spectra: If you’re going to bring high explosives into our town and we can’t just say NO, we’re going to insist you prove there’s adequate insurance and make sure that if you break anything we’ll know and you’ll fix it. We’re going to make you pay to prove you didn’t harm any of our people, property, or infrastructure. And we’re going to subject you to significant official attention. If, as an unintended consequence, that makes your project more expensive and less convenient, that just might be unavoidable if we insist on being responsible toward our citizens.

Finally, it’s important to note that despite the sometimes contentious and partisan relationships amongst our elected officials, when the well-being and safety of our City are on the line, there’s no hesitation: they come together and do what needs to be done.