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I Cover Northern Westchester Progressives and Activists — # 7 – One Small Step for the Spectra Opposition

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citizens see danger & call their hardworking representative ...

Citizens see danger & call their hardworking representative …

We all want to believe there’s an America that matches descriptions we remember from civics class and Schoolhouse Rock.

I have trouble believing it. That America was an experiment in representative democracy and a beacon to the world. This America isn’t.

(Schoolhouse Rock still rocks though. Watch “I’m Just a Bill” right here.)

In a functioning democracy private companies wouldn’t be allowed to disrupt our lives, endanger and poison us for the sake of private profit. By definition. Spectra Energy is a private company planning to do just that: disrupt our lives, endanger us, and poison us. They plan to Earn Globally and Destroy Locally.

And it looks like all the lights are green on their road to realizing their plans. So, a functioning democracy, that’s what we don’t have one of. (This is well-established in certain circles, and there’s peer-reviewed science to back it up.)

Fracked gas is a nightmare. Ask Vera Scroggins. (Her online presence here.) Fracked gas infrastructure is a nightmare. Ask Pramilla Mallick and the people of Minisink. (Their online presence here. What I’ve written here.)

Spectra Energy has lots of fracked gas infrastructure plans. They’re getting paid, and they’re planning to get paid a lot more, to build infrastructure. Here’s their plan: they want to put a *huge* pipeline *under* the Hudson River, through two earthquake faults, right next to the aging, leaking, and unlicensed Indian Point nuclear power plant and within 450 feet of Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School. What could possibly go wrong? They plan to run fracked gas through Westchester County and all the way to liquefaction export facilities in Canada. They’re also planning to give their executives and shareholders (they’re an S&P 500 company, in case you didn’t know) big chunks of the hundreds of millions of dollars to be made selling fracked gas in foreign markets.

There’s so very many things wrong with this plan: global warming effects 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, air pollution, millions of gallons of permanently contaminated water, myriad health consequences, carcinogens, earthquakes, radioactivity, and, of course the risk of catastrophic fire and explosion. Additional training and risk for first responders. Noise. Construction disruption. Traffic congestion. Damaged roadways.

The last chance for our representative democracy to stop these plans is for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to refuse to grant the required permits. This is a long shot (the Kabuki theater of public hearings, though, were rather convincing and diverting). FERC has already stamped away with their rubber stamps. (FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Don’t get me started. More like the Federal Energy Permissioning Commission.)

No one in our vast representative democracy will do anything to effectively protect us. Unsurprisingly, and shamefully, we’re on our own.

Which brings us to a momentous event you might not have heard about.

The efforts to deflect, delay or stop fracking and its infrastructure are happening all over the country, and all over the world. People have been getting arrested, chaining themselves to equipment, blocking roads, occupying offices, and participating in lots of less disruptive activities besides. Opposition around here hasn’t been particularly disruptive.

A mother and her children united in death

A mother and her children united in death

Until now. Last week, in Yorktown Heights, a new era began. An era during which private citizens are willing to use their bodies, their voices, their creativity, and the love in their hearts to disrupt the execution of all these harmful plans.

It happened at the Spectra open house. It was a bizarre event that involved lots of Spectra employees, lots of words and pictures about how beneficial and safe and completely positive all their plans are, and a couple of Yorktown’s finest (who were personable as well as professional). And free food: subway sandwiches, Doritos, fruit. And tons and tons of #SpectraSwag (more on that in a minute).

Suddenly. A dozen or so Westchester citizens dropped to the floor in simulated death. Many held signs built by other Westchester citizens. While they lay, corpse-like, a statement was read by Jacqui Drechsler. The statement ended with: “Our children’s future is on the line. Spectra you may be dying to put your pipelines in our communities, we will fight to the death to stop you.”

The action took only three minutes, but it was an important three minutes. A line was crossed. The step into direct action was a small one, but also a giant step. It’s fundamentally different than going through the motions within mechanisms set up for us to voice our opinions so they can be ignored.

It’s hard to take, the realization that we’re unprotected and on our own. It makes us feel alone and hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. It’s just about certain that no one at the open house went from supporting to opposing of Spectra’s plans, or vice versa. But the event and its coverage may have brought it to the attention of people who knew little or nothing, or inspired new or different efforts. Accepting that are so-called democracy has no intention to protect us, different calculations can start to made. Who knows where this process ends up?

Swag & Natural Gas Explosion

Swag & Natural Gas Explosion

And what about all that swag? I got my share, and a lot of other people did too. It’s hard to tell whether it’s more insulting or idiotic, the corporate thinking about these spatulas, basters, chapsticks, and the rest. “You know, I was against fracking and its infrastructure for a whole long list of possible and guaranteed consequences, but that was before Spectra generously gave me earbuds and a flashlight with their name on them. No company so thoughtful would ever endanger me, my children, descendents or the biosphere. Now I realize I’ve been a fool.” The follow-on action organized by Dr. Susan Rubin is to send as much #SpectraSwag to John Oliver at HBO’s Last Week Tonight to inspire him to give this battle some coverage. You can get in on it or follow along here and here and here.

Or maybe there should be a Spectra’s Victim Appreciation Unit – two uniformed Spectra employees (lime green safety vests, short-sleeved shirts, Spectra hardhats) arrive amid the rubble to pass out free earbuds and flashlights to citizens who lost a loved one or had a home damaged or destroyed. Sure would like to get me one of them spatulas, that’s for damn sure.

Spectra: handsome, intrepid, short-sleeved

Spectra: handsome, intrepid, short-sleeved

Thanks to all the Westchester citizens who have been fighting this good fight, and who have taken this giant step into direct action, whether last week or years ago. Susan Rubin (tireless advocate of non-violent direct action and everyone having a sense of humor), Susan Van Dolsen (longtime worker for progressive causes and more responsible government) and Paula Clair, Ellen Weininger, and the rest of the people at Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE) and here (also co-founded by Susan McDonnell, Jerry Ravnitzky, Suzannah Glidden and Marian Rose), Nancy Vann, Courtney Williams and Erik Lindberg, Rosanne Brackett, the good people at Let’s Keep Yorktown Safe, Katharine Stigdon, Cari Garnder, Lisa Peters Mackay, Collin Fox Thomas, Marty Walsh, Debbie Edwards Rogers, Miriam Kurland, Judy Allen, Michelle Ruffalo-Kearns, and Jeanne D Shaw

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