AMY GOODMAN: Activists note infrastructure related to fracking remains in place upstate New York. On Tuesday, 41 people were arrested for blocking the gates of a gas storage facility as part of a campaign against the Texas-based company Crestwood Midstream. The group, We Are Seneca Lake, has seen more than 130 arrests in a series of actions against the company’s plans to expand methane gas storage at a lake which provides drinking water to 100,000 people.
Among those at the protest was the biologist, the activist, the author, Sandra Steingraber. She joins us now from Ithaca, New York. She co-founded both New Yorkers Against Fracking and Concerned Health Professionals of New York. Her books include Living Downstream and, her latest, Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.
Also joining us from Cornell University is Cornell professor Tony Ingraffea. He’s also the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! This is a major decision. New York has major gas deposits. Sandra Steingraber, can you talk about how this actually happened? Sure, the governor announced it, but what was the pressure brought on the governor?
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, that’s a tale that could be told as an opera, I think. So, we had the good fortune to have a moratorium in place by our previous governor, and I’ll let Tony tell some of the details of how that came to be. But because we had pushed the pause button, that gave those of us in the scientific community a chance to begin to really look at the data and the research and what it showed.
And we started off with only a handful of studies. There were only six studies on the health effects of fracking and the environmental impacts in 2008, for example, when we had the first moratorium declared. Now there are 414 studies and counting. And so, it was like we had pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and when you only have a couple of pieces and you try to see what the picture is, it’s hard to see. But we saw troubling signs, but it was a little bit like trying to read the tea leaves. And then, as more data came in and more studies were done, and we talked to more scientists and we knew what the data looked like that was in the pipeline that was coming up to be published, we began to put more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. And now we have 414 pieces assembled.
Tom Wilber who writes Shale Gas Review which covers gas development in Marcellus and Utica shales, noted the power of the anti-fracking movement and how it related to the science on fracking:
Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don’t make these kinds of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics = policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.
People rising up and saying ‘no’ to fracking made it impossible for the government to ignore the health, safety and environmental problems caused by fracking. See this December 2014 compendium of the research. This victory is one that will spur the anti-fracking movement throughout the country and puts in question the fracking infrastructure being built, e.g. pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, currently being pushed throughout the country by Big Energy.
Inside Climate News reports that Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and fracking activist in New York, told them from the parking lot of a sheriff’s office where she was bailing out 28 musicians arrested in an ongoing protest against a fracked gas storage facility in the Seneca Lakes region of New York that when she told the activists the news, they picked up their instruments and there was “singing and dancing in the streets.” She added “Fracking is able to roll over so many communities because people are told it is inevitable. This decision emboldens us all. It shows this fight is winnable.”
At a meeting in Calvert County last night where Dominion Resources is building a fracked gas export terminal, Tracey Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a member of We Are Cove Point, mentioned the Cuomo decision to inspire people to realize that we can defeat big energy.
Yesterday morning we
At times it appeared as if Cuomo was leaning toward allowing fracking to proceed in New York. In 2012, he considered a plan that would have allowedfor fracking in New York's Southern Tier, as a way to boost the upstate region's struggling economy. But opponents of fracking accused the governor of trying to create "sacrifice zones," in which the state's poorest residents would bear the brunt of drilling's environmental costs. Even on Wednesday, Cuomo seemed to distance himself from the decision, telling reporters that he was deferring to his health and environmental advisors on the decision.
Never the less, environmental activists gathered outside the governor's office in midtown Manhattan yesterday for a victory rally after the announcement. But while they celebrated the ban, many also warned that a battle lays ahead over natural gas developments— gas pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities—that have begun cropping up as gas from neighboring states passes through New York and into energy markets along the Eastern Seaboard. The new projects, they argued, could come with their own set of negative environmental impacts, even if drilling itself is banned.
"This is the next big battle," said Fox, citing the Constitution Pipeline, a 125-mile natural gas transmission vein that was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) earlier this month, as a future target of protest.
A slew of FERC-approved natural compressor stations have also cropped up in New York, including one in Minisink, a township about sixty miles for New York City where residents have told me they are afraid to go outside for fear of the headaches, nosebleeds, and dizzy spells that they have started to experience since the station went online in June 2013. The FERC, together with the New York DEC, also gave their blessing this year to a plan that will allow Texas-based energy firm Crestwood Midstream to store natural gas in abandoned underground salt mines near Seneca Lake in upstate New York.
"They've fracked so much gas out of the ground now that there's a glut of it," said Sandra Steingraber, a biologist at Ithaca College and a vocal opponent of fracking. "Natural gas storage projects don't just represent environmental health problems in the long run — water contamination, air pollution, which is what fracking gives us — they also represent basic safety issues," she added, emphasizing that natural gas is also highly explosive.
Steingraber is one of the 130 activists who have gone to jail for protesting the Seneca Lake storage project, including a group of 41 who were arrested for trespassing on Crestwood property on Tuesday, the day the fracking ban was announced.
One defendant of 13 entered a guilty plea. Eight pleaded not guilty to his or her charges. Many refused to enter a guilty or not guilty plea and said that Judge Raymond Berry should recuse himself from the case.
Faith Meckley, 19, an IC student and the youngest of the defendants, pleaded guilty to trespassing. Meckley said that she would refuse to pay any fine imposed by the Court.
“I will not pay money to a [justice] system that I believe is broken,” she said.
Judge Berry adjourned her sentencing (Meckley objected to the postponement) and stated he wanted to think about her statement before imposing a sentence.
Before the 7 p.m. arraignment, court officials had made a statement that only the defendants would be let into the courtroom, and that the media would not be permitted in, based on the size of the courtroom and the number of people present. After negotiations with Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a leader in the protests, court officials changed their stance on opening the courtroom.
New York, NY- Like the waves of a tsunami tens of thousands surged through Manhattan on Saturday to decry police violence and the killings of unarmed Blacks. The Millions March reflected growing public anger towards a broken justice system tilting towards police impunity for misconduct.
Marchers chanted “Black Lives Matter,” I can’t Breathe,” and “No Justice, No Peace,” popular catch-phrases of the growing movement.The Millions March was “unlike anything I’ve seen since the civil rights movement,” said Tippy Brooks, an activist who has been involved in social justice issues for 50 years.
The permitted part of the march began in Washington Square Park and finished at the Police Headquarters. But then the energy of thousands carried it forward past the designated route-unabated-pushing past New York City Police barricades, closing downtown thoroughfares and temporarily shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge. Though one arrest, there was little police could do to stop it. Thousands crossed Brooklyn Bridge, pushing deep into Brooklyn, and ending 10 hours after the demonstration started.
“I was afraid to go past police but the young weren’t afraid so I went across with them,” said Eunice, a 50 year old grandmother from the Bronx, who didn’t give her last name and was at her first protest.”
In the week before the Millions March, momentum had been building with nightly die-ins at Grand Central Station, shut downs of Macy’s and Forever 21 retail stores, and protests at Union And Times Squares which had become a popular theme of resistance.For the protesters who left Foley Square and continued blocking streets downtown, there was a sense of new felt power, as anger mixed with exhilaration when police were unable to stop them. At one point they covered a police car with protest signs in defiance.
A New York grand jury decision not to indict NY Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke-hold killing of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man last week, came days after another prominent grand jury decision in St Louis, not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown, another unarmed Black youth. Both cases helped galvanize nationwide response to police misconduct.
THE police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.
In the course of the current protests over the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been a concerted attempt by political forces ranging from President Obama to the millionaire operative Al Sharpton, along with a network of organizations orbiting the Democratic Party, to insist that the entire issue is one of racism, to be answered by a “conversation on race,” a “new civil rights movement” or various police reform palliatives.
All of this is meant to divert popular outrage into safer channels and conceal a far more sinister reality. A militarized police force, working in close collaboration with the US military and intelligence complex, is being prepared for violent repression against the working class as a whole. It will be used against strikes, demonstrations, protests and other forms of opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial elite.
Torture, police killings, the destruction of core democratic rights—all are methods employed by a criminal ruling class whose wealth is secured through financial parasitism. It has built up its fortunes by transferring social wealth from the working class—the overwhelming majority of the population—to the top 1 percent, while employing militarist violence to further its plunder abroad.
These ruling layers operate not out of strength or confidence in their system, but rather out of fear. They know that record levels of social inequality are not only incompatible with democracy, but must give rise to social revolt at the next, inevitable eruption of global financial crisis. If the torturers and the police killers enjoy impunity, it is because preparations are being made to turn them loose against a rebellious population.
Bill Van Auken
Thinly veiled notions of racial superiority have informed every aspect of the non-response to climate change so far. Racism is what has made it possible to systematically look away from the climate threat for more than two decades. It is also what has allowed the worst health impacts of digging up, processing and burning fossil fuels—from cancer clusters to asthma—to be systematically dumped on indigenous communities and on the neighborhoods where people of colour live, work and play. The South Bronx, to cite just one example, has notoriously high asthma rates—and according to one study, a staggering 21.8 percent of children living in New York City public housing have asthma, three times higher than the rate for private housing. The choking of those children is not as immediately lethal as the kind of choking that stole Eric Garner's life, but it is very real nonetheless.
If we refuse to speak frankly about the intersection of race and climate change, we can be sure that racism will continue to inform how the governments of industrialized countries respond to this existential crisis. It will manifest in the continued refusal to provide serious climate financing to poor countries so they can protect themselves from heavy weather. It will manifest in the fortressing of wealthy continents as they attempt to lock out the growing numbers of people whose homes will become unlivable.
And in the not too distant future, the firm if unstated belief that not all lives matter could well push our governments to deploy high-risk "geoengineering" technologies like spraying sulfur into the stratosphere in order to reduce global temperatures. Never mind that several studies project that a side effect could be suppressing the summer monsoons in India and Africa, with the water and food security of billions of people hanging in the balance.
But then came the letter they wrote detailing their reasons for the deactivation. It was a joke. But it was not a joke because of the completely delusional belief that PhD students are waiting for them to come back so that they can steal their ideas for their dissertations. It was not a joke because of the talk of their frameworks, which are really just basic sociological concepts that have been denuded of meaning for capitalistic consumption. It is not a joke because of the decree that wholly common-sensical acts of compassion and community-building are somehow radical. It is not a joke because simple disagreement has been translated into “abuse” and “triggering” behavior. It is not even a joke because I’Nasah Crockett, Zahira Kelly, Trudy Hamilton, Aura Bogado, Lauren Chief Elk, Sarah Kendzior, and Jessica Luther are all jokes themselves.
No. It is a joke because it is a document that is so removed from the communities that these people claim to represent. It is a joke because such self-centered and narcissistic performances have become a regular part of these “activists” shticks, and the notion that other people suffer in this world is of secondary thought to their mantra of “fuck you, pay me”. It is a joke because for all the discussion of praxis, these petty bourgeois capitalists do not seek radical change and an overturning of our socioeconomic and political systems. It is really incredible to see, actually: capitalists paying members of an oppressed class to write about their real or perceived oppressions, offering solutions that always center on such atomized and individualistic notions of “rhetorical violence” and “spaces” and “privilege-checking”. They are paying these people to maintain the status quo with radical aesthetics, and these writers are completely okay with that. That is a joke.
At some point, though, the joke stops being funny. It starts being a distraction to real movements for change, and it takes up space and energy in offline organizing. At some point, the show has to end, the mic has to be cut off, and people gotta be told to take the no-talent show somewhere else. I am not on Twitter anymore, nor will I ever be again. But my hope is that their screeds may find a few less retweets, a few less favorites, and less enthusiastic displays of solidarity now that their true intentions of capital accumulation and attention-seeking have been revealed.
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.
The report lays out a road map to show how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. The Defense Department will begin by integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, from war games and strategic military planning situations to a rethinking of the movement of supplies.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking Monday at a meeting of defense ministers in Peru, highlighted the report’s findings and the global security threats of climate change.
It isn't necessary for us to presume every individual accusation is true in order to work against sexual assault. The ways in which terms like "rush to judgment" and "due process" have gotten lumped into rape denialism does the movement against rape no favors. After all, while we can feel confident that false accusations of rape are rare, we also know that the system frequently fails to produce just outcomes in rape trials, with unjust outcomes falling along typical lines of class and race. In the long run, we will produce the most just outcomes by pursuing the truth about rape allegations the same way we should pursue all criminal allegations: by taking those allegations seriously, by investigating them rigorously, and by using consistent and fair standards of evidence. A commitment to a fair and careful process will ensure far better outcomes than social norms about believing all accusations ever could.
The allegations detailed in Rolling Stone, and the continuing, nightmarish saga that has followed, represent something like a worst case scenario for this norm: the insistence that skepticism or review of any rape allegation necessarily amounts to rape denialism leads a reporter to fail to do basic diligence in her reporting. That in turn leaves her vulnerable to the terrible fallout of this case, which could do deep, lasting harm to our efforts to fight campus rape. Sabrina Rudin Erdely clearly failed in her reporting; she failed Rolling Stone, she failed her readers, and she failed Jackie. Frankly, I think she should never be hired by a major publication to do investigative reporting again. But on a deeper level, this type of problem is the product of the norm itself, as it leaves us constantly at risk of investing our credibility in allegations that are not credible. It was inevitable.
"Feminism is not fragile," wrote Judith Levine regarding this situation. Our commitment to fighting rape must be equally strong. It can, and must, survive in a world where we know that not every allegation is true.
In a footnote, the authors acknowledge that asserting that one-quarter of college students “might” be raped is not based on actual evidence: “These projections are suggestive. To assess accurately the victimization risk for women throughout a college career, longitudinal research following a cohort of female students across time is needed.” The one-fifth to one-quarter assertion would mean that young American college women are raped at a rate similar to women in Congo, where rape has been used as a weapon of war.
No one disputes that only a percentage of sexual assaults get reported, but the studies that have tried to capture the incidence of unreported rape are miles apart. As Christopher Krebs observed, “Some [surveys] I think create high numbers that are difficult to defend. Some create artificially low numbers that are impossible to defend.” We do have hard numbers on actual reports of sexual assault on campus thanks to the Clery Act, the federal law that requires colleges to report their crime rates. But even these figures are controversial. Minuscule sexual assault numbers have long been a consistent feature of Clery Act reporting. Victim advocates say administrators deliberately suppress their numbers in order to make the schools look safer. (Unsurprisingly, schools deny this.) In July, the Washington Post published the Clery number for 2012: There were just over 3,900 forcible sexual offenses, with most schools reporting single or low double-digit numbers. (Under the Clery Act a “forcible sexual offense” does not require the use of actual physical force, it can simply be an act against someone’s will. Offenses include everything from rape to fondling.) Given the approximately 12 million female college students, that’s a reported sexual assault rate of 0.03 percent.
Reported sexual assaults have been rising on campus in recent years, at a time when other campus crime is declining. (The nation as a whole has experienced a dramatic drop in all violent crime over the past few decades, including sexual assault, which is down more than 60 percent since 1995.) The rise of reporting on campus sexual assault is generally described by security experts as a function of a greater willingness on the part of women to make complaints, not an increase in incidence. Despite reports of “soaring” sexual a
the severe new policies championed by the White House, the Department of Education, and members of Congress are responding to the idea that colleges are in the grips of an epidemic—and the studies suggesting this epidemic don’t hold up to scrutiny. Bad policy is being made on the back of problematic research, and will continue to be unless we bring some healthy skepticism to the hard work of putting a number on the prevalence of campus rape.
It is exceedingly difficult to get a numerical handle on a crime that is usually committed in private and the victims of which—all the studies agree—frequently decline to report. A further complication is that because researchers are asking about intimate subjects, there is no consensus on the best way to phrase sensitive questions in order to get the most accurate answers. A 2008 National Institute of Justice paper on campus sexual assault explained some of the challenges: “Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to determine the precise incidence of sexual assault on American campuses because the incidence found depends on how the questions are worded and the context of the survey.” Take the National Crime Victimization Survey, the nationally representative sample conducted by the federal government to find rates of reported and unreported crime. For the years 1995 to 2011, as the University of Colorado Denver’s Rennison explained to me, it found that an estimated 0.8 percent of noncollege females age 18-24 revealed that they were victims of threatened, attempted, or completed rape/sexual assault. Of the college females that age during that same time period, approximately 0.6 percent reported they experienced such attempted or completed crime.
That finding diverges wildly from the notion that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. That’s the number most often used to suggest there is overwhelming sexual violence on America’s college campuses. It comes from a 2007 study funded by the National Institute of Justice, called the Campus Sexual Assault Study, or CSA. (I cited it last year in a story on campus drinking and sexual assault.) The study asked 5,466 female college students at two public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South, to answer an online survey about their experiences with sexual assault. The survey defined sexual assault as everything from nonconsensual sexual intercourse to such unwanted activities as “forced kissing,” “fondling,” and “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes.”
Wages haven’t increased along with job creation – and some economists say the unemployment rate may have to decline a lot more in order for that to happen. Some say we may need unemployment to hit 5% before we see a significant and lasting improvement in incomes across the board.
As in past recessions, many of the jobs that were lost were in relatively high-paying sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and construction. Those that were created tended to be concentrated in the services sector: hospitality, fast food and, yes, retail. Those jobs paid an average of only $21,000 a year, and in aggregate the new jobs created pay 23% less than the jobs lost, according to a study by IHS Global Insight for the US Conference of Mayors.
Those are the kinds of numbers that are almost certainly going to spawn a lot of survivalists.
It’s one thing to have a bad year, income-wise. But after you’ve had a succession of them, drawing down family savings and selling off assets ranging from retirement plans to jewelry or electronics to pay the bills, holiday spending falls into the category of a luxury rather than a necessity.
Only days before Black Friday, the Conference Board announced a surprise in the form of a big drop in consumer confidence levels in November, to 88.7 from 94.5 in October.
The old alchemical dream was changing base metals into gold. The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) This had always been an aristocratic luxury, confined throughout most of history to the life of the courts, since only the very wealthiest classes had the free time and the surplus income to dwell upon this sweetest and vainest of pastimes. It smacked so much of vanity, in fact, that the noble folk involved in it always took care to call it quite something else.
Much of the satisfaction well-born people got from what is known historically as the “chivalric tradition” was precisely that: dwelling upon Me and every delicious nuance of my conduct and personality. At Versailles, Louis XIV founded a school for the daughters of impoverished noblemen, called L’Ecole Saint-Cyr. At the time most schools for girls were in convents. Louis had quite something else in mind, a secular school that would develop womenfolk suitable for the superior race guerrière that he believed himself to be creating in France. Saint-Cyr was the forerunner of what was known up until a few years ago as the finishing school. And what was the finishing school? Why, a school in which the personality was to be shaped and buffed like a piece of high-class psychological cabinetry. For centuries most of upper-class college education in France and England has been fashioned in the same manner: with an eye toward sculpting the personality as carefully as the intellectual faculties.
The saga of the Me Decade begins with one of those facts that is so big and so obvious (like the Big Dipper), no one ever comments on it anymore. Namely: the 30-year boom. Wartime spending in the United States in the 1940s touched off a boom that has continued for more than 30 years. It has pumped money into every class level of the population on a scale without parallel in any country in history. True, nothing has solved the plight of those at the very bottom, the chronically unemployed of the slums. Nevertheless, in Compton, California, today it is possible for a family at the very lowest class level, which is known in America today as “on welfare,” to draw an income of $8,000 a year entirely from public sources. This is more than most British newspaper columnists and Italian factory foremen make, even allowing for differences in living costs. In America truck drivers, mechanics, factory workers, policemen, firemen, and garbagemen make so much money—$15,000 to $20,000 (or more) per year is not uncommon—that the word proletarian can no longer be used in this country with a straight face. So one now says lower middle class. One can’t even call workingmen blue collar any longer. They all have on collars like Joe Namath’s or Johnny Bench’s or Walt Frazier’s. They all have on $35 Superstar Qiana sport shirts with elephant collars and 1940s Airbrush Wallpaper Flowers Buncha Grapes and Seashell designs all over them.
Well, my God, the old utopian socialists of the nineteenth century—such as Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier, and Marx—lived for the day of the liberated workingman. They foresaw a day when industrialism (Saint-Simon coined the word) would give the common man the things he needed in order to realize his potential as a human being: surplus (discretionary) income, political freedom, free time (leisure), and freedom from grinding drudgery. Some of them, notably Owen and Fourier, thought all this might come to pass first in the United States. So they set up communes here: Owen’s New Harmony commune in Indiana and 34 Fourier-style “phalanx” settlements—socialist communes, because the new freedom was supposed to be possible only under socialism. The old boys never dreamed that the new freedom would come to pass instead as the result of a Go-Getter Bourgeois business boom such as began in the United States in the 1940s. Nor would they have liked it if they had seen it. For one thing, the homo novus, the new man, the liberated man, the first common man in the history of the world with the much-dreamed-of combination of money, free time, and personal freedom—this American workingman didn’t look right. The Joe Namath-Johnny Bench—Walt Frazier-Superstar Qiana Wallpaper sport shirt, for a start.
The clash between wine and gas in New York's Finger Lakes has reached a boiling point. Protesters of a proposed expansion to a gas-storage facility on Seneca Lake are being arrested in droves (92 bookings and counting), and now prominent vintners are among them. On Dec. 1, Phil Davis, co-owner of Damiani Wine Cellars, along with one of his employees, was arrested for trespassing—protests have taken the form of blocking the entrances to the gas-storage facility of Crestwood Midstream. (There were eight others arrested that night, but as Davis told Unfiltered, "They're blocking the gates again today. It's been ongoing. [Police] have been picking up 10 or 12 people every day.") At their arraignments, protesters who pleaded guilty can pay a fine of a few hundred dollars—or take 10 to 15 days behind bars. "I think I'm going to go to jail," Davis said, to the surprise of co-owner Lou Damiani, who was also in the conversation. "The statement's got to be made. It's intolerable what they're proposing. It takes a lot to make me boil over, but I'm boiling over now."
How did we get here? In 2009, Crestwood, a Texas company, put forth a proposal to expand gas storage in salt caverns in the town of Reading, on property they own. The proposal would add 450 million cubic feet of natural-gas storage to existing stores and introduce 2.1 million barrels of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage. "They're trying to make this into a major, major operation. And along with that, major truck traffic, major rail traffic, flare stacks, compressors that run 24 hours a day. It just doesn't work with what we're trying to develop around here," said Davis. A representative from Crestwood previously told Wine Spectator that such fears of industrialization were overblown. "We're just coming to really be in the Finger Lakes after a couple hundred years of trying to grow grapes and make wines," said Damiani. "It's renewable; it's sustainable; you can pass it on to future generations. We feel you cannot do both things—you cannot industrialize the area and then still have a viable wine-tourist industry."
Crestwood's proposal was approved by the local Schuyler County legislature. The opposition, through organizations like Gas Free Seneca and We Are Seneca Lake, got the federal government to review the natural-gas expansion (it was approved) and now must persuade the state government to block the LPG expansion, which includes brine ponds that some worry could pollute the lake. "[Gov.] Andrew Cuomo has come out in a lot of support for the wine industry," said Damiani. "So he's in a spot. If the [state] sides with the propane storage, it's going to be a slap in the face to the wine industry." To prepare for hearings in January and February, winemakers on Dec. 3 founded the Finger Lakes Winery Business Association, with the goal of enlisting 100 wineries and presenting evidence of the wine industry's economic boon to the region—and how the Crestwood proposal could ruin that. Damiani summed it up thusly: "We're for what we've been building for decades."
Almost 50 years ago on Thanksgiving Day 1965, Kentucky State Police carried Ollie “Widow” Combs down the side of her mountain home in eastern Kentucky and locked her up in the local jail. The 61 year old resident of Knott County and her two sons had stood in front of bulldozers tasked with strip-mining their mountain home in defiance of powerful coal operators that controlled the region. It was the Widow Combs’ first run-in with the law and she remarked upon release: “I have never been in trouble. I just want to live my life in my hollow and be left alone.” The image of her eating Thanksgiving dinner behind bars spread like wildfire and became the face of a powerful movement.
University of Massachusetts at Lowell professor Chad Montrie, in his excellent work “A People’s History of Environmentalism,” explains that the Combs family’s blockade and sit-in was part of a grassroots movement begun by the locally based Appalachian Group to Save Land and People (AGSLP) that surfaced in the wake of growing coal extraction in Appalachia. AGSLP and the anti-strip mining movement demanded nothing less than the abolition of strip mining. Furthermore, while their campaign included peaceful legal tactics like petitioning, letters to the editor, education, marches and protests they also included civil disobedience, industrial sabotage, armed defense of Appalachians’ property and other tactics that are viewed as insurrectionary and violent by today’s mainstream environmentalists.
According to Montrie, in states throughout Appalachia, what began as a “radical fringe” turned into a vibrant and powerful movement that escalated the fight to the region’s capitals making serious gains. They went up against the money and influence of the coal industry and eventually the fight escalated to the federal level. In Washington D.C., national environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Policy Center at first championed legislation to abolish surface mining. But then initially in secret, and then later openly, they compromised for weaker regulatory solutions to the coal industry’s war against Appalachia. During the 1970s, the anti-strip mining movement’s momentum was co-opted for political gain while degrading the movement’s demands from abolition to weakened regulation that became a piece of legislation known as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Action (SMCRA).
On Tuesday morning, the city of Detroit suffered a massive power outage that affected large sections of downtown. Some 900 structures were impacted, including hospitals, schools, fire stations and other public buildings. The blackout centered on core areas of the city, leaving passengers stranded in elevators throughout the downtown area and forcing the closure of numerous public schools and the evacuation of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The power outage, attributed to the failure of a single cable on the city’s municipal power grid, speaks to the decline of Detroit and the decay and neglect of infrastructure throughout the country.
This is hardly the only power outage to hit Detroit, the historic center of auto manufacturing in the world and now the poorest large city in the US. Infrastructure failures led to major outages in downtown Detroit in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Every major storm—and even a significant wind—brings down power lines and cuts off electricity to large sections of the city.
Over the past decade, Detroit has moved to privatize all remaining publicly owned electricity infrastructure, which is increasingly under the domination of energy giant DTE. The municipal power plant where the failure reportedly occurred has been shut down and converted into a “switching station” to transfer electricity from DTE onto the city’s grid. The energy company is supposed to be implementing a program to “modernize” the grid as it prepares to take it over, but it reportedly failed to inspect the suspect cable.
The latest blackout comes as Detroit is emerging from a bankruptcy process and preparing to implement a financial restructuring plan, the basic aim of which is to reconfigure the entire city in the interests of the rich through attacks on workers’ pensions and health benefits, along with the privatization of prime city assets.
Energy in the city is to be placed even more firmly under the control of DTE, a politically connected company that, through its policy of utility shutoffs, is playing a critical role in the effort by the ruling class to shut down entire sections of the city deemed unprofitable.
The decay of infrastructure is not unique to Detroit, nor to electricity production and distribution. A report recently published by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave US electrical infrastructure nationwide a rating of D+. The report pointed out that much of the country’s electricity system was built in the middle of the 20th century, and some components are more than 120 years old.
The ASCE found that the number of major power system failures in the US rose from less than 80 in 2007 to more than 300 in 2011.
Early on, the CSC decided they would have a direct membership structure. Rather than having a council of representatives from the various socialist organizations, as had been proposed initially, every person involved is part of the CSC. This way, the voices of those who are not members of an existing tendency (who form the majority) don’t get drowned out.
Direct membership is a critical part of the CSC model: its structure makes it easier to talk to working-class Chicagoans about socialism and get the organizing and propaganda boost that having a socialist alderman can give them, but it has the side effect of combatting sectarianism by bringing a diverse group of socialists together to do real organizing work.
It seems possible to incorporate such an element into the development of socialist campaigns on the Green ballot line in New York. Indeed, not to do so would be a real missed opportunity because like Chicago, New York has many socialist groups that don’t talk to one another enough.
The CSC is beginning its campaign by attempting to elect one alderman in one ward, but the long-term aim is to organize working-class and immigrant residents by focusing, uniting, and amplifying Chicago’s interrelated social movements.
This is an old idea for socialists. In the brief period between the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia, the Tsarist state set up a parliament called the Duma. The Bolsheviks had members stand for election, and then, once in office, use their positions to legitimize, publicize, and connect different worker struggles to build a more coherent working-class force. When the Russian state faced a crisis, that electoral work helped equip the Bolsheviks to take state power.
Although Chicago is not on the edge of an October Revolution, this traditional revolutionary socialist thinking underlies the current strategy of the CSC. Whether the CSC wins or loses in February, it will organize more and run additional candidates in new wards.