Hi, everybody. After three years of fighting fracking together, I feel like we’re old friends.
You know my story:
How I grew up in a heavily industrialized river valley in Illinois just downwind and downstream from the state’s biggest pollutors—dirty coal, ethanol distilleries, aluminum smelters.
How my hometown drinking water wells were contaminated.
How I developed bladder cancer at the age of twenty.
How, years later, as a biologist, I learned that I was just one data point in a cluster of cancers in the zipcode that I call home.
You know that when I became a mother—the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me—I moved my children to upstate New York to get away from all that, only to find myself in the crosshairs of the world’s largest and most polluting industry, with 40 percent of the land in my county already leased for the carcinogen-depended process of fracking.
And, as if that were not enough irony for English professors, hear this: The riverside bluffs of Illinois are now going to be strip-mined for frack sand. So the remains of the beloved landscapes of my childhood can be carted off and —absent our intervention—shoved into the fractured landscape of my children’s childhood.
Beautiful grains of Illinois River sand forced into fissures of shale, forced to prop open the shattered bedrock of New York so that all manner of explosive vapors and carcinogenic materials—arsenic, radium, uranium, benzene—can come flying out like bats out of Pandora’s box.
Exposing the people I grew up with in Illinois to carcinogenic silica dust. Exposing my children here to smog and radon.
Today, friends, let’s speak plainly.
Fracking is wrong.
Fracking is unmitigatable. Sooner or later, steel and concrete disintegrates. Sooner or later, gas wells open portals of contamination between drinking water aquifers and the toxic materials held in the bedrock below. Doing fracking “right” simply means building time bombs with longer fuses.
There are no places in New York and no children in New York that we are willing to sacrifice to the fracking gods.
So. Withdraw the sGEIS fig leaf and start the hell over.
Over the past three years, we have spoken many clear and beautiful words, in testimonies, in speeches, at hearings, on the banks of the Delaware River, and as far as I can see, there is just one word left to say. I offer it to you as a torch to carry with you into all your meetings today.
It’s the answer to the riddle, “What do Harriet Tubman and the Bulgarian Parliament have in common?”
And the answer is: ABOLITION
Harriet Tubman. Citizen of Auburn, New York. The most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad.
Harriet Tubman did not advocate for state of the art slavery or for promulgating 1500 pages of regulations about slavery or for allowing a few showcase plantations in the Southern Tier to demonstrate how slavery could be done right.
Harriet Tubman settled for nothing less than a total ban, on the grounds that slave labor— however useful to the economy—is a homicidal abomination.
Last week, Bulgaria announced a total ban on fracking. The ban covers the whole nation and it is permanent and unlimited. Permits to frack, held by Chevron, have been revoked. Bulgaria has abolished fracking. The Bulgarians are fracking abolitionists.
How did they do that?
The Bulgarians marched in the streets of twelve cities. The Bulgarians blew whistles and banged on drums and played fight songs on bagpipes. The Bulgarians employed giant, winged stilt-walkers, edgy street theater, and very cool public service announcements.
And when their parliament said, “Okay, fine, here’s a temporary moratorium, the Bulgarian people said, “Not good enough! We’ll settle for nothing short of abolition,” and they marched in the streets again until their parliament voted 166 to 6 for permanent ban.
So, New York, are we meeker than the Bulgarians?
Are we more frightened?
Are we more resigned to a toxic future?
Here is a loaf of bread from a bakery in my own village of Trumansburg, New York.
You’ve seen me hold this bread before. You’ve seen me carry it into the state assembly chambers and submit it as testimony. You’ve heard me say that the flour that makes up this bread is ground at a local mill and that the heirloom wheat that makes up this flour is grown in local fields. And that the flour in this bread makes up the bodies of my children.
Well, today, we’ve brought more than a hundred loaves of this bread, a symbol of the bounty of New York, and we’re going to bring them to our governor, with the message, “Break bread! Not shale!” To tell you about this plan, I would now like to introduce to you the baker of this bread, my hero, Stefan Senders, of the Wide Awake Bakery.
[Wide Awake Bakery, 4361 Buck Hill Road, S., Trumansburg, New York 14886; www.wideawakebakery.com. The millers, Greg Mol and Neil Johnston, and the farmers, Erick Smith and Thor Oeschner, make up Farmer Ground Flour of Trumansburg: www.farmergroundflour.squarespace.com.]