February 20, 2018

The Road to Damascus

On DCS, the People’s Climate March and “a well-watered place”
By Stephen Love, Daily Kos, September 24, 2014

Josh Fox, Gasland Director, with James Barth and other members of DCS

Josh Fox, Gasland Director, with James Barth and other members of DCS

I first left my mother for extended periods of time in the Fall of 1964 when I entered kindergarten. I grew up in Branford, Connecticut, known also as Totoket, after the indigenous tribe, who were bought out in 1644 by Dutch traders for some Bitcoin and Captain Morgan Rum. I lived on Wildwood Drive, and the bus would pick us kids up at the corner and drive up Pine Orchard Road, then take the left fork onto Damascus Road past the large yards and neat houses among the trees of the deciduous wood, until we arrived at the Damascus School. We kinder-folk would only have to go for half a day, then back home to the mother. One of my vivid memories at school was when a boy started screaming to go home because he wanted to watch Astro Boy on TV. At the time I felt amazed at his level of hysteria, but then, of course, I preferred The Jetsons. My dad was an industrial engineer who worked for a company in the Naugatuck River Valley that made huge machines for the rubber and plastics industry. Industry locates next to water. Intake. Outflow. I liked anything sci-fi because I lived in an energetic age that dreamed big, when the sky was no longer the limit, when anything was possible because we had science, when communities–yes, collectively–built things and created lives, when the public square was real. In New England states it’s called the Town Green. That’s where people come together as citizens to discuss problems and issues and governance. The Board of Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting is probably the most democratic of all forms of governance in the United States.

Home from school I would get a snack and settle in before the television set that received 3 or 4 stations. In those days Bugs Bunny was my spirit guide. My mother saved and kept displayed on the coffee table the Life Magazine and Look Magazine issues covering the JFK assassination, which I understood to be a dark, sad event, and beyond my back yard the Branford River would flow through my childhood time. The United States was striving for the moon and using more energy every year, and soon we would try to understand and respond to the issue of pollution in a scientific way. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had come out in 1962. The changing flows of my backyard river and the smokestack emissions in my father’s industrial world together would create a visual contrast for anyone who had ever revered even a moment of Mother Earth’s beauty.

These moments of reverence vied with the turmoil of the Civil Rights struggle and the Vietnam War, while a fellow named Ralph Nader, also from Connecticut, a man who did more for the People of the United States than most presidents had done, single-handedly created the consumer protection movement that started to make us aware that maybe corporations don’t really care about their customers. All they care about is profit, regardless of the cost in human lives. In later years, home for the summer from college, I would work as a sales representative for a company that sold smokestack emissions monitors and I would try to persuade the emitters to at least measure their emissions. Then the Reagan Counter-Revolution arrived to firmly establish the vicious, terrible market fundamentalism of Neoliberalism which privatizes the Public Sphere, completely deregulates corporations and ascribes to them the rights of human persons. Thus came the singular moment when the solid economic and cultural gains of the New Deal and the Great Society would be confronted by the forces of Greed and Empire starting to reassert their implacable influence.

Damascus means “a well-watered place” in the Aramaic language. Where on Earth will the scales fall from the eyes of a great man so he can see the brutal persecutions he and his fellows have perpetrated upon the People and the land, rivers and oceans of the Mother Planet? The river of my beginning flows past this place, it gave me life, and it started me on the journey of my days. When I was a boy, filled with wonder at the world, never would I have imagined the sad truth of the world, that we have violently fouled our nest beyond shame itself.

I joined my buddy James Barth and his wife Cathy for the People’s Climate March on Sunday. We entered at 81st Street and Central Park West and formed up in front of the American Museum of Natural History–financed in part by a certain Dutch patrician family–with a group that activist James belongs to, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. Damascus Township is in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, whose current governor, Tom Corbett, is a blatant puppet of the Fracking Industry. James is fun to be around because he has a distinctly snarky quality that I appreciate.

James was the first person to comprehensively explain Hydraulic Fracturing to me. I had heard of the technique: drill down thousands of feet into a shale formation, then go sideways and inject water, sand and chemicals into the formation to release the natural gas trapped inside. When I first considered the technique I thought as the engineer’s son. I thought it was a pretty smart thing to do. When James, who owns property in Frack-Happy Pennsylvania, explained to me that the technique had not only the side-effect of poisoning the water table, but also of adding more fuel to the fire of climate change, I began to seriously consider the practice and its implications. It horrified me that The Marcellus Shale formation happens to exist under one of the world’s largest unfiltered drinking water systems that feeds water directly to my kitchen faucet. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has maintained a sort of “moratorium” on Fracking, as it’s called, while Boards and Agencies “study” the issue. Zephyr Teachout’s primary challenge to Andrew had fracking front-and-center as an issue. I think he would just wish this march away if he could and give the oil and gas companies what they want, since he is a Neoliberal Stooge, of which there are many in the Empire State. My opposition to fracking deepened after seeing the documentary Gasland, by Josh Fox. People living next to hydraulic fracturing drilling operations can light their tap water on fire. They suffer strange maladies. Higher levels of radioactivity are detected. It’s obviously dangerous to the environment and human health, but the American Petroleum Council says it’s perfectly safe, so what’s the big deal?

I was surrounded by many “Fracktivists” as Zephyr all of a sudden appeared in the crowd. James knew how vehemently I had supported her and he shouted out, and the Fracktivists shouted out: “Teach-out. Teach-out. Teach-out. Teach-out.” Well, she lost the primary but got an unheard-of 34% of the vote against a so-called shoe-in, the Wall Street DINO Andrew.

It took three long hours for the movement of the march to reach us up at the Museum because there were hundreds of thousands of people. A helicopter kept an eye on us and James joked that if Fox News even mentioned the People’s Climate March they would probably say that a couple of thousand people showed up. (Fox would later play the angle that the marchers were hypocrites because they burned fuel to get to the march in the first place and left behind a lot of garbage). I was struck by the juxtaposition of the statue of Teddy Roosevelt at the Museum steps with a huge banner advertising “Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs.” Thousands of years from now the banner might read “Humans: Insanity in the Age of Fossil Fuels.” Teddy, of the Dutch patrician Roosevelts, was the first American Caesar. As we approached the front of the Museum, Teddy grew in significance, up there with his Indigenous escort.

Teddy Roosevelt perfectly embodies the mad contradictions of the American Character. As President he was the great impulse behind the National Parks system, a great conservationist, but he was also the hunter that loved to shoot and kill all sorts of animals and, for a while in Cuba, Spaniards. He would establish the American Empire and make the world safe for exploitation. Yet he would also scold the business titans as a reform progressive. Zephyr is heir to Teddy’s Dutch New York Reform brand.

We finally progressed south on Central Park West, a different sort of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Moving past the stately coops and then newer condos I fantasized about the giant balloon characters we would float down the park side if we did it again next year. The Giants of Greed and Plunder. David Koch. A huge bloated orange John Boehner perhaps would do. Sheldon Adelson. We reach Fifteen Central Park West with the $62 million apartments, home to the wonderful Lloyd Blankfein, Head Predator at Goldman Sachs. I’m sure Lloyd and company are going to figure out how to make money off drought and famine. Down to the Sixth Avenue canyons past Rupert Murdoch’s Palace of Empire P.R., we walked. Teddy had Hearst, we have Murdoch.

I bailed out near 42nd Street and started to make my way to Eighth Avenue and the A-Train. I watched the march snake west and then I stopped in a bar to get something to drink and use the restroom. These three 22-ish-year-old girls and one boy barged in and commenced drinking and an inane gabble. The budding Dominatrix, Sarah Palin Junior, made fun of the marchers. “They’re so ridiculous. I’m not sure what you’re protesting at. The World?” Up to this point I felt lifted up by the day. Now this stupid Creature immediately jolted me into despair.

There are so many of them, the ones who will blindly follow an industrial system hell-bent on extracting every last bit of value from the earth to feed their empty madness. They are the leering, braying hoards who party hard and go all drill, baby, drill. Very tired, I paid and left, and descended down into the ground and caught the A Train uptown. As I thought about my life and how it flowed to this day, I mourned for the Jetsonish future that would never be. Maybe we won’t be able to fix this. In days we would bomb Syria, east of Damascus, to suppress the perverse ISIS of our creation and continue the plague of violence that Big Oil and the War Machine demand. Our Glorious Reign of Freedom and Democracy would triumph in the Blind March of destruction on the Road to Damascus.

As the train rolls north, I finally see in front of me the mother, exhausted, and the child, a bit fearful of what is to come. Hurtling through the electric tube, indigenous to the Earth, we ride the electric river to oblivion.