The legend is that Nero, emperor of Rome at the time, played his violin while the city of Rome was destroyed by fire. That phrase has come to mean that people sometimes will do trivial things in the middle of a crisis and that leaders have a total lack of regard for the suffering of the people.
I wish the leaders in our legislature were simply fiddling and passing trivial bills in the middle of the current state of crisis in WV. But what they are actually doing is more than trivial, it’s irresponsible. From the passage of the anti-democratic Right to Work Legislation, to seeing homophobic, sexism, and racism being disguised at “freedom of religion” to debating giving more rights to people to carry weapons, while at the same time making it more difficult for people (in particular large groups of people) to enter the State Capital, what comes to my mind is that word….irresponsible. I know that there are legislators who care… about people….about poverty…about clean water…about education…about safety…about West Virginia. I hear that those legislators are frustrated by the leadership and other law makers who seem hell-bent to listen only to their corporate backers, industrial polluters and the elite. I feel for those good people who are trying to do the right thing and stand up and say that the foolishness must end.
One of the latest ways that the legislative leadership is working to dismantle protections of people is with the various pieces of legislation that attack our basic right to clean, safe water. The legislature is poised to weaken water quality standards for aluminum and selenium, they want to further weaken the above ground storage bill by considering even more exemptions and they want to attempt to block people from holding polluters accountable. They are ignoring the thousands of people who have stood up at protests or at hearings or in front of media to say that WV residents demand access to clean water and want to feel like when they turn the tap on they don’t have to worry that they are destroying the health of their families.
And it’s not just here in WV. Recently people in Flint Michigan learned that they had been drinking water poisoned by lead. Similar water quality issues have come up for a long time in Detroit. People who live around mining all across the country have had wells become contaminated or dry up, agriculture land has been destroyed, and streams have been dewatered. Back here in WV, for years coalfield residents have not felt safe drinking the water. People living in areas where fracking is taking place feel the same. And it is no mistake that communities of color and poorer communities are on the front lines of the attacks on water. These cases are a prime example of environmental racism and injustice.
So for how much longer will this last? My hope is, not much longer. But that depends on you. Over the next few days look on Facebook and the action alerts sent by WV Environmental Council, WV Rivers Coalition, Sierra Club and others to find out about media events and other activities. And PLEASE come out. Remember that this is an election year. These are your chances to hold policy makers accountable. Let’s make the most of these opportunities.
I now that people are discouraged. I know the odds seem great. I know that people are tired. But I want to share something that I came upon the other day when I was doing my once a decade cleaning off of my desk. I found a little magnet (now on my refrigerator) that says “Optimism is a political act.” The protectors of pollution, the ones who will dismantle protection of workers, the ones who want keep us dragged down by racism, sexism and homophobia, the elite….they want us to lose hope. They want us to think that nothing will ever change. My challenge to you is…take that political act of optimism, become involved …and kick some butt.