By Eliza Sherpa
While preparing for this summer I don’t think any of us expected it to be easy and without challenges, but I for one never would have anticipated some of the difficulties this summer would pose.
For me, I was most scared to bike miles on end lugging 75 pounds of weight behind me when I had never been much of a biker. Talking to people about issues I cared so much about seemed like a piece of cake. As I soon discovered, that was where the real challenge lay. Many of the people we have met along the way have been actively involved in sustainability work in their town and past explaining what we were doing with our summer, we generally inquired and learned of their activities and their work. As fun and interesting as these conversations were, I found myself questioning what I was doing with my time and how I was propelling change.
Our team’s frequent frustration was how it felt like we were preaching to the choir. The metaphor one of our directors, Craig Altemose used was that currently, the choir is singing in Latin. However, as we know, Latin is not spoken and understood by many today. Our job this summer is to help unify the choir, and help them sing in English in order to spread a coherent message that everyone can understand.
Every day there is a new update about the status of hydrofracking in New York State and my hometown of Ithaca. Every day the issue has become more real to me and the image
of everything I have ever known being destroyed and contaminated. My first impulse has been to wonder whether the work we are doing this summer is really that important and whether my time could be better spent fighting the tangible issue of hydrofracking. This was an issue I had been struggling personally, but recently I was able to step back and realize the connections between the work this summer and the fights occurring in my hometown to prevent hydrofracking.
Today we took a side trip between towns and biked into Boston to attend a statehouse hearing on 13 environmental bills by Massachusetts representatives. Sitting in the statehouse, crowded with people in suits, and not a friendly smile in sight, we watched as person after person testified in support or against the bills. After hearing numerous statements of “I testify against safer alternatives to toxic chemicals”, my heart began to sink and I wondered how we have any hope of making the radical shifts we need when people are sitting in a crowded courtroom arguing about something that seems so simple and obvious. It didn’t take long of sitting in this room before the five of us, passionate about these issues, became disengaged, disheartened by the negatives comments and lost in the nit-picky legal terms. The only thing that kept us waiting, listening, was because we had absolutely no timeframe as to when we would be called to speak, to testify for the regulation of the disposal of coal ash.
After 4 1/2 hours of waiting, Sara and I testified. Our testimony was short, a minute at most. Our hope was to send our message and show how regulating the disposal of coal ash is a small step that can be made and it is at the hands of these legislators to do so. Instead of telling them that they should care, we wanted to show them that we cared, and hope that would make a difference. The response we got from the chair was that “I wish everyone had your energy; thank you for your work”.
While it was empowering to make a statement to our representatives and hopefully play a small role in the passing of a piece of legislation, it helped me realize how much more powerful the work we were doing this summer was. It was clear, in the hearing, that public participation by everyday people whose work does not revolve around the issue is uncommon. It reinforced the idea to me that we can’t put all of our emphasis on government to make the changes we need. Instead, we need to work as a people to create a unified voice and make a clear statement as to what we need. Our work this summer is about making connections and building and sustaining relationships to lay the groundwork for an emerging unified movement. By spreading passion and understanding and a simple message of the moral issue of fossil fuels, I am still a part of spreading the fight against hydrofracking in NYS to a greater audience in recognition that the core issue isn’t hydrofracking, but the belief that fossil fuels are where we must obtain our energy and that it is okay to harm people to do so.
Our job in this movement isn’t just to spread the message of a rapid and responsible transition away from fossil fuels, but it’s to let our own passion shine and make it clear why we feel this is the most critical and urgent issue every single day. I’m learning that so much of what I’m doing this summer isn’t just for me and that I have the opportunity to represent many people who are unable to share their voices, those whose lives are being destroyed most intimately by fossil fuels. Because this summer isn’t about just us anymore, I’m learning that the questions of whether the setting is appropriate to spread our message, or if we have enough background and knowledge to talk to someone are no longer relevant. You don’t have to be a scientist, a policy maker, or an expert to understand the changes our nation needs to make. As Craig stated, “We’re not selling a point, we’re selling a truth”.