Savannah Morning News sunday column, Aug. 10, 2014
It’s so easy to be cynical and say nothing will ever change, what’s the point of protesting, who is listening anyway, why bother getting up off the couch.
It’s so easy to sit in front of the TV and grouse and grumble, kvetch and carp, fuss and flutter.
It’s so easy to dismiss all manner of news, to stick with your own kind, as that lyric from “West Side Story” says.
Maybe. But once in a while, if someone else does all the planning (can you say the Sierra Club?), if someone else gets the food and makes the arrangements and foots most of the bill (can you say Michael Bloomberg, the left’s answer to the Koch brothers?), it’s kind of satisfying to “hop on the bus, Gus,” which is exactly what 51 people from Savannah did a few weeks ago in the late-afternoon heat of July when we left our air-conditioned homes, climbed the three steps, said hello to James, the affable driver, found a seat next to a stranger and began the monotonous Interstate 16 trek to Atlanta for the EPA hearings on carbon pollution from power plants.
Of the 51 people, one was 95 years old who lives at Buckingham South, at least two were newcomers to Savannah who had never been to Atlanta, and 20 were from six different nuclear family units, as in mother/daughter, father/son, grandmother/granddaughters, husband/wife. Apparently, people who play together stay together.
We don’t know what will they remember from what turned out to be a blessedly cool day of this, a political march in Georgia. It might be the first time they carried a banner and walked in the middle of a downtown street with the proper permits while people in automobiles and construction workers with jackhammers stopped and stared. It might be the free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream they got if they showed they were in Atlanta for the hearings. It might be, as one bus member said on the trip home, the first time they heard how much global warming – now called climate disruption – is affecting their lives.
Maybe it will be the testimony of a nine-year-old child who walked up to the stage with her father, a fourth-generation coal miner, in front of three EPA officials for their individual five-minute testimonies. The nine-year-old, reading from her paper, spoke clearly about hoping for cleaner waters and better conditions for herself and her family.
Also memorable? The testimony from a small town mayor in Tennessee who gave figures of how many jobs would be lost if the power plants had to follow the proposed limits on carbon pollution and how much money it would cost his city, a dollars and cents plea that was followed by a school counselor who said one in 10 children in Georgia now have asthma and that as far as she was concerned the proposed restrictions did not go far enough, that the savings in lives and health were most important.
Or maybe it will be the speech and presence of Rev. Gerald Durley, a mountain of a man with a doctorate in psychology from the University of Massachusetts who calls climate change – or as he prefers to say ‘environmental justice’ – the new civil rights issue of the day. As a student at Tennessee State University, Durley, 73, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. when King gave his “I have a dream” speech; allied with union organizers; joined the first wave of Peace Corps volunteers with a two-year stint in Nigeria, and then, when he was not allowed back in the United States “because of my organizing” played in the All-European Basketball League in Switzerland.
Maybe it will be hearing the words of worry from the mother of one of the organizers.
“I’m worried about her,” this woman confided about her able and capable daughter, Yeou Jih, as Yeou corralled the 51 Savannahnians back and forth between the hearings and the rally at Centennial Olympic Park, coordinated with the bus driver, and negotiated in the hotel. “She’s so smart,” her mother said. “She graduated from Emory and Oxford, No. 1, and has a master’s degree in research psychology and is working as a waitress (at Elizabeth on 37) and is now doing this. But what can I do. She told me, ‘Mom, I ‘m happy.’”
We should be happy too. It’s good to see passion. It’s good to see principles over paycheck. Right now, this is where her daughter’s supposed to be. And this is where the rest of us fellow travelers needed to be too.