That’s just the way it is/some things will never change
– Bruce Hornsby
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
– William Blake
Weymouth resident Doug Smock has written a truly remarkable letter to the Patriot-Ledger regarding the Weymouth gas compressor, now under construction. It’s historically informed, eloquent, and humane — plain old good writing, and I encourage everyone to click through and read it in full. Smock is a former resident of Pittsburgh, and links the devastation wrought by the steel industry there to what’s happening here.
I visited the site one morning last month, slapped on a No Compressor sticker, and joined, albeit weakly, the fight. I live about a mile away. I moved to North Weymouth just seven years ago, but I grew up in the Monongahela Valley southeast of Pittsburgh, an area where coke ovens belched toxic fumes with no pollution controls into densely populated neighborhoods that are now even more blighted than the Fore River shipyard. These are the neighborhoods that won the world wars, but are now discarded waste like the Chernobyl zone. The morning I visited the compressor site, people walked up to tell me their touching and tragic stories. And they made it clear they will never give up.
… What’s happening in The Fore River basin is worth noting for a couple reasons. For one, it’s interesting how this town has changed—just like the towns in the Mon Valley around Pittsburgh, and other towns like it all over America. We’ve had enough. You walked all over us while protecting towns where the executives of companies like Enbridge and Bethlehem Steel live. For another, the compressor station is one last outrageous symptom of North America’s no longer tenable love affair with fossil fuels. Massachusetts utilities don’t even need, nor want, this gas. Boston used to be the end of the pipeline. Now it’s being extended to who knows where.
If people around the country aren’t rooting for us to win this battle, they should be.
The Patriot-Ledger also recently profiled Weymouth resident Lisa Jennings, one of the first people arrested at the construction site. This is literally a fight for her life.
She sits back down. “What do you do next?” she says. Her life is a juggling act of caring for her adult daughter, advocating for people with disabilities and, these days, fighting construction of a new natural gas compressor station not far from her house. It’s all advocacy. It is — and isn’t — a full-time job.
“I don’t know. That’s why I got arrested,” she says. “I don’t know what to do next.”
… “At base I’m just a mom trying to make a decision for our health,” Jennings said. “How do I stop it?”
The emotional strain is real, and soaks into every moment of being:
Today I let all of those tears flow. Been trying so hard to push off the things that destroy my heart. Every day I am trying to make impossible decisions. Panic attacks in angry waves all day. Patient and loving friends abound. #imOK #panicattacks #caringforMonica https://t.co/XPaB834RT7
— LisaJ (@ljennings32) December 24, 2019
Why do we make people endure these things, shortening their lives two ways: By taking up their days on earth having to fight, as well as with the threat of disease? Is this the only way?
Like the governor Pontius Pilate, Charlie Baker has tried to wash his hands of a deadly crime, pleading helplessness before a process that was charitably described as “bungled”; or more accurately, Kafka-esque, heads-I-win-tails-you-lose, rigged. (I saw it; I was there.)
Coincidentally, just yesterday I heard of a man who found meaning in his own death from industrial pollutants:
Cassidy thinks back to his father, who worked in the steel mills upriver for 40 years, breathing in smoke from the coke furnaces.
“And he ultimately died of emphysema, probably because of that. That’s a typical story,” Cassidy says. “My dad liked to say on his final illness, when he was dying, he said, ‘Son, I earned my sickness.’ That’s the way he looked at it.”
Life is made to seem inevitably cheap. Our own American-capitalist fatalism is as thick and pervasive as in any Russian novel. The climate emergency shows us that the sacrifices we make for “progress” or “industry” or “the economy” or “necessity”, are in fact total. We give up literally everything — our own health, our time, our children, our longevity, our nurturing Earth — to feed into the Moloch’s maw of business, markets, jobs, profit.
So it is a signal thing when people refuse to participate, when they refuse to value their own lives cheaply, as collateral damage in just the way it is.
A few days ago I participated in a disruption of a public appearance by Governor Baker. He thought he would have an easy photo-op, ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside the Macy’s at Downtown Crossing. Well, bells were rung, of a sort. This video, shot with my phone in my freezing hands, is not pretty. The sentiments we expressed are not eloquent — they are blunt. This was a cancellation of his supposed lay-up photo-op.
So I make no plea for my own “civility” here. We are creating tension — or more properly, revealing it, and taking it straight to the Governor — so as to create the conditions for dialogue. Andrea Honoré took time out of her day and sat outside his office for 211 days, hoping for exactly such constructive dialogue regarding the gas compressor. The Governor pointedly and nastily ignored her, every time. What should a proper response be?
I heard from an esteemed member of the press corps that they are getting sick of the disruptions to the Governor’s public appearances — that reporters aren’t getting a chance to ask him questions, and hold him accountable themselves. I deeply appreciate the work of our free and professional press; but that tells us that the disruptions are working.
As Doug Smock says, “they made it clear they will never give up.” This will follow Charlie Baker wherever he goes — metaphorically, but also with jarring literalness.
Count on it, Governor.