United, we are strong

Dear Friends,

I’ve been an activist for 33 years and continue to learn something new every day. Often, I learn from my mistakes, so I’m hardly above criticism. In fact, I value it.

With that in mind, I need to clarify some things I wrote last week. I first encountered M.K. Gandhi’s writings when I was 21. I knew immediately that I’d found a mentor who would inspire me the rest of my life — despite aspects of Gandhi’s character that are troubling and deeply flawed.

In 1995, I became friends with Gandhi’s granddaughter, Sumitra Kulkarni, and organized a speaking tour for her. Later, when I visited India, I stayed with her before traveling to meet activists applying “satyagraha” (holding on to truth) and “sarvodaya” (universal uplift) to current social and environmental injustices. I became very fond of Sumitra, and she of me. She would refer to me occasionally as being like a son to her.

I share these details to underscore how important is my relationship — on a political, spiritual, and personal level — with Gandhi, his family, and his legacy. I always try to analyze my public work through the lens of Gandhi’s philosophy. When I fail to do so, I often mess up. I’ve learned from other mentors, too — some living, some dead — but Gandhi’s influence remains primary.

Everyone is entitled to the philosophy or religion of their choice, providing they don’t bludgeon others with it. Just as it would be disrespectful, for example, to tell a Catholic that the Pope is a fraud or to tell an atheist that Nietzsche was an idiot, it’s disrespectful for someone to tell me that my interpretation of and dedication to Gandhi’s philosophy is wrong. If I want your opinion about my “faith,” I’ll ask for it.

Similarly, it was wrong for me to judge the actions of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya using the barometer of my own understanding of Gandhi. (Check out our August 7, 2017 conversation.) As I said in a 2017 Register story and again in last week’s Register story, I admire Jess and Ruby’s passion and courage. I also admire their commitment to a higher moral ideal and their willingness to take great personal risk. If more people showed their level of courage, the world would be a better place.

But as I’ve said, strategically, my goal is to actually end injustice! That means building more power through bringing new people into the movement. It means being deeply thoughtful about how to communicate a message that resonates beyond the choir.

In my opinion, torching bulldozers is not an effective strategy. That’s my opinion, to which I’m entitled, just as Jess and Ruby are entitled to undertake the action they took. For me, an effective action is one that brings new people on board instead of pushing them away. By that standard, I believe shutting off valves along the pipeline route and occupying trees in the path of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline are effective, in that they are likely to resonate more favorably with people we want to win over. So, I support those actions.

To be clear, I’m no stranger to poor decisions when it comes to effective strategies. To cite just a few examples:

– Some of the protests I’ve led have been counter productive.
– Filing over fifty bills my first year as a lawmaker was just dumb.
– Stumping for Ralph Nader in 2000 was ill-conceived.

Because the fight to save our earthly home is a fight not only against injustice but against time, we have to challenge ourselves and each other to do more — and to do it wisely, strategically, and civilly. Name calling and public shaming weaken our movement more than any damage outside forces might inflict. United, we are strong. Divided, we fall.

I want to clarify one more thing. I wrote last week that Jess and Ruby’s action “gave pro-pipeline forces an excuse to pass legislation this year classifying DAPL as ‘critical infrastructure’ and creating criminal penalties that could scare people away from exercising their First Amendment rights in the future.” I didn’t say that Jess and Ruby were to blame for the passage of that legislation. Far from it, and I’m sorry if that was unclear. Working with bought-and-paid-for lawmakers, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) was going to pass that bill one way or another. But being able to refer to it as “the pipeline sabotage bill” gave ETP’s lobbyists a talking point that resonated with lawmakers of both parties. Again, the Iowa Legislature would have passed the bill without the excuse of sabotage. That tag just made their job easier.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m always willing to respond to civil conversation. I’m happy to talk about ways we can collaborate, and happy to address differences of opinion. It’s pretty easy to reach me, either at this email address or at (515) 238-6404.

Thanks, Ed

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Industry’s New Colonial Outpost: Rural Iowa

Dear Friends,

Two things before I explain why Iowa is becoming a colonial outpost:

First, I’m sad to say that the pro-DAPL bill (SF 2235) passed this week despite hundreds of Iowans contacting their lawmakers. Visit the Fallon Forum and Bold Iowa websites for news coverage and to learn how your senator and representative voted. The silver lining is that Bold Iowa’s coalition of environmentalists, landowners, farmers and Native allies worked with labor unions on a common cause. Let’s build on that!

Second, check out this week’s Fallon Forum. Among other topics, we talk with two of the five climate warriors who shut down the flow of tar sands oil in 2016. If you missed the previous week’s program, check out our conversation about gun violence, sustainable farming, and why the job of Secretary of State is important.

Janna Swanson with Ed Fallon at the Blue Daisy Cafe in Ruthven.

Colonization never goes well for the colonized. It went badly for the Indigenous peoples of this continent. It’s gone badly for people in “third world” countries we’ve pillaged. And it’s going badly for rural Iowa.

Yup. A new wave of colonization is in full swing. Perhaps in the twittering storm of political scandals and legislative hubris you haven’t noticed. But rural Iowans can’t help but notice as the forces of colonization steamroll their farms and communities.

Here are the most egregious examples (and yeah, the acronym spells “PLOW,” for what that’s worth):

PORK. There are 15,000 hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. Given the soaring foreign demand for pork, state officials say that number could jump to 45,000! America’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, is now owned by a Chinese corporation. Smithfield will get rich exporting pork to China while rural Iowans are stuck with foul air, lower property values, contaminated water, a decline in quality of life, and continued depopulation.

LAND. Foreign ownership of farmland in the US is rising. Foreign entities now control an area larger than Tennessee! Fortunately for Iowa, our law prevents foreign ownership of farmland — but powerful forces want to change that.

Some new turbines are as tall as two football fields.

OIL. The Dakota Access Pipeline carved a 350-mile scar across Iowa, damaging topsoil and threatening our water for a Texas corporation’s export crude oil pipeline. As I’ve warned, don’t be surprised if Big Oil tries to build a second pipeline through Iowa.

WIND. Industrial Wind Installations (IWIs) are meeting greater and greater local resistance. More are in the works and problems associated with the turbines are fomenting extensive and impassioned local resistance.

Perhaps that last item took you by surprise, coming from someone who cites climate change as the gravest threat to life on Earth. I’ve always been disturbed by any concentration of economic power, though in the past I’ve grudgingly given wind energy a pass because of the urgency of the climate crisis.

Janna Swanson with the Coalition for Rural Property Rights

To be clear, we absolutely need to move beyond fossil-fuel consumption as quickly as possible. Energy conservation, reducing consumption, and sequestering carbon are three of the most important actions we can take.

We also need a robust and rapidly expanding renewable energy portfolio. The backbone of that portfolio must be solar — and solar must be controlled by individuals, communities, family farmers, and small business owners. There’s room in that portfolio for wind, too, but not the centralized industrial model that increasingly dominates more and more Iowa counties.

While a handful of landowners are making money leasing their land for turbines, monopoly control of wind is wreaking havoc on rural landscapes and the people who live and farm there. In February, I traveled to Palo Alto County to visit Janna Swanson, a leader with the Coalition for Rural Property Rights. Palo Alto residents are suing MidAmerican Energy and Invenergy over a massive 340-megawatt project near Emmetsburg. There are 268 residences in the target area — yet only 24 have signed a contract to allow turbines on their land!

IWI opponents cite visual blight, shadow flicker, noise, flashing lights, pressure, turbulence, the impact on farming, and the risk to bats and birds. A separate blog could be written about each of these concerns.

While the scientific and medical impacts of IWI’s continue to be hotly debated, one thing is clear: the vast majority of people who live nearby don’t want them. That needs to be respected. When proposing an IWI, decision makers must give far greater consideration to local concerns than they do at present.

“Some people live next to a turbine and don’t have a problem,” Janna told me. “For others, there’s a cumulative effect. Take the intense pressure and turbulence. You can feel it when you’re standing nearby, almost like it’s grabbing at your heart.”

Janna says many Iowans complain that they can hear the turbines inside their home at night, even with a white-noise machine cranking away. It’s affecting their health. In some places, long-time residents have had to sell their home and move because of health problems attributed to the turbines.

A group of Palo Alto residents is suing to have the Palo County wind project stopped. Plaintiffs are preparing for an April 27 court date. The case is likely to end up before the Iowa Supreme Court.

Right now, 37% of Iowa’s electrical generation comes from wind. From the perspective of reducing fossil fuel consumption, that’s encouraging. But it comes at a heavy price for rural Iowa. It’s a price we shouldn’t have to pay given the more sustainable and less invasive options available.

As I said earlier, with Iowa’s land protected from foreign ownership, we effectively have a moratorium on that element of colonization. Perhaps it’s time for moratoriums on CAFOs, IWIs, and crude oil pipelines, too. That would carve out some space for us to have a deep, democratic conversation about what Iowa should look like in 50, 100 or even 500 years. Perhaps the original victims of this land’s colonization, Native Americans, could lead and direct that conversation.

One thing is emphatically clear to me: eminent domain should NEVER be used to condemn land for transmission lines to ship Iowa’s wind to Chicago or the East coast. An effort to use eminent domain by the Rock Island Clean Line (another Texas corporation) was defeated last year. Given the money and political power behind IWI, don’t be surprised if another proposal surfaces.

Regardless of where one stands on pork, oil, or wind, we should all agree that it’s wrong to ignore the voices of rural Iowans in order to export our resources to distant ports — whether those ports lie on Lake Michigan, the Atlantic Ocean, or the China Sea.

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