20 April, 2015

The (Truly Dirty) Dirty Sacred River

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one. -- Khalil Gibran

I live in a land formed and informed by water. The Falls of the Ohio -- both the fossil beds and the natural rough waters that were redirected after the 1937 flood that led to the uncovering of the second largest fossil bed in the world --  are the reason that led to Louisville being here in the first place.*

Although I am not native to this place, it's the first place in a long time where I have truly felt at home. I grew up on The Other Side of the River, in southwest Ohio... another area formed and informed by water. Anyone who knows me knows I've been something of a rock and fossil for many, many years. It's also not a far stretch for anyone who knows me or has read anything I've written over the past 3 years that I am far more interested in the geographic map than I am the one carved by the violent hand of Manifest Destiny. The image above shows the Ohio River Basin -- the land informed and formed by the Ohio River and all of it's tributaries. These are the only sort of map lines that matter to me : rivers, mountains, plains. All formed by water or the absence of water. All of it more ancient than we are or than we will ever be. All of it the cradle of my birth, my axis mundi, and my deathbed. For as much as I have wandered and will continue to wander, this land of the rivers, hills, and mountains is where I am most at center.

Because people first traversed the Ohio River, the rest of the country was drawn on a map. Before there were roads, there was the river. Money has been made, blood has been spilled, all in the name of controlling the waters that have forged this land mass, grew and encouraged culture, and erased it when the river runs too high and people forget the sheer power embodied in the these, the most sacred of terrestrial veins.

Now the Ohio River, giver and taker and destroyer of life, is also the dirtiest river in the country. The reasons are not difficult to fathom. Industrial waste and chemical spills are large and easy culprits to target. Of course, The Courier-Journal, a wholly owned mouth piece for conservative media giant Gannett with  headquarters in the conservative southern state of Virginia, points out that the unusually high -- though perfectly safe for humans -- nitrate levels are also due to farm fertilizer run off.

That's right, Dear Readers. Old McDonald is trying to kill you.

The other culprit they mention by name is AK Steel in Indiana -- which is historically pro-union and therefore not on the Good Boys and Girls list maintained by Gannett and other media puss monsters like Clear Channel Communications... not to mention the NSA and the FBI.
Now, I'm not really sure of the farms in question are family farms or agribusiness outfits -- most farms are agribusiness and not family farms -- but I'd just like to remind everyone of a few none agricultural highlights:

  • January 2014 -- The Elk River Spill -- Freedom Industries** spills several 10,000 gallons of chemicals that eventually made its way into the Ohio, and hence into the Mississippi. 
  • January 2015 -- a "chemical sheen" resulting from a leak in a Rubbertown plant owned by Valero, an oil company.
  • April 2015 -- Sewage leak in Louisville releases 100 Million gallons of untreated black (sewage) water into the river.                 
And if you think it's been a bad year or two, here a link to an article from 2007 about a barge spill.

The all to quick dismissal of any potential harm the current state of the river might cause to human or non-human life only demonstrates just how short-sighted and greedy we have become. The only projections are on corporate profits and not on the direct or indirect impact to the water table, to water shed areas, and other bio-diverse environments.   

Now, to the truly disgusting work of cleaning it up. But if we don't, who will?

*Long before the locks, the Falls of the Ohio were actual falls. They weren't dangerous -- mostly -- but they did force people traveling south on the river to walk the boats through the choppy water. This led to camping and trading along the banks, which eventually led to settlement and eventually to Louisville.

** Here's a link to a National Geographic article about a century's worth of system greed and laziness that precipitated the Elk River spill.  The lesson is this -- these things don't just happen. They are the result of sheer stupidity over a long period of time.

07 April, 2015

A Spring Fragment: A Poem

Each new sunrise brings with it another necessary reckoning.

The sparrows have returned from a winter of deep cultivation –
Earth-bound spirits are audibly relieved. Their groans
are heard among the screams and symphonies of sprouting spring leaves.

The street preachers and wandering drunks are out en mass
proclaiming the arrival of this new round of sacred entropy, saying:

The suburbs are not safe anymore.
Spring rains embolden normally manicured and cultured grass.
Rebellion breaks out in the form of crab grass and dandelions.

No amount of chemical lawn treatments will make the weeds spill their knowledge.

06 March, 2015

In the Footsteps of Earth Shakers Along the Dirty Sacred River

[Link to the previous post]
The Louisville Teach-In
I couldn't do anything like this without her love, support, and spark.

When I decided to re-enter the harrowed halls of higher education , it was not without some hesitation. None of the problems that caused me to leave had been resolved... and, as a matter of fact, had gotten worse. The corporate take over of higher education has essentially infiltrated every aspect of the grand institution to the point that the powermongers are getting their fingers into the classroom. Because that corporate mentality dictates that money trickles up while shit and labor trickle down.

Being a passionate educator is doing the Good Work of the World. I believe that as firmly as I believe that Capitalism does more harm than good that the only thing the government ought to be doing is divesting itself of power and dumping all of the money wasted on congressional salaries into schools, hospitals, homes for the homeless, jobs for the jobless, and help for the helpless. I also believe that the corporate take over of education is nothing short of an attempt to undo the last bits of Democracy existing in our grand corporatocracy.

When I decided to re-enter higher education, I promised myself that I would do more than be an armchair anarchist, more than some philosophical fondant, the acceptably compromised and disaffected liberal -- that niche of teachers who made me as sick to my bones as the neofascists out at Arizona State University. It's not enough to wear the hat, to talk the talk of (r)evolution.

I knew I'd have to put up or shut up.

 Me at the Teach-In Courtesy @ElizabethLGlass

I've been keeping my ear to the ground to get a sense of noise. Kentucky is a notoriously anti-union state and it's only getting worse with the Randian/McConnell push for "right-to-work"* legislation. Fear of reprisal and job loss keeps a lot of union-minded teachers quiet while the Libertarians strut around misleading people into believing that all unions are bad and that the power paradigm cannot be shifted. In other words, folks are adopting the same attitude that made the Middle Ages so fun and full of warmth.

When I heard the rumblings of National Adjunct Walk-Out Day (#NAWD) I knew that was an opportunity to finally start having the discussion in public that I'd been having in group offices, Facebook feeds, emails, and in bars for more than a few years.  I knew it would be a hard way to go all by my lonesome.

But I knew I wasn't a lone. Not really. Amanda, true love of my heart, cast her lot in with me knowing full well my inclinations. When I told her about #nawd and my intention to organize some event, she immediately thought it was good idea.

FW Kate. Courtesy, Patrick Danner
It wasn't long before I met other like-minded and action-oriented folks, Fellow Worker Kate Lafferty,
her boyfriend FW Patrick. I met Elizabeth Glass, who is no stranger to tilting at windmills and other large social causes. When Kate and I started talking about #nawd -- to be honest, I don't remember who brought it up -- I immediately discovered a friend who would do more than talk. There is nothing more comforting for a would-be organizer than to find other like-minded people.

We not only got the college president to vocally and publicly support the Teach-In, we organized simultaneous events at two campuses; got endorsements from the Kentucky IWW, Kentucky Jobs with Justice, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and the SEIU; the put together materials so that our colleagues could present in their classes on the day of; attracted enough attention to merit the attention of one local media outlet, as well as being included on the #NAWD map

We spoke to a decent sized crowd at JCTCS, and there was a small meeting at the University of Louisville, led by FW Reagan and Daniel Runnels, a part-timer in the Spanish Department.  It was an important and declarative first step in what is nothing short of (r)evolution.

Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I'd say that's about right.
*Right-to-work: really means the right of the boss to fire you without reason, pay you less than what you're worth, and strip you of your right to free assembly in a union.