My Turn: Instead of making America great again, lets make it better


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

As a volunteer activist with Friends of the Earth, my mission is to support the Environmental Protection Agency. Many people who remember the days of rampant water and air pollution, the growing hole in the ozone layer, and the sight of oil drenched wildlife, beaches and oceans understand the absolute value of this agency signed into being by President Nixon in 1970. The Clean Air Act and other laws protecting the planet on which we all live, breathe, work and play are proof that we can keep our planet clean and healthy and that we can’t stop the precedents and guiding principles created by the EPA. This is truly where the United States can move forward. “Great again,” implies the past. We need to keep our eyes on the future ... be even greater.

I remember riding my bike along the Esplanade in Boston when the alewife reappeared in the Charles River. There they were one day churning the water rushing up river to their old spawning grounds. What great evidence that a once polluted waterway could be returned to the life that once thrived there. I also remember thinking that reclaiming the Charles was a pipe dream. Now there are people sailing, rowing, fishing, and yes, even swimming. Boy was I glad to be wrong.

The Connecticut River is another waterway benefiting from the EPA. Just the other day I read in the Recorder that we have so many fish swimming upstream that the Turners Falls ladder system needs reinforcing. Funding the EPA is what enables our communities to keep up with the rising tide of sustainability. By funding their efforts in the national budget, they in turn create grants and programs to use those funds in neighborhoods across the country.

Another river in the Pioneer Valley that has seen a remarkable recovery is the Millers River. The Millers used to be filthy, changing colors with the dyes used by the shoe manufacturers, and reeking of waste from various businesses that simply tossed it into the river. The clean-up was a grassroots driven success story in that the people who lived along the river petitioned the governor of the state who heard them and got the federal funds to start the “clean up the river” ball rolling. Now the Millers River supports kayaking, canoeing, boarding and also swimming. These along with flora and fauna is evidence of a clean thriving waterway. There is an annual Riverfest celebrating the summer Solstice featuring events along and on the river. A community effort that paid off and keeps on creating opportunities for neighbors to get together, or simply stroll along and enjoy the ambiance. No more holding your nose!

Examples of the positive doings of the EPA abound include the increasing use of solar and wind power at less and less expense. The more we use what is already there for our energy needs, the less we need to dig into the earth and under the water for those sources. Instead of weakening our natural infrastructure, we strengthen it. “We the people,” are the catalyst for the continuing support for reducing pollution, fracking, deep sea oil drilling, increasing recycling and reusing petroleum products. We need to show our government the evidence is irrefutable.

The reason I became interested in volunteering is the presidential election. I really had great faith that the American people took the executive office position seriously. Stunned, depressed, and remorseful for not having done more during the campaign, I got motivated. Usually I’m upbeat, and can find the silver lining in just about anything. Being an activist for Friends of the Earth is my silver lining.

A Friends of the Earth email and training are what helped me focus on the environment. I am a supporter of many causes and focusing is difficult until you understand that each cause has people who focus on it exclusively. It was during a conference call training that the subject came up with the other volunteers. When you are worried about everything — the environment, fracking, Planned Parenthood, Medicaid, education, military spending, immigration, etc. — how do you feel right about staying focused on one thing? Jenny, the Northeast trainer, explained that we are covered on all the issues but by different people. Not everyone can do everything ... a truism for sure. That said, we all need to support each other.

If you are thinking of volunteering with Friends of the Earth, go right ahead. On Sunday, Sept. 24, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Hampshire College, there is a free Friends of the Earth training event with lunch included. The training gives you skills necessary to make a difference, and you will get that feeling of being one of many who care about the planet. You will also experience the thrill of going forth and helping other people experience that feeling of support for an issue they care about. The Friends of the Earth training goes beyond the environment; you could be an activist for any cause you like with the activism education you receive.

For more information on the training, contact JBock@foe.org

Janet Henderson is a Friends of the Earth volunteer and lives in New Salem.