Water Man Spouts

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A United Front

(This essay is from the political discussion forum "Democratic Underground," which has been experiencing harsh differences between Clinton and Obama supporters.)

I want t take a minute to talk about the need for unity within the democratic party, and our allies on the progressive left. It is a topic that I gave a lot of thought this weekend. I am a "Kennedy democrat" who supports Senator Barack Obama. But I am aware that one of the most honorable people in our country, Robert Kennedy, Jr., has endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton.

I have the greatest respect for Robert. He is the best environmental attorney in the country. I had the opportunity to get to know him in the early 1990s, when I contacted him for advice on a case that involved the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy) attempting to put teeth into the federal Native American Burial Protection and Repatriation Act.

One day at work, when I returned to my office from a "community-based crisis," my supervisor gave me a phone message. She said, "This guy’s parents must have loved Bobby Kennedy." I asked, "Why?" She said, "Because they named him after Kennedy," and then realized who she had spoken to.

I remember Robert telling me that he recognizes that Traditional Native American and environmental issues are one in the same.

In the mid-1990s, Robert helped me on a case involving two EPA Superfund Sites that were poisoning a rural hamlet in upstate New York. He helped us get $200,000 in grants, and to hire the two top environmental consultants in the nation. When a bureaucrat from the EPA was giving us a hard time, I said that I was going to call Robert. I remembr her laughing at me, and making a joke, because she assumed that it was unlikely that I knew him. Surprise, surprise: I got the last laugh on that one.

With the case, we were able to re-open communications with RiverKeeper and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. Robert was always interested in creating unity among people. Common ground.

This past weekend marked the ten year anniversary of a racist hate gang attacking and seriously injuring my nephew. They were mad that a brown-skinned high school student was getting state-wide media attention for his skills in sports. Their savage attack almost killed my nephew. He lost the hearing in one ear, and has injuries that will be with him for the rest of his life.

Robert provided support to my extended family. He wrote to NYS Attorney General Dennis Vacco, and requested that he try the case. Vacco refused. The gang leader, who punched and kicked my unconscious nephew at least 12 times, ended up with a $50 fine for having an open beer during the attack. When I thought about that this weekend, I was reminded of how much Robert’s support meant to our family, and to the hundreds of people in the area who attended the court cases of the gang members, hoping for justice.

Those people included members of two chapters of the NAACP, high school students, social workers, and a wonderful group of elderly white women. There were Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We had common concerns, common values, and we were on common ground.

Those who have read Robert’s first book, "The RiverKeepers," know that he is friends with Onondaga Chief Oren Lyons. I remember in the 1970s, when Oren told classes of white students to look closely how the government treated Indians today, because it was how the government would treat them tomorrow. People living near SuperFund Sites know that is true.

In the past seven years, the Bush-Cheney administration has attacked our Constitution in what should be prosecuted as a "hate crime." We need to present a united front in November, and vote for justice.

I am going to include part of an interview I did in October, 2000 with Robert Kennedy, Jr., for newspapers in upstate New York. I think that his answers can be applied to our situation today. While I support Barack Obama, and am confident that he will be our nominee, I think that supporters of all of the candidates from our primaries will enjoy it.

One request: rather than me saying how I think it applies to today, I am hoping that DUers will share their thoughts with the DU community. I appreciate your contributions.

Your friend,
H2O Man

Q: In an August 10 editorial in the New York Times, you wrote that while you respect Ralph Nader, his candidacy could siphon votes from Al Gore, and "torpedo efforts to address the nation’s most important environmental challenges." What environmental issues should be of greatest concern for central New York voters?

A: The contrast between Bush and Gore is enormous. People in New York need to look closely at Bush’s environmental record in Texas. Every appointee he has put in environmental regulatory positions comes from his business links to the oil industry. The result is that Texas ranks 49th in environmental issues, and has the highest levels of pollution in the most important areas.
For example, 700,000 children in Texas go to school every day where the EPA says the air is not safe to breathe.

Gore, on the other hand, is a spokesman for the environment. His record on environmental issues is the best of any politician in this nation. Al Gore wrote the book. People in this state need to think about which of these two men they want to make policies about the quality of the air, land, and water in our state.

Q: On what issues would Hillary Clinton better represent our families than Rick Lazio?

A: Rick Lazio is a decent man, and has a decent record in many areas. But he has never challenged the Republican leadership on important environmental issues. He was part of the 1995 vote to eviscerate the most important environmental legislation in the country. He even voted to cut funding for vital sewage treatment for the Long Island Sound. His votes have consistently been supportive of the Republican stealth attack on environmental legislation.
Hillary is a strong voice. She told me that she intends to be the #1 spokesman on environmental issues on Capital Hill. We need her to be there, because the other strong leaders, like Mitchell and Gore, are gone from the Hill. So, there are many issues that Hillary will give us strong representation on, but none more important than her being our champion on environmental issues.

Q: Your uncle and your father inspired a generation of young people to become involved in politics in the 1960s. What do you say to young people today, specifically about the power of the "Youth Vote"?

A: It’s critical in this election. This presidential election will be the closest in a generation. Young people play an essential role. I urge them not to throw away their ability to decide this election. A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. A vote for Gore is a vote for their generation.


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