Why I Am An Activist
My son was visiting me this past week, and at a dinner with friends, he said he didn’t see how protesting against the big corporations did any good. They were so powerful. It made me think about my own life, and what I as one person, usually, of course, working with others, have helped to make better. Herewith part of my letter to my son. We had been talking about the Moral Monday protests being in held now in Raleigh at the Legislature building.
My friend sent two articles from the newspaper about the Moral Mondays happening in Raleigh at the Legislature building. She asked me to send them on to you. In both the writers try to be realistic. Sometimes such protests set off a harsh response, but ultimately, they admit, they usually have an effect, especially as more and more people get involved. My friend said: “Protesting can seem futile at times, but it’s still the right thing to do. Just ask the Germans who didn’t try to restrain Hitler while it was still possible.” She also said that I am “irrepressible.”
It got me thinking, your wanting to know how protesting and being an activist could change anything when it seems like the big corporations, often supported by the government, seem to have all the power and control. They certainly have a lot. Since I moved here to Moncure, I’ve been working, since 2002, toward safer nuclear storage at the nearby nuclear plant, specifically to stop the train shipments of irradiated rods being shipped to that plant through Moncure (right by the PO) from other Progress Energy plants southeast of us. I spoke to the Chatham County Commissioners back in 2003 about it, and they did write to the Attorney General of NC and ask that those shipments be stopped, as a train accident could endanger people here. I worked with a group called NC Warn, that works on environmental issues, and is still working on them. Progress Energy said they’d stop the shipments, but it took them two years.
I also worked against air pollution, which had been going on here for ten years, with the regulators (Dept of Environment and Natural Resources) knowing it was bad from a combination of plants polluting our air. People have been dying of cancer in Moncure for a long time. The worst plant, a particle board plant, polluted more formaldehyde than any plant in the country. I heard their vice president talk about how formaldehyde was quickly dissipated into the air, etc., as if there couldn’t be a serious problem, but we involved the county commissioners, and I wrote articles about it for our little community paper, and more and more people got involved and upset. In the beginning people wouldn’t look at me, afraid they’d lose their jobs, more worried about that than dying. Gradually it got better; that plant finally had to put in new machinery (expensive, so they sold it, and the new owner put it in), and people here, including me, were getting fewer colds. A lot of people in the area had asthma, too.
Then I worked on county elections, 2004-6, because the commissioners were letting in every developer, without regard for the cost to the county and its people. We changed that.
So I have seen how my work can help, which is why I started talking to people here, putting up signs, and getting signatures on a petition to keep fracking out of N.C.
I like Margaret Mead’s wisdom, that it’s only small groups of people trying to bring about good changes that ever do change anything. I also assume that our human life has both good and evil in it, and my job is to be a good human being and to do what I can to keep the balance on the good side. I don’t think all my counter-players (opponents) are bad people. Some good people become convinced that they’re right, when I think they’re wrong. Few people are truly, deliberately evil.
In the case of fracking, a lot of the challenge is education. Natural gas released this way from under the shale rock can seem like a good energy choice, but I’ve learned that the toxic chemicals put into the huge amounts of water they use, and then the toxic waste water, often acquiring unsafe minerals and radiation from under the ground, which isn’t always carefully disposed of, represent a new source of air pollution, water pollution (some frackers have poured it into streams, drilled deep in the earth setting off earthquakes, and we in Moncure, with the nuclear plant, live on an earthquake fault), and earth pollution.
How can we grow organic vegetables and fruit with this pollution of our atmosphere, water, and earth? I was very worried, so I began to do something to keep me from getting depressed. It’s the best antidote I know to worry, is to work on the problem. I was amazed at how people welcomed me and thanked me for giving them a sign, for doing something. Most of them were poor and hadn’t understood the danger, and most were elderly and wouldn’t be going out to put up signs or protest.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen how things can change. When I was seven years old, living in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1944, Negroes couldn’t stay in that town overnight. When they came to a meeting on race relations at the University, where my mother worked, there was no bathroom they could use, nor in town, and Mother brought them home to use the bathroom, and told me. I was upset for them, and Mother said I could write to the Mayor of Norman, and I did. I entered the University of Oklahoma in 1955, and the first young black woman (only one) was in my freshman class.
If it hadn’t been for the Civil Rights movement, and the new Desegregation decision from the US Supreme Court, in 1954, that wouldn’t have happened in 1955. Even in NC in 1974, when we were living on a Cedar Grove farm, and I published a review in the Durham paper, calling black poet T.J. Reddy, a saint, our farmer got upset. T.J. was sent to prison for burning a stable of horses, with two other black men who were also innocent. Their “crime” was urging young black men to evade the draft, and witnesses against them were paid by the Justice Dept and sent to Mexico, to put The Charlotte Three behind bars.
Two days after my review came out, our farmer came to tell us we had to move. That was why we ended up in Chase Park, an integrated housing project which had grown out of the Civil Rights Movement in Chapel Hill. Things racially were still tense in NC. I began publishing black writers through Carolina Wren Press in the mid-70s, and I got away with it, but at the time there were no publishers in NC who were publishing black writers, except one in Charlotte, Red Clay Books, and she thought T.J. was guilty! I published him, proudly.
Anyway, your mom, as my friend says, is irrepressible. I want my books to help make things better, so I take up issues that concern me. Right now the fracking is my big social concern, and the new novel I’m starting now is to be called Don’t Frack Here, and will take up fracking and its dangers to NC. Love, Mom
Judy Hogan is a local food producer and writer in Moncure, NC. You can find out more about her books, and classes, and poetry at her website.