Pardon me for my strident tone in yesterday’s blog about joining forces to protect ourselves from toxic and radioactive aggression and from state tyranny. It’s just that I’ve seen too much; I know too much from first-hand experience. I am as a soldier who returns from war who can’t leave the war behind, who tries to fit in civilian life but can’t, then re-enlists because he knows the war is still going on and because he wants to do something more to help end it.
Only, I am not a soldier by nature. I did not happily choose to go to war. The war came to me in the form of a powerful governor and a PCB landfill threatening my persons and properties. I was recruited into it by default by being in the wrong place at the right time, by happening to be living in the crosshairs of a local, state, and federal government plan to solve the nation’s pressing toxic waste problem by dumping toxic waste on Warren County, North Carolina.
I enlisted in the War of Toxic Aggression without time to think about it much. One night in late December, 1978, just before Christmas, I came home from picking up a year’s worth of Raleigh News and Observer newspapers. A friend of a friend had given them to me for mulching our next year’s garden. Ken met me at the top of our road just outside the cabin and was clearly agitated.
He informed me that he had heard on public radio that public sentiment would not deter the state from burying toxic PCBs in a landfill in Warren County, in Afton, in our very community.
A few months earlier, in late July and early August, during the dark of night, 31,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated oil had been spewed along the roadsides of some 200 miles of highway shoulders in fourteen counties, causing the largest toxic spill of its kind in American history.
Ken and I were stunned with the audacity of the state’s announcement to bury the PCBs in Warren County regardless of public sentiment, with the blatant disregard for even the pretense of a democratic process. We paced and talked into the night, considering our options and decided that fleeing was not an option, that we were going to talk with our friends and neighbors, that we were going to join forces and fight back.
Wanting to do something constructive because sleep was impossible, we began to read through the entire year of newspapers (that had been stacked neatly in chronological order), and by morning we had amassed two large notebooks of articles focusing on the state and nation’s toxic waste crisis, media coverage that clearly showed to Ken and me that the he War of Toxic Aggression had begun long before the state’s announcement to dump on Warren County.
From that night on, throughout much of the thirty-five years that have followed, Ken and I have been knee-deep in the muddy political trenches of an insidious, invisible war that is being fought by grassroots forces in the streets and in the hallways of lawmakers and regulators. Here in North Carolina, the War of Toxic Aggression is waging more fervently than ever under the aggressively oppressive, openly anti-environmental and civil rights governor and legislature. It a war that is also being fought by our neighbors in Virginia who are fighting the potential ravages of radioactive contamination caused by the potential for uranium mining that threatens the water supplies of two million people in Virginia and North Carolina. It is a war that is being fought across the nation and world by people who who have also become soldiers by default.
I apologize once again for sounding so passionate and so dramatic about my battle experiences in what I see as a War of Toxic Aggression, but from my vantage point, it’s a war that poses a far greater threat than that posed by Al Qaida terrorists, Afghan insurgents, or Iranian tyrants. And although the costs of wars bankrupt nations, the costs of not going to war are far greater.
Again, I don’t want to run my readers off with too much negativity, which is a distinct possibility. Yet this blog is for me about living deliberately. And when one is a soldier at war, living deliberately necessarily means sharing war stories, talking strategy, making offensive and defensive plans, and trying to rally fellow troops.
Living deliberately may even mean in this blog that I am bitching and moaning at times, sharing comic relief at others, while also poking fun of myself for being too serious — all part of a healthy regimen to blow off the steam of long-time soldiering.
So, please excuse me when I go too far and too long with my rantings, my documentations, my insistence that we are in the midst of an ever-present danger. I have a sense of foreboding that compels me to expose the inconvenient truth that we are at war, that we must build bridges and alliances among people in order to fight for environmental justice, pollution prevention, and a sustainable future for their children’s children. I have this heightened sense, as well, as soldiers often do when living in the face of danger, that I am living fully in the moment, deliberately attempting to do something of value, something that matters, something that may lift the toxic weight from generations to come.