Fine silica dust released almost constantly into the air during the fracking of a Chesapeake well in Wetzel County. It can cause silicosis. Photo/Bill Hughes, Wetzel County Action Group
By Cathy Talbott
What began as one woman with a website is now a grassroots effort to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas in Illinois. NEXT Energy Corporation has leased 80,000 acres and intends to begin in the downstate counties of Wayne and Saline in June. Exposed in the documentary “Gasland,” ‘fracking’ uses a slew of chemicals, sand and water to fracture shale in order to extract natural gas, with dire consequences for the land, water, humans, and animals, while the corporations make obscene profits. The following is an interview with Liz Patula, concerned resident and grassroots organizer against ‘fracking.’
People’s Tribune: Why the interest in fracking?
Liz: I knew about fracking in other states for about 1 ½ years. I was interested in the human perspective. I use well water. I’m concerned about contamination.
PT: How did you learn that it’s coming to Southern Illinois?
Liz: Through Illinois Food and Water Watch. It became very personal, very quickly. I did a lot of research and built a website: www.dontfractureillinois.org. Now multiple people are working on it.
PT: Has interest grown since your first meeting in March?
Liz: Yes. After two informational meetings in Southern Illinois, enough people became interested to coalesce into a grassroots base. We rely on community members to educate others.
PT: You hosted two Pennsylvania farmers that testified to their experiences. What was the audience response?
Liz: Good. It was very powerful to hear first hand what real people are going through. It is so sad that one of the farmers, Terry Greenwood, still has to provide drinking water for his family and his cattle. Shortly after gas wells were fracked on his property, his well water turned brown and unusable. Also, the pond his cattle drank from became contaminated, and he lost cattle directly and had an abnormally high stillbirth/birth defect rate for calves born afterward. We are now asking Illinois residents to contact Governor Quinn to ask for a ban on permits for fracking. Our group has written a formal letter explaining this, and it is on the home page of our website. We want a ban on fracking in Illinois. The question is: how do you use the land? A procedure that carries so much risk doesn’t make sense. Fracking has wide scale consequences. An oil and gas well a mile away can affect my house and well. Our legal committee is working on language that will allow counties to impose a ban.
PT: Is there a precedent for such action?
Liz: Yes. Rockingham County, VA; the entire state of Vermont and over 100 municipalities in New York have banned it.
PT: What are your next steps?
Liz: Community education. We’re arranging showings of “Split Estate” which examines land owners’ surface rights versus mineral rights. And we’re putting together our own DVD to use at local level, plus our letter writing campaign to Gov. Quinn. The outreach committee is planning our next wave of events.
PT: President Obama has stated his support for natural gas drilling claiming it will create 600,000 jobs, which is an issue here.
Liz: It’s complicated. It should not be jobs versus land and water; it’s jobs via land and water. Our kids and grandkids will be trying to figure out what to do with the devastation we left for them, and their options will be limited. We need to be more responsible than this, as a region, for future generations.
By Lew Rosenbaum
CHICAGO—In May the People’s Tribune reported on the occupation of Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, because Chicago planned to close 6 of 12 public mental health clinics. Chicago police arrested the 23 patients and activists barricaded in the clinic. Since then, members of the Mental Health Movement (MHM), activists in the Occupy movement and others have kept a 24-hour vigil at those clinics and continue to fight to reopen all clinics. As the NATO summit meeting approached in May, the MHM announced a rally May 19, the day before the summit began.
A statement from the MHM called on “our family from the global 99%” to “join us in the fight for healthcare not warfare.” Hundreds marched from the northwest clinic to the Mayor’s home not far away. Here they leafleted the neighborhood, telling residents that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had closed the clinics because of a “budget shortfall” of $3 million, a small fraction of the $65 million estimated cost of hosting NATO. The problem is not money—it’s priorities.
On June 12, the two-month anniversary of the occupation of the Woodlawn Clinic, protesters took their message to the office of the Department of Public Health. The MHM has documented increases in hospitalizations and emergency room overload due to the closure of clinics. Meanwhile, Public Health Commissioner Choucair continues to insist that less clinics mean better service! Six demonstrators sat down in front of Choucair’s office demanding to meet with him and were arrested for trespassing.
The trial of the protesters arrested at the Woodlawn clinic was scheduled to begin June 18. “Five protesters will use the ‘necessity defense’ according to their attorney James Fennerty, who spoke at a press conference outside the courthouse. Defendants invoke the necessity defense when they claim to have committed a crime so as to benefit the public good.” (Progress Illinois, June 12). Fennerty further pointed out that they were “trespassing” in order to prevent a greater evil: the closing of the clinics and hospitalizations, incarcerations, and deaths that would ensue.
The defense plans to call on therapists, mental health patients and even Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to show that Rahm Emanuel and his “Public health” commissioner Bechara Choucair are the real criminals, responsible for much worse than trespassing.
The intransigence of the Emanuel regime is a harbinger of the future response of the city to the challenge that the dispossessed are putting to its “representatives.” From the Spanish indignados to MHM protesters in Chicago, the most at risk populations are pressing demands on their political leaders and the capitalist system they represent. The MHM is demanding that the government take care of the people’s health care needs. When the government refuses, it calls into question the right of the class it represents to continue to rule.
Protesting the closure of half of Chicago’s mental health clinics. Photo/Brett Jelinek, olafimages.com
Awakened by police again
sleep deprivation never ends
we can’t lay down we can’t sit up
no tarps no tents no matter what
so if it rains we just get wet
I bet they hope we catch our death
but rain or shine we occupy
the 99% is why
we’ve been sold out as they were ‘fed’
the dream of a one percenter’s head
they took the money and stole the gold
while robbing the poor and starving the old
so we must rise and occupy
true democracy can’t be left to die
stand and let your voice be heard
let’s take back all that we deserve
Nick Anthony Shaw
[Nearly Pantless Nick]