FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THIS ISSUE, VISIT: Inside Climate News
DO YOU LIVE IN AN OIL TRAIN BLAST ZONE OR EVACUATION ZONE?
Waiting until you have a problem in your own backyard is the wrong way to find out how important civic participation is.
– Gerri Songer, EGHS Teacher
Thanks for taking the time to come and listen to our candidates and elected officials!
I have some questions for you:
- How many of you just can’t wait to go speak publicly at an open board meeting?
- How many of you are sitting at the edge of your seats because you just can’t wait to put up a bunch of tacky yard signs?
- How many of you LOVE to bother the living daylights out of your neighbors who want absolutely nothing to do with you as you try to arm them with very important information about their candidates?
- How many of you live to call people you don’t know, and to knock on doors only to be treated like an inconvenience – and that’s by the really nice people!
- How many of you are just chomping at the bit to learn about things like infrastructure?
Well, when I was your age, those delights were about the farthest things from my mind. But this thinking was very, very wrong. What I know now is that it’s much easier to stop a problem before it starts than to try and do something about it after it exists.
I always thought voting was important, but I found it easy to get caught up in my day-to-day life. I was a busy mother, I had a career, and I had students that I cared about, and every once in a while, I actually liked to have fun!
But then, one day – I had a very rude awakening. I realized I had a problem in my backyard that was life-threatening. I learned that freight trains rolling alongside my home were carrying what’s been compared to an atomic bomb-sized explosion. The cargo they carry is so toxic it can kill a person in two breaths.
The first thought shooting through my mind was that not long before there had been a derailment near my home – and my community depends on well water. I had my drinking water assessed and learned it contained methane, along with other toxic chemicals.
The next horrific thought assaulting me was the image of my daughter, who was pregnant at the time, drinking water from my home. Exposure to chemicals carried by these freight trains can cause cancer, sterility, birth defects, and genetic mutations. It could be years before any damage caused by exposure surfaces, and even if it does, I’ll never be able to prove cause. I have no baseline for comparison.
So, in my very naïve thinking, I figured my mayor (Not a District 214 or District 211 mayor!) must not know – surely he would tell us if he had information that there was something traveling past our homes, and schools, that came with a 1-mile radius, 2-mile diameter, blast zone! And, I took it upon myself to go tell him.
Let’s just say – this didn’t go well. Not only did he know, but he also had no intention of telling anyone in my community about this issue.
I figured I could spin my wheels trying to convince a mayor who obviously had no plans of doing what I considered to be his moral responsibility, or I could do what I hoped someone would do for me if he or she knew what I knew – so I decided to do whatever it was I could think of doing to tell people.
I threw in my hat and experienced first hand what it was like to campaign for public office. This, also, was a very unpleasant experience! And what I learned after walking to over 5,000 homes and making what seemed like a gazillion phone calls to people who either weren’t home, didn’t answer, hung up, or gave me a piece of THEIR mind – was that I had no business pointing my finger at my mayor. The person I needed to point my finger at was me. It was my fault that someone like him, who in my opinion has no business in public office, was now sitting in a position of authority.
Waiting until you have a devastating problem in your own backyard is the wrong way to find out how important it is to pay attention to what’s going on around you.
The candidates and elected officials your about to hear are going to be making some of the most important decisions that will directly impact your quality of life, and the lives of your children and grandchildren. So please, listen to them. Do your research, and if you find candidates here who you support, help them. There’s a lot of work to be done, and there are many ways you can get involved. You can find their website information at Engage-Today.com. And if you don’t – run for office yourselves. With the support of your community, you can be the change that’s needed.
- I’d like to thank Paul Kelly and Jerry Cook for opening up the doors to our candidates and allowing students to take time from their busy schedules to come and listen to what they have to say. And, thank you to our tech and custodial staff for being our nuts and bolts behind the scenes.
- I’d also like to thank Erin Brooks from District 214 Community Education for taking the time to provide direction and to help make connections.
- Hats off to Maryam Judar from Citizen Advocacy Center who helped me at a time when I needed help most.
- And to Heidi Graham and Stacey Tobin from League of Women Voters for describing to our students the important work this organization does and how even students who are not yet 18 can take action to make their communities better and to improve the quality of life for future generations.
- Thank you, so much, Jim Slusher and Chuck Keeshan for helping students to formulate questions and for co-moderating.
- Last but not least, a big shout out to Matt Bohnenkamp, Barry Hanrahan, Sarah Struebing, and Adriana Soto for the work they’ve done to help prepare our students and staff for this event.
Thank you all for helping to make this initiative come together for our students – our hope for a better future.