I was wearing my “No Shale Gas” t-shirt the other day at a local store when the sales clerk said she would like two signs, those red and white ones seen all over town. A woman behind me in line mumbled, “Won’t matter. They’ll do it anyway.” Then she rushed to say, “I wish they wouldn’t.”
I totally understand where that woman is coming from. “They” is the government knotted in an unholy alliance with the oil and gas industry. And there she is feeling powerless. I’d wager that many caring citizens can identify with her, which says something about how dysfunctional democracy is in our province. Our every four- year -revolving- door elections lead exactly to this feeling as we watch one party in opposition oppose something and when elected become supporters of that very thing. The reason is not hard to find. Not only in New Brunswick, but in almost all so-called western democracies, corporations and banks call the shots.
Consider a situation where our Chief Medical Officer and her staff spend months researching unconventional shale gas mining from the perspective of public health. Consider that Dr. Cleary’s report is put on the shelf, not even a feeble attempt made to fund a health risk assessment! Recently Dr. Cleary was awarded the prestigious Environmental Health Review Award for 2013 by Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors for that very report ignored by the Alward government. Some democracy, eh?
I want to say to that woman who stood behind me in line that something unique and inspiring is developing in New Brunswick. For two and a-half years, a grassroots movement has evolved that is more knowledgeable about the proven dangers of unconventional shale gas mining than all the bureaucrats in Fredericton put together. A grassroots movement that today is forging unity among Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Francophone and Anglo peoples. A grassroots movement that has embraced decision-making by concensus, a practice foreign to New Brunswick governments. A grassroots movement that is training itself in peaceful, non-violent resistance, again unique in our province’s history.
I conclude with another story. I met a woman at the Elsipogtog Sacred Fire encampment recently. She said that two years ago she was convinced that fracking would destroy our agriculture, our tourism industry, our way of life. But she did nothing. Then she went to a meeting where something clicked and the next day she began work to form an anti-fracking community group in Cocagne.
This is the challenge of our grassroots movement today: to move people like the woman from Cocagne and the woman behind me in line to the next level of activism.
Democracy may be limp and dysfunctional in Fredericton but not in Saint Louis de Kent, Bass River, Hampton, Tantramar, Taymouth, Mount Carleton, Hillsborough and many, many other places. We are not powerless.
Marilyn Lerch is an activist living in Sackville.