Bobby Kennedy is an environmental attorney; he also heads up Pace Law School's litigation clinic. As such, he teaches environmental law and oversees numerous lawsuits filed against corporations that are violating environment laws in order to save money for their stockholders. Cleaning up effluent before it ruins rivers, scrubbing smokestack emissions - these are expensive processes that no corporation will take on unless forced to do so. RFK's lawsuits force them to.
Robert Kennedy really gets it. He understands that corporations will press as far as they are allowed to press in order to maximize their profits, because, as he said, "their only obligation is to their shareholders." They will take the low road, the polluting road, whenever possible. If you doubt this underlying principle of the corporate world, watch the documentary The Corporation. It will make a believer of you.
Kennedy is also the president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and has been for some time. He's passionate about clean rivers, clean estuaries, clean streams and lakes. When I asked him to endorse our 2005 book about factory farms in North Carolina, he agreed to do so because factory farms are among his "pet peeves" - according to one of his staffers. Kennedy knows that factory farms and the giant meatpacking corporations behind them have trashed the NC coastal plain, have been allowed to by lax enforcement of environmental laws. He feels so strongly about the environmental damage done by factory farms that he traveled to Poland with Animal Welfare Institute's Diane Halverson in an attempt to stop the takeover of Polish hog farms by the polluting American meatpacker, Smithfield. You can read about that venture on AWI's website.
Kennedy knows how corporations get around regulations. From years of litigation, he knows all their tactics and strategies. He will nail them. If he doesn't have his hands tied by lobbyists, he will nail the perpetrators - the corporations that foul our water, exploit our land, and cloud our skies - he will nail them to the wall. I feel giddy thinking about it.
But that's not the only reason Obama likes him. Obama himself has a quality that can move people, can make grown men cry. Tuesday night, when Obama made his acceptance speech, my husband cried and cried and cried. I don't mean his eyes got moist. He really wept. It may have been the second time in a couple of decades that I've seen him cry. Tonight at dinner, he tried to explain it to me. He said it was like he'd forgotten how to feel patriotic, it had been so long. He had forgotten what it feels like to have hope for his country, and for the planet. He said that during his acceptance speech Obama went through history pointing out all the things our country has overcome, saying "Yes we can." And Ken felt it somehow. Felt maybe we can. Felt patriotism stirring. Ken the cynic. He felt it and it made him cry.
I felt a lot of the same feelings when I heard RFK speak a few months ago in Charlotte. He began with material I sort of knew - he talked about what he does in his job, the lawsuits, and the companies that will get away with whatever the government allows them to do. Kennedy said polluters create wealth by making others poor, by depleting and destroying resources for others. The "revolving door of plunder," he called it.
He surprised me by saying that he is not an environmentalist but a "free marketeer." He calls himself that because he believes that corporations should be made to internalize all the costs of their production methods, including the costs to public health and to the environment. If their effluent causes liver cancer, or their emissions cause asthma, or their production methods blow mountaintops off, then they should pay the costs to the local communities, in lost wages, or medical costs or whatever. Can you imagine if Kennedy were able to pull that off, as head of the EPA?
But this is what brought me to tears. He talked about camping with his sons, how he loves the mountains, the trees, and the rivers near his home. He said "wilderness is the undiluted work of the creator. Wildlife is the way God communicates with us most forcefully, with force, with clarity, with texture."
Americans love and value nature, now and since our inception as a nation, he said. Consider Thoreau, Emerson, Merwin. In fact, he said, "nature is the unifying theme of American culture."
Robert Kennedy made me love my country. He made me want to fight to keep it clean, and he made me angry in a new way at the values of corporate profit in Bush's administration, the values that have cheapened the natural resources we have been blessed with.
See how he fits with Obama? They are, quite simply, two of the most inspirational living men I know. They both have the gift of describing the big picture, the global picture, the historical picture in a way that makes us want to get to work to save it.
Please, please, please pick RFK to head up the EPA.
by Sally Kneidel, PhD
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