Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Ironies first. The United States Military is now working on building "green" aircraft carriers. As if saving a little bit of fuel makes up for the horrendous ecological, economic, and, of course, human harm caused by a massive and ever-growing military budget. There's a big difference between taking meaningful action to remedy the tremendous ecological concerns that trouble our planet (and, more pointedly, the quality of human life upon it) and engaging in empty token political gestures that do nothing but make us feel better about things. Replacing "smog" with "smug," as South Park so aptly observed, only makes things worse.

I have an Earth Day story from way back in 2004, during the Presidential primaries that saw John Kerry (really?) chosen the Democratic nominee. I attended, that day, a rally for Dennis Kucinich held on the top floor of the Mercury Cafe in Denver. It remains the only time I've seen Kucinich speak in person, but what was most notable was not, actually, Kucinich's speech. He was his usual charismatic and hilarious self,* and I was surprised that he really is as short as they say he is.** But what I remember most clearly - besides some very astute answers about Israel and Palestine - was a surprise appearance from none other than John McConnell.

* What is it about "fringe" politicians that makes them so much more endearing than main-stream types? Kucinich is not alone in using humor to engage and build rapport with his audience. Ralph Nader is one of the funniest speakers I've seen live, funnier than many stand-up comedians. Likewise, the Mike Huckabees (since we're not exclusionary at this here blog) and Al Sharptons of the world remind us that, sometimes, there are real people in politics who aren't afraid to tell a joke or to laugh. Heaven forbid we remember that life is a strange and funny thing.

** A fatal flaw in modern politics. Combined with a difficult-to-pronounce name and a Catholic upbringing, Kucinich never stands a chance, and that's before you factor in his refusal to take corporate money and his tendency not to placate a corrupt power-structure.

For those who don't know, McConnell is one of the founders of Earth Day, and a resident of Denver. He came to Kucinich's rally and, slyly, did not announce himself. Towards the end of the session, he popped up and rambled a little bit about the environment, before finally letting fly that he was, in fact, one of the creators of one of our most respectable - though, sadly, one of our most corruptible* - holidays. McConnell presented Kucinich with one of his patented Earth Day flags, and received a warm ovation from the overflowing audience.

* Which is no surprise. Martin Luther King Day, because it has become such a big deal, has become little more than an excuse for people to make political gains on the back of token interest in the actual life of Martin Luther King. Earth Day, similarly, is becoming a way to pretend like you care about the environment, or to forgive yourself for 364 days a year of not caring.

Which is really neither here nor there, except that it goes to show that people who do important work towards a better world are often relegated to unheralded attics of unknown restaurants, until they get big enough that their work ceases to be effective anymore. The real moral of the story is, work smart and small, but don't be afraid to imagine big.

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