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On joy and justice

It's not celebrating the misfortune of others. After years of fighting Vermont Yankee, we deserved some smiles.

Chad Simmons, a volunteer with the Safe and Green Campaign, originally wrote this piece as a contemplative rebuttal to several remarks on Facebook about insensitivity and gloating in the social media sphere — including one from your editor — on the day that Entergy made its announcement about the fate of Vermont Yankee. The Commons is beginning to plan the very sort of public forum that Simmons proposes here, so stay tuned.


Aug. 27 was a bittersweet day for me, as I was visiting family and was not with my people in Vermont to hear the news that Entergy would close Vermont Yankee. I predominately shared over Facebook, but I would much rather have been there in person to share laughs, tears, hugs, to breathe deeply, then scheme about the next steps.

As much as there was elation, confusion, anger last week from all sides of the VY issue, this is far, far from over. The corporate line in the asphalt was clearly carved out, yet again.

Entergy refuses to act in the best interest of the community, the planet, and its employees by choosing the SAFSTOR method of decommissioning the plant.

Nobody from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state of Vermont, or groups of antinuclear activists chose this option. This was entirely, unequivocally Entergy’s decision. People losing “jobs” is entirely the fault of a multi-billion-dollar corporation, its shareholders, and the “free market.”

The announcement by Entergy to close Vermont Yankee today has decades, maybe even centuries, of history and baggage behind it. This is about values. This is about the meaning our toil gives us individually, collectively, socially, and culturally. The fruit our toil creates.

* * *

My first memory of being asked the question of “jobs” was from 2007 by two students working on a journalism grant from North Carolina, interested in the citizen efforts to close VY. My response to this question has not changed much since then.

I am not indifferent to the struggle of the working person (quite the contrary, in fact). However, at some point (and I would argue that that point is now), we need ask ourselves, “What is the value of what I do?” “Does my job improve life on this planet?”

These are difficult and complex questions to answer.

But when it comes to the production of nuclear-powered electricity — an energy source that produces billions of tons of harmful waste, inflicts social injustice to indigenous populations and poor people, releases harmful radiation daily, siphons limited resources from legitimate energy solutions, and adds to the increased nuclear weapons proliferation — it bears diving headfirst down the rabbit hole.

* * *

The “jobs” argument is, in my opinion, a fear-mongering ploy by the wealthy to scare communities into submission —harsh, no doubt, but a statement worth unpacking. And I would suggest unpacking it in a very public, very intentional way.

I would absolutely love to see a a multi-session public dialogue hosted by local media (say, The Commons, the Reformer, BCTV, iBrattleboro) that delves into the complexities of the “jobs” “provided” by Entergy and explores the company’s “charitable giving” as a “corporate citizen.”

Are these jobs in fact needed? Do they add value to our lives? If so, what is the measure of this value? Are there alternatives that could possibly create more value? Or, a different kind of value?

Do Entergy “jobs” make our lives better and its “charitable giving” add to the sustainability and happiness of our communities?

This is just the beginning to building a base level of understanding around “jobs” and values.

The “jobs” scare tactic has been a part of Entergy’s playbook since it purchased VY in 2002. Politicians and activists groups alike didn’t want to touch the issue for fear of offending our neighbor.

Well, it’s time to pick that shit up with both hands. I for one am encouraging any and all to talk about “jobs” and the nuclear production of electricity.

* * *

As someone who has been actively engaged in the struggle to close and replace VY since 2006 (mind you, this is a drop in the blood, sweat and tears bucket compared to my fellow/fella activists), I held a smile on my face and pitter-patter in my heart all day long.

And why shouldn’t I?

These feelings were not out of spite or insensitivity, but rather born from one simple and beautiful concept: justice.

You might say it’s simplistic or passé, but that’s what this whole thing is about: justice for the planet, for the oppressed, and for those afraid to speak truth to power.

Attaining justice once in a great, long while is okay. It pains me to see people struggle with the concept of justice being achieved in the way it was with this issue. We’ve been so disconnected from one another and the physical world we live and breathe in.

Those, including myself, who have wished to share our excitement, our possibilities, our hope, and our elation are not jerks. We’re not jumping up and down on our soapboxes screaming, “I told you so!”

Rather, we are saying, “Yes! We citizens of this beautiful f’ing world have accomplished a small, simple, but significant thing. This makes me happy, and I share my neighbor’s joy. I also recognize my other neighbor’s pain and will struggle with him/her and others facing oppression to attain justice.”

It is not either/or. Nor does it ever have to be.

Me, I’m going to hold on to this smile. Because if I don’t, what’s the point?

How else are we going to feel connected to one another?

In my naive, altruistic brain, eventually we’ll all be high-fiveing one another and dancing in the streets.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #219 (Wednesday, September 4, 2013).

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