E. B. White’s essay “Poetry,” written in 1939, starts out:
A friend of mine has an electric fence around a piece of his land, and he keeps two cows there. I asked him one day how he liked his fence and whether it cost much to operate. ‘Doesn’t cost a damn thing,’ he replied. ‘As soon as the battery ran down I unhooked it and never put it back. That piece of fence wire is as dead as a piece of string, but the cows don’t go within ten feet of it. They learned their lesson the first few days.
Apparently this state of affairs is general throughout the United States. Thousands of cows are living in fear of a strand of wire that no longer has the power to confine them. Freedom is theirs for the asking. Rise up, cows! Take your liberty while despots snore. And rise up too, all people in bondage everywhere! The wire is dead, the trick is exhausted. Come on out!
I’m intrigued by the idea of cows strolling free out from behind the imaginary electric field, and also by the idea that cows are so smart that they learn from experience and pass their wisdom along to future generations—but not, come to think of it, smart enough to test out their own beliefs in a new generation.
George Orwell shows in Animal Farm that after the farm animals have expelled the farmer, it’s not easy to create an ideal new society. The English schoolboys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies don’t do so well at it either.
But if we, as voting American adults eager to improve our society, realize we can walk out of the usual barriers—which can be consumerism, political and legal dogma, or any other abnegation of the uniquely human ability to reason—we can start thinking in new ways.
A new way of thinking (comparatively new, since over 100 Pennsylvania communities have thought the same) is what I see in the declaration of our right to clean air, clean water, and clean energy contained in the Community Bill of Rights being proposed to the residents of West Chester. And that is why I support a Yes vote on that ballot question in the Borough on Tuesday November 3.
Borough voters need to understand that the legalistic language that appears on their ballot is an inadequate and even hostile summary that is not part of the actual amendment and that will NOT itself become part of the Borough’s Home Rule Charter.
You can read the much more detailed wording that WILL become part of the Home Rule Charter at the West Chester Community Rights Alliance site.
Change in our fossilized political system is slow. Women’s vote and gay rights took a long, concerted movement to be recognized. This amendment is part of such a movement in environmental and energy rights.
The amendment calls for respecting the state constitution’s declaration (section I.27) that:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
The Harrisburg bureaucracy has not been adequately maintaining those rights and resources in the area of gas extraction (e.g., fracking) and transmission (e.g., siting of pipelines and pumping stations) or clean energy (incentives wax and wane).
So concerned citizens can either roll over or do what they can to assert their constitutional rights.
The proposed amendment reasserts our rights. If you live in West Chester Borough, please vote Yes (note: in some precincts it’s on the BACK of the ballot).