What I Stand For
by David Hopkinson
David Hopkinson and his wife, Judy, live in the York Neighborhood.
“I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children . . . .”
-Wendell Berry, 1971
What impressed me first about Bellingham was not just the mountains and the water. I love the beauty of each and the proximity of the two, but what impressed me most: I can breathe.
In Houston, air-conditioning is ubiquitous; traffic produces smog; and when the wind is from the Southeast, humid air carries pollution from dozens of refineries. I learned to live with nasal congestion and pulmonary problems. An allergist finds that Houston is a place to thrive. The allergist, that is, not the patients.
Here I can breathe. A constant breeze brings clean air from the bay. When weather permits, doors and windows remain open and the breeze passes through my home. Rather than the noise of air-conditioning, there’s precious silence.
This area is beautiful and not the least reason for this is that whatever we see in the far distance is quite visible. Taking it for granted, we never notice the implicit presence of clean air in every exquisite landscape photograph, from sailboats on the gleaming water of Bellingham Bay to the brilliant snow on Mt. Baker.
Let’s understand this place in the manner of Wendell Berry, who farms in Kentucky on land where his family has lived for generations. He celebrates the land in his poetry: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” (2005)
If you love a place and respect that it has rights of its own – rights independent of yours, even if you have a legal claim to it - then you’ll understand this about Wendell Berry: his identity and his integrity are one and the same. “What I stand for is what I stand on.” (1997)
It is not just location that Wendell celebrates, nor the specifics of grass, trees, soil and rivers. Rather, it is everything. There’s no distinction between the people and their natural environment. We are as one. “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” (1969)
These three things: sharing a place, our concern for each other, and our mutual trust, explain why the beauty of Bellingham is not just about sailboats in the sun and snow on the mountains. It’s not even about being able to breathe. It’s about this place, at this time, and these people, who are unwilling to allow this place to be desecrated. What I stand for is what I stand on.
Those who want to ship massive amounts of coal though Bellingham fail to understand the extent to which the people who live here find this place worth fighting for. We will fight without resorting to violence; we will fight in a court of law.
Compelling facts (CoalTrainFacts.org) tell us that coal should neither used domestically nor exported. James Wells (2012), lists 101 reasons to be concerned about exporting coal. Ted Nace (2012) has said, “Want to stop global warming? Forget oil and gas. Stop coal.”
Local jobs and gains to the local economy are promised as results from exporting coal, but studies (CommunityWiseBellingham.org) show that net losses to both local jobs and local economy are as likely as gains. Wendell warns us that corporations are not to be trusted.“A corporation, essentially, is a pile of money to which a number of persons have sold their moral allegiance.” (2001)
Whether or not a permit to transport massive amounts of coal to Cherry Point is granted, we need the power to decide. In a democracy, whether or not to move such large amounts of coal through Bellingham is a decision that would be made by those who are most directly impacted: municipal and county voters.
Yes, this is about coal. But equally important, it’s about restoring democracy at the local level. After this battle, there will be some other predatory corporate project. Decisions which affect voters should be made by those voters. Bellingham needs a Community Bill of Rights, as does every municipality threatened by corporate power. The Community Bill of Rights asserts that it is our right to decide what happens in our city.
The “Bellingham Community Bill of Rights” may be examined at Coal-Free-Bellingham.org