By Skip Kowalski, Stevensville
Today’s demonstrations and riots bring back memories of the 60’s: Martin Luther King speeches; place names like Love Canal, Watts and Kent State; Lake Erie burning; Los Angeles choked in smog; fish killed by acid rain and bald eagles pushed toward extinction by DDT. For many this is history, but not for people my age and older. I thought those days were over, but some of today’s political leaders appear content with relapsing into those difficult, contentious and unhealthy days.
There are many similarities between then and now. Hidden racial prejudices are playing themselves out in the streets. The invisible enemies to our health (pesticides and pollution) persist, but are eclipsed by COVID-19 and global climate change. Potential consequences for the economy and jobs continue as obstacles to correcting many of our health and environmental problems.
The major difference between the 60’s and today is that back then our leaders, albeit reluctantly, really tried to resolve problems. They heard the grievances of the marchers, demonstrators and, yes, those who sometimes broke the law. They listened and eventually took action. They passed civil rights, public health, and environmental laws. Racial tensions temporarily subsided, the air and water got cleaner and threatened fish and wildlife headed toward recovery. Our economy stayed strong. We remained the respected leader of the free world.
Contrast that with today. Arguably, we are even more divided than in the 60’s. We have a self-serving President who views the world as Reality TV and who is more concerned with appearances than truth. He is masterful at casting blame and denies the critical social, health and environmental problems facing our country. Concurrently, we have members of Congress who refuse to check the President and even enable his overreach and deception. They divert attention and obfuscate instead of legislate. They fail to act while social unrest deepens, the rich get richer as the poor get poorer and the middle class shrinks. They deny that man has any responsibility for climate change or that climate change actually exists. Adding insult to injury, they and the President want to dismantle the very laws (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act) and regulations that help keep us safe and the environment healthy.
These unacceptable conditions have to change! We must demand more from Congress and our President. Congress has to reclaim its authority and accept its responsibility; renew its willingness to compromise; honestly seek solutions and follow through by passing meaningful and forceful legislation. As responsible voters, we must ask the hard questions, critically evaluate candidates, elect people who are committed to problem-solving and hold them accountable.
If we choose poorly, we’ll have only ourselves to blame and shouldn’t be surprised in being haunted by the same familiar, difficult and contentious issues. The only difference will be that the problems will be bigger and more difficult to fix. We cannot let that happen. We deserve better. America deserves better.