Sharon Astyk Gets Her Community Activism On

February 14, 2009

A headline that the Louisville Courier-Journal’s website makes to sound like good news: “Less than 19,000 still without power in state.” And it is good news – because two and a half weeks ago, that number was 700,000, and a week ago well over 100,000. If those numbers referred to people, rather than households, we’d be referring to 17% of the state without electricity simultaneously at one point. But because they are talking about households, it was a far, far greater proportion of the state without power.  All at once, with temperatures lower than they “should” have been, even for winter.When I talked with my grandfather about it, he said that he had looked outside late in the afternoon the storm hit, and saw ice caking on the transformer across the street, and said to my grandmother they were going to lose power. So they, unlike many, had a few hours’ notice: the end of the night, it had fallen to the street, and their home didn’t have power for about another week. (This is all in small-town Kentucky, where things were generally worse than Louisville.)

It could have turned out much for them, were my extended family not so close (in terms of family and distance – they went to stay with my grandmother’s sister and one of her children came to pick them up): no one else in my nuclear family was in the state at the time, and even though they’re in relatively good health for eighty year-olds, they’re still eighty and a) need their medicine, b) pretty much only have perishable food, and c) have no business trying to walk to, say, their church on a sidewalk covered by an inch of ice. (Their car was trapped in the garage by the ice/power outage, but the roads, they said, were so bad that half the drive to Stanford – usually ten minutes, but this time much longer – was actually off-roading: thank God for the good ol’ American pickup truck.)

My point is this: we’re tempting disaster by thinking that if the power goes out, it won’t be but for a day or so at the most. If Kentucky is any indicator – and I’ll be the first to admit that Kentucky’s infrastructure is not top-rate – then we’re in no position to handle mass power outages, especially when they’re coupled with severe weather. We need to be able to handle them on our own – which means, to begin with, being less dependant one what we could easily find ourselves without.

Which brings me back to my title. Sharon Astyk is stirring up trouble and has her sights set on zoning laws that require us, essentially, to be more energy dependant than we need.

As a college student, I’m no real position to actively join her anti-senseless-zoning-laws, so I’ll do what little I can and pass it along. The closest I’ve seen to any sort of grassroots-campaign like what she suggests happened about seven years ago at home: the “mayor” and “council” of my little subsection of Louisville decreed that one could not have non-earth-tone lawn signs, and my neighborhood – which generally does not play well together – actively flaunted and protested it. That rule’s no longer on the books, so I suppose these things can work.  (Three cheers for democracy?)

What, after all, is the worst that could come from being too prepared?

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