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The Demolition of Riverdale: This is Not My America

Today, I drove out to Riverdale to photograph whatever I could. I decided to leave when one of the security guards appeared to be calling the police. I made some folks very uncomfortable. They should be. They’re participating in the commission of a crime against humanity. Too strong a language? Hardly. The same company who controls access to clean water now has a hand in poisoning it. The more precious and scarce a commodity, the more we will pay for it–especially when it is also a necessity of life. Aqua America is neither about “aqua” or “America”–unless, of course, you think water just another marketable good and America not as a nation, but as a corporation: America, INC., marketers of genocidal profiteering.

The thing I most want folks to see in these pictures, however, is that there are still people living in this park. Please look closely. You’ll quickly discover that amidst these bulldozers are the homes of the remaining residents whose mailboxes are lined up outside the chain-link fencing. The mailboxes are themselves quite striking–they suggest that this is a community, that folks really do live here, that there’s “nothing to see.” But just behind them is the fence. behind it another fence–lined with razor wire. And behind it the complete transformation of what was, first, more than 30 years of a neighborhood–and then for twelve days a deliberate community of resistance.

How can this happen in America? It can; it will continue if we do not lend our voices to the outrage against this displacement of human lives and this rape of the environment.

This is America, INC–where property is worth more than people–where property is worth more than life itself.


“Today, I drove out to Riverdale to photograph whatever I could. I decided to leave when one of the security guards appeared to be calling the police. I made some folks very uncomfortable. They should be. They’re participating in the commission of a crime against humanity. Too strong a language? Hardly. The same company who controls access to clean water now has a hand in poisoning it. The more precious and scarce a commodity, the more we will pay for it–especially when it is also a necessity of life. Aqua America is neither about “aqua” or “America”–unless, of course, you think water just another marketable good and America not as a nation, but as a corporation: America, INC., marketers of genocidal profiteering.”

From The Demolition of Riverdale: This is Not My America, posted by Wendy Lynne Lee on 6/21/2012 (30 items)

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Wendy Lynne Lee | Professor of Philosophy, Bloomsburg University

 

9 Comments to The Demolition of Riverdale: This is Not My America

  1. Crime against humanity? ROFL. If this property was not being purchased and re-purposed by a company that works with Marcellus shale companies, you wouldn’t care one iota about these folks. This is about your agenda, and you are using these unfortunate folks as pawns to (unsuccessfully) move your agenda forward.

    This company has been more than generous and good to the people in this park. If it was any other company, there would have been no delay to allow folks more time, and they sure as hell wouldn’t have helped to pay for these folks to relocate. I’ve rented several houses where at the end of the lease the owner decided they want to put their house on the market and I had to find a new place to live. I didn’t call the owner a criminal. I didn’t protest. I didn’t hold a massive pity party for myself. I didn’t get on the internet and call it a crime against humanity. I got on Craigslist and found a new place to rent, and I moved on with my life. Was it expensive, annoying, disruptive, and a major pain in my ass? Sure was. But that’s life. I feel bad for these folks, but how many other trailer parks close down every year? Where’s your outrage there? Is Raging Chicken Press going to make its new mission statement to keep all trailer parks open at all costs? Even when they are dangerously sited in a flood plain?

  2. Mike Knapp is, of course, not without an agenda.

    http://www.knappap.com/

  3. Dear Mr. Knapp:

    First, let’s make it clear to our readers that the agenda is all yours. I gather you are Mike Knapp of Knapp Aquisitions and Production, and so have a financial interest in the promotion of industries–including your own–involved in fracking: http://www.knappap.com/.

    Second, have you googled me? Clearly not. Had you, you’d know that I have been involved in the defense of basic human rights for the entirety of my adult life. Both as a professional–I am a professor of philosophy–and as a citizen activist, I am willing to put up my street-cred as someone who not only cares, but puts her words into action against anyone’s. I have no financial interest, no motive other than my commitment to human rights and to environmental integrity at stake here.

    Third, a company that can float a BILLION dollar loan to buy out all of Chief’s gather lines can certainly afford to offer more than an obscene $2500.00 to help these folks move. It costs at least $7000.00 to relocate a mobile home–and some of these folks were forced to evacuate their retirement accounts to accomplish this move. That is NOT generosity, Mr. Knapp–that is naught but a mercenary gamble that because these are economically vulnerable people that they can be coerced into taking this pocket change to give up homes they OWN. I gather you’re first priority is property rights. Well and good. But what’s clear is that the only property rights Aqua America is interested in are those of AA’s–not those of people who OWN their homes. You and I both know that were this a middle class neighborhood, AA would not be there. You and I both know that the elephant in the room is the fact that it is easier to exploit and displace people regarded as disposable–poor folks. And that its easier to get away with it. So, I imagine AA was pretty surprised not to mention a bit miffed that these poor folks stood up and said NO.

    And your house analogy does not hold water. If you can afford to rent a house you’re already in a better economic position than the majority of the people in this park–and I’m quite sure you know that. Indeed, that you’d refer to this protest at Riverdale as a pity party clearly indicates how completely removed you are from the very real lives of real people. What a luxury it must be for you to be able to afford to “just move.” But these folks cannot “just move.” Moreover, they should not have had to–certainly not under these conditions.

    You are correct about one thing–we ought to query the closure of every mobile home park. Indeed, we OUGHT to undertake some very probing and soul-searching thinking about why as a society we think it is OK for some folks to be relegated to living on flood plains under conditions that leave them permanently vulnerable to the effects of poverty. THAT is the ultimate moral of this story. And THAT is what impugns corporations like Aqua America who’d convert a necessary condition of life into a marketable commodity.

    Your last claim is called, by us philosophers, gross overgeneralization. The argument made by myself and many others throughout is that Riverdale was closed without justification. That the construction of a water withdrawal station for fracking does not provide any defensible justification–quite to the contrary. Had the owner of the park determined that he could not adequately maintain the park because it’s on a flood plain, could he have shown that he had made this effort (and he did NOT), had he consulted with the residents (they found out about the eviction in the newspaper), had he determined to re-purpose the park to some defensible end (do you REALLY think that owning a property means you can do ANYTHING with it?), that would have been a different story. But instead, he determined apparently that people are simply disposable and that once he could no longer make money off them, they were also dispensable. His behavior during and post police raid confirms this view. Treating people as disposables is inconsistent with principles fundamental to a democracy. That is what brought the protesters at the specific invitation of the remaining residents. That is what I have defended in one way or another all of my adult life. You fundamentally misunderstand the issues, Mr. Knapp. I invite you to read my blogs–and all of my analyses of fracking–and then reconsider. This isn’t about “feeling bad.” How easy. How smug. it’s about what YOU would consider acceptable for YOUR child, your spouse.

  4. Wendy,

    Yes, I work in the industry, and I’m proud of it. And I have a brother who graduated two years ago with a philosophy degree so I’m well aware of the philosophers line of thinking. You unnecessarily make a very simple situation into a convoluted one. The owner of this park wanted to sell it, but DEP regulations stated that it could not continue to be used as a trailer park due to safety concerns. It HAD to be re-purposed. He was either forced to keep the park and (correct me if I’m wrong, I’m working from memory) make a bunch of expensive upgrades to the sewage system that he could not afford, or sell it to someone who was going to shut it down. I can’t remember if that was the situation at Riverdale, or one of the other trailer parks that is closing down in Pennsylvania that I noticed when searching for background info on this story.

    I don’t have a lack of compassion for these folks, but in a free society sometimes people face tough situations through no fault of their own. Everyone knows that if you rent a house, or in this case a lot, that there is the possibility of something like this happening. That is life. That is reality. That is freedom.

    While I commend your “compassion”, I have to question your actions. Did you have a fundraiser to help out these folks? Did you crack open your own wallets to help them out? Did you do anything productive? I see your movement is called “Occupy Well Street” not “Occupy Closing Trailer Parks”. Had an organic farmer bought the property to grow soy, I wonder how “evil” that farmer would be seen, in comparison to this water company, who didn’t just pick this property for no reason. They have to be right next to the river.

    This has become your cause because it fits conveniently into your “big bad corporations vs. poor unsuspecting citizens” narrative. You’d have much more respect in my book if you’d just admit that.

  5. Mike,

    Your pride in the industry is, of course, your own affair and your own conscience. I am not particularly interested in leveling personal attacks. Having said that, you understanding of philosophy is patently absurd….first, there is no such thing as “the philosopher’s line of thinking.” Philosophical thinking is a broad and deep as are the many thinkers, traditions, cultures, and histories included in it. To suggest that there is one line of any sort indicates plainly ignorance. The notion that philosophers make a simple situation into a convoluted one is, well, ridiculous. Let me know when you have actually read some philosophy, can comment on the arguments you’ve read specifically–then you’ll have some leg to stand on. But this assumption that you can render judgment on what a philosopher does having clearly no grounding n the discipline at all is just arrogance. You know little about what I do; I actually know quite a lot about what you do.

    You are flatly wrong about what DEP presented to the owner. That is fact–not speculation. The owner was presented with things he needed to do to make it an acceptably safe park–like raise the cement platforms and attend to sewage treatment that HE had long neglected–and he did not WANT to do that. It is flatly false that the park had to be re-purposed. Absolutely NO ONE made this judgement. Indeed, the owner was faced with expensive upgrades, but it does not follow from that that he HAD to rezone it industrial–much less that he HAD to sell it to a fracking-associated industry. He sold it to Aqua America (for a relatively paltry half million) to make money–plain and simple. And in so doing, he sold all of his tenants down river–almost literally. Mr. Leonard is also otherwise invested in the venture of Aqua America–hence his motives are very very clear.

    You need to get your facts clear.

    Freedom? Ha! for whom? The current residents are living in a PRISON into which AA won’t even allow mail delivery. Whose freedom are you talking about?

    As for fundraisers–yes, we have raised money for the residents of the park. Actually had you bothered to check the Save Riverdale website, you’d know this already. That work began quite some time back. And yes, we “cracked open our own wallets.” Quite a lot. Ask anyone who was there that 12 days. As for productive, it would take an entire book of multiple chapters to document the good that we did at Riverdale and are still doing. let me refer to just one: We demonstrated to the families and especially to the children of Riverdale just in what a democracy consists. We showed them a great deal about what sustainability looks like, not to mention conservation and recycling of materials. We showed them a great deal about art and about music, and more than anything about human decency. We showed them that your cynical “that’s like; that’s reality” needn’t be saturated in the gloating smugness of people who value property over decency. Had an organic farmer bought the property, nothing like the summary evictions Mr. Leonard so enjoyed would have happened. An organic farmer would know something that you clearly do not–that there is an intimate relationship between a people and their land. An organic farm improves the lot of the soil and the people who depend upon it. A water withdrawal station for fracking poisons the water forever in the interest of making money for the few–all the while treating as naught but “in the way” the human beings and their children who impede on their profiteering.

    Admit? HAHAHAHAHA! I gladly embrace the claim that human life has not been benefitted, but in fact harmed, by the rise of corporations like Aqua America. Ridicule all you wish–the facts speak for themselves. As for your respect, why on earth would I need that? And what puts you in any position such that I would seek it?

  6. Wendy,

    Thank you for so succinctly offering up a perfect example of what I was talking about, and making my point for me. Philosophers and their smug “everyone else is ignorant, I’m so deep because I’m a philosopher” mantra. Your over-inflated sense of self worth is nearly unbearable. You don’t have a monopoly on decency and integrity.

    For someone so enlightened to the laws of the universe, I think you’d have the decency to not categorize people and have some consistency in your arguments. I think you’d be able to see the world in the shades of grey that it is, not black and white. You label Aqua America, which I’m sure has some extremely decent folks working there, as the unquestionable villain, while they are only doing their jobs to feed their families. They did nothing wrong, and worked in good faith with the folks in the park to help them out. Obviously not to your liking, but I get the distinct feeling that anything short of “just keep letting them live there” would not have been acceptable to you. And then you turn around and say that if an organic farmer were to have bought the property, surely it would have been handled differently. Says who? Does your philosophy degree come with a crystal ball? Does it give you the ability to turn the world into a set of absolutes? What exactly makes an organic farmer morally superior to a water treatment company employee? And what exactly makes you the person to make such a judgment? The water company man plays a very important part in the drilling process, which benefits literally everyone in Western society, whether they like to admit it or not. It wasn’t a solar panel that powered the cars to bring in all the Occupy Well Street protestors. Nor was it hopes, dreams or pixie dust.

    There is no doubt that these folks are in an unfortunate situation, but it’s not the result of domineering corporate influence as you portray. It’s the byproduct of a free society. Amazing how anti-drillers are so very much for property rights when it suits them, and so very much against them when it doesn’t. You’re standing on a very flimsy soapbox. You shouldn’t jump up and down so much.

    And human life will benefit from Aqua America. If you’d look beyond the tip of your own nose, and your own agenda, you’d see that.

  7. Alrighty, Mr. Knapp–I see that you just don’t have anything here to offer besides personal attack and ridicule–the refuge of he or she without an argument.

    1. I have no notion at all that “everyone else is ignorant.” This is called fallacy of overgeneralization. Indeed, I don’t think you are ignorant. I think you are deluded by a system of value that prioritizes property over people, that your story of “that’s reality” exemplifies this system, and that your penchant for personal attack illustrates how frightening it must be for you to consider the alternative worldview that the occupation of Riverdale exemplifies. If I am wrong here, SHOW me–but the silly caricature you have of what philosophers are and do signifies nothing but something worse than ignorance–willful ignorance.

    2. I have no doubt that loads of great people work at corporations like Aqua America. And this is entirely beside the point. The business in which this corporation is engaged–the control of a necessity of life–is positively evil. Not a word I use lightly. The fallacy you have now committed is called fallacy of composition. You seem to think that the attributes with which we can characterize the parts of something therefore necessarily characterize the whole. That simply does not follow. Just because the parts of a thing may be in themselves good/benign does not imply that the whole is. Cells are benign by themselves, but when they multiply to become cancer–they are deadly. So too Aqua America given that it’s objectives are to control access to WATER.

    3. None of this is about what is or is not “to my liking.” And none of my analysis requires a crystal ball. That is called fallacy of dismissal: make it seem as if what I am claiming is mere opinion, and then vanquish it as such. Nope, and lazy. The issues here are about justice, fairness, and power–quite universal. And this story of dispossession of the poor by the powerful–including the rationalizations of the powerful–is as old as any in human history.

    4. That you assume the organic farmer and the water company employee are both men is, in itself, indicative of a very narrow and chauvinistic worldview. I now see that your worldview is not only driven by profit–but by the same players, men.

    5. Hydraulic fracturing will NOT benefit human beings–or any life, for that matter. I have made this argument out (as have many others) for well over a year. Please go back and read my longer research pieces. The drilling process destroys life in a number of plainly clear ways–all the while profiting folks like you. Your’e welcome to the rationalizations from which you are handsomely profiting, Mr. Knapp. What you’re not welcome to so long as you insist on engaging people like me is anything like concession. You belong to a brotherhood–and that IS what it is–directly involved in the harming of human beings, nonhuman life, and the environment–and for the most mercenary of objectives: money.

  8. 1. The “system” that I’m deluded by is called Western civilization. Property is an extension of one’s person, and property rights (not just real property) are the cornerstone of Western civilization. If you want to build a massive hippie commune on your property and spend your days sitting around discussing how deluded and oblivious the rest of the world is, you have the right to do that. If you want to rent some of your land to folks who want to put their trailers there, you can do that too. If they decide they don’t want to be there anymore, they are free to leave. If you decide you don’t want trailers on your property anymore, you are free to make them leave. If you want to live in a communist utopia (and I’m not throwing communist out like Glen Beck does, I just mean communal living), you’re in the wrong country. I could understand your outrage over this incident if Aqua America was using eminent domain or something like that to take away these people’s property. But that’s not the case. The guy sold the park, which was falling apart and poorly sited in a flood plain.

    2. They’re evil because they use water? A tiny, miniscule amount of water that has absolutely zero impact on anything, except for the massive benefit that human kind sees when dirty coal, which fouls MUCH more water than gas, is replaced with clean natural gas, which is a HYDROcarbon. Emphasis on HYDRO. When you burn methane gas, you get heat, water, and CO2. The water that is released back into the atmosphere from burning is more than is left in the ground. So, we’re actually creating MORE fresh water. You’re welcome.

    3. More self indulgent overvaluation of self importance. They guy sold his trailer park. He happened to sell it to a gas related company. You don’t like gas related companies. That’s why you’re acting like this is the end of the world. That’s why you’re not at any closing trailer parks, feigning outrage, trying to convince the world that you’re a martyr. Its so hilariously transparent.

    4. I’m not going to argue pronouns with you. Get over it.

    5. I have no interest in reading your “research pieces”. I see infinitely more than you do on a daily basis. I don’t need your jaded take on things to form my opinion. The “work” you do tries to keep people in their homes. The work I do has kept dozens of people in their homes, or kept them from having to sell their farms. It helps them with their medical bills, it helps them send their kids to colleges. It greatly improves their lives. It cleans the air they breathe, it cleans the water they drink, it makes their roads smoother, it makes their taxes lower, it makes their utilities cheaper, and it makes their nation more secure. How many American kids have been blown to bits over the last 30 years fighting to defend American oil interests in the middle east? You want to talk about destroying life, how many families have been destroyed due to losing a husband, a mother, a brother/sister/cousin/friend in America’s bloody wars for oil?

    You don’t like the thought of big ugly noisy drilling rigs. You don’t like the thought of big corporations. And you despise the both of them teaming up and moving into your backyard. That’s fine and all, but the majority of people are reasonable and rational and aren’t buying your nonsense.

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