How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Driving dirty air

The Republican Party, which is now Donald Trump’s Republican Party (DTRP), has long heralded itself as the party of less big government and more local control. They’ve argued that states, cities, and counties know what is best for them and they should set standards.

DTRP dislikes car emission standards set by California’s elected leaders  so much so that a court battle looms over the state’s ability to set standards for vehicles, which California began doing in 1966.

In fact, the emission standards have worked so well that 13 states adopted California’s standards, meaning that car and light truck manufacturers have already designed their products and factories to meet emission standards which keep air cleaner. It also means consumers are buying these cars and trucks. Tough emission standards didn’t serve as a death-blow to auto sales in those states.

The same can be said for gas mileage standards.  DTRP wants to reduce mileage standards for vehicles, but that doesn’t mean consumers will race out to buy something new to drive. Consumers expect and demand good mileage, safety features, and low emissions.

Manufacturers couldn’t, and wouldn’t, retool their factories in an afternoon to produce gas-guzzling, dirty emission spewing cars just because the DTRP says it is ok. In fact, just two months ago, four manufacturers agreed to meet  continue to meet California’s vehicle standards.

A quick survey of the popularity of electric vehicles, hybrids, and high-efficiency gas fueled cars and trucks, would remind manufacturers that consumers want and expect cleaner running, higher mileage, vehicles. Both domestic and foreign car companies continue to offer best selling models with hybrid versions, and are also re-introducing retired versions of hybrids, because if they don’t, customers will drive past those dealerships on the way to others who offer what they want.

Donal Trump’s Republican Party can deny all kinds of reality and science, but car dealers won’t deny the reality of their bottom line. Profits are increasingly driven by consumers who buy cars using less or no gas, and emitting as little air pollutants as possible.

Car standards aren’t set at the White House any more; they are determined by consumers with their wallets in dealer showrooms and at gas pumps.

 

 

How We Have Failed Since September 11, Redux

First posted here on September 10, 2014

How We Have Failed since September 11

Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.

Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.

Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:

  • fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
  • failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
  • allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
  • granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
  • making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
  • subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
  • denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
  • deporting children
  • complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
  • sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
  • being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
  • we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
  • too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all

We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.

 

A serving of justice lite

Two days ago a friend described the criminal court proceedings against the careless driver who killed my bicycle-riding husband, David, as a “lite order of justice.” Why? What’s the punishment for killing a law-abiding cyclist in Georgia?

David Cummings

Careless driving resulting in a cyclist’s death is considered a misdemeanor, and the penalties are hardly harsh. A year’s probation, losing a driver’s license for 12 months, 40 hours of community service, and completing a driver safety course, were meted out by the judge who accepted a plea agreement reached between the defense and prosecutor.

The bar is set that low in the state of Georgia for killing  a cyclist due to careless driving.

Things that serve as mere inconveniences for the driver, in my opinion, hardly balance the loss of a husband, father, grandfather, brother, nephew, cousin, friend. While making funeral arrangements, we knew the punishment could never match the loss we would experience everyday for the remainders of our lives.

On Tuesday my family arrived at the courthouse fully aware that regardless of how impassioned our victim’s statements might be, there would be no sentence close to matching the significance of the life lost. We are not the first to experience this unnecessary loss, nor, sadly, the last.

So all of us continue to grieve and mourn, both family and friends, while the punishment for the person whose carelessness caused us to gather in a courtroom this week, is measured in a very few months and hours of inconvenience. A serving of justice lite was the only thing available on the menu Tuesday.

Expressing sympathy isn’t rocket science

After the death of my infant grandson in December 2016, my husband’s tragic death on April 30th of this year, followed seven weeks later by my mother’s death, my family has been the recipient of both kind and what are really thoughtless comments from people who are trying to express their sympathies. My friends shared some of the best, and worst, things said to them during times of grief, and several have asked me to compile them. This doesn’t begin to include everything that we, or others grieving, have heard. I’ve tried to categorize them.

Comments based on faith

  • God needed another angel
  • S/he is in a better place
  • God has a plan
  • You should have prayed more (said by a minister to the widow)

These comments dismiss the tremendous grief being experienced with a simple solution of faith. It also assumes that all people involved share the same set of beliefs. Don’t ever assume identical beliefs, even if the grieving person sits next to you in your place of worship. As for the angel comment, if your children/spouse/friends are all safely at home at the end of the day, who are you to say any deity needed their loved person as another angel?

To grieving parents

  • You are young enough to have more children
  • At least you didn’t have her/him so long that you were strongly attached (said to parents of recently adopted children)
  • At least you have other children

    To grieving spouses
  • You are reasonably attractive and can get married again (said by a mother-in-law to the widow)
  • You’ll meet someone else
  • You have plenty of time to marry again

Death related to an illness

  • Did s/he smoke? When did they quit?
  • S/he should have gone to a different doctor
  • Why didn’t s/he go to the doctor sooner?
  • They should have exercised, eaten better, etc.

Death due to a tragic accident

  • People shouldn’t ride bikes there
  • Did s/he suffer?
  • May be if they had been with you instead of……

This list could go on forever because there seems to be no limit on thoughtless things people let come out of their mouths.

There are things to say (and do) that are helpful.

  • I am so very sorry. Expressing sympathy doesn’t require rocket science or an advanced degree. This simple statement is fine.
  • I don’t know what you are feeling but I want to support you
  • Would it help if I sleep on the sofa in case you need someone to talk to during the night?
  • I will miss spending time with ______. I’d like to share some stories with you when you are ready (and then follow up, accepting responses of “Not now but later” and then checking again).
  • Can I walk the dog? Cut the grass? Pick up things at the drug store? Go to the cleaners? Get your car serviced? Are there foods your family would like to have right now? Write thank you notes? Make calls? Return books to the library?
  • Say the person’s name.  Don’t be afraid to mention a lost loved one when you speak to someone grieving.  Share or listen to a thought or story about his or her lost loved one.  Take the time to really engage.

After the immediacy of the services have passed, check-in with the grieving. Ask about birthday and special family anniversaries so you can offer support or an invitation. Send a postcard or note with a simple message saying you are thinking about them. Take them a meal. Only offer to do things if you can follow up-really. And those offers don’t have to be huge-coffee, lunch, a movie. Did the grieving person go to plays, concerts, art shows, etc. with the person who has died? Find those events and invite them because you know they did those things together.

As we mark the year’s last holidays, there will be many hard firsts for my family, and hard moments (or days and weeks) for those whose grief is not immediate but still real. A college friend called and left me a message saying that she was thinking about me as we approach these firsts, and she wanted to let me know.

Her message was beautiful in its simplicity and sincerity. And it was just what I needed.

Two things about this election

There are two things I’ve thought before the election and remain committed to as we wait for more votes to be counted.

1. Georgia needs to change our Constitution to require a Secretary of State to resign if running for a different office. Changing the Constitution shouldn’t be the path to solving every problem, but it is the only way to address the less than above-board election this year, and protect future contests.

2. Yes, Nancy Pelosi has raised lots of money for Democrats, and yes, she corralled Democrats during difficult issues (Democrats say Pelosi has eyes in the back of her head, knows who is in the room, and how they will vote at any given moment). When do we make room for a new leader like this if not now? Could Pelosi be an interim Speaker with a transition plan to pass the gavel, as suggested by my friend and former Congressional candidate Carol Miller of New Mexico? With a wave of newly elected “firsts” across the country, it is time to pass the role of Speaker to someone with solid knowledge of the House and Congress. There is a role for Pelosi, but it shouldn’t be as Speaker of the House.

I’ve changed my status

Last month I made a change to my FaceBook account I really never imagined possible.

It is one of the hard realities I have lived with since April 30th, when a series of phone calls, the last from my friend, and deputy coroner in Washington County, told me that my husband David had been hit from behind while riding his bike, and he didn’t survive the injuries.

The accident report includes that David’s vehicle was an A. Holmer Hilsen. It doesn’t include that the Carolina blue bike was a custom ordered Rivendell, one he almost wore the internet out admiring over and over again. He even tucked in a visit to the Rivendell shop during a business trip in California to confirm it would be the right bike for him.

On a Friday in November, 2014, David called me and said he had survived another downsizing where he had built his career, and that he was going to order the Rivendell. I encouraged him to get the jersey and anything else he wanted for this long-admired bike. I don’t know how many thousands of miles he put on that bike, but he loved every one of them. (That’s not the Rivendell in the photo below, but another bike he and his work wife Leslie looked at on a different business trip.)Now I am recalibrating my internal compass. A full-stop was in order. I quit my job and signed up for Life Is A Verb Camp in November. Offers for weekends with friends have been accepted. “Can you help me with…” is in my vocabulary. “Not now but later please,” and “That decision doesn’t have to be made today,” are also phrases I call on when needed.

We had planned to be with family on what would have been our 34th anniversary, so I was there in Colorado, at a family reunion without the man who brought me into two families who love laughter, a good story, great food, and time together. When we tell stories about David with baby Parker, he is always called D, the name Ella chose when she was old enough to call to him, and that both children would often shout when they came in our back door.

I am in unchartered waters, not adrift, but still not sure which direction I will choose. My task is to not to rush the recalibration, because I need to get this right. I must honor and respect this time and work every day.

Hear the candidates with your own ears!

Early voting is underway across Georgia with hotly contested races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and of course Congressional districts. Being an informed voter requires doing the homework, and one of the best ways to do that is to listen to the candidates themselves. I love political pundits and editorial columns more than most people, but someone else’s coverage of what a candidate says isn’t the same as hearing them yourself (or reading their policy positions on their web sites).

Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club are hosting multiple candidate debates that are free and easy for the public to access online. Watch live or find them later on demand, or do both to go back and make sure you are clear on what was said, or just as important, what wasn’t said.

Whether you’ve made up your mind or not, these debates are good opportunities to learn more about the candidates. Time consuming? Sure.

But Georgia state senate and house members, and US House members, have a total of 17,520 hours on the clock during the two years as your representative. Four year representatives are in for 35,040 hours. Invest a little of your time over the next few days to know the candidates better.