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Strangers When We Meet

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By Jerry Waxman

as reported to The Huffington Post

“….I had that feeling of self pity…..what to do, what to do, what to do…The outlook was decidedly blue…”

Ira Gershwin’s very introspective and timeless lyric comes to mind when I think of the future consequences of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Today is World Ocean Day and as part of that observance The Huffington Post is reporting on meetups from all over the world. The Orlando meetup was held at the Stardust Video and Coffee, a popular gathering place that has all kinds of nooks and crannies to use your wireless laptop or notebook and browse the thousands of videos, CDs and books that lines its walls. One room has a small bandstand while the other has a sort of stage, so poetry readings, meetings of this type and bands of all stripes use this place on a very frequent basis. There is a limited menu and they serve all kinds of coffee and other drinks. The atmosphere is very friendly, and conducive to people just hanging out and having a good time. This meeting attracted a very diverse group.

The meeting organizer, Kia Misowitz, who works in video production, and her husband, Michael hosted this event. Attendees were:  Ed Ronsani, a computer programmer and data maven; Ken Montgomery, an associate of Kia’s; Cathy Hettinger, a chemical engineer; Vickie Carlie, an architect and full time activist; Connie Graham, a zoologist who works for Save the Manatee Club; Mary Cecelia, owner of a graphic design firm working in Advertising and Marketing; Tobias and Tammie Hassberger, distributors of a non-toxic cleanup product; Lawrence Hefler, Marketing Director for a solar energy company; Ashley Hooper, a graduate student in Behavior Analysis  and Lisa Manzo, a community activist. This was the first time that any of these people met, yet they all had the same purpose for meeting-“What can we do about it?”

Ideas and opinions came fast and furious and the assembled agreed that positive action is what’s needed and that the focus should be on educating the public. Ideas were offered to grow the group from fourteen activists, plan fund-raising events, take part in cleanup efforts, lobby legislators in Florida to add a non drilling amendment on the November ballot, lobby the federal government to come up with a clean energy policy with definite time goals to stop using oil and implement solar, wind and other renewable forms of energy. Discussions varied on the finer points. Cathy Hettinger opined that just enforcing existing regulations would go a long way to getting the oil companies and other industries to clean up their act, and that thirty years of deregulation has left the federal government in a position where it has no expertise when it comes to this kind of disaster. The Bush administration staffed all of its departments with industry friendly people that threw regulations out the window and in too many cases got into bed with the industries that they were supposed to regulate.

The meeting ended around 10:00 PM and everyone felt some positive energy from the evening’s discussion. Kia promised to mail us her notes on the evening and set an agenda for a future one. That positive feeling lasted for me until I got home and learned that Bill Halter had narrowly lost in the Arkansas primary. The White House also OK’d off-shore drilling in the shallow waters of the Gulf. Stricter regulation, Yes, but still it is the wrong message to send, despite the pressure from legislators in the Gulf states. Their claims that thousands of jobs are at stake should have fallen on deaf ears, since those thousands of people could be learning a new trade in solar energy. Change, the way we want it to happen, the way we need it to happen, and the way it must happen is going to be a slow, slow process. I hope I live to see it.

“I hope my children live to see….a land like my country used to be”—Dave Frishberg

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