This blog is the fourth in a series of profiles written by 350VT intern Julie Elfin. Julie got the chance to speak with Theora Ward of Hinesburg, who believes everyone has a place in her activist community. This is Theora’s story.
I’m not a leader. I’m a worker bee. That’s my niche. Many in this movement are much smarter than I am. I’m just really happy to listen to those people. They help me understand things, and then I can move forward and work on our campaign. I’ve learned a lot. I regularly read scientific studies and legal briefs now. I do things on the computer that, as a 72 year old, I would have had no idea how to do otherwise. It’s not easy, but it is the most important thing I can do.
I think about climate change every day. I know that puts me in the minority, which worries me. It’s like a huge tsunami coming toward us, and no one is noticing. Huge isn’t big enough to describe it. Climate change is the most important issue of our time. Everything else pales in comparison, because if we don’t solve this issue, life on Earth as we know it will not survive. If we don’t do something about it in the next 20 years, or even less, it’s going to be Armageddon. Believing that, there’s no way I can do anything but work on this all the time.
A big part of our work with Protect Geprags is trying to educate the community about the safety concerns associated with running a natural gas pipeline through your town, through your backyard. People say natural gas is cleaner than coal, but methane leaks and other risks outweigh the difference. Just by educating ourselves, people in this movement have found dozens of safety violations in the construction of the Vermont Gas pipeline, shoddy work and errors that would have been ignored otherwise. People say natural gas is cheap heat, but if you think about the cost of destroying life on Earth, then it’s actually really expensive.
I love living in Vermont. I moved around a lot early in life, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel like I’ve finally found the right place for me. It’s beautiful, and a good mix of liberal and rural. I relate a lot to the people I meet here. People are thoughtful, and many are concerned about the environment. I just feel comfortable here. There’s a real community. I think organizing here is easier than it would be in other places.
Even in Vermont, though, there are hurdles. I’ve found that the Public Service Board, the government decision makers, are obsequious, vague and self-serving. We had about 200 intelligent, thoughtful people give public comments against the pipeline at the hearing in February, but the Board didn’t listen. They didn’t answer our questions. They aren’t supposed to act like politicians, but they do. There is a federal investigation pending, as well as our Supreme Court case, and yet Vermont Gas is allowed to keep building.
It’s much harder for us to resist this pipeline than for Vermont Gas to do what they’re doing. This is their job; we all have a hundred other things we could be doing, other jobs and lives outside of this work. I work on this constantly. I’m the treasurer of Protect Geprags Park. With sit ins, public forums, rallies, vigils at the park, sign making, selectboard meetings and Protect Geprags meetings, there’s always something to do. Everyone has their niche. Someone always rises to the occasion.
This movement has brought me in contact with amazing people: wonderful, sincere, valiant people of all ages. Role models for me are the young people who are involved in this work. I take so much inspiration from them. They’re putting themselves on the line. But really, everyone I work with is a role model. We all work peacefully, struggling against seemingly impossible odds. We all share skills, learn from each other and make each other stronger.
I’m just a worker bee, but we need lots of worker bees: people who are invested, passionate and ready to dedicate themselves to whatever project comes along. That’s just as important as being a leader.
Julie Elfin is a senior at the University of Vermont studying the environment and communications. This profile series is her culminating project for her Online Organizing internship with 350VT.