Early Saturday morning, people gathered in the Trustees Pavilion as Ramapo College hosted the organization Food & Water Watch Climate and Energy Conference. The purpose of this forum was to connect, educate and equip people around the state with skills and knowledge to combat dangerous oil and gas infrastructure, fight climate change and explore common sense and fair policy solutions to the current crisis.
To fulfill this function, after the initial welcome and opening remarks, the attendees split off to attend one of three break-out sessions. These panels were titled “Strategies for Resisting Oil and Gas Pipelines,” “New Jersey Oil and Gas Impacts” and “Protecting our Common Resources.”
The “Protecting Our Common Resources” panel had three panelists: Analilia Mejia, director of NJ Working Families, Barbara Thomas, an organizer for GMO Free NJ, and Linda Mason, the council president of Sussex Borough.
Barbara Thomas opened with her concerns over GMOs, stating that, “the patenting of seeds by the biotechnological industry have turned the seed into intellectual property. Ever since the 1980 supreme court decision that genes could be patented, companies went bonkers and bought out seed companies and bioengineered seeds with the traits of being able to resist massive amounts of herbicide that the company itself provides and emit a pesticide in every cell of the plant … this severely dampers biodiversity which is essential for climate regulation.”
Linda Mason on the other hand expressed concern over water privatization citing “the Water Infrastructure Protection Act which basically took away the right for the people to have a say in the matter … the council can now sell the water system without public input.”
This act was in response to public outcry against the sale of the water system to the private company Aqueon. Finally, Analilia Mejia focused on corporate influence over government claiming that “by dismantling and controlling government, the people’s vehicle of influence, corporate powers are essentially depriving people of their basic human right of self-governance and control over their own space. It is horrendous to think that they have the right to do this.”
After these initial introductions, a Q&A section followed where the audience asked the panelists questions, a good amount of them pertaining to exactly how to address corporate influence over government, which leads to environmental destruction. Here the panelists were in agreement that campaign finance reform and public awareness are keys in combating this movement.
After this break-out panel, the conference as a whole reconvened for a catered lunch with the intention of networking with other environmental groups in attendance in order to both build solidarity as well as discuss different strategies to reach common goals such as oil pipeline and water privatization opposition.
The conference then concluded with a keynote address delivered by civil rights advocate Lawrence Hamm, who commented that today society resembles “the feudal period where we are begging to our lords for the safety of a clean environment, uncontaminated food,” further stating that “we should not bend a knee in our demands for a safe environment and more importantly overthrow the lords of capital and replace them with the people’s democracy.”