I am still in shock. We did it? We actually did it! Against all odds.
In January, the day before fracking began in the Meadows at Hickory Creek neighborhood, the Denton Drilling Awareness Group decided to pursue the ban. After years of working to fix our ordinance only to have more fracking 200 feet from homes, we knew the writing was on the wall. What was it going to be: spend the next decade going to community meetings at fire stations and rec centers informing Dentonites that their neighborhood just became an industrial zone? Or draw a line in the sand?
We drew the line. And on Tuesday the people of Denton stood with us shoulder to shoulder along that line. We have become a force.
I don’t think we can yet fully comprehend the magnitude and the significance of what we accomplished. But I can tell you that it was ten long months. It felt like rolling a boulder up a hill. I wasn’t home very much. Family dinners are a distant memory. There are no words for how grateful I am for the support of all my girls, especially Amber. She saw me through the long nights of work and worry.
It was fitting that Election Day was rainy and windy. I stood on a street corner for 12 hours getting soaked to the bone. The wind turned my umbrella inside out. It blew my Frack Free Denton sign out of my hands. And all across the city, other volunteers were standing in the rain until it was pitch black. You see, for ten months the wind was blowing in our faces. All the powers that be were aligned against us. How much easier it would have been to turn our backs and let the wind carry us away – along the comfortable avenues of apathy into the hidden corners of collective irresponsibility.
But we stood there in the wind and in the rain. Immoveable. Have you seen the pictures of our volunteers on Election Day? The sun never appeared. It was night all day long. Yet their faces were glowing as if lit up from the inside. That is the light and the splendor of glory. It is the torch of a caring heart.
David beat Goliath (or as one of my dear friends said, David beat Godzilla). Malcolm Gladwell has this to say about that ancient story: “Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.”
It turns out that Goliath likely had acromegaly. This accounts for his enormous size. But it also gave him double vision and made him profoundly nearsighted. So, although he appears imposing and powerful to onlookers, “the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness.” He could not see things clearly.
Doesn’t that ring true about our opponents? The industry outspent us 10:1 but they couldn’t see that a barrage of slick mailers and advertisements (let alone Russian conspiracy theories and personal attacks) was no way to talk to a fiercely independent, intelligent, and unique Denton citizenry. The Board of the Chamber of Commerce couldn’t see how a backroom decision would actually alienate them and put them on the defensive. The Denton County Republican Party couldn’t see that clean air and water and safe neighborhoods are not partisan issues. The Eppstein Group that ran the “responsible drilling” campaign couldn’t see that Dentonites are smart enough to know doublespeak and empty rhetoric when they hear it.
The giant was never as strong as he appeared. And we proved that the shepherd boy was never weak. What was the sling in our pocket? What was the source of our strength?
It was Tara Linn Hunter, who hasn’t slept in weeks, because she has been coordinating a massive ground campaign by our volunteers. It was Ed Soph, who blended wisdom with a preacher’s fiery passion. It was his wife, Carol, “the hammer,” who spent two straight weeks at the Civic Center chasing down voters. It was the political wit, public health expertise, and enviable sangfroid of Rhonda Love. It was Sharon Wilson who woke us all from our slumbers. It was Cathy McMullen who is my hero.
It was Angie Holliday and Nikki Chochrek who are my inspiration. It was the lion-hearted Sandy Mattox. It was the courage of Maile Bush, Debbie Ingram, Alyse Ogletree, and Kelly Higgins. It was Ken and Nicole, who let us use the Greenhouse as command central. It was Alan and everyone else at Earthworks who believed in us and supported us all the way. It was Charlene who gave us a winning image. It was a very special local donor…I don’t know your name but I know the measure of your character. It was the leadership at UNT who protected my academic freedoms in the face of great pressure.
It was Cindy, Phyllis, Jamie, Topher, Jeff, Nancy, Ken, Misty, Mike, Michael, Susan, Pauline, Kevin, Sarah, Sara, Rosemary, Laura, Batavia, John, Marc, Devin, Jennifer, Matthew, Gena, Britt, Kelli, Keith, Bob, Ron, Corey, Heidi, George, Brooke, Elma, Shelly, Steve, Elise, Lisa, Doug, Hatice, Dan, Merrie, Keely, Riley, Elma, Bruce, Lyndi, Kate, Marshall, Phyllis, Harrison, Vicki, Selina, Calvin, Tim, Virginia, Adam, Tyler, RayAnne, Kathleen, Andrea, Christina, Emily, Karen, Kate, Katie, Todd, Anyah, Benjamin, Maureen, David, Pam, Val, Alex, Matt…
You know I could go on and on! It was everyone who knocked on doors, made art and played music (Brave Combo, are you kidding me!!), distributed flyers, donated money, put out a yard sign (or even made their own!), made phone calls, hosted fundraisers, built coffin racers (!), ‘liked’ us and encouraged us on social media, spoke to neighbors and colleagues, serenely ignored the haters, registered voters, did their homework about fracking, and of course VOTED!
We were the sling. We were the strength. What we saw in Denton was a victory for grassroots democracy – the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen anymore in the age of big political money. Well, it just happened.
This was the most intense journey I have ever taken. Every day seemed to bring more and more weighty decisions. There were at least two times when I thought for sure we made a catastrophic error. I thought we were doomed. I am happily eating crow now and thankful for my fellow travelers who spoke wisely and judiciously throughout the campaign.
The industry will not be running roughshod over Denton anymore. The nightmare that unfolded in the Meadows at Hickory Creek will not be repeated. We will have cleaner air and water and safer neighborhoods. Our kids’ schools, playgrounds, and bedrooms will be protected. And I do believe we will have a stronger local economy as a result of the ban. These are the most important legacies of our efforts.
Given the national and international attention we have attracted, there will doubtlessly be much wider impacts. For me, this was always a Denton thing. I always said we were not laying out a blueprint for anyone else. The ban was not about what’s right for other places. It was about our right to self-determination.
So, my hope for those broader implications is that local communities are empowered. Those who are most vulnerable to the risks of fracking should have the greatest say. The petition process enfranchised the people – it gave us a voice…and how good it felt to speak! As frack sites proliferate across the world, I hope that those who are put in harm’s way are able to find their voice too. And I hope that those with power and money will listen.