Kim Jastremski, subject in Applebome NYT story, responds

My response to Peter Applebome’s NYT article, in which I outline 3 major complaints:.

I also invited 5 other much more educated and articulate members of Middlefield Neighbors and Sustainable Otsego to meet with Applebome in my home, and none of the over two hours of conversation we had made it into the article.  Applebome had his article in mind before he visited Cooperstown, and it is my sincere regret that I ever mentioned the piece of hate mail I received or the angry woman I encountered at the gym when she interrupted a private conversation I was having, because, as I told the reporter, these are in fact anomalies in what has been, in general, an experience of community building and unification, as Middlefield and other towns rise up against corporate greed.  I am ashamed at my naïveté, and that my words have been used to such ends, and I regret any problems this might have caused.

Furthermore, it seems facile and beneath the reputation of the NY Times to trot out the tired old story that the fracking debate is an argument between wealthy, downstate yuppies and impoverished, native farmers. Peter Applebome should have known better and taken the time to report what is really newsworthy and exciting about the antifracking movement in upstate NY—that it has unified people from all walks of life, from all socio-economic levels, all of whom realize that this is the defining issue of our time.

I personally am not a wealthy urbanite, although the article would imply that I am, and I am also not a newcomer to Cooperstown.  As I shared with the reporter, my family has been in this area since the turn of the 20th century.  My grandfather was a vet in Cooperstown since the 1940s. My grandmother was the Director of the northern Otsego County chapter of the Red Cross.  My father grew up in the house next door to mine.  I was born at Bassett hospital. I spent summers here with my grandparents my entire life.  On our visits with them, we would swim and fish at Otsego Lake, “help” my grandfather with the cats and dogs in the kennels, drive around from farm to farm with him on house calls, and roam the woods and streams.

But I really believe that all that is beside the point.  The point is that gas drilling is not going to help poor farmers solve their financial problems, or help anyone at all, really, aside from the executives at Gastem or Cabot or ExxonMobil.  As Ken Jaffe of Slope Farms in Meredith, NY, put it, “He said, she said” misses the story.  It is a story of overwhelming local opposition to hydrofracking. It is a story of gas companies attempting to use state government power to violate local land use regulations and voter sentiment, and impose their will on this region.

Native or non-native, rich or poor, EVERYONE will be adversely affected if fracking comes to our area, which is why nearly everyone who lives here opposes it so strongly.  If downstaters and Syracusans don’t oppose it as strongly, it is because Cuomo has protected those watersheds, in a move that clearly demonstrates that he knows high-volume hydrofracking is not safe, but he trusts that city dwellers don’t really care and will still vote for him later on.  Applebome failed to mention this major story, which could have served to fill a gap in New York Times reporting.

Lastly, the article’s implication that expression of opinions contrary to that held by the minority who want drilling has caused a tension in Cooperstown that might not otherwise be here is absurd.  The tension arrived when the gas men arrived and exploited the economic depression in our area, particularly exploiting the many farmers who signed. The idea expressed in the article that it is somehow unseemly or unladylike or ungentlemanly to cry foul at the situation and to attempt to educate the community about the injustice and the dangers of gas drilling, as experienced in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, smacks of censorship in the interest of preserving a mythical status quo of harmony that exists only in the minds of an elite few.

My husband, George Hovis, responded to this aspect of the article very well, so I will quote him here: “The article depicts divisiveness over proposed upstate hydrofracking in a mostly negative light, as if any individuals contributing to such discord are enemies of the peace.  I am reminded of the many “moderates” in the U.S. South who cautioned Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to discontinue his protests against racial segregation because they felt such protests created tensions within Birmingham and other communities.  Dr. King responded in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” with regret that these individuals did not “express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”  Although he “earnestly opposed violent tension,” King argued that there is “a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”  The same might be said about the struggle of residents in Cooperstown and across upstate New York, who are battling the gas industry’s invasion of their communities, awakening in the citizenry a belief that they can participate in democracy and stand up to corporate power.  These citizens have discovered the abiding truth that they can do so not by deferring to politicians but only by speaking out publicly.  I believe the vast majority of upstate New Yorkers who have participated in the opposition to hydrofracking would agree with the injunction: ‘Be civil, but do not be silent.’

“I consider myself a person of peace, and I make every effort in my interactions with others to listen to their side and try to understand their point of view, but I will not be silent in the face of this threat to our water and our land.  As I told the reporter, “Fracking is not safe, and I couldn’t live with myself if I just sat back and let it happen here without raising my voice against the gas industry that values profits more than people’s health and the environment. Someday I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I did every possible thing I could to try to save our home.”

Although I am not writing this letter from the Otsego County jail (my current discomfort merely involves my picture on the front page of the New York Times and shame that I was not savvy enough to avoid being manipulated), you can rest assured that I would if it came to that, and that I will continue to be “civil, but not silent.”

Thank you all for the good work that you do and for your attention to my response.  I am continually amazed to find myself in the company of such intelligent and creative people, and grateful for your strength and support..

–Kim Jastremski

An abbreviated version of Kim’s letter was published by the NYT: Antifracking Movement

For the story to which Kim Jastremski responds, see NYT story:  Drilling Debate in Cooperstown, NY, is Personal