“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
– Henry David Thoreau
As an empowered, intelligent, and passionate generation is emerging, it has never been more possible to change a travesty like Hanford into a positive, world-trajectory shifting platform. And, as a middle child of several generations, I can confidently say that any member of any generation can become a conductor of the great symphony that is public advocacy. This path is not limited to the rising generation, but is wide enough for all of us to walk side by side.
Because of the time in which we live, we have the option and the power to use the things that we inherit – especially the seemingly bad things – to do good. Through the historical destruction of the environment, mistreatment and endangerment of workers, dishonesty to the public, and discrimination of all kinds of people, we have the most amazing gift of knowledge and clarity that our forefathers apparently lacked. We have a fantastic opportunity to transform our predecessors’ problematic creations into cultural awareness, constant social improvement, and a new wave of respect for our fellows and environment.
For more social activists, creating change is a daunting, head-spinning, and consuming task, and no project represents a puzzle of complexity like Hanford. In a different light, though, Hanford represents a melting pot of interests that provides opportunity for supporters of any cause to get involved, make a difference, and collaborate with other advocates. If you are interested in clean water, Hanford had something for you; if you want to protect wildlife, Hanford is a great place to hug a tree; if you’re fascinated by nuclear issues or any number of environmental laws, Hanford has it all; and if you want to give voiceless people a resounding, echoing, and influential voice, you can stand with the Hanford community behind a microphone. The very things that make Hanford a vast and seemingly insurmountable challenge are also the things that give us a reason and occasion to fight for something important. In fact, these things (the actors and circumstances that intend to stifle positive change) are actually fueling the people who seek social justice. To know light, one must be acquainted with the dark. Go figure.
In this vein, Hanford is not insurmountable. We, those of us who inherited the epic nuclear conundrum, are not forced to live as Sisyphus did – rolling a boulder up a hill each day only to have it roll back down every night. We can, and are making magnificent steps in the right direction while keeping the enormous Hanford hurtles on our centuries-long agenda. In fact, our community can boast things like incremental victories for whistleblowers and their families, popular and effective media attention, successful cleanups at some contaminated areas, productive relationships among members of most Hanford-interested parties, and the thing this all started with: a thriving and growing community awareness that the Hanford cleanup desperately needs a whole lot of work.
Unfortunately, this new generation is only one in a long line of cohorts that have been, and will be faced with the trials that Hanford (and other nuclear operations) presents. It’s true that each of us inherited the menacing waste of a dangerous technology, but we have a chance to ensure the safe and effective cleanup of Hanford if we can maintain a balance of collaboration and compassion for people while exercising a fierce and calculated indignation for the problem. It’s ironic that some of our predecessors developed nuclear technology to solve the problems of the 20th century. They sought to end a war and power the grid. Little did they know that they would also create a technology that would mobilize a social justice movement.
By: Lara Maierhofer