• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

“What About Sierra Blanca, Bernie?” From Radioactive Waste on the Rio Grande to Reparations

shutterstock_335859521

Bernie Sanders made a cold political calculation in 1998 that affected the lives of hundreds of poor, powerless people half a country away. He did it because it would benefit his affluent, politically engaged constituency, and, in turn, benefit him.

Two decades later, Sanders is making another political calculation. He’s choosing to disregard African-American demands for reparations because he believes he can concentrate on empowering his affluent, politically engaged constituency, who will, in turn, empower him.

This is not a “political revolution,” and Sanders is no revolutionary.

***

Back in the early 1990s, the state of Vermont had a problem. The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was generating tons and tons of radioactive waste, but there was nowhere palatable in the state to store it. The only town which was willing to study the possibility, Vernon, was deemed “geologically unstable.” No other towns in Vermont, quite reasonably, wanted the waste.

By October of 1998, Vermont had a solution.

A deal had been worked out between Vermont’s Congressional representation, Texas Representative Joe Barton, and then-Governor George W. Bush. The legislation, which was cosponsored and championed by then-Representative Bernie Sanders, was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Senator Paul Wellstone, who is often mentioned in the same breath as Sanders among the latter’s supporters, was opposed to the legislation.

The people of Vermont didn’t have much of a problem with the deal. But Texans and their Mexican neighbors over the Rio Grande were outraged.

A delegation from Texas reached out to Sanders and tried to reason with him, citing the environmental and human degradation the waste site would create. They thought they would get an empathetic response from the nominal socialist.

They were wrong.

Sanders’ reply was curt, abrupt, and final:

“My position is unchanged and you’re not going to like it.” When asked if he would at least visit the proposed site in Sierra Blanca, he said: “Absolutely not. I’m gonna to be running for re-election in the state of Vermont.”

The real costs of generating nuclear energy for Vermont, Sanders made clear, would be borne by a small, poor, majority-Hispanic community in Texas. The politically powerless people of Sierra Blanca- where the median income is only $10,500– were chosen to bear the toxic burden of Vermont’s electricity.

In the end, however, the Sierra Blanca site was rejected by the Texas state legislature. It wouldn’t be until 2012 that Vermont would begin shipping its radioactive waste to Texas. The waste goes to a facility in a barren stretch of desert in West Texas, in Andrews County on the New Mexico border.

Still, Sanders’ callous indifference to the political impotence of the constituents of Sierra Blanca is telling. Not only does it show that the now Senator from Vermont doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to issues of economic inequality, it also shows blunt ignorance on privilege, race, and class.

He doesn’t seem to have learned much in the past two decades.

***

On February 12, 2016, now-Presidential candidate Sanders was attending “A Community Forum on Black America” in Minneapolis when Felicia Perry, a panelist on stage, asked him about reparations.

“Can you talk about, specifically,” Perry asked, “Black people and reparations?”

Sanders appeared flustered and pivoted quickly to a more comfortable topic: white people.

“What I just indicated, in my view,” Sanders said, holding up his hand to quell the applause for Perry’s question, “Is that… it’s not just black. It’s Latino, there are areas in America, poor rural areas, where it’s whites!”

It’s hard to understand exactly what Sanders means here, but he appears to be indicating that reparations- long identified as penance for centuries of slavery in the United States- should be open to white people as well.

It’s a step in the right direction. Sanders rejected the idea of reparations outright as politically unfeasible the last time he was asked. But while he’s engaging with the concept, it’s also the “All Lives Matter” of reparations.

***

Sanders regularly tells cheering crowds that he is working toward a “political revolution” and to effecting real change in the American political system.

There’s nothing more revolutionary than talking about reparations. The question is shunned in Washington. There’s nothing more consequential to effecting real change in the American political system than standing up for the powerless, even when they’re half a country away.

If Sanders wants to be the champion for the working poor, he’s going to have to do better. Pivoting on reparations to include whites and attempting to create a sacrifice zone in South Texas for the affluence of his home state of Vermont aren’t going to cut it.

Sanders is either tone-deaf on these issues, or he has made a political calculation that he can get through the primary process without them.

He won’t be the first candidate to make that calculation. But he was supposed to be different.

More articles by:

Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Nick Licata
How Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump…Politically
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail