We were there to protest yet another corporate move to steal our resources and trash our lives.
I have to admit, I've been spoiling for a fight, disgusted as I am with the appalling partisan spectacle in Washington over the debt ceiling. I am aghast at the prospect of Democrats and Republicans alike using Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety net programs as bargaining chips while leaving the costs of unnecessary wars and tax breaks for billionaires and Big Oil off the table. I'm furious that the president we elected to bring change after the dark days of Bush II is appearing, more and more, to be a Trojan Horse, accomplishing much more for the GOP than any Republican president ever could.
But the latest outrage is happening on our doorsteps here at Anthem Merrill Ranch and it is the last straw.
Some months ago, Curis Resources, Ltd, a branch of a foreign multinational corporation purchased a parcel of land within the boundaries of the Merrill Ranch planned community outside Florence, AZ. This is a beautiful master planned community in which builders DelWebb/Pulte have invested more than $200 million in amenities and hundreds of homeowners have invested their home equity life savings. It is an integral part of the long-planned growth and revival of historic Florence.
So Curis purchased a residential parcel within the community. Then they approached the Town of Florence and applied for a zoning change. Instead of homes, they want to build a copper mine.
We've seen how copper mining has devastated communities like Superior and, in a sense, this would be even worse. Open pit copper mines are a blight. In-situ copper mines, like the one proposed here, could be a more insidious disaster. The company proposes to drill down through the aquafer that provides water to this community, the city of Florence and several surrounding towns. They would send sulfiric acid down through the aquafer to extract the copper deposits lying beneath our water supply. (There would also be a number of above ground pools of toxic waste material, some built up as high as a four story building.) Curis can give no guarantees that their mining operation wouldn't contaminate our water supply. And recent studies by hydrologists have shown that, due to the fracture pattern in the rocks and the depth of the adjacent water table, contamination would be a real possibility.
Curis argues that their mine would create jobs. Their estimate is slightly over 100 local jobs with no guarantee that Florence residents would be hired. Still, in a community hard hit by the recession, jobs mean a lot. The master plan for Merrill Ranch, with more residential areas, major retail and a hospital (currently under construction to open this fall), would, by some estimates, create even more jobs over time, especially if the community is not blighted by a copper mine.
The prevailing sentiment among demonstrators was "Why take a chance with our water?" This aquafier is a fragile resource and the only water we have. With many miles of empty desert land stretching throughout Arizona, building a copper mine in the middle of a residential community seems the height of insanity. It feels like yet another corporate statement that we, the people, don't matter.
So close to 40 citizens -- a number from Merrill Ranch and a good crowd of old-timers from downtown Florence -- converged this past Tuesday across the road from the winery barn where Curis was hosting a dinner for local leaders, with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as a special guest speaker.
The corporation, fearing that the citizens and town council will not be forthcoming with the zoning changes, is appealing to the governor, who has been known to override the wishes of citizens and town councils in favor of big business.
So what did we get for our efforts: standing in the blazing sun for an hour and a half along a country road? We didn't get the governor's ear. She and her entourage slipped in a distant entrance and ignored the crowd by the side of the road. The crowd chanted "Save our water! Save our future! No mines!!!"
as she walked into the dinner, never once turning her head in our direction.
But we weren't really there for her. We were looking to make a difference with the local lawmakers attending the dinner. Some of these people will be making the actual decision about the rezoning request. We got encouragement and thumbs up from some local politicians. Police lined up around us, reminding us not to block the road, but they were largely sympathetic. The press hovered. (We made the front page of the Arizona Guardian with the headline "Angry Protestors Greet Governor Jan Brewer".) Perhaps most notably, we got the satisfaction of getting out and showing our outrage, stomping around on the soft dirt shoulder of the country road and yelling our discontent.
As we sweated and yelled, some of us felt a flashback to the Sixties and the protests that abounded back in the day. And we felt newly empowered in a time filled with frustration and despair.
It felt good to be out there yelling instead of at home grousing. There is joy in showing a commitment to a cause. There is joy in joining with others who are outraged, too. There is joy in trying to make a difference. Hmmm. I could really get into this. I hear there is going to be a demonstration at the office of the local Republican congressman Paul Gosar this week. I may go do some stomping and yelling there, too!
Watch out, Paul Gosar! Watch out, Curis! This is only the beginning!