What one person can do

By Mary Kay Benson

Hi All. My name is Mary Kay. I’m a senior citizen, retired from a non-profit (Project Open Hand in San Francisco, whose focus is feeding the needy - there’s the food theme). I’m a vegetarian of 37 years, so healthy eating is my bag. I’m living on a limited income, without a car, so I am a homebody.  I knew there was a lot of work to do, but with those limitations, I didn’t know how much I could to make a difference. I found that there’s so much I can do from home, and I hope this inspires you to take action! It’s fun and feels good to be involved. I didn’t know I could do all that I did in 2016, and I feel self-empowered and supported as we go head first into 2017.

I first got started volunteering for Bernie Sanders, mostly doing administrative work and online networking. When I could get a ride, I attended local debate parties, registered voters, and even canvassed with a friend.  That friend took me to meet our Frack Free Butte County organizer and I agreed to host “Dear Governor Brown,” a film produced by Mark Ruffalo, at my home.  After the film screening Mark spoke to all of us by conference video. You can watch it on our website-- 25 minutes of visuals I couldn’t forget. Mark told us they got fracking banned in NY, and now want to take on CA. He said that during the campaign in New York, there were good days and bad days, but they did it and he feels it made him a better human being. Well, that hit home in my heart. I’m always working on self improvement.

I wondered if I could juggle one more thing.  As it happened, Bernie work stopped sooner than I’d hoped, and Measure E passed in last June’s primary, banning fracking in Butte County with 72% of the vote. Woot!  Meanwhile I had been attending online conferences with Rootskeeper, organizing for Protect CA Food.  I really liked these weekly short meetings. We get mentored by Rootskeeper’s leaders, David Braun, another hero in the movement to ban fracking in New York, now living in his home state of CA, and Jessica, who is a whiz kid in my book.  And, of course the other volunteers-- we teach and learn from each other.

Rootskeeper and Protect California Food encourages our input and creativity.  We brainstorm and choose an easy action to do each month or so. We started with gathering petitions signatures, then we planned a day of action. We went to our location of choice, grocery stores, farmers markets, to tell people about the issue and get them to sign our petition.  While tabling for Bernie at a grocery store, I found that people were focused on their shopping, so I chose the local library. There were children’s events happening there, and I figured Mom’s and kids were the people I wanted to reach.  Plus, people go to libraries to read and learn.  A volunteer graphic artist did a fact sheet for us. I emailed the local progressive newspaper, and they came and wrote a nice story about us. I recruited one other volunteer, and got 39 signers in 2 hours.  It was fun.  

Here’s the article.

There were several groups doing this around CA that day.  My favorite picture is of these darling kids.  



As you can see from our website, there are 12 groups in our coalition, and counting.  Altogether that month we collected over 350,000 signatures. That led to our next action the following month-- delivering those petitions to dear Gov. Brown, preceded by an impressive press conference, which you can watch on our website.  That also got some news coverage and made Sacramento news channels.

We also wanted to reach our local political representatives, which turned out to be harder than I’d thought. I called them all and sent emails, saying I just wanted to make them aware of the problem.  Months later, I got some weak replies.

It turns out where I live, in a college town blue bubble in a bucket of red,  my Representatives are all in the bag of big oil.  Fortunately I persist.  I learned I had no clout as an individual. No money means no access.

Next we all placed phone calls to Gov Brown’s office. We have not gotten a response from Jerry Brown for any of our efforts...yet.

While I chewed on that nut, I was invited by Frack Free to run for the local Sierra Club Board.  I had my usual reservations, and besides, I was enjoying volunteering for Protect California Food.  But Sierra Club encouraged me, and since they had worked with Frack Free, I figured they could work with us.  Long story short, I not only got elected to the board, but I also got myself appointed to be the Political Chair.  Turns out they want us each to work on our favorite projects, so Protect California Food is mine.   

Circling back to those legislators -- I’m going to request local meetings again, but this time I’m bringing the Sierra Club with me.  

Volunteering for Bernie with See The Bern, we made and collected short video testimonials and posted them on YouTube.  We got those people’s videos to the top several pages of all the search engines.  It seemed like an effective way of engaging people and getting our message out, so of course I wanted to do the same for PCF. That’s a work in progress. A nice thing about our actions is that anyone new can keep doing any one of them via our website. I set up a Protect Our Food group on Facebook, so we could share those videos and related news stories.  I put “Our” in place of CA, to attract more people. It would be way cool if you joined us there, too. Plus you can see all my memes, like this one. Oh, by the way, I’m an artist too. I began designing memes for the local Bernie campaign, and now I’m doing it for Protect California Food, too.



Well, I figured I’d better make some business cards to hand out to all I meet anywhere.  I used the picture from our Sacramento action on the front and put my name, email and phone number on the back. I waited for a 50% off sale at VistaPrint, and ordered them.  It’s been great to have them.  Want one?

While writing to my legislators, I began researching and taking advantage of all the resources we have on the website. I found hundreds of other relevant agencies and organizations, and I began writing to at least one of them a week, including the CA Waterboards, other environmental advocacy groups, scientists, educators, and litigators. I take it upon myself, because healthy food is my passion. Fighting fracking is my passion.  Fighting Big Oil/Gas, Big Agra and Big Chem is my passion.  They all come together in Protect California Food.

I just watched PBS’ “American Experience” about Rachel Carson, author of the groundbreaking Silent Spring. It struck me that we are in exactly the same place she was - again! Chemical corps scientists versus Environmental Scientists, the known toxic slurries in the “produced” wastewater of oil and gas fields, the unknown 38% of “trade secret” chemicals, wastewater that has not been independently tested, relying only on voluntary small samplings tested by the oil companies themselves, and a deficit of data on long term effects. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m confident we can do it. It’s amazing how much one person can do. Won’t you join me?

Here I am tabling with Sierra Club - handing out PCF brands not to buy flyers I had made along with my biz card - to all Moms and Grandmothers with kids who stopped by our booth.

Here I am tabling with Sierra Club - handing out PCF brands not to buy flyers I had made along with my biz card - to all Moms and Grandmothers with kids who stopped by our booth.