Albany, August 27, 2012 - On this day, 53 years ago, a pregnant college student walked into a hospital in rural Illinois and gave birth to a child.
And then she walked out. By herself.
The baby she left behind became a ward of the state. Three months later, a family was found for it.
That child was me.
This story carries three messages. The first is for Governor Cuomo. At the Democratic Committee policy conference last week, the governor affirmed his belief in the essential value of government, calling it "the vehicle for the community." I am Exhibit A for that noble idea.
Sometimes the vehicle for community means finding a home for an abandoned child.
Sometimes the vehicle for community means saying NO to a carcinogen-dependent industry that seeks to use our towns as their factory floor, offering temporary riches for a few and permanent pollution for all.
Governor Cuomo: The state of Illinois once protected me. Now I want you to protect my two children. Governor Cuomo, say NO.
My second message is to the gas industry. Your representatives follow me around to speaking events across the state and post reports about me. You've commented on my make-up, my emotional life, my cancer diagnosis, and the size of my house. Which is 1,218 square feet.
I learned that from reading the Energy in Depth blog.
Hey, gas industry: I am not afraid of you. And that's not because I'm fearless. It's because I am so scared for the future of my children on a fracked-up planet that I have no fear left over for you.
So, let me tell you about my last name, which you mocked in a recent column. It belongs to the man who took me in when I had no home. A man who fought against Hitler's army when he was just a teenager. A man who taught me that when you carry around a name like Steingraber, you can't act like a good German. You stand up against bullies, and you never, never give up.
Memo to the gas industry: I am a biologist. I will debate you on the public health effects of fracking any time, anywhere. Back off my dad.
My third message is for all of you. There are a lot of crappy things about being adopted and having no ancestors, but the gift of it is that you can choose your own tribe and choose your own homeland.
I choose to belong to this place and this moment, which represents the birth of the greatest human rights movement in New York State since abolition and suffrage.
I choose to belong to a vision of an unfractured New York that turns its back on 19th-century thinking and death-dealing fossil fuels and leads the world in the creation of a clean-energy economy.
Are we united in this belief?
Are you ready to pledge your resistance to fracking?
Okay, friends, let's rock this thing.
Oh, and thank you for making this the best birthday of my life.
Here's how it's going to work. I'll recite the preamble of the Pledge to Resist Fracking, and then the baritone voice of Mr. David Braun will swear us all in, Occupy style.
Three thousand two hundred people have already signed the pledge, and we will be delivering these signatures to the governor immediately after. If you want to sign and haven't yet, please go to Don't Frack New York dot org and add your name. And then you can become an ambassador for the pledge and introduce it to your friends and neighbors.
Many people helped write the Pledge to Resist Fracking in New York State, and it's gone through many iterations. I was tasked with writing the first draft, and I've never had a more weighty writing assignment. This pledge is a solemn commitment that calls us to peaceful, nonviolent protest - as our conscience leads us - in the case that Governor Cuomo approves fracking for any part of New York State. As a writer who believes in the power of words, it is my fervent hope that these words will reveal the depth and breadth of the opposition to fracking in New York State and lead Governor Cuomo to the exit door. I hope the Pledge can change the course of providence itself and we will never have to activate it.
I don't want anyone to get hurt. I don't want to fill jail cells with good people. I don't even like confrontation.
But if we do have to activate this pledge, and if it turns out that I can be a better parent inside of jail than outside, I will be that parent. If we have to lay our bodies down, I promise I will be there with you.