Bobby Beat Big Polluters. No Other 2024 Presidential Candidate Has.

Bobby Beat Big Polluters. No Other 2024 Presidential Candidate Has.
American Values 2024 | June 5, 2024

By Raquel Master, Special to The Kennedy Beacon

Long before Time magazine dubbed him one of their “Heroes for the Planet” in 1997, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had proven his power as a legal advocate and moral warrior for the environment and human rights, challenging the most powerful entities in the world, including corporations and government agencies.

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The seed was planted in his youth, during his father’s run for senator of New York. That’s when he saw firsthand how major industries and corporations, such as General Electric Company (GE), were polluting the Hudson River with impunity.

For three decades, GE’s capacitor manufacturing plant dumped about 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson, harming fish and the people who ate them.. PCBs are known to alter thyroid and reproductive functions and increase the risk of cardiovascular and liver disease. In addition to impairing and killing fish, the chemical went further down the ecological line and caused a rapid evolutionary change in some fish.

In 1966, the river was so polluted with PCBs, mercury, and oil that a group of activists and fishermen started the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association. As a young lawyer, Kennedy joined the Association (eventually known as Riverkeeper) in 1984, and until 2017 he was their chief prosecuting attorney, leading the fight to protect the Hudson and New York City’s water. The New York City Watershed Agreement was a groundbreaking, multibillion-dollar plan that ensured clean water for future generations.

In 1999, Kennedy helped found the Waterkeeper Alliance. Today, there are more than 300 Waterkeeper groups across the globe protecting 5.9 million square miles of waterways in 47 countries with more than a million volunteers.

As a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 1985 he developed their international program for defending environmental and human rights around the world. Kennedy stood with the Pehuenches to prevent dam builds on the Bíobío River, the second largest river in Chile, and the Futaleufú River in Patagonia. He also worked for over a decade alongside Cree Indians to halt construction of 600 massive dam projects in northern Quebec.

Winning the Legal War One Battle at a Time

In 2017, he and his partners secured a monumental win against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) for their client, DeWayne Lee Johnson, who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using their most popular product, Roundup. As a school groundskeeper, Johnson sprayed hundreds of gallons of the herbicide, believing Monsanto’s claims that the product was safe. This victory opened the way for class action suits that have so far cost the company $11 billion.

Children’s Health Defense (CHD), which Kennedy chaired until he began his presidential campaign last April, became a household name in recent years for legal challenges to COVID-19 vaccines and mandates. But CHD is also involved in many other health-related lawsuits, including more than 60 against pharmaceutical giant Merck, for lying about the adverse effects of its famous Gardasil HPV vaccine.

And in 2020, CHD filed a response brief with Environmental Health Trust, successfully challenging the FCC’s health guidelines for 5G and wireless technology.

When the Law Is Not Enough

Nowhere was Kennedy’s dedication more realized than when he stood with activists of Vieques, Puerto Rico, where he ultimately put his own body on the line.

Home to one of only five bioluminescent bays on earth, Vieques is an environmentally fragile island. Locals, demilitarization activists, and environmentalists began decades-long protests after the US Navy evicted and relocated residents to a small stretch of the island in order to conduct training, bombing, and weapons testing there that lasted for half a century.

In 2000, Kennedy led a coalition that included NRDC and labor and civil rights activists that filed an intent to sue the US Navy to stop the bombing. In a June 2000 interview on CBS News’ The Early Show, Kennedy said, “As a direct result of the naval bombing, the people of Vieques have the highest mortality rate in Puerto Rico, the highest infant mortality rate in Puerto Rico, the highest cancer rate in Puerto Rico.”

In April 2001, Kennedy was one of 500 people who created a human shield to protest the bombing. He was arrested and spent 30 days in prison.

On June 14, 2001, the US Navy announced it would suspend operations in Vieques. More than 20 years later, the cleanup and recovery of the land and the health of the people continues, as reported by The Guardian.

Is It a Democracy without Free Speech?

In a 2004 interview, Kennedy said, “Environmental injury is an assault on democracy, because the most important measure of how a democracy is functioning is how it distributes the goods of the land, the commons. Democracy must ensure that the public-trust assets stay within the hands of the people.”

All the political rhetoric and policy issues aside, when you stack up his accomplishments as a lawyer and as a person, and compare him to everyone else running for president, consider his record. And then wonder what New York’s water might be like today if Kennedy had chosen another career path. Contemplate what the traditional territories of many Indigenous peoples would be like today if any of those dams he helped them block had been built. Ask yourself how much longer it might have taken to stop the bombing of Vieques. And would anyone have been a more persuasive advocate against COVID-19 vaccination mandates, or challenged the government’s censorship of real scientific data and the First Amendment right to free speech?

Ask yourself what leaders are supposed to do for the people and the land and water they need to survive, and which of your constitutional rights you are willing to give up to Big Agriculture, Big Pharma, or the Military-Industrial Complex.

Raquel Master runs educational programming at Meadows Bee Farm in Southern Vermont, teaching children how to grow, harvest, and prepare healthy, delicious, and ecologically sound food through creating art and connecting with nature. She has her own homestead as well, raising sheep, chickens, orchards, and gardens.

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