Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Anne Feeney's email blast -- speaking of two recent deaths, Jennifer Strange and George Becker

Snips of Anne's email blast include:

While I was in Sacramento I heard a story about a radio contest sponsored by KDND that reveals some interesting truths about America at the dawn of the 21st century.

the background

KDND "107.9 The End" had gotten hold of one of the highly advertised Nintendo Wii game systems. You've probably seen commercials or news stories about the lines waiting to buy these things. KDND's contest was "Hold Your Wee for a Wii."

The winner would be the person who could drink the most water without urinating.

One of the twenty contestants that morning was Jennifer Strange - a mother of three. She knew that her children really wanted this expensive game system. The contestants were given 8 ounces of water to drink every fifteen minutes for two hours. After three hours of this, all but two contestants had given up... Jennifer Strange and a woman named Lisa. You can listen to Jennifer joking with the DJs during the contest. She loses the contest to Lisa. A few hours after leaving the station she was found dead from "water intoxication." She had consumed 7.5 liters (almost 2 gallons) of water during the contest.

The reaction

While everyone agrees it was sad that this young mother died, there were many voices (including the Sacramento newspaper) talking about her 'free will,' her 'personal responsibility' and the 'release' that she signed. It set me to thinking.

I think it is our nature to trust others. We think, "Would the radio station invite me to do this if it could kill me?" But perhaps our trust is misplaced.

Every day United States workers are told to do things that are dangerous and unsafe. (Every year 60,000 death claims are paid to the families of those workers.) Every day soldiers are ordered to do things in Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere that violate the military code of ethics and the Geneva Conventions. Every day we open the newspaper or turn on the television and we hear about climate change, about the cost of the war in Iraq, about the violence in New Orleans. We certainly have more information about the life-threatening dangers facing us than Jennifer Strange did about the 'dangers' of drinking water.

Do we speak up? Do we refuse unsafe work? Do we support soldiers who are refusing to violate international law and the dictates of their consciences? Do we demand an end to the war? Do we demand responsible planning for a sustainable future? Do we demand housing and social services and law enforcement for the people of New Orleans?

Or do we sit at home and just keep swallowing, swallowing, swallowing the platitudes coming out of the White House? Why? In order to continue our lifestyle? We have the information we need to save our lives and the lives of future generations. If we ignore it and keep swallowing the lies coming to us from Washington and FOX (sic) News, how are we different from Jennifer Strange? How can we expect to avert her fate?
George Becker - died February 3, 2007 - age 78

My friend George Becker led an extraordinary life. He started on a labor gang in the open hearth at Granite City Steel in Illinois when he was 15 years old. He went on to become the President of the United Steelworkers' Union of America in 1993. He became labor's voice in the anti-corporate globalization movement. He brought thousands of Steelworkers to Seattle for the WTO demonstrations in 1999. The USWA presence was essential to the impact we had there.

I performed at the convention where the Rubber Workers Union merged with USWA (on my birthday) ... it was a really close vote. Rev Joseph Lowery spoke. Rich Trumka spoke. In the end, I think that merger was approved by seven votes. My dear brothers from Bridgestone Firestone in Decatur may have cast the pivotal votes... I'd like to think I had a small hand in that outcome.

During President Becker's tenure I worked on the lockouts at MSI and A/K steel. He never failed to inspire and empower his members. And he had a great sense of humor.

George was the voice of the rank and file. He never lost touch with them. His obituary is at

Anne is playing a house concert at 4 pm on Sunday, March 11, 2007. The Friendship House Concerts Presents Anne Feeney at Jim and LLouise Altes' House, Pittsburgh, PA 15224, Price: $10. Be there if you can.

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