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WHAT THE WALKERS WITNESSED

Bobbie C. Billie advised the Walkers to observe the Elders. He meant the wildlife; birds, fish, reptiles, trees. “Listen to them,” he said. “They have been on Earth longer than we have. We can learn from them.”
In the Everglades there were still considerable numbers of Elders, although not as many as expected. But along much of the route of the Walk, which lay mostly in rural Florida, there were few Elders to be observed, although some dead birds and cows were seen. Where were they? One of the Walkers from Belgium said that back in his country “...there are no hawks...no fishes in the rivers...there is almost no wildlife anymore.” Can this happen in the United States? In Florida?

In Big Sugar country the Walkers coughed and wheezed their way through huge, billowing clouds of smoke. To reduce the cost of sugar production, which would otherwise require the leaves on the canes to be stripped and discarded, the growers have the fields set on fire. The leaves burn away leaving the wet canes, which can easily be harvested by machinery. The sugar workers and townspeople have to endure the smoke, at no cost to the growers.

Sugar crops also consume much water and the muck in which the canes are grown is rapidly receding and drying out. The representatives of the growers told the Walkers that in 20 years the land will no longer be suitable for sugar. What then? Perhaps, they said, more developments.

A photograph is included here of one of the enormous structures used to wash the ore scraped out of the Earth to separate out the phosphate. But there are no photographs of the huge strip mines or “gyp stacks,” nor of the settling ponds that the empty mines later become to hold the toxic slurry from the washers. That is because the stacks are so large. Only from an airplane could pictures be taken that would show the moonscape that was once beautiful countryside.

At a meeting in Ft. Meade, townspeople told of 15-foot wells that had gone dry and were replaced with 60-foot wells, these to be later replaced with 300-foot wells which themselves are now capped as useless. One of the Walkers had worked in Polk county in the 50’s. There were many clear, pristine springs, she recalled, such as are currently found elsewhere in Florida. Today, not a single spring flows in “Phosphate County.”

There are no photographs here of the Fenholloway River in Perry, a river so polluted by chemical discharge from the Buckeye Paper Plant that it has been classified by the state as an “industrial river” and will support no life other than the muckfish, which requires less oxygen than other aquatic forms. Because local wells are tainted, the company now trucks in drinking water for the residents. How does one photograph such an abomination?

Indeed, water problems were the common threads witnessed: dwindling water, poisoned water, alligators with shrunken genitals, people sickened by their drinking water. Are all these stories anecdotal? Why the lack of attention by the media, especially television? Why are elected officials at so many levels (and the experts they appoint and hire to serve them) not more interested in the concerns of sugar workers, citrus workers, phosphate miners, farm workers, truck drivers, small land owners, and other “average” people?