For the Sake of Women’s (and Men’s) Health, Gloria Steinem Enters the Fracking Fray in New York
Perhaps more than anyone in recent history, Gloria Steinem has become synonymous with the protection of women’s health and safety. From her early years at New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine – defending the right to choose and promoting the Equal Rights Amendment – to her subsequent work with race and labor activists like Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez, Steinem has set the benchmark for safety, fairness and equality among not just women, but all residents of the nation.
In more recent years, Steinem has turned her attention to public health threats that are derived from the weakening of environmental protections like the Clean Water Act. So it should come as no surprise that she recently signed a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to halt any consideration of fracking in his state before a collection of long-term statewide and national public health studies on the controversial natural gas drilling method are completed. The letter was also signed by hundreds of doctors, health organizations and environmental and consumer groups from across the nation.
The immense grassroots campaign against fracking in New York has mobilized national activists like Gloria Steinem for a number of reasons. For one, it represents the first, best chance Americans have had to ban the dangerous practice in a state where it could be done widely and aggressively. Such a feat would knock the oil and gas industry back on its heels and send a clear message to the rest of the nation – and the world – that with enough organizing and enough commitment, corporate fossil fuel polluters can be reigned in and shut down.
Also on the radar of national activists is Gov. Cuomo’s worst-kept-secret-ever presidential ambition. Like his peers in New Jersey, Maryland and Colorado, Cuomo spends much of his time calculating how he might improve his chances of moving into the White House, while at the same time managing a robust anti-fracking movement in his own backyard. As evidenced by the buzz his pending fracking decision has already created in places like North Carolina and Iowa, growing national focus is assured.
For Ms. Steinem specifically, the recent letter to Gov. Cuomo may have held particular significance. Highlighting the critical importance of a comprehensive, independent public health study of fracking to the long-term health and wellbeing of New Yorkers, the letter was signed by organizations such as Breast Cancer Action, the Breast Cancer Fund and the Breast Cancer Network of Western New York. A breast cancer survivor herself, Steinem surely understands the gravity of cancer and the impact environmental degradation and pollution can have on cancer rates and public health in general.
Though his current timeline for a decision on fracking in New York is something of a mystery, we can be sure that as he attracts the attention of more and more national advocates for health, safety and social equality like Ms. Steinem, the pressure on Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking in New York will continue to rise. As 2016 creeps ever closer on the horizon, Cuomo would do well to take heed and act now.