“Knaves and fools,” one of my most important teachers liked to tell us, paraphrasing Jesus’s famous remark about the poor, “they’ll always be with us.” Thomas Gareth Emlyn Davies suffered the fools but his reaction to the knaves was unmitigated hatred and contempt.

You might say it was a reaction every bit as explosive as the liquefied propane gas a pair of petroleum industry giants wants to bring to my hometown of Searsport, which the company knaves persist in saying is not explosive and about which the local fools insist upon adding their uninformed agreement.

A creature of industrial poverty tempered in the retort of depression and two world wars, this old Wobbly never saw much of a university classroom. He started work at 12 as a butcher’s boy and soon graduated to the coal mines of his native Wales.

At 17 he did postgraduate study into human madness and horror in the corpse-filled trenches of Flanders. The general strike of 1926 saw his hometown cruelly split between those like himself — too angry and proud to give in — and those compelled to return to the pits rather than see their families go hungry.

It was Old Tom’s particular misfortune to repeat the unhappy experiences of his youth as he grew into middle age. Emigrating to Pennsylvania with his family, he worked in mines there until near the start of the Great Depression his adopted American hometown was similarly split by a bitter strike.

This time he lost his family as well as his livelihood, and embarked on an itinerant life as a labor organizer. He worked on the Oakland docks, then went to sea with an untimely visit to Singapore and three years forced labor in a Japanese internment camp.

When I met him near the start of my generation’s big war, the Vietnam War, he was a dramatically wild-looking old man, a John Brown look-alike, standing on New York City street corners holding forth to ignorant young people like myself about such almost forgotten topics as Jack London’s “The Iron Heel,” the Haymarket Square and Wall Street bombings, and the Industrial Workers of the World.

I’ve thought a lot about Old Tom of late. I think much of the sadness that etched his face with drooping lines, much of the bitterness that hardened his mouth and sharpened his eyes, came not from the privations of war or even poverty, but from seeing his community divided against itself, from losing his home not once but twice, the wicked work of knaves and the folly of fools.

Some 40 years later he visited Wales. The older generation in his town that remained had not forgotten anything. Many families were still not on speaking terms with other families. Tom said it was the same in his adopted Pennsylvania hometown.

I fear a similar fate for Searsport, where an advance force of company men and women in alliance with the usual Maine-based mercenaries (I’m thinking of Verrill Dana’s Maine Street Solutions) are doing their best to turn us against one another.

“Only a couple of summer residents” selfishly trying to maintain the pristine view from the decks of their sumptuous oceanfront homes is the way Roz Elliott, spokesperson for DCP Midstream, characterizes the opposition to a huge tank the height of a 14-story building topping out at nearly 200 feet above sea level that would contain the thermal energy equivalent of 33 Hiroshima-sized atomic weapons.

Take Ms. Elliott’s patently false and misleading statement and add extravagant but carefully phrased promises suggesting eight (or is it 12 or 15? — the numbers change all the time) permanent jobs await that many lucky Searsport residents, jobs paying an average $70,000 plus full benefits loading trucks and rail cars. The only qualification seems to be a GED certificate!

If I was ignorant and struggling along with part-time, $8-an-hour jobs, that would sound pretty damn good. I, too, could really learn to hate those selfish couple of tree-hugging rich folks who seemed to be standing in the way.

Reality rarely intrudes when the knaves ultimately working for the gas development interests of Duke Energy and ConocoPhillips (hence the acronym DCP) make their pitch why Big Tank is wonderful for Searsport. They dodge all questions, for instance, what they mean by “local” jobs. Push them on this at their “Propane for Maine” Facebook page and you’ll simply be blocked from commenting. That’s because they know full well they couldn’t get away legally with hiring to the exclusion of qualified candidates from communities other than Searsport.

They also ignore that several hundred certified voters in this town of 2,600 people — not those apocryphal couple of filthy rich summer residents — actually signed the petition for a moratorium question we’ll decide at town meeting this Saturday, March 10, seeking a two-month delay in permitting while we look at all the facts and determine whether we really are properly protected on critical matters of safety, economics and chosen way of life.

Instead, DCP is paying out-of-work people with no dog in this fight $100 a day to interfere in a democratic process by going door-to-door handing out flyers that misrepresent how the moratorium would work, that falsely claim that one person from the opposition group would control everything and the selectmen would have no say over advisory committee recommendations.

Instead, with no actual jobs to offer, DCP held a “jobs fair” in our town hall auditorium last week urging prospective applicants from Searsport to vote the moratorium down. This is underhanded behavior, and for the hopeful applicants it is a disgraceful and cruel sham.

DCP president Bill Waldheim asserted before several hundred people Jan. 26 that unlike liquefied natural gas (LNG), unpressurized liquefied propane gas (LPG) simply cannot explode. That’s news to the Department of Homeland Security which says just the opposite and is deeply concerned about the “soft target” presented by an LPG tanker steaming up Penobscot Bay, from Rockland north sometimes coming within a mile of populated areas.

If ever there was a time when we needed to stop, take a deep breath and figure out where we want to go from here, this is the time. That’s why so many of us plan to vote “Yes” at town meeting Saturday in favor of a moratorium that will give us a couple of months to do just that.

I think Old Tom will be there with us in spirit because, as he would say, there’s just too damn much at stake.

 

Peter Taber is a resident of Searsport, and a former reporter for The Waldo Independent.