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COMMENTARY · 21st September 2011
Merv Ritchie
If this title doesn’t have you singing a few lines, you obviously haven’t heard the song. It is almost twenty minutes of Arlo Guthrie finger pickin' and playing the same musical guitar chords while singing and telling a true story. The story is interjected between the start and the end of the lyrics;

"You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant

You can get anything you want . . . at Alice's Restaurant

Walk right in it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track

You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant"

Now, although this original 1967 writing was about the Vietnam war, one of the key factors in this song writing masterpiece can also be used to get what we want. Just like Guthrie got what he wanted; to get out of being drafted to serve in Vietnam, we will use it to avoid further environmental degradation.

The song tells a story about how Guthrie and friends went to Alice’s for a Thanksgiving dinner. They noticed piles of garbage in the downstairs ‘pews’ area of the Church that Alice and her husband were living in. Guthrie and his buddy decided to load it up into their VW micro bus and take it to the dump. Arriving at the dump they saw a sign so many of us see when we arrive at the City dumps across the country; Closed. It was Thanksgiving, in this case for Guthrie and crew. Hence begins the 18 minute long saga of how Arlo Guthrie was denied the right to go to Vietnam and kill men, women and children. He was apparently unfit to perform such honourable duties after being convicted of being a litterbug.

And this is where we begin our story.

Today common everyday men, women and children are protesting much like during the Vietnam War. No one has been shot in Ohio yet (four were killed at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970) but hundreds have been arrested. The shootings seem likely to come; it is only a matter of time. Protests took place all this past month at the White House over the proposed pipeline from the Tar Sands in Northern Alberta to the refineries in the southern United States. They begin again in Ottawa this weekend on the 25th and 26th of September. Many more are prepared to be arrested to stand up against the construction of this southern bound pipeline.

Yesterday, September 20, approximately 225 residents of Kitimat, Terrace and the surrounding communities (some came from Prince Rupert and Smithers too) filed into the community Theatre to express their collective opposition to a different pipeline. This project, proposed by Enbridge, is to bring the same product to Douglas Channel, the shores of Kitimat for tankers bound for China. Although this forum gathering was billed as an information session, and lots of information was shared, it concluded with a stern rebuke of the entire proposal.

The first hour was devoted to presentations by four panelists. The second hour was to be a question and answer session. Every question asked, without exception, was framed to express displeasure with the proposal. The Enbridge representative was asked the majority of questions and most were similar to; "What would it take to make you go away?" In fact one questioner, Haisla First Nations citizen Morris Amos, demanded bluntly “When does No mean No!” The moderator, District of Kitimat City Manager Ron Poole, initially ignored the question and attempted to move on to the next person standing at a microphone when the audience, and that next person standing at the mic demanded, “No, we want an answer to that question.”

The vast majority of the population is opposed to the pipelines. The tragedy of a spill has occurred in almost every region of the North American Continent and on the shorelines, inland and seaside. The Union of BC Municipalities have supported a ban on Tankers and the pipeline. Estimates are that 80% of the BC population are opposed, yet the governments, both Provincial and Federal are pushing ahead expressing their intentions to proceed with this proposal. The question put to me by my wife last night on the drive back to Terrace was, “What does living in a democracy mean then?”

Arlo Guthrie and his friends left the City Dump, as he describes it, with tears in their eyes looking for another place to dump the garbage. They came across another pile of garbage at the bottom of a 15 foot cliff. So in their wisdom they determined, instead of making two different piles of garbage, they would throw theirs on top of an already existing pile. They went off to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. The next morning Guthrie got a call from Officer Obie who stated he found an envelope with his name on it under that pile of garbage. A long story short (18 minutes long) he was arrested, charged and convicted. Later during a draft board hearing he was dismissed from having to go to Vietnam due to this conviction.

But the logic Guthrie and his friend used was as good then as it is today.

Many in Kitimat yesterday asked the real hard question, why ship the crude oil, the tarsands bitumen out of the Northern Alberta region. The product is extremely corrosive to the pipelines. The claim heard last night was the pipeline failure is increased by a factor of 16 when shipping this highly abrasive product compared to other products; it is contaminated with sand/silica after all. Why not refine the product right where it is dug out of the ground? Another claim made was there had previously been 75 billion dollars set aside to build refineries but for some unknown reason these funds were cancelled and the refinery concept was taken off the table. Read the source of this information here.

There are many benefits to refining the raw product right at the site, near Fort McMurray. First there is the literally thousands of jobs for Canadians (12,000 permanent full time jobs) to run the facility; even more to construct it. Then there is the enhanced value of the product, the increased revenues to every level of government, including employment taxes paid by the now thousands of working Canadians. There is the reduced threat of environmental damage on land and sea. There is also the reduced environmental damage to the planet as China, the proposed recipient of the tarsands bitumen, has far worse processing standards and the world will suffer as a whole. Just like the fall out from the radiation of the reactor meltdowns and explosions in Japan, the winds carry the airborne pollutants everywhere.

So, what does this have to do with Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant? Here are the lyrics and the logic.

"We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump.

Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.

We didn't find one. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the side road there was another fifteen foot cliff and at the bottom of the cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw our's down."

So we got what we wanted from Alice’s Restaurant. One environmental catastrophe is far better than two, even if it is bigger. In this case one environmental catastrophe is better than dozens, which is likely if both pipelines and the Ocean tankers proceed. Even if the one garbage pile is bigger, keeping all the garbage in one spot is certainly a better prospect than spreading it all across the globe.

And just why are there locks on a garbage dump? Are we afraid someone might steal the garbage? Are we afraid someone might recycle something? Maybe we are afraid someone will dump a pile of garbage with all the other garbage. Apparently that is something forbidden in a democracy, we must destroy everything, regardless of what the citizens of the country think.

Watch the question and answer porting of the Forum in Kitimat, September 20, 2011, by clicking here.

Read the crude truth about China here

You can listen to Guthrie perform his song by clicking here. This is a full 23 minute version.

And for all you who know this song (are as old as me) . . . this is a whole new rendition that must be listened to. Thirty Thanksgivings later.
well behaved
Comment by Walter Fricke on 22nd September 2011
I was at the forum. The people in attendance were well behaved with no raising of voices. I noticed with all the folks posing questions, not one seemed to be in favour of this project. Mr. Carruthers, when asked questions, proved his talent at obfuscation. Mayor Bernier had no input as far as the project goes, but sounded like a yes man for the industry. His presence wasn't necessary. Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Ross showed a lot of caring for the great natural resources we have, and the threat this project could pose. Many people in favour of this pipeline, probably don't realize the 11,000 or so people working in industries that rely on a clean environment along the coast of BC. From Eco-tourism, to aqua-culture and fishing lodges and guides. Do we want to put these important jobs at risk by allowing diluted tar to be shipped through our region?
I too, wondered why the RCMP were there. When I arrived at 6:35 p.m. there were 3 police vehicles, and counted 5 members. By the time we entering the auditorium, there were 2 members. All in all, it was a very peaceful gathering.