My Turn: Lives and legacies — David Koch and Frances Crowe

By ANNA GYORGY
Originally published in the Greenfield Recorder 9/16/2019 1:20:34 PM

Two lives are remembered in the pages of local and national newspapers. How differently they lived and led, and impacted the world they recently left behind.

The Greenfield Recorder article on David Koch’s death (”DA alum David Koch dies,” Aug. 24), read like a press release from Deerfield Academy, which he attended in the 1950s, praising his multimillion dollar gifts to the school.

With his brother Charles, David shared ownership of the sprawling Koch Industries. Based in fossil fuel extraction and transport, the privately owned conglomerate includes everything from building materials to synthetic (oil-based) fabrics. David Koch’s fortune of more than $40 billion is hard to imagine. Thus generous (and tax-exempt) donations to private schools and cultural institutions, winning him praise and social acceptance, were no problem, and shifted attention from his main focus.

The article did mention that David Koch ”founded the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which lobbies for right-wing causes.” But there is so much more. In fact, the Koch brothers’ main interest was in changing, weakening and eliminating government policies to serve their financial and political interests. And in blocking action around climate disruption.

After David ran for vice president on the 1972 Libertarian Party ticket, winning just 1 percent of the vote, “The brothers realized,” as journalist Jane Mayer wrote in her 2016 book ”Dark Money”, “that their brand of politics didn’t sell at the ballot box.”

Her in-depth study of the Koch-led 30-year process of moving political power in this country to the right through setting up front groups and deep pocket donations to political races has not received the attention or praise it deserves.

She describes how the brothers founded and funded a complex network of right-wing academic, media and “activist” institutions, and raised funds from others with similar political viewpoints to influence political races, often on the state and local levels.

On the other side of the spectrum, peace activist Frances Crowe. Small in physical stature, she was great in her effect and outreach.

The Koch’s weapons of choice: manipulation of wealth and planning for political and personal gain. Frances’ — building with others for social action, peace, inclusion, safe energy and democracy.

The Koch brothers’ 30-year campaign to block and reverse understanding and action on climate change helped steer the Republican Party to complete denial of science and support for an expanded fossil-based economy.

These policies have affected the health of millions — and ultimately the fate of the planet.

Frances’ legacy, so different, lies with her many friends, colleagues and history of activism, in our valley and beyond, and is one of “walking the talk.” Besides her well-known decades of political activism, she practiced her politics at home: shopping locally, avoiding air and car travel, paying informal “taxes” to local institutions and schools rather than the federal war machine.

Perhaps a good project for Deerfield Academy students would be to dig beyond the plaques on buildings donated, to understand the impact of David and brother Charles’ work.

Recent online articles and broadcasts offer a start, and several interview Christopher Leonard, author of “Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America.” (Featured on “Fresh Air” and “Democracy Now!”) In another interview (https://therealnews.com/stories/david-koch-is-dead-but-his-legacy-of-climate-denial-lives-on), climate scientist Michael Mann describes the Koch brothers’ influence on climate denial, saying: ”The various cabinet members of the Trump administration is a veritable who’s who of Koch Industries and Koch brothers-affiliated lobbyists… Our policies on climate, on energy, and a host of other matters, has essentially been outsourced to the Koch brothers.”

Through their intricate network of so-called “citizen”’ and legislative organizations, and ability to donate and organize mega-spending from other billionaires, the Koch brothers prevented action on climate change for the past three decades, the crucial timeframe for preventing disastrous weather, CO2 and temperature increases, ice melting and uncontrolled fires.

The major anti-government political shift to the right also affects far more than the physical climate, increasing already existing social, racial, sexual and huge economic divides.

Instead of honoring David Koch for his generous “philanthropy,” it would be more fitting to challenge his institutional donations, as is being done now with those from Jeffrey Epstein, the “opiate lords” in the Sackler family and others. Such actions seem similar to removing early 20th century statues honoring Civil War defenders of slavery, symbols of oppression.

Frances and friends demand and need no statues or plaques honoring their contributions.

Anna Gyorgy is a resident of Wendell.