You Defend It

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For American citizens, democracy has been reduced to a spectator sport. During the time between elections, we have virtually no role in, or power over, our government. We are receivers of information from television, internet, radio, and, to a vanishing degree, printed publications. In other words, we take what the media gives us.

The reality is that we are dependent upon a media culture that characterizes its own work as “debate” while simultaneously denigrating the very concept. Americans are told, on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis that a “debate” on the issue of the day is “underway”. However, that which pundits characterize as “debate” is nothing of the kind. We are fed segments by network and cable outlets that contain unilateral, 15– second remarks made by commentators and elected officials in different places at different times. These segments invariably conclude with, “And so the debate continues.”

Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, it never began. Dueling, unverified sound-bites delivered by partisans at different times do not a debate make. Worse still, it has resulted in a nation so polarized that the mere mention of compromise incites reprisal. The permanent campaign culture has subtly, but steadily, replaced real debate. Our media’s systematic focus on the sport of politics, to the utter exclusion of the substantive issues around which the politics swirl, has robbed the public of the fair warning to which it is due. State by state, citizens grapple with serious issues, and form opinions about those issues, without the aid of an accountable debate.

The truth is that Americans have not witnessed a meaningful debate of a major issue in their lifetimes. It is incumbent upon those of us who believe that America deserves better than this – because America is better than this – to provide the public with the critical information it needs before every major decision. And we need to do this by ensuring that the public has access to a debate that reflects the reality of the facts on the ground, not the partisan, bumper-sticker summaries conveyed by an ever-compliant media.

The You Defend It Debate Tour exists for the sole purpose of providing citizens with a thorough, accurate, and honest understanding of how their lives will actually be affected when a divisive issue in their state is resolved. This is a “tour” in the geographic sense only – we will go to where the issues are. This tour is perpetual.

To do this, Defend It, Inc., organizes debates of the most pressing, current issues. The debates are held at a colleges and universities. The debaters are prominent individuals who are deeply involved with the issue being debated, and who represent opposing points of view.

You Defend It debates are governed by two simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the questions that are asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to the other debater’s argument, political party, or perceived philosophy. In other words, debaters must show up with their own solution – and defend it.

On February 24, 2014, a You Defend It Debate on the issue of Hydraulic Fracturing in New York was held at Binghamton University.

The debaters were:

John Holko – President of Lenape Resources, Inc., and Director at Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York where he has also served as President. Mr. Holko has operated over 300 wells in New York State.

Sandra Steingraber – Ecologist, author; and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking. She earned a Doctoral Degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1989. She is currently Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Ithaca College. She has written several books, including: Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis (Da Capo Press, 2011); Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, 2nd edition, (Da Capo Press, 2010); and Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment (Addison-Wesley Press, 1997).

The February 24, 2014 debate, which can be viewed below, produced accountable answers on such issues as: the likelihood of natural gas being drilled in New York and then exported out of state; the benefits of industry and environmentalists working in concert; identification of specifically who would reap the economic benefits of fracking; environmental concerns; and property rights. The result was a debate worthy of the issues being addressed – and worthy of the New Yorkers whose lives are affected by them.