Group Therapy

Airport foes share their pain online

Some friends moved from Austin, Texas, to Orange County recently, and they asked me for house-hunting advice. I gave them only one piece of information: whatever you do, don't buy in South County.My advice was kindly meant, but I later regretted it. It was like acknowledging that the twerps who want to plop El Toro International Airport among the expensively cared-for homes of South County are going to win, and I'm not prepared to admit that yet. I mean, just because the rich folks in OC get everything they ask county government for until even the greedy infantile sectors of their brains are lulled into contentment, we shouldn't give up hope-as soon as we do, the bastards own us.Leonard Kranser certainly hasn't caved. Even after all the setbacks-the two ballot defeats, the repeated pro-airport votes by the Board of Supervisors, the denied court appeals-Kranser remains upbeat. His El Toro Airport Info Site (www.eltoroairport.org) is getting about 100,000 hits per month. The information he posts on the Web winds up being brandished at school-board meetings and included in letters to politicians and newspapers. And the anti-airport groups in Orange County are connected over the Internet to similar groups all over the world: England, Australia, the Netherlands, and closer to home in San Jose, Chicago and New Jersey."I just heard from a group in the Netherlands-their newsletter has a cartoon I sent them about the El Toro project, showing the Board of Supervisors riding a steamroller over South County," Kranser said. "We get cries for help from a lot of smaller groups in Reno, Memphis and elsewhere."It's encouraging because people realize it's not just us," he added. "Millions around the world are feeling the same way and working on the same issues-that's very encouraging."A Los Angeles Times story last month talked about how all these sites are trading information among themselves; Kranser added that his site got started after he found the Regional Commission on Airport Affairs (www.rcaanews.org/rcaa), an anti-airport group in Seattle. The Times story was a perky tale for foes of the airport, as the teeter-totter of objective journalism swung their way in the coverage of the airport squabble. But after a tour of about a dozen anti-airport sites from all over the world, I came away feeling very disheartened: one after another told tales of defeat at the hands of big business and the capitalist spirit of expansion, armed with magical incantations of progress.The Coalition Against Runway 2 site (www.mfoe.u-net.com/car2/index.html), for instance, chronicles environmentalists' doomed effort to prevent construction of a new runway at Manchester Airport. They tried everything: occupying trees on the construction site, holding sit-ins in tunnels they dug, going on hunger strikes. The runway was built. In Sydney, Australia, residents protested expansion of the airport; you can read all about their unavailing efforts on the Third Runway Protest Site (www.ozemail.com.au/~darrylro). And in San Jose, the Citizens Against Airport Pollution (www.best.com/~caap/) lost its court case urging a moderate-growth airport and is uncertain what to try next.Kranser says all this doesn't discourage him. "The organizations break into two groups: those fighting against existing airports trying to expand, and those fighting against airports that really do not exist yet as commercial airports-like El Toro," he said. "The tactics in Seattle or O'Hare [in Chicago] differ from what we're trying to do." And, truthfully, the sites chronicling failed efforts to stop airports are not exact parallels. Some are fighting off airport expansion. Some are using wildly different tactics from the OC groups; the Manchester activists, for example, used typical granola warfare strategies rather than voter referendums and lawsuits. And there are other sites out there that haven't given up the ghost-like the RCAA site Kranser credits with inspiring his own site.And despite the inarguable presence of the second runway, the Manchester site says it regards its campaign as a success, calling it a "noisy defeat but a silent victory" that would ultimately lead to a decrease in air travel as people recognized its harmful environmental effects. Indeed, if the protest was intended largely to draw media attention, it succeeded; one protester, who is nicknamed "Swampy," became a national media darling. But it was unquestionably a Pyrrhic victory, and that's not really what Kranser and others are hoping for at El Toro. What good, after all, is a raised consciousness to South County if jumbo jets are lumbering over their rooftops at a rate of one per minute?Perhaps Kranser's retort is best-that despite the worldwide connections among airport opponents made possible by the Web, ultimately El Toro is a local fight. "If someone fails, that doesn't mean we can't succeed," he said. "I tend to get more inspired by things that are happening in OC. I was in France recently and logged on, and I learned that [Supervisor Jim] Silva would have to be in a runoff against [airport opponent Dave] Sullivan. That encourages me more than what happens in Sydney or Munich or wherever."And Kranser's site's greatest contribution is not the effect it has on his allies in the Netherlands and elsewhere, but the determined little guys at OC meetings clutching printouts of his statistics.GOODBYE, DANINow that we've had our dose of righteous indignation for the week, let's turn to a little righteous sorrow: just a few weeks after her peers handed her a lifetime-achievement award aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, computer-game designer Dani Bunten Berry died of lung cancer.I interviewed Berry several weeks before her death. Our talk was punctuated by her racking cough, which she-perhaps not wanting her illness publicized, perhaps just not wanting to discuss it-attributed to a cold.MPath Interactive, a computer company in Mountain View, California, has put together a tribute site at www.mpath.com/dani, where those who knew her can post messages about her death. Scrolling through their memorials, I was reminded yet again of why I love gamers-for their fundamental kindness and their ready acceptance of differences. Berry was a pioneer, both in designing innovative games and in her decision to be open about her past identity after her transgender surgery-a necessary candor if she wanted to stay in the industry she loved, an industry she had entered years before as Dan Bunten.Many messages talk about how much Berry's games meant to them (her classics were M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold). Others speak openly of their difficulties-or lack thereof-with her gender change. Berry's friend Eric Goldberg talks about how Dani gently helped him come to terms with her transition. Her brother Steve contributes a long essay on how their family coped both with her sex change and with her death. But perhaps the most moving comment comes from someone who admits she never met Berry: "I am also a male-to-female transsexual, and I live pretty openly in my home of Huntsville, Alabama," Dani Richard writes. "I wish I had known her. Her life gives me courage as I approach the next phase in my own transition. My surgery is 57 days away."She will be missed.Write to Wyn at whilty@sprynet.com

 
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