By Zema Luncher
Charlene Rawston used to love garbage. Instead of keeping it in bins or in the garage, she kept the bags in the living room where she could talk to them and share stories. When Site 52 was first proposed she wholeheartedly supported it, happy that other bags like her close friends would finally have a proper home. But then the protestors came and everything changed.
“They came to my door and told me what I was doing was wrong,” Rawston said, staring at her hands. “They said garbage was filthy and would destroy the water at Site 52 and I should keep mine in bins like everyone else.”
At first Rawston ignored them. She told them to leave and went on living with her close friends. When her neighbours had extra garbage, she would take the bags in and set them up in one of the many rooms in her large ranch-style home.
“Their stories of persecution and humiliation broke my heart,” Rawston said. “I couldn’t just get rid of them because a few people were prejudiced against them.
Plus, I was making good money for taking my neighbour’s garbage off their hands.”
Yet, the protestors kept coming back, bringing leaflets on the necessity of protecting water and reducing garbage and how trash is essentially poison for the environment. Eventually, the way she felt about her bags began to change, she said.
“I never noticed the smell before but after the protestors came it became so I couldn’t stand it,” Rawston said, her eyes bright. “I started moving the garbage into my garage and my shed and then I started taking it to those awful dumps.”
She no longer cared about money and went to great lengths to recycle and reduce her waste until she hardly had any garbage at all, maybe half a grocery bag full every week.
“Before, I used to throw everything out,” Rawston said. “But after listening to the protestors and reading up on the environmental stuff, I starting reusing everything and choosing stuff with less packaging.”
Without the garbage, her house became clean and empty. She started a vegetable garden, joined the blockades at the site and bought signs to help support the cause. Water became an obsession for her.
“I didn’t care about anything else, not my local politicians, not the damage I was doing to my finances or the taxpayers’ money – I put water before everything,” she said, unable to muffle a sob in her large hands. “I didn’t even care if I got arrested as long as I was protecting fresh water.”
After about a week of attending rallies, camping on Site 52 and writing letters to her local politicians, her head started to clear and Rawston began to feel depressed about what she was doing.
“I felt like a huge cop-out,” she said. “These bags had been my friends and I just turned on them because everyone else was against Dump Site 52.
Those protestors brainwashed me.”
Psychologist Fredrick Smeed, who has been treating Rawston for the last two weeks, said brainwashing is one of the protestor’s most dangerous tactics.
“With the pressure from such a large group of people you can force someone to believe almost anything,” Smeed said. “Even that water is more important than money.”
To avoid being brainwashed, Smeed says Comise County residents should keep protestors out of their homes. Locals should also avoid reading anything about the dump site or environmental issues unless it comes from the county itself.
“Tom Gudgeon and his expert’s reports are the only reliable sources of information out there,” Smeed said. “Reading information from the government will help residents stay clear-headed and make common sense choices about this whole issue.”
Rawston says county information and daily sessions with Smeed have been a big help.
“I’m throwing things out again and I’ve got five bags of garbage living with me right now,” she says, pointing to a back room where bags have been tucked into a double bed. “It’s been hard getting water out of my head but, every time I think about it, I focus on the extra money I’m making and all the great things I’ll be able to buy.”