Hi, I’m Alex Knight. I’m a teacher, writer, and activist. I manage endofcapitalism.com and I’m writing a book called The End of Capitalism.
I was born on July 4, 1983. I was raised an All-American boy in a working class family in a small town outside of Philadelphia. As a child, I excelled in sports (I was an all-star baseball player for 10 years), and in school (I was placed in the “gifted” class at the age of 7). Ambler, Pennsylvania was a wonderful place to grow up in. My neighborhood friends and I used to walk to elementary school in the morning and chase fireflies in the park at sunset. But my hometown was also burdened with a painful legacy from its industrial past, one which illustrates how capitalism’s obsession with profits far too often leads to environmental damage and human suffering.
The twin house I grew up in was originally home to Italian immigrants who worked in Ambler’s asbestos factory in the early 1900’s. Owned and operated by Keasbey and Mattison Corporation, this five-story factory made Ambler what it was – an industrial working class community and the “asbestos capital of the world“. Asbestos, a mineral known for its fire-resistant properties, was very popular at the time as a material used in everything from home insulation, roofing tiles, ship engines, brake pads, and shoes. Unfortunately, asbestos also has a nasty habit of giving people a form of lung cancer (mesothelioma) from breathing in its dust. Hundreds of the Italian-American workers and their family members contracted mesothelioma and suffered for years with breathing problems, or died. When the factory was finally shut down in the 1970s, 3 million tons of asbestos waste had been piled into what are now known as the “White Mountains” – thinly-covered man-made hills of toxic waste.
While I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, over 50,000 claims were brought against Keasbey and Mattison by former workers, residents and consumers who had been exposed to asbestos poisoning. At the same time, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was classifying the White Mountains a Superfund site, sealing it off from the public and cleaning up some of the carcinogenic mess. Nevertheless asbestos pollution remains a persistent concern for Ambler residents, and according to a Montgomery County Health Department analysis mesothelioma rates in town continue to be significantly higher than normal, despite the factory closing over 30 years ago. One resident interviewed in 2008 stated, “Six households on one block report a family member dying from asbestos-related disease. I have lost 5 members to asbestos-related disease”.
Although the company almost certainly knew the dangers of asbestos and its connection to lung cancer as early as the 1930s, it kept the information secret, from the public, and from its workers, despite the growing cases of illness and death. The reason is obvious. If people knew that asbestos would give them cancer, they wouldn’t want it in their homes or their household products, and would stop purchasing it. And if workers could prove that the company was responsible for their health problems, they would sue and the company could go out of business. In other words, the corporation knew it was causing ecological and social harm, but lied about it to protect its profits.
Ambler’s story is not that exceptional. Every town in America, indeed across the globe, has its own story about how it’s been affected by capitalism.
Likewise my decision to devote my life to the cause of environmental and social justice is not that exceptional. People all around the world are making the same sorts of decisions about how to live their lives in harmony with nature and with their fellow human beings, every single day.
I attained a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University in 2005, then went on to receive a Master’s in Political Science the next year. During college I got involved in activism and led a successful campaign pressuring my university to purchase wind energy to help supply the school’s electricity. Since then, I became an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a national youth organization working for peace and democracy. Now I’ve begun working with other men to overcome sexism and male-dominance in our lives and in society. I currently reside in Philadelphia and work at a community college, where I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) and Computer Basics courses. Besides writing, I enjoy bike rides, music, food, and hanging out with friends.
My overriding inspiration is that the places where we live – where our children grow up – and the people in our lives – loved ones and strangers – don’t need to suffer the way Ambler and its inhabitants have. We don’t need to be slaves to a system that considers profits more important than human and ecological well-being. I think these priorities are skewed, and I think most people would agree with me. And just think, if everyone who feels this way were to work together, we could change the world. In fact, millions of people are already engaged in this work and through their efforts, the world is changing, slowly but surely. Healing doesn’t happen overnight. And we need to heal not just ourselves, but our communities, as well as our planet.
I believe in our capacity to heal. Even in an economic crisis, our spirits will never be silenced. When we let go of capitalism, we can embrace a better future – one where human life and environmental sustainability are more important than the profits of large corporations.
A new world is on its way. We are building it, one day at a time.
August 3, 2009