I once knew a man. A very annoying man. A man who saw injustice being done and took action in fierce and effective ways. Dr. Wally Burnstein, D.O., annoyed polluting corporate executives, as well as people who could not be bothered to speak up. He was my mentor and my friend and though the polluting corporations celebrated his passing on April 11, 1996, there were thousands who mourned the loss of this extraordinary individual who refused to compromise where our health and the health of the planet were concerned. Both feared and loved, Wally held fast to his principles and made a profound impact with his life. Perhaps for this earth day celebration he will inspire a few more.
Wally: If we support technology that destroys nature, the destruction of nature leads to our destruction, all species, but particularly our destruction. If everybody has cancer, if children are developing cancer at the age of 5 and 10 years old then what’s the sense? Nothing takes precedence over us staying healthy and us staying alive, of keeping the earth alive, keeping the Mother alive.
As a physician Wally saw the consequences of living in a polluted environment and chose to focus his activism on two essential components on which we all depend. In 1986 he created Food and Water Inc. and went to work against the Food Irradiation industry and successfully brought it to its knees. With a base of tens of thousands of dedicated individuals, who shared his mission, Wally created ingenious phone and letter writing campaigns that were amazing in their effectiveness. There were no computer generated forms or petitions to sign in those early days of the environmental movement. It all depended on people calling people, calling corporations, calling state and national representatives by the thousands. Long, hard, tedious work, with Wally goosing people of good will to mobilize for what they knew was right, not what leaders thought was realistic.