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The Politics of Poop

by Staff


Tags: Toilets, water conservation, water, no-flush toilets, ,

ToiletMy leg shook slightly as I stepped up to the microphone in front of the Senate District 60 Democratic convention in Minneapolis on Saturday. The mayor of Minneapolis was in the room, and congressman Keith Ellison and Senate candidate Al Franken had recently finished speaking. Now it was the hoi polloi’s chance to make their voices heard by starting small constituencies of support for candidates and issues. One person said confidently, “Supporting Al Franken, clean energy.” I stood up nervously and said, “Bennett Gordon, uncommitted on candidates. No-Flush Toilets.”

The crowd burst into laughter.

The issue of no-flush toilets is meant to be funny: It’s a little toilet humor in politics to bring up a serious issue. The U.N. Development Programme reports that more than “1 billion people lack access to water and over 2.4-billion lack access to basic sanitation.” Some Americans, however, continue to flush up to seven gallons of potable water away with use of the toilet. That’s no joke.

When I floated the idea of supporting no-flush toilets at my local caucus a few weeks ago, a spirited discussion ensued. Initially, one man spoke up and yelled, “Not in my house!” Another person tried to fight the resolution by saying that water usage in Minnesota had nothing to do with the rest of the world. I disagreed, and others came to my defense. In the end the resolution passed nearly unanimously, with one abstention.

No Flush Toilet resolutionFrom that discussion, the resolution was put up for a vote at the Senate District convention. You can see the ballot at right.

I believe that change toward no-flush toilets can take place gradually. Retrofitting every house in America with waterless toilets would be costly and politically unfeasible. When building new government facilities, however, water-conserving toilets are entirely possible. In the long run, investing in environmentally responsible toilets would save the government money on water bills, increase funding for sustainable technologies, and pave the way toward a no-flush future.

Part of the problem is that people don’t want to talk about what happens in the bathroom. Bathrooms are “the last frontier of the taboo—where sexuality studies was forty years ago,” Professor Harvey Moltoch told the New Yorker. And Molotch should know. He teaches a course for the New York University Department of Social and Cultural Analysis called “The Urban Toilet.”

No-Flush Toilets PhotoIf progress is to be made on serious environmental issues, uncomfortable subjects and accepted social norms must be addressed, or else all the hard work on water conservation might as well be flushed down the toilet.

At the convention, various people thanked me for raising the issue, but few joined my cause. To send a delegate to the next political level (the state convention), a caucus must have 29 supporters at the event. The No-Flush Toilets subcaucus garnered three people, including me. Eventually, we joined with other environment subcaucuses and collectively were able to send a single delegate to the state convention. The tallies have not yet been counted on the resolution in support of no-flush toilets, but we should know by next week.

Bennett Gordon