[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: let's build a unified movement, not fight each other

  At 03:18 PM 7/24/97 -0400, jon@cqs.com wrote:
  >Re: Greenpeace's work:
  >I tend to agree with Charlie, and I think this needs to
  >be a public discussion. If there is something wrong
  >technically with a report, we need to discuss it and
  >fix it, not accuse organizations of bending the truth.
  >Greenpeace's work, to date, has been pretty exemplary,
  >and they are in the trenches against the most powerful
  >companies in the world.
  >Greenpeace activists
  >put their lives on the lines to collect the samples and
  >get them analyzed from the "dioxin factories
  >"; nobody
  >talks too much about that. If there is something really
  >wrong with the report, we need to fix it, because anything
  >we say that can be discredited hurts all of us. (I frankly
  >think that their report will stand up to criticism...)
  How about wrong ethically???
  Note the following passage from the "dioxin factories" report:
  "Greenpeace members
   obtained these samples by entering vinyl factories under the
   cover of darkness and in full protective gear, and by following
   accepted occupational safety and health guidelines and
   sampling procedures. "
  They are actually proud of this, with photos on their web site.
  Now this is NOT your traditional civil disobedience tactic....something
  that is a tradition in social change movements.....  where you
  publicly defy an institution and get arrested in order to make 
  a political point and attract public attention to your cause......
  ...notwithstanding condemnation by the authorities, 
  non-violent civil disobedience still has significant public support
  when carried out to influence public opinion and protest 
  public and private injustice.
  What Greenpeace did is fundamentally and distinctly different
  from non-violent civil disobedience.   
  The environmental/public interest community has rightly protested
  corporate intelligence gathering and security company invasions
  of privacy of environmental activists and organizations.  When 
  corporate interests engage in "ends justify the means" approaches to 
  violating the integrity and privacy of citizens involved environmental
  activism through phone taps, intelligence gathering reports, agents
  provocateur, violent attacks on activists, having your kids 
  discriminated against in the local school,  etc. etc. all of us in the public
  interest/environmental community rightly raise holy hell.
  However, when environmental organizations start covert operations
   -- breaking into facilities, engaging
  in criminal trespass and taking
  samples of waste ---  we, as a movement, risk losing enormous
  public credibility.    We would never tolerate our corporate 
  opponents breaking into our offices and homes and stealing 
  records and private information from environmental groups.  Why should
  anyone support such tactics carried out by "environmentalists?"
  When all is said and done, breaking into someone's industrial 
  plant under cover of darkness in order to collect samples isn't really
  any different ethically  than what the folks who did in the Watergate
  break-in or the 
  break-in  into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist ....
  .....it is still just a "black bag job" to conduct a fishing expedition....
  >As for government work to help the community: while
  >there are a large number of well-meaning people in
  >the government who really want their agencies to
  >do the right thing (example: William Sanjour), it should
  >be obvious to most people that the EPA's role is
  >to instutionalize the status quo and guarantee the
  >viability of the chemical and industrial giants.
  Like many generalizations, this one can be immediately shown
  to be false.   You only have to look at EPA's recent 
  efforts to make the ozone and particulate matter air 
  quality standards more strict because of demonstrable
  health effects evidence to blow the above generalization
  out of the water.   EPA is fighting a massive $20 million
  industry campaign to get these standards in place.  They've
  been fighting all of the president's advisors from other
  federal government departments.....I don't
  call than "institutionalizing the status quo."
  Many folks on the list seem really intent on bashing
  state and federal regulators and complaining about
  these agencies.   I see this kind of broadscale
  bashing as really counterproductive and marginalizing.
  Now I have my list of agency people who would give me
  indigestion at lunch  (such as one of the
  people in Region 7 EPA who regulate hazardous
  waste burning cement kilns there, and that prickly TNRCC
  lawyer down in Texas, and John Engler's chief
  environmental regulator in Michigan ...Russell Harding)
  But I have had many more experiences and successes
  by finding specific public servants who work hard, have a real
  consciousness and are very susceptible to technical arguments
  and public pleas for stronger environmental regs and permits.
  I'd suggest that the ability of citizen groups to form these
  kind of partnerships and to carry on these discussions 
  will directly affect their ability to be effective in solving or
  eliminating problems.
  Much of the time, you will find the agency people that you 
  need to work with are in middle-management or at the field
  A concrete example....   A number of years ago, I became
  involved in an issue associated with terrible air pollution 
  from a brand new $500 million Champion International plant
  in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.   Those cowboys from
  Champion were sure tough, arrogant SOBs in extreme 
  denial about their problems....  such as pooring out 
  large amounts of reduced sulfur compounds into the air  in the middle
  of the night, among many problems...  
  I was working for the American Lung Association of Michigan
  at the time and we formed a close partnership with a local
  citizen group, the Dickinson County Citizens for Clean Air, to 
  work the problem for three years.   Ultimately, it took the 
  combined pressure from the Association, the citizen group,
  the U.S. EPA, the Michigan DNR and the Air Pollution Control
  Commission to finally get Champion to address and resolve
  their problems.  Ultimately, Champion was forced to accept
  some of the toughest TRS air pollution controls ever imposed
  on a kraft pulp mill in the United States.
  But none of this would have happened without the Association and
  the local citizens developing strong communication links with
  key permit engineers and enforcement staff at Michigan DNR and
  EPA Region V in Chicago.   The citizens were able to correlate
  strong obnoxious odors to plant operating and malfunction records.
  The Michigan permit engineers and I had several meetings to 
  go over blueprints from the plant, get a handle on emission points and
  to figure out likely chemical emissions from the plant under 
  certain operating modes.   We traded technical papers on
  kraft mill operation.   We figured out specific questions that 
  needed to be answered by the company.
  Another example.....
  Citizens in Alpena Michigan have been fighting hazardous
  waste burning by Lafarge Corporation since early 1992.
  Prior to this, no one in that town  and no one in the Michigan
  Department of Natural Resources really understood the
  practices by the company.
  But citizen pressure, inquiry and questioning really changed
  the enforcement and inspection effort that the local DNR
  office exerted on that plant.   Two field guys...an air inspector
  and waste management inspector... for the DNR started
  putting the company under intense surveillance.  They did
  so at the risk of their careers as the company used the
  local state senator to try to call off the scrutiny through 
  top management levels of the Engler Administration..
  A local activist started videotaping environmental violations
  and waste transportation hazards, all shared with the 
  local DNR office and with U.S. EPA.   Other officers of the 
  citizen group conducted monthly examinations of the 
  records in the DNR office to keep closely informed.
  The result has been that Lafarge has been under almost
  continual notices of violations for the last couple of years.
  Their credibility in the community is in tatters.  The amount
  of waste being burned at the plant has significantly 
  declined.  Dust emissions from the plant and waste disposal
  has been reduced.
  >Please, please, please, folks, lets work together to
  >fight our real adversaries, not each other...
  >We need a mass movement against toxic exposure,
  >not people criticizing each other for mistakes...
  Most movements need to go through periods of self-evaluation
  and questioning of tactics, methods and priorities.
  I'd suggest again three specific transitions that need to be 
  1.  The transition from "complainer/victim" to
  "worker"    Complainers expect others to solve the problem.   Complainers
  don't take responsibility for their communities.   Victims who focus
  on victimhood will frequently consume their entire energy on this
  introspection and on their own anger without every becoming externally
  Workers do research, engage on their own turf, plan strategy, raise
  questions and expect answers, probe at the frontiers of the 
  issue, build the case, organize and, most importantly, set the 
  priorities for the issue.   Workers know which of their arguments
  are strong, not as strong and the weak ones that need to be dropped.
  Workers put their opponents and the regulators under intense questioning
  to determine all facets of an issue;  in doing so, workers get off
  the defensive and stay on the offensive.
  2.  Numbers make a difference and focus on the quantitative aspects
  of toxic exposure issues is absolutely essential.....   Not all toxic
  risks and emissions are the same.  It is really important to know
  the differences.    The worst problems deserve the most attention
  and priority on an emissions, exposure and population at risk basis
  when setting issue priorities.   
  3.  Stay away from dogma and indeological approaches.....  Understanding
  toxic emissions and exposures is a matter of scientific investigation
  and engineering.   Yes it is complex, but ordinary citizens can learn
  enough to be effective with advocacy efforts, particularly with 
  public agencies.   As noted in the paper mill example above, those 
  housewives and small town folks learned a lot about environmental data and
  kraft mill emission controls....enough to talk the language with both
  regulators and the  company.   But if you're filled with the inflexibility
  of dogma and ideology, it is going  to get in the way of communicating, 
  learning, priority setting and advocating.   
  Alex J. Sagady & Associates        Email:  asagady@sojourn.com
  Environmental Consulting and Database Systems
  PO Box 39  East Lansing, MI  48826-0039  
  (517) 332-6971 (voice); (517) 332-8987 (fax)