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Re: Legitimate Complaints - Systemic Problems

  At 10:41 PM 7/27/97 -0400, you wrote:
  >I agree with Mr. Sagady that citizen activists should not waste 
  >time dwelling on their "victimhood," but I don't 
  >agree with the implication that this 
  >victimization is imaginary or insignificant.
  Now I am sure that I didn't say that in my message
  and I really don't know how you can infer that from what
  is there.   I know about health damage that can occur.
  The family that used to live across from Champion had
  two kids that regularly had respiratory related problems
  and sinusitis from their exposure to Champion's airborne
  But folks with legitimate health and community complaints
  have to rise above their anger and their complaints if they
  are going to get anything concrete accomplished....they
  have to make the "complainer to worker" transition.
  >This is an important discussion.    We 
  >have serious systemic problems in our regulatory 
  >agencies.   The agencies aren't living up to their 
  >purpose, due to outside political pressures, 
  >budget cuts, and legislated restrictions.    Government 
  >bureaucracies always have some human-nature 
  >inefficiencies, but that doesn't account for all 
  >the problems citizens have when they try to get help.
  >Mr. Sagady himself described the political risks some staff 
  >took when they tried to do their jobs.    This 
  >should not be  acceptable.
  Yes...but it is part of the playing field, which is not level.  The
  same Champion guys I was fighting were always busy 
  behind the scenes to try to get me either called off the case
  or fired.
  The trick is to spread the heat out so not any one person
  gets fully targeted at the same time, either inside agencies
  or in the citizen organizations.
  >Also, I know some of the local citizens involved 
  >in the "Dickenson Citizens for Clean Air' group Mr. 
  >Sagady describes.   Last I heard, the group 
  >folded as a result of total burn-out of the 
  >citizen leaders.   At least one of the key 
  >leaders moved away.   It wasn't that their work was done 
  >and they were satisfied --- they just couldn't 
  >take the stress anymore.
  Yes, DCCA is not active these days.   But Champion is 
  no longer causing uncontrolled releases of reduced
  sulfur emissions.  The air pollution problems have
  been significantly and dramatically reduced.   It took
  3-4 years of this group's effort to accomplish that
  very substantial task.   The water discharges from
  this plant deserve more scrutiny, but that fight will probably have
  to wait for another day.
  >This burn-out is too common.   We lose good 
  >activists from Green Bay all the time --- they 
  >just get to the point where they have to get out 
  >of town or drop out of the picture because it's too frustrating, 
  >depressing, and overwhelming. 
  One solution to this problem is to get enough people working
  at any one time so that no one or two individuals end up with 
  too heavy a load or end up as too obvious a target for 
  individual effort by the opponents.
  Also, the tactics and strategies have to keep it fun for the 
  whole group and the individuals in it....  best advice on this
  is to read Saul Alinski's Rules for Radicals....
  >Mr. Sagady describes intensive, long-term citizen 
  >struggles to solve GLARINGLY OBVIOUS problems.   
  >These are problems which shouldn't have continued 
  >more than a week without swift and 
  >decisive agency action.    Good citizen leaders 
  >get tied up for years on one or two of these 
  >cases, while dozens of other important environmental 
  >problems go unaddressed because of the overload.
  Well...sometimes the problems are glaringly obvious but
  the solutions to those problems are not, either for the
  citizens or the regulatory agencies.  There are a lot of 
  smaller companies out there also that do not have environmental
  staff and they really don't have a complete idea of what
  their impact is, even if they do get complaints from 
  the community.    At major, complex facilities, it is 
  sometimes difficult to identify specific sources of 
  emission and to tank their contribution to the overall
  Also, citizen groups and individual citizen leaders
  must really focus on working just one or two issues
  to ensure that they get something done.   Groups
  that work on everything and don't prioritize their
  efforts often fail to get anything done.
  >Our natural resource and public health agencies 
  >were created to do this job for us.   That's why 
  >we pay taxes for these enormous bureaucracies.
  >Please don't criticize citizens for expressing 
  >outrage that the agencies aren't capable, or 
  >allowed, or encouraged to do their jobs.
  >Mr. Sagady states, "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."
  >It's not counterproductive if it helps list 
  >readers address the underlying cause of the 
  >problem.   The problem with unhelpful agencies IS 
  >"broadscale" and systemic.   It won't go away by pretending it 
  >doesn't exist.
  My point is that the local group concerned about a 
  a really tough demonstrable problem can't expect 
  to accomplish anything by just complaining.  Now my
  heart tells me that what you are saying above is true...  a 
  complaint ought to cause the problem to be solved.    But
  what my head and my experience tell me is that 
  the local citizens are actually the ultimate enforcers or, 
  at the least, the folks that provide the compelling motive
  force for agency enforcement against companies.  That 
  is why we have citizen suit provisions in federal and many
  state environmental laws.
  Now  you tell me, what is more compelling for agency 
  1.  a couple of citizens complaining on a sporadic basis
  2.  a citizen group that is operating in technical, political,
  organizing, and advocacy modes in addressing a local 
  environmental problem.
  >It's also distressing to note Mr. Sagady's clear 
  >disrespect and dislike for citizens who have been 
  >victimized by pollution, and doubly victimized by 
  >nasty agency staff people. 
  I've spent my entire career working with citizens who
  have serious environmental problems and I can assure
  you I don't "disrespect and dislike" them.   But one of
  my first tasks working with these groups is always to get
  them off of the internal focus and putting all of their
  energy into outreach, organizing, research and other external
  activities.   You just can't get very much done if you're just
  licking your wounds.    Work the problem, learn all you 
  can and don't just spend all of the time complaining..
  >Apparently, he dismisses as "complainers" any 
  >citizen who raises concern about unresponsive or 
  >hostile agencies. 
  If you want to complain about agency unresponsiveness,
  focus on the top management layers of these agencies...
  what I often call the "slippery-slimy" layer....  
  If you want to get real results, keep your communications
  and collaborations with the field people and middle-management
  on a positive, worker-oriented, problem-focused plane...
  > He assumes those "complainers" 
  >don't do any real work and can't be effective --- an 
  >extreme insult if I ever heard one.  
  >(I "complain" all the time, but work HARD while 
  >I'm doing it.  Outrage is what keeps me 
  >motivated.   And yes, I am effective.)
  I find that "outrage" is a dangerous emotion that doesn't necessarily
  propell the bearer in a direction that solves the problem.   I find
  "pursuit of justice"  is a better motivator.  It helps you keep
  your "eye on the prize."
  >Unfortunately, though Mr. Sagady may not intend 
  >it this way, he's using the same arguments 
  >industry PR flacks use to dismiss and 
  >marginalize local citizen activists --- by 
  >claiming we're negative, adversarial, 
  >"bashing," etc.    This has to stop.
  Now I never said nor intended that citizen groups
  should not take aggressive, adversarial positions
  with local industry that cause serious environmental
  problems.   I've engaged in plenty of "bashing"
  of polluters on behalf of past clients and employers;
  citizen groups should carefully prepare their attacks
  to ensure they are convincing and give the local
  polluter the maximum PR negative hit.
  What I am arguing is that citizen groups should
  focus their time and energy in relations with  
  state and federal regulators on finding and working
  with the most sympathetic people they can find in 
  these agencies to build the case for enforcement
  and tough regulation.
  >Yes, it is possible for citizens to educate 
  >themselves and dive into technical proofs of 
  >environmental problems.   It is possible for them 
  >to spend thousands of dollars to hire 
  >consultants and lawyers, and to devote all their 
  >free time to pursuing justice.   The question is, WHY 
  >Again, we have a systemic problem in our 
  >government --- the excessive political power of 
  >the wealthy and the corporations.
  >We can continue to fight our depressing battles 
  >as individual citizen groups at the local level.  
  >We can even win a few.   But overall, we've got 
  >to get a handle on the cause of many 
  >of our problems:  Imbalance in political power, 
  >and the loss of democracy.
  No argument here.....  focusing on the money/
  campaign contributions connection can be 
  particularly productive in putting the hooks in
  the local politicians that are fronting for the 
  local polluter.
  And, accumulating and exercising local political
  power can definitively address these kinds of
  imbalance in our body politic.   But folks have to 
  let go of their rage and concentrate on building
  a local political organization.  The anti-Champion
  group ended up with some of its people on 
  the local city council;  the anti-waste burning
  group in Alpena has 500 members in a county
  with 11,000 people.   Now that is local political 
  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)