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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
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
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
>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
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
>SHOULD THEY HAVE TO?
>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
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: email@example.com
Environmental Consulting and Database Systems
PO Box 39 East Lansing, MI 48826-0039
(517) 332-6971 (voice); (517) 332-8987 (fax)