Summary: Public lands will end up in private hands unless we develop an environmental action plan for every congressional district.
We have just had a spectacular example of just how little strength the environmental community has in the current Congress. If the Senate can vote 90-7 to suspend the Environmental laws for national forests and the press not even mention the bad provisions nor note they were opposed by the environmental community, how much lower can we go? It is time to take stock of what went wrong. We cannot stand by counting our thousands of alerts or press packets and say like some teacher whose whole class is unable to read, "Well its not my fault, I taught them, they just didn't learn." Environmental strategies and tactics that served us in the past are proving totally inadequate for the demands being placed upon us.
If we are as unsuccessful with the grazing bill as we were with the forest provisions of the rescissions bill, we are going to wake up one morning and find that millions of acres of land have been essentially transferred into the hands of grazing interests. After Domenici's new grazing laws have been incorporated into land valuations for bank loans, we will never get this land back without running into "takings" issues which will make the wetlands wars seem tame. Once a quasi property right over public land for grazing has been established, we will be fighting a losing battle for all our public land. Timber and grazing interests are merely shills for the oil and mining industries. The deep pockets behind public land privatization are extractive industry and they are orchestrating a wholesale privatization of our public lands. We face the enclosure of the continent. A recolonization of our country, and a future controlled by trans-national corporations who have seized our land base is no longer inconceivable.
Now that the Democratic party has merged with the Republicans and unions, populists progressives, and liberals no longer exist as a political force, the only power potentially strong enough to stop the conservative anti-environmental tide is us. But if we are to be successful at fending off this invasion we must organize at a level not previously attempted or imagined.
- We need an environmental action plan for every congressional district and every state as soon as possible, with clear lines of responsibility of who does what , when, where and how. The goal of this plan should be to undo every bad environmental initiative now before us and then pass needed environmental legislation.
- The Sierra Club and Audubon must begin a major attempt to organize and mobilize their grassroots groups Regional and headquarters officials must get out to the chapters and spread the word and help mobilize local members. Every book and major article in the past 2 years analyzing what went wrong with the environmental movement has singled out the failure of the national organizations to do grassroots organizing as a fundamental factor. The nationals simply must address this criticism and provide leadership in this area.
- Inventories of all grassroots groups need to be undertaken so we have the locations and strength of all our groups identified. Their needs for training and equipment must be identified then furnished. Alert networks based on Computers, fax machines and telephone trees must be established in every congressional district in the country.
- A lead organization must be identified for every congressional district to coordinate these telephone and letter trees. Someone must keep track of every public appearance of every representative and their public meetings must be filled with environmentalists. Responsibility for op-ed and letters to the editor need to be set up for every daily and weekly newspaper in the country. Every representative voting wrong needs to be sharply and promptly called on their votes in their local press.
- A central point for analysis of all bills and legislative attacks needs to be created so we are not all duplicating the analysis of some major threats while ignoring others.
- The scientific community must be organized to take some responsibility for this problem. The total impact on US environmental struggles of all the graduate schools of ecology and biology is marginal to non existent. Today about the only thing we can depend on them for, is to stand around with a clipboard counting and weighing things.
- The production of hard hitting ads needs to begin so the public understands what is at stake. Funds must be raised to run these ads. Media must be so hard hitting that people get up from their chairs and take the newspapers to show their spouses. Our lawyers who review these ads should lay awake worrying if we went too far. Our ads must themselves become news. Every $10,000 we spend on ads should get us a million dollars of free publicity discussing them. Our ads should name names, take on corporations where necessary, and accurately convey the scope of our problem.
In ancient Greece, Athenian generals fought about who would lead their combined fleets right up to the point enemy fleets landed on their shores and conquered their country. If we do not get our act together, we are going to be judged, in years to come, as the environmental leaders who pushed papers around while the country systematically dismantled its environmental laws. Worse for the future, every country in the world takes their lead on environmental issues from us. What will happen when they begin to follow the example we are now setting for the rest of the world?
One last point. Everybody should stop waiting for some foundation to write us a check for us to organize ourselves. A mounted cavalry of foundation suits is not going to ride in at the last minute and save us. Foundation help would be nice, but it is not necessary. We are capable of organizing ourselves with our existing resources. The combined assets of the environmental community in the US is probably a billion dollars and we have the treasury of every one of the thousands of organized groups as an asset. We have millions of members and can raise the money internally. But the country will respond only If a clear plan and a powerful vision is created.
Things are stagnating at an alarming rate. We'd better get moving.
©1995 Jim Britell
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