Compromise & capitulation
"we have cut the baby in half
so many times were arguing over the toenails."
Tim Hermach, Native Forest Council
"All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is surrender. For it is all give and no take."
– Mohandas Gandhi
Date: 19 May 1997 19:56:02 EST
Subject: WRN Intersect V1 N3 Section 1 Article
A WEEKLY FAX NEWS BULLETIN
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN REGION
May 5, 1997 Volume I Number 2
Interview with a Freeway Fighter
Angela Rooney was one of the leaders in the anti-freeway movement from the early 60's to the early 70's that succeeded in preventing the construction of 1500 lane miles of freeway in the region. This included an extension of I-95 and an "inner-circulator," both of which would have, among other things, destroyed thousands of homes and small businesses in the District of Columbia. I have spoken to Ms. Rooney several times and have been deeply impressed with her courage, commitment to speaking truth to power and political savvy. Her knowledge of both the political history of transportation struggles in this region and the essentials of effective movement building are of great value to today's activists fighting current highway projects. I recently asked her how she became involved with the Freeway Fighters and how they became such an effective fighting force. Following are some excerpts of her thoughts from that conversation. -- Chris Niles
"I think the first thing that struck me was the social inequality of ramming a huge freeway through a largely black section of the city which would have just ripped up neighborhood after neighborhood, community after community. It was just a massive attempt to destroy half of Washington DC. Better connected whites in Northwest simply said no way are you going to ram a freeway down Wisconsin or Connecticut Ave or anywhere else in Northwest. So the highway department went back and redrew it and said "wow, we can go through Northeast, they don't have any clout." But the idea that this was going to be imposed on the city without any real opportunity to be heard from was to me an outrage...
I quickly learned that there was no one to lead us or protect us. I heard that there was to be a hearing in Takoma Park, another community that the freeway would decimate. So, I took myself out and I watched what happened at the public hearing.. As I heard the testimony, I found the people that I wanted to work with. We started this huge network. We did not have the advantage of getting funding for anything, ever.
It began with meetings every week, meetings every day sometimes. We went to all the hearings and learned the tactics of the labor unions, by which I mean simultaneously organizing and educating, though without having the guns right in our faces. At the top of the list was educating. We realized that our job was to teach people what their rights were, to realize that the constitution guaranteed those rights, to stand up for them, and to speak out.
We were scrupulously careful in never having a meeting from which anyone was barred or never having a plan that was not within our constitutional rights to carry out, to hold a meeting, to picket, to demonstrate. Everything that we did was within the law. Still, what came down was the heavy, heavy boot of the FBI and our newspaper (the Washington Post). The Post called us everything from communists to pinkos to "that little band of discontented people..." Our job was to educate from the highest economic level to the lowest economic level and bring them all together at the same table whenever possible so that everybody was focused on the same issue. We were immensely advantaged by having a guy named Sam Abbott who was at heart and soul a great union organizer to focus and understand what was really going on. We understood that almost all of our troubles came out of the '56 Highway Act which created an enormous lobby of asphalt and cement people, auto companies, tire makers, all the people who make money from highways. They were well-entrenched in Congress and drinking deeply from the federal trough that was set up called the Highway Trust Fund. They had little respect for anyone who got in their way and they were astonished that anybody like me, a white woman living in a largely black neighborhood would get up and testify strongly, mincing no words...
The Federal Highway Administration, was in fact breaking its own laws left and right. They would not hold the proper hearings, they would not publish advance notice of meetings. We had to force the government to obey its own laws and regulations. The more you saw of how criminally they behaved, the more you learned the importance of learning what they were up to all the time. You tracked the organizations that supported the highways, that greased the wheels. You also learned another important thing: Always know where the money is coming from and where it is going. We eventually succeeded in networking a large area that included the suburban areas of Maryland and Virginia and the whole of the District of Columbia. The idea was to create a political climate of understanding of what was being done so that the lawsuits that were brought and the lawyers who had joined us-there were not many but there were some brilliant ones-would be judged in a political climate that understood the social injustice and the terror that was being visited upon this city and the suburbs...De Toqueville said that the most important thing for a democracy to succeed is an educated and involved citizenry. That does not mean learning how to be a rocket scientists. I'm talking about the operations of our government in action. You need to understand why people vote the way they do and what they're interested in.. You've got to help people to see how to look at things and analyze the political situation in a generalized way, not just go along because this Democratic guy is nice or that Republican says something you want to hear. You divorce the issue from party politics, stick with the issue and learn how it plays out in the big picture as well as in your own community...
Our first rallying cry was: "No White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Homes!" We had to do that as offensive as it was to some people because it was absolutely the truth. It was indeed Black men's homes and businesses that were being confiscated. It was a very personal kind of insult, especially in a city where many blacks worked for the Federal government the city, to find out that your home could be gone just like that. The highway proponents felt no compunction about this. I don't remember whether it was the highway lobby men or the representatives from the FHA but they would say, "yeah, we built that road and we didn't even have to give them the moving money. They didn't know they were supposed to get it...
Our other rallying cry was: "Freeways No!, Metro Yes!" That was in everything we put out to focus hard on the fact that we needed good public transportation. If they built I-95, the inner loop, the outer beltways and all the other roads, there was no hope for a Metro being built because there would be no money. So we fought long, long and hard for years to break open the trust fund for other kinds of transportation. People had no idea that they had an option...Even in the 1960's, we were calling loud and clear for a multi-modal, interdependent, complete transportation system. We discovered that there was no "transportation plan" for the United States at all. That was a euphemism they used to use: "Oh, we have to build that road, it's a part of the transportation plan.". We were very happy when we learned, after being blackmailed as a city and told we would get no federal payment if we did not take the money for the freeways, that the money had been shifted over to Metro. I truly believe that the money was shifted because the freeway people realized that they were operating in a city that made it impossible for anybody to be elected unless they were against the freeways-including Barry. At the same time, they suddenly realized that if they got Metro, and built it in their image, they could make just as much money, maybe even more because then they could enrich all those suburban developers. We did lobby for good Metro stops in the city that would not destroy the whole neighborhood with uncontrolled development around every Metro stop. Developers did not get their way around every Metro station in the District-not yet at least. But they pretty much got their way at suburban Metro stations. Look at Tyson's Corner, for example. With Metro, they have simply recreated, by and large, highway-like development pattern. If we had had our druthers, we would not have built Metro out into the cow pastures, and we would not have built so damn deep. It was, is, an overbuilt system. I mean, look at Dupont Circle. I doubt very much that they had to go that deep. It is not a well conceived system. It was never integrated properly with the buses or light rail. Further, public transportation should be available to everyone and it should be free. There is no reason it can't be.
There were always agent provocateurs that we needed to deal with. We expected them to be at mass meetings. We learned to look at the shoes to see if they were shined. We learned not to be deceived by anyone who wore fake dashikis-there were lots of those. We learned to study the people who brought unnamed camera crews. We knew our phones were tapped, all the time. We received a lot of phone calls from so-called innocent people just asking how many people did you expect to turn out, or offering to provide coffee and donuts. They would also say that they were writing books and wanted to know if we thought this country was really worth saving. We knew people who worked at the FBI and they saw our files. Sometimes, provocateurs would go to our meetings and attempt to rouse the crowd to some kind of action that would force the police to interfere. That was never our style. It was always brought on by an individual or group of people sent there to try to force the crowd into some kind of useless action.. I used to get called up by white people who thought they were looking after my good and they would ask me, "why do you associate with those people? They don't even use good grammar?" They would also say that they thought the company I kept was dangerous because they thought some of them were what they used to call "pinkos." It was very silly. I would say "why don't you stop worrying about the style of their speech and listen to the content..." Ten years later, we won a lawsuit against the FBI for harassment
We learned that it was important to distinguish the private decision making process from the public one. The private decision making process in Washington consisted of the Gold Plan, the Silver Plan and the Blue Plan. The Gold Plan was for those who will make serious money from the private decision making process. The Silver Plan was for the hangers on who receive secondary benefits from the Gold Plan. The Blue Plan is the one that the community is supposed to see...Generally speaking, you never get a look at the Gold Plan unless you paid thousands of dollars a year to belong to 'the club...'
"The media has taken over the job of the highway lobby of brainwashing the American people. We are so deep into the culture of the automobile now that we have no notion how we have been suckered into it. Children from the time they are born assume the right of the automobile. It is the biggest sex symbol in America. But our dependency on the car has backfired all over the country: air pollution is worse, traffic jams are far worse then they ever were, water runoff is worse.
Despite all this, the highway lobby continues fighting for more roads...Recently, the Post was a part of a transportation study (now reading from a recent Post editorial): "The study was conducted by a group of national and regional transportation specialists hired by the Board of Trade with funds from various member companies...including this newspaper." This study was a done deal before it was completed so it would say exactly what they wanted it to say; and what they want is to build roads that we prevented them from building in the 60's..."
I think one of the most important lessons that came out of our efforts is that there is no compromise unless there are equal advantages on both sides. Otherwise it's not compromise. What are activist giving up when the compromise? Nothing. What are the highway people getting? Everything they wanted. It's really important to understand this because people are always being asked to be reasonable. There is no such thing as being reasonable when somebody is putting your head on a chopping block. People are deceived all the time: "Let's get a few of you together and talk it over, we're all reasonable people." You are dead in the water if you buy that. Never go in small groups. Take everybody. Let everybody hear what the highway proponents are up to."
Letter from the late David Brower
about the perils of compromise
July 13, 1989
David R. Brower
40 Stevenson Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94708
Mr. Doug Scott
730 Polk Street
San Francisco, Ca. 94109
Re: The Sierra Club and Compromise
At the Sierra Club's International Assembly here in Ann Arbor you listened to my "rhetoric" and I listened to your advice about the real world of decision making. Perhaps we're even. We are not, however, in agreement. Neither of us has yet been persuaded by the other, especially on the Sierra Club's role in compromise. So under my new philosophy I need to try to find out where you are coming from and what drives you. Or what drove you away from where you seemed to be coming from when I first knew you. Answers to both these questions may emerge better from long discussions than from an exchange of letters. I think answers are needed. Perhaps what follows will stimulate some.
My thesis is that compromise is often necessary but that it ought not originate with the Sierra Club. We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function.
For a specific example, take the proposed Grand Canyon dams. You alluded to them but missed the point in doing so. We said we'd accept no dams. People knew what we stood for and gathered around. If we had said (or thought) we'd accept one, but not two, clarity would have vanished from our deeds and faces. People would have seen that we were just arguing about haw much rape, not opposing it. They would have gathered elsewhere if at all.
In 1938 the Sierra Club would have given in to Forest Service decision makers about the Kings Canyon High Sierra had Secretary Harold Ickes not come out to stiffen the board's resolve. With a film (mine), a book (Ansel's), a brochure (Colby's), and a lot of Bulletin articles (many authors), we got a national park -- in spite of opposition by the National Parks Association, The Wilderness Society, Forest Service, and California State Chamber of Commerce. We then had only 3000 members and World War II was under way. (I was working half-time for the club at $75 per month.)
The Sierra Club wanted to compromise on the Colorado in 1949. First, Dinosaur was just "sagebrush country" not worth fighting for. Then Bestor Robinson proposed that we go for one dam (Split Mountain), not two, a suggestion happily abandoned. The club wanted two dams in the Grand provided Reclamation first build silt-retaining dams in Glen Canyon and on the Little Colorado, construct nice tourist facilities for flat-water boating on the reservoirs, and slightly enlarge Grand Canyon National Park. Bestor again. He had the directors trying to please the decision makers in the Bureau of Reclamation. I fell for it for a year, then climbed back up, as did the board. I didn't fall at all in Dinosaur. I stayed out of the compromise business and persuaded the club to stay out.
There are no dams in Dinosaur or in the Grand Canyon. If I had followed what is now your advice there would be two dams in each.
So I was pretty good, right? No. Because I became a wimp, somehow, and let the Board compromise on Glen Canyon. The decision makers put the dam there, and we could have stopped them had we refused to compromise and simply stood up for our own club policy. Instead we pleased the decision makers.
The Board compromised on Diablo. There are two reactors there. It compromised again at Bodega Head -- a compromise violating club policy. dick Leonard said, "That's our policy but we're not going to do anything about it," and we didn't. There's a hole in Bodega Head, but not a reactor on it -- thanks to Dave Pesonen, who would not compromise, and had to leave club employ because he wouldn't.
There is massive scenic vandalism along the Tioga Road, perpetrated by the decision makers of the National Park Service, because the club compromised. We could have stopped that destruction. there is a highway to Copper Creek in Kings Canyon for the same reason. It could have remained entirely a wilderness national park if the board had stood firm. The board had good reason to, but didn't.
The Alaska pipeline, bad though it is, is not so bad as it would have been. Four organizations joined and won a lawsuit but lost in Congress by one vote -- Spiro Agnew's tie breaker -- a law that authorized the pipeline and denied opponents the NEPA remedy. The pipe might not be there at all, and the Valdez spill avoided, had the Sierra Club not backed out of the suit in order to play Alaska State politics. If the club had lent its preponderant weight, we might well have got the Canadian railroad alternative -- or a program of energy conservation under way much sooner, a big enough program to remove financial feasibility from the pipeline.
The second Rancho Seco reactor does not exist, nor does the pair proposed for Sun Desert. Somehow the club was nowhere on this. Friends of the Earth, refusing to compromise, came up with the numbers that blocked the three reactors. And now, in part thanks to those numbers, and the bold predictions by Jim Harding, the first Rancho Seco has now voted out of action.
The Sierra Club favored the Peripheral Canal, a potential disaster for San Francisco Bay and the Delta. FOE opposed the club's proposed compromise and rescued northern California. Happily, the next time around, the club's Bay Chapter joined Earth Island in successful opposition to the "son of the Peripheral Canal." In the early years Brock Evans thought we had to accept a nuclear alternative to the proposed High Hells Canyon dam. We didn't. Mike McCloskey thought it impossible to block the decision makers' determination to build the proposed Rampart dam on the Yukon. I didn't compromise. Neither dam is there. We stuck to our guns and found lots of help. The board scolded me for sending Phil Hyde and Paul Brooks to the Yukon; they were key to saving it. The board scolded me for spending $3500 from my discretionary fund to get them there. The board also scolded me for helping David Sive stay on the milestone Storm King battle, which I think would otherwise have been dropped. The help cost $1500.
The club folded on the proposed Mammoth Pass highway. Ike Livermore
didn't, and the road isn't there. The club folded on the superb Jeffrey
pine forest at Deadman Summit, and on the preservation of the Kern Plateau,
and we lost both because of that folding. The club was about to accede
to the decision makers of the Forest Service and ski business in the battle
for the San Gorgonio wilderness. I did a Paul Revere act most of one winter
night, the board stiffened, and the wilderness is still there. We forced
different decisions. The board was ready to fold on the Disney proposal
for mineral King. So was I. Martin Litton wasn't, and saved the day. I
forgot how to play Paul Revere and Glen Canyon isn't there.
The Sierra Club compromised enough to lose its best antinuclear group. The club has compromised enough to be of little force or effect in slowing the arms race. The club was asked to act four years ago about environmental concerns in Nicaragua, but has remained silent. The club backed away from saving the California condor in the wild. The club did not join in the fight to block the new San Onofre reactors (a failure of which, quite possible, could make Southern California uninhabitable). The club so misjudges the arms race that it discourages the San Diego Chapter from protesting in Nevada, as if such a global problem must be left exclusively to the Toiyabe Chapter. The national club, and Sierra Club California, seem to think that the inexcusable charring of giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park and the terminal isolation of giant sequoias of Sequoia National Forest, and the monocultural new plantations being planted around them, is the province of the Kern-Kaweah chapter and severe damage continues. The club thinks that stopping the charring of sequoias in Yosemite is the business of the Tehipite Chapter, and the damage continues. The club has not recognized that prescribed burning can be conducted properly, as in the Calaveras Grove, where the State has protected giant sequoias without defacing them.
I do not propose that the foregoing, nor what follows, go into the next edition of the Sierra Club Guide, but I do fear that it will be in someone else's guide, "How the Sierra Club Misuses Power and Talent, or How to Avoid the Four-Letter B-Word (BOLD)."
The Club is so eager to appear reasonable that it goes soft, undercuts the strong grassroots efforts of chapters, groups, and other organizations -- as if the new professionalization and prioritization requires rampant tenderization. I go along with Ray Dasmann, when he speaks of those who want to appear reasonable to the Fortune 500 and allies, and who therefore go to lunches, or to other lengths, to demonstrate their credibility, access, insiderness, and reasonable strategy. Ray says it is a union between Bambi and Godzilla.
Then I get to the crisis of the ancient forests and the club's role that is so faltering that SCLDF had to come to the rescue of the trees by hiring a lobbyist. And I think of the rude treatment of Dave Foreman, a club invited speaker whom the assembly audience had admired for his courage, courage which gives the club a field to be bolder in, which the club should be grateful for.
Yes, the club has saved millions of acres of wilderness, thousands of acres of ancient forests, thousands (or millions?) of acres of desert, and other very self-satisfying numbers. The club saved them, that is, long enough to let later generations keep saving them if they can -- unless they opt for compromise.
So the glass is half full.
It is also more than half empty, and there's a plugable hole that will remain open unless the club gets its courage up. Dave Foreman's question is the one we cannot dodge. the club didn't create that wilderness. It helped, more than most I am sure, to draw a line around part of it. so we added sixty-nine million to the number of acres within that line, most of them in Alaska, where all we had to overcome was one Congressman and two Senators (someone else's judgment, spoken to me). Meanwhile, twice that number of acres, land that might have been preserved as real wilderness, wildness that did exist, have been lost permanently. They slipped through the cracks in the Forest Service and BLM floors. The club had other major campaigns to contend with. No books, no film, little in Sierra. No video.
I don't know which number to accept about how much ancient forest we have left, or how long it will last at the present accelerating rate of ecologically illiterate clearcutting. what I think is the best argument is being ignored by those who think compromise is the essential in the real world of decision makers. This argument could reach even Senator Hatfield and still leave him a friend in other critical matters if the club really tried.
That argument, simply stated, is that whatever ancient forest is left, and however long it will last, the end is imminent. Responsible leaders -- of the U.S. Timber Service, of logging corporations, of forestry schools, and of the Sierra Club -- must demand that these people move to their fallback position now.
What will they do by 1995 or 2000 when the ancient forests are gone and the successors of James Watt covet what is left in the national parks? Then it is too late. There is still time to preserve and restore.
The fallback position should be:
(1) Stop the export of any but maximum-value-added wood products.
(2) Raise prices as necessary to supply wood products from lesser forests and to fund massive recycling.
(3) At public expense, train displaced people dependent upon ancient-forest jobs for careers with a future.
(4) At public expense, restore derelict forest land, but not with monocultures.
(5) Establish Oregon Volcanic Cascades National Park; let the national Park Service protect what the Forest Service refuses to.
(6) Add the Glacier Peak Wilderness to the North Cascades National Park.
(7) Place all other ancient forests, including all giant sequoias in national forests, in a biosphere reserve, with a moratorium on any impairment pending a five-year study, modeled on the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review, on how best to protect what would take from five to thirty centuries to replace.
Sierra Club must stiffen, organize, and fight to require that this program begin now. We need the equivalent of the club's and FOE's Oust-Watt petitions, publicized with full-page ads, major segments in 60 Minutes, 20-20, Charles Kuralt, Bill Moyers, Dave Foreman on The Tonight show, and feature videos for VCR owners to buy, copy, and disseminate, all with the help of other organizations, with Sierra holding off on auto and Chevron ads and giving major space to the effort, plus a mass-market paperback and Sierra Club Save-the-Ancient-Forests traveling vans. This needs to be a major campaign, and if the club's addiction to priorities gets in the way, send such an addiction out to whoever can treat it.
What seems to have been happening is that the club has heard and rejected arguments for comprehensive action on ancient forests for far too long. It is saddening just now to see our president's letter to Arthur Johnson, asking how Johnson got into what may have been the private strategic mail of a public conservation organization, wanting to discuss what makes Senator Hatfield make his mistakes (I am sure that the First Amendment allows us to infer, evaluate, and interpret) -- altogether a put down that dodges the big question. And putting our finest Northwest rainforests in the NorthEAST to boot!
We need another David Simons, but Springfield, Oregon, cannot be expected to produce another. The Sierra Club must find one, discard its hubris, learn anew how to listen, abandon its obsolete conventional wisdom (a redundant term), and get a move on. As I said while leaving on May 3, 1969, Nice Nelly won't get the job done.
David Simons came up with the bold idea of an Oregon Volcanic Cascades national Park, an idea that died with him. where is the innovative courage he had? Imagine, if you will, how reformed the Forest Service would have become had the club picked up that ball. It didn't. The kind of people who had been Muir's opponents, the proliferating Disciples of Pinchot, can now perceive that the club is willing to compromise, and thus propose a scheme that hardly delays the rate of cutting and eviscerates our hard-won ability to litigate when the government becomes irresponsible.
That, at least, is the way I read it, as do many people in other organizations undercut by the Sierra Club. yes, the club can thus preserve access, remain an insider, be credible, and appear reasonable in the world of decisions. but what has the club lost for the world? Thousands, perhaps millions of endangered species. those are the plants and animals not yet identified, but up for sacrifice if the club lets those priceless ancient forests vanish the way they have been vanishing, vanishing while the board and staff deliberate, so often behind closed doors, about priorities and black bottom lines.
Then there's the matter of SCCOPE's backing away from its most important function -- exerting the major influence it should in all conscience have found means to exert in the presidential election. Certainly the club could have found a way to do so without troubling funders, and die-hard Republicans need to be troubled -- about their party's environmental record. I hope you remember the reaction of the audience to my remark, "Thank George Bush for saying he is an environmentalist, and thank him again when he becomes one." You liked it well enough to repeat it. The Sierra Club members liked it both times. But where was the club leadership when it had a chance to give the country someone better to thank? Think how lonely Bill Reilly must now feel!
Perhaps you can understand why some people are contemplating full-page ads wondering what has become of John Muir's Sierra Club, and asking me abut it. I fully expect another computer message from John Muir (via his hacker), threatening once again to resign as founder of the Sierra Club.
In my mountaineering days I learned that when one is lost, one must stay calm, retrace steps to the last known landmark, and proceed from there on a different course. Has the club leadership lost its way? Remember the members' response to the two Daves. Standing ovations. Again and again members have asked me to "tell it like it is to the club," based on what I have learned in fifty-one years of fighting what Muir fought for. You can see from this letter how much I held back in my Ann Arbor talk.
You too received a standing ovation. How much did that applause come from your telling it like you thought they'd like to hear it? You told them how good they are, and what they ought to do first thing next week to empower themselves. but you told only five hundred listeners out of the five hundred thousand members. Isn't this something Sierra should long since have provided the background on, monthly, not bimonthly, if the club is to exert its strength on issues so important? How much applause was linked to your talk being the final one in a great conference?
Do you feel as confident as you sounded that you are doing everything right and need no new ideas? Can you tell this alleged what's-his-name-reincarnate, what has driven you from the damn-the-torpedoes man you were for the Alaska Coalition? Did you like the splendid idea of the Chico Mendes award, or Mike McCloskey's bold move to get people to vote environmentally, better than they ever have before, with their dollars? You didn't say so. At a time like this, before the club's international assemble, should you appear to believe that existing strategies are adequate? Perhaps I wasn't listening carefully enough.
In any event, I am troubled for you and the club -- troubled enough to write a letter like this, with copies to people I think care and may want to let you know.
Incidentally, I'd like to see our exchange in my autobiography if you think it can help. People might understand several current problems better, instead of having to rely on what the book on the club history has muddied so badly, as opposed to what you reported in the Sierra Club: A Guide.
I know we agree on many things -- especially that the Earth's present brief tenants are indeed the last who will have the opportunity to know wildness as we have known it, unless we pass it on. Perhaps you will also agree with the Alwyn Rhys quote Amory Lovins dug up, with a new twist: When you have reached the edge of the abyss, the only progressive move you can make is to turn around and step forward.
You have made great contributions, and I know there are greater to come.
Corporate Environmentalism in the Age of Newt
by Jeffrey St Clair
The following is a transcription of a speech Jeff St Clair delivered on a lively panel discussion entitled "Foundation/Corporate Control Over Environmental Organizations" at the Land Air Water Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon. On the panel with St Clair was Michael Donnelly and Wise Use leader Ron Arnold, who shared the results of his investigations into the environmental movement.
When word leaked out that Donnelly and I had invited Ron Arnold to be on this panel, the mainstream greens that I know went apoplectic. I got 12 or 13 well meaning but frightened folks calling me demanding that he be kicked off. There were nasty faxes, obscene E-mails; they said Donnelly and I would be perceived as traitors. I was thinking well, we've already been called that.
This is, of course absolute hysterical nonsense. If we have any chance of prevailing as a political movement, as a movement for social change, we have got to demystify our so-called opposition. Cut behind the demonizing propaganda, the outlandish rhetoric. Who knows? Perhaps we'll find some common ground. Perhaps we'll even find some common enemies, like transnational corporations, a malevolent central government, even some environmental corporations. You gotta say this for Ron though, because he's been quoted, and I don't know how accurately it is (God knows), as saying he is obsessed with destroying the environmental movement. All I can say is Ron, you might want to get a new obsession, because we've got some national environmental groups like The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club that are doing a damn fine job of that right now.
I just returned from a week in DC, up on the hill (hell) and its a bleak landscape you know. There's a dark cloud spreading out from the capitol across the country. I think, however, our national environmental leaders, though they would sooner perish than admit this, but they see a silver lining to these sable clouds that loom over our capitol. Already their vast direct mail machinery is cranking out a dark litany of threats to the environment and a desperate cry for cash to fight the dreaded Newt.
The precedent is James Watt. The venal but utterly harmless Watt was a bankbook bonanza to these groups, who cast the Reagan's Interior Secretary as Ghengis incarnate. Memberships doubled, budgets tripled, everyone packed up. They hired CEOs for 6 figure salaries. They closed their grassroots office and moved to headquarters. Glossy ones in DC.
But there was a terrible price to pay for this. As Dave Foreman recounts in his book Confessions of an Ecowarrior, the so-called Watt effect quickly neutered the environmental movement as a political force. I don't think there's a better word for it today either because I think they've been re-Newtered.
In the 1980s [the environmental movement] became soft, it became corporate, it became politically ductile. What it gained in techno analysis, and lawyerly clout, and legislative access, it lost in vision, it lost in common sense, it lost in a connection with the people. And it lost in effectiveness.
Meanwhile, the corporate headquarters of America had been economically bruised by the environmental movement, the grassroots environmental movement of the 60's and the 70's. They'd been frustrated by the inability of their Reaganite friends like Watt and Anne Gorsuch-Burford to gut federal regulations. But they found a better path to mastery over these groups. Buy them! Turn them into us! Contributions from corporate foundations to national environmental organizations soared during the 1980s, accounting for a significant, if not controlling, portion of the budgets of groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC], the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Wilderness Society. And the key foundation players here, who are they? Who are these key foundation players? Rockefeller, Pew, W Alton Jones. These are the philanthropic subsidiaries of the major US owned oil companies. And they advocate extremely conservative social agendas.
One of the biggest funders is Pew Charitable Trust. They pack a four-billion dollar endowment. They distribute millions. Across the spectrum--from right-wing causes like the Billy Graham crusade, the Christian anti-communist crusade and the wretched Hudson Institute--to the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund [SCLDF] and the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. Why?
Do you know the first grants Pew gave out were to suppress civil rights demonstrations in the workplace back in the forties and the fifties? These are the kind of foundations that we are taking money from. They have an agenda. The Pew family, by the way, were early and lavish supporters of Bill Clinton's Democratic Leadership Council. There is a connection with Clinton that goes very deep. Now like the old oil monopolies, the big eastern foundations that now run the environmental movement don't act alone. They pool their resources under the auspices of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a powerful conclave of 165 private foundations that provide most of the $350 million dollars issued annually to the big environmental groups. And at the nexus of this operation is Donald Ross, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, and an expert in the devices of what the philosopher Michelle Foucault calls "condescending philanthropy."
In 1992, at a meeting of the grantmakers, Ross boasted that, "The funders now have a major role to play" in dictating the strategy and tactics of major environmental campaigns. "I know there are resentments in the community toward funders doing that, and too bad. We're players, they're players."
Now the eve of our fall election 13 years after James Watt, at least two of the big green organizations, National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society were low in the water; they were swamped with high overheads, swollen staff, declining budgets. And most of the others weren't any better off. The Sierra Club faces a three million dollar debt.
You know you think back and its been almost 25 years since the tremendous victories of the late sixties and early seventies, when we had the endangered Species Act passed, the Clean Water Act, the [National Environmental Policy Act] were passed. And since then, the principal strategy of these corporate groups has been to stop the weakening of old laws, not to pass new ones--even as the ancient forests are being cut down. Even as more and more species are going on the endangered species list. They became managers, not organizers.
And the Wise Use movement, headed up by former Sierra Clubber Ron Arnold (and many factions of which, by the way, are staked like the big greens by oil companies), they were able to score a lot of their hits and rally populist opposition precisely because so many of these charges--the changing character of the environmental movement-- rang true. It looked elitist, it looked highly paid, it looked detached from the people, indifferent to the working class. It looked like the firm ally of big government.
Once revered and feared as the most effective public interest movement in America, the environmental movement is now accurately perceived as just another well-financed--and cynical--special interest group, its rancid infrastructure supported by Democratic Party operatives, and millions in grants from corporate foundations.
The surest sign of the decadence in a political and social movement is its engagement in the suppression of internal dissent. Such a decadence now erodes the moral core of the environmental movement. Stray beyond the margins of permitted discourse, publicly critique the prevailing strategy, strike out in a new direction, and the overlords of the environmental movement crack down. They inveigh the insurgents with legalistic maledictions, gag orders, accusations of sedition.
Witness the Sierra Club's recent threats to sue renegade chapters that publicly opposed their position on Montana and Idaho Wilderness. Or NRDC's attempt to delay the filing of the petition to list the --ueen Charlotte's goshawk as an endangered species. Or SCLDF's arm twisting of the plaintiffs in the spotted owl case. Or the Environmental Defense Fund's betrayal of at-risk communities across America when it signed on to Dow Chemical's proposed revamping of Superfund. Fred Krupp, president of EDF, was overheard telling the EPA's Carol Browner "you are our general. We are your troops. We await your orders." Or the sadomasochistic pleasure that NRDC's president John Adams took when he boasted about "breaking the back of the environmental opposition to NAFTA."
You don't have to be versed in the works of Hannah Arendt or Michelle Foucault to understand the dynamics of power and repression that are at work here. Activists are now aliens on the political landscape. Their relationship to the lawyers, lobbyists and CEOs that manage the movement parallels that of welfare mothers to the welfare bureaucracy: abusive indifference. To quote Joseph Heller, "something happened." Somewhere along the line the environmental movement disconnected with the people. Rejected its political roots, pulled the plug on its vibrant tradition. It packed its bags, it starched its shirts and jetted to DC where it became what it once despised: a risk aversive, depersonalized, overly analytical, humorless, access-driven, intolerant, statistical, centralized, technocratic, deal-making, passionless, sterilized, direct-mailing, jock strapped, lawyer-laden monolith to mediocrity. But you know, there's hope, because its a monolith with feet of clay. It can be toppled. The environmental movement didn't so much go awry as it simply flatlined, cruise- controlled right into an entropic cooldown the ultimate thermodynamic fate of all closed systems. The gang of ten now manifests all the intensity of an insurance cartel. Their executives and administrative underlings are much more likely to own a copy of Donald Trump's Art of the Deal or god forbid Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy than Donald Worster's The Wealth of Nature or Bill Kittridge's Hole in the Sky or Terry Tempest Williams' Refuge. You know you can forget the eyes because its a person's bookshelf that is the real window to their soul.
National environmental policies are now engineered by EDF and NRDC and SCLDF. You can call them the Acronym Access. They're groups without voting memberships, they have no responsibility to the subscribers for their magazines or to the movement as a whole. They are the undisputed mandarins of techno-talk and lawyer-logic, who gave us the ecological oxymorons of the 1990s. Pollution Credits. Re-created wetlands. Sustainable development. In their relativistic milieu everything can be traded off or dealt away. For them, the tag end remains of the native ecosystems on our public lands are endlessly divisible. Every loss can be recast as a hard won victory in the advertising copy of their fundraising propaganda. Settle and move on is their unregenerate mantra. And don't expect them to stick around and live with the consequences of their deals.
But there's still a flickering pulse to this battered movement of ours. Hannah Arendt and Thomas Paine sang the same refrain: the more pervasive the repression, the more profound the rebellion to come. Well the rebellion has started. There have been a small range of victories across the landscape.
You've got Jimmy Carter endorsing NREPA [Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act] when the Sierra Club wouldn't.
You've got Missouri forest activists defeating multi-tentacled ORV trail plans in their forests in the central hardwoods.
You've got Headwaters' renunciation of the Applegate partnership, the archetype of consensus-blessed clearcutting.
You've got the Native Forest Council's brave attempt--and they're still trying to do it--to maintain the Dwyer injunction, to stop the wretched Option 9. [Clinton's sell out of Pacific Northwest ancient forests]
You've got Heartwood and Andy Mahler fighting for the defense of the red-cockaded woodpecker in the federal backwoods of Kentucky.
You've got the Western North Carolina Alliance leading a hillbilly rebellion in a decade-long struggle to transform the Nantahalla-Pisgah forest plan on the most biologically diverse forest in the country in North Carolina.
You've got the Bryant Bill, which I'm not all that thrilled about, but it defies the odds because the Bryant Bill is getting better every year over the opposition of the nationals. And everybody telling them its impossible. This is a bill that doesn't get weaker it gets stronger and it gets more co-sponsors as it gets stronger.
You've got Forest Guardians down in the southwest, doing groundbreaking work in Mexico's Sierra Madres.
You've got the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Tremendous work on the bull trout and their leadership on NREPA. And they've been fought every step of the way, they've been fought every step of the way by the Pew cartel and by the nationals.
You've got the Greater Gila Biodiversity Project's Rivers Project, and Gila Watch's defense of Aldo Leopold's wilderness.
You've got Pat Wolff's courageous run for New Mexico State Lands Commissioner.
You've got Steve Kelly's challenge of the frigid Pat Williams.
You've got EPIC's slam-dunk injunction over that mad felon Charles Hurwitz!
These are like snow peaks sprouting on the horizon, they're scattered pockets of resistance, and they can help us triangulate our way back home. They can enable us to circle back to the resolute clarity of place. And that move, as Terry Tempest Williams suggests in her shimmering book, The Unspoken Hunger, may be the most radical act of all.
Environmentalism was once a people's cause, unaligned with any political party, independent of the demands of the shadowy syndicate of mega-foundations that now hold the mortgage on the movement. Those high priests of Foucault's condescending philanthropy. Environmentalism was once driven by a desire for social justice, and an unrelenting passion for the wild. We've got to tap back into those progressive tributaries of the populist mainstream. Let the vision attract the money, don't allow the vision to be refracted through the ideological prism of conservative foundations. Remember, the power of the people can still overwhelm the influence of money. Look at Chiapas. Listen to Mandela. Anything is possible; find your place, take a stand. People will join you.