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|Proposal - An Environmental
Movement Strategy - by Jonathan Campbell
We as activists have begun to talk about the "environmental movement" in global terms: environmental justice, economic and ecological sustainability, and democracy. We see that the multinational corporations and especially the corporate polluters treat people and the environment in the industrialized countries in the same way that they have historically treated people and the environment in the developing countries. People and resources are commodities to be bought, sold, plundered, or wasted to meet the goals of the corporation: profit and power.
We now recognize the "system" for what it is, the same way as organizers for social justice during the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, and the anti-war movements of the 60's, 70's, and 80's have seen it: a system of wealth, power, privilege, and greed bearing down on a divided populace. The multinational corporations essentially control the government, and they certainly control the media, sometimes through direct ownership.
Think about it: during the last 50 years the corporate polluters have perpetrated unimaginable crimes against us:
Against this backdrop, people all over the world are fighting back. Literally thousands of grassroots community groups have sprung up during the last 10-15 years to fight against corporate pollution and government collusion. Most are single-issue organizations that arise and then quietly disperse when the struggle is won or lost. As a whole we have scored some astounding gains: 90% of the landfills in the U.S. have been closed primarily as a result of citizen action. Incinerator activists have ground this industry - the purveyors of a technology of poison and greed - to a virtual halt in new sales, and some of these "modern" pollution factories have been shut down.
There is a passion, fervor, and commitment like nothing that we have ever seen before. Because environmental issues cut across the boundaries of class and race, and certainly because people of color are more often the victims of environmental racism and injustice, the character of the movement is changing. More and more, Afro-American and Latino people are taking the lead in fighting against this incredibly vile form of social injustice. More and more, working-class people whose families have been devastated by illness and death are coming to the forefront.
What is missing from these engaging, passionate struggles is continuity, cohesion, and a sense of national or international identity and purpose. In the early 1960's it was this cohesion, unity, identity, and purpose that won the Civil Rights Movement. In the late 1960's this same kind of unity, identity, and purpose stopped U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson's advisors told him that the protest over sending any more troops would endanger the internal security of the U.S. That is a powerful message. In the 1980's, a passionate sense of purpose and the powerful identity of an international movement to isolate the racist, apartheid regime in South Africa succeeded.
The assaults by the corporate polluters and their promoters in the government are intensifying, and they often come armed with powerful public relations campaigns, fake grassroots organizations, and a battalion of experts and lawyers to distort the truth and subvert our efforts. They are becoming more outlandish and brazen: reclassifying hazardous waste and toxic sewage sludge as fertilizer, dumping radioactive waste into sewage plants, shipping high-level nuclear waste to a parking lot on Native American tribal land, "recycling" radioactive metal from nuclear plants as ordinary scrap, sending up a rocket with 76 pounds of the most toxic substance on earth. These are real proposals, some of which are proceeding today.
Dioxin and PCBs have invaded every living thing on earth, and are disrupting the primary mechanisms for survival as well as causing untold illness and death worldwide. Global warming from fossil fuels is wreaking havoc on weather patterns and crops everywhere. Our food supply is contaminated with dioxin, pesticides, and heavy metals.
To stop the assaults, to right the social injustice that we have endured, and to clean up what has already been fouled, our movement needs to have a sense of identity, long-term vision and purpose, and continuity and cohesion that go beyond local struggles. We need to understand that we are fighting the same battles, and often the same companies, as people in other locales.
The dioxin from an incinerator in New England is the same as the dioxin from a vinyl chloride factory in Georgia, or the chlorophenol factory in Seveso, Italy, or a PVC toy factory in China. The same kinds of anti-democratic decision-making process was used to build and run those facilities, the "cost-benefit analysis" that says its OK to poison people and the planet if it makes a profit. We need to take on the larger and longer fight for local, national, and international democracy.
In Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, the entertaining - and frightening - book about the public relations industry, Frank Mankiewicz, the Vice-Chairman of Hill and Knowlton PR, is quoted:
" The big corporations, our clients, are scared shitless of the environmental movement....The corporations are wrong about that. I think the companies will have to give in only at insignificant levels. Because the companies are too strong, they're the establishment. The environmentalists are going to have to be like the mob in the square in Rumania before they prevail."
Mankiewicz is talking about the huge democracy movement and final demonstration against the Rumanian dictator that finally deposed him. Here is one of the gurus of the PR industry, whose clients are the very corporate polluters with whom we are often locked in battle, telling us what we need to do to succeed. Perhaps we should listen.
Jonathan Campbell, October 17, 1997
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