Why Some Polluter’s Victims Hate Enviros More Than Polluters

The book Strangers in Their Own Land concerns people living in a Louisiana bayou whose lives, jobs, communities and health have been utterly ruined by local chemical plants—and all the people there know it. Nevertheless, they are all implacably opposed to new environmental regulations and generally support the Tea Party agenda. Their analysis was that if new environmental regulations were ever imposed over clean air and water, they would never be used to go after the big chemical plants, which they all hated, but would be likely used to chase them down and fine them if they ever accidentally spilled any gas into the already polluted water while fueling their boats.

Environmental groups have utterly failed to organize citizens to lobby environmental enforcers to go after big polluters. Meanwhile, citizens see every day that government brings the full force of the law down on average citizens without mercy. This undermines efforts to strengthen the laws and provides evidence to conservatives, populists and nationalists that liberals and strong government advocates are really on the side of the banksters, hedge funds and big guys. Neoliberalism and win-win have created people like Trump, who can persuade people the fix is in. And that fix includes the entire edifice of partnerships, consensus and win-win to keep corporations on top and average people in thrall to anything that purports to bring people together.

Bad actors and ivory tower academics have always tried to lure activists into consensus and partnerships, but from Alinsky’s words there is no escape: “All change means movement, movement means friction and friction means heat. You’ll find consensus only in a totalitarian state, communist or fascist… conflict is the vital core of an open society…”

Neoliberalism, embraced mostly by and for rich people, naturally would have local, financially interested people play a vital role in arriving at decisions about the business use of public assets. The Alinsky approach tries to ensure that people with vested financial interests and rampant conflicts-of-interest are completely excluded from deciding the outcome of federal land management disputes.

Neoliberalism would have us believe that mistakes were made, but it is not useful to dwell on the past; guilt is everywhere and nowhere; that even if people were responsible for past errors, those mistakes were not willful; and moreover, guilty parties never have a name or face. The Alinsky approach would assume that bad actors always have names and faces and, the more you publicize those who have been screwing the public, the better you can reduce corruption in the future.

Neoliberals clamor that trans-national corporations provide our jobs, are the engine of economic growth, and need to be freed from red tape as much as possible. But the research of our corporate- watching friends tells us corporations need far more red tape, supervision and oversight, and we should even de-charter them where we can, as they are far too powerful.

While negotiation and consensus will always be a necessary part of the human experience, the mere presence of conflict does not mean that seeking “win-win” solutions is either the preferred or the appropriate approach. Environmental conflict over public lands arises when extractive industries try to grab public assets and resources that belong to all the people and future generations. The best approach is to confront and expose their schemes, not to sit down and play patty-cake over the small amount of pie that is left.

We can take the pander-path of “win-win” with its phony partnerships and their inevitable outcomes of treacly, synthetic consensus, or we can demand that the “force” be put back into the enforcement of our environmental laws. We cannot have it both ways. To paraphrase the Bible, surely no man can serve two bastards.

This is an excerpt from my book Organize to Win Vol 3 chapter 3 which can be downloaded for free from Britell.com

Jim Britell is a native of Utica, New York and a retired federal manager who served as a long range planner, Management analyst, Chief of Management Information Systems and Chief of Systems Operations. He was a leader in the West Coast ancient forest campaign, has organized on behalf of wilderness in 30 states, and is author of the handbook on grassroots organizing, Organize to Win. He was formerly President of the Malone Public Library and board member of the NYS Library Trustees Association. He maintains a web site for grassroots organizers at Britell.com.