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We have the power


November 10, 2011

A few weeks ago on WJFF’s broadcast of “Alternative Radio,” I heard Paul Cienfuegos, a community organizer for over 30 years, deliver a speech he titled “We the People.”

He challenged activists to assess whether their tactics for change have been effective: “Is our activism to protect the safety of our drinking water actually producing safer drinking water… stopping the planting of GMO crops… ending our dependence on fossil fuels?” The answer, obviously, is a bleak no, and Cienfuegos pointed out that we continue to be “locked out of the rooms where pretty much every decision is made that affects all of our lives.”

Those rooms are often in buildings that house governmental agencies. In my early days of environmental activism, I naively believed that the Department of Environmental Protection really worked to protect the environment and that the Department of Environmental Conservation was committed to just that—conserving our environmental resources.

Since then, my experience and observations have confirmed that, in spite of their lofty-sounding names, regulatory agencies exist to advance industry agenda. Cienfuegos explains that they were formed during the late 1800s “to protect the interests of the nation’s first giant corporations, the railroads, that were under attack by an enormous populist social movement.” President Grover Cleveland’s attorney general told a railroad executive that the new railroad agency would function as “a sort of barrier between the railroad corporations and the people… something having a good sound but quite harmless, which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done when in reality very little is intended to be done.”

Any community activist who has tried to navigate through the complicated labyrinth of regulatory agencies can attest to the fact that very little has changed.

my thoughts on the XL Pipeline decision

Since I wrote this column, there has been a major victory for sustainable energy brought about by people demonstrating their objection to the XL Pipeline. I am inspired by their efforts, their willingness to endure hardship, and their commitment to change. Coupled with the Occupy movement and with taking power from those who have up until now made all the decisions, we can change the environmental agenda to one which is sustainable and which will truly bring jobs, clean energy, and preservation as move forward.