Truer words have never been spoken. In CHEJ’s recent training on Lessons Learned from New York State, which recently banned fracking until it can be proven safe, Eric Weltman from Food and Water Watch told the group to demand what you want not what is feasible.
I find it frustrating and a bit troubling when I visit communities who are struggling to protect their health and environment from environmental threats and they ask for less than they deserve and need. When I ask leaders, “why short change themselves,” they often respond saying they don’t want to sound unreasonable or worse because their opponents said it’s too expensive. Leaders and community members are often bullied into believing that they must take less or they won’t get anything. This is just not true.
At Love Canal in 1978, our community was told that government does not evacuate families and purchase homes because of toxic pollution. If we didn’t stick to our goal we would never had been evacuated. When the environmental health and justice movement demanded that no more commercial landfills be built, we were all told it must go somewhere. Several years later up until today no new commercial hazardous wastes landfills have been built, although it is still legal to do so.
In one of CHEJ’s consumer campaigns around a multinational corporation, we were demanding they take certain products off their shelves. The corporations response was, we won’t be bullied by radical environmental group. Yet a short time later they did exactly what we and consumers across the country asked.
No one should ask or accept as the final decision, what is not right and fair. However, winning the big ask is more difficult and demands serious discipline. Everyone needs to be on the same page and demand the same goal. Yes, there are always those few who will say out loud and even in the media that they would be wiling to accept less. Yet if the loud vocal people, the base of the majority, the framers of the campaign stick with their larger goal for justice, they will dominate the campaign. Those with smaller goals will be essential drowned out by the voices and actions of this larger group.
This was the case in New York State around fracking. There were good people who would have accepted better regulations or only drilling in certain parts of the state. In every issue those working from various groups often have different goals. Sometimes their efforts help build toward the larger goal and other times they may be an irritation. The key to win it all is to build larger stronger, more visible opposition and demand for the larger goals. In this way you can win your goals without publicly fighting with others.
As Eric told us, “we were relentless. With op-eds, press events, using the public participation/comment period to submit a hundred thousands of “comments” that said Ban Fracking Now –not detailed line by line comments about regulations that were proposed. Hundreds of groups participated in bird dogging the governor who couldn’t go anywhere without a group, small or large in his face demanding he ban fracking.”
Secondly, Eric was clear that you need a single target, in NYS it was the governor. “You need to find the person who has the power to give you what you are demanding,” he said. I would add that it always needs to be a person not an entity, like regulatory agency or corporation. You need a human face on your opponent and your messengers to make it all work.
This is a time tested strategy and if you follow it you are more likely to receive a higher level of justice not a compromising solution.