I often ask this question when speaking publicly about what I do at CHEJ. I’m trained as a scientist and I provide technical assistance to grassroots community groups. People send me testing data to review, whether it’s the chemicals found in their drinking water, the air behind their child’s school, or the soil in the park where their children play. They ask me to do this primarily because they want to know what the test results mean. But they also believe that if they gather enough information – the right information, especially- and get it into the hands of the decision makers, that everything will fall into place.
So what do you think? True or false? Is information power? Can you solve your environmental problem by gathering information and then getting it into the hands of the decision makers? No, you cannot. The answer is false, information is not power. It’s not the information by itself but rather what you do with it that can make all the difference in the world. Just gathering data and sharing it no matter how important or impactful will not likely change a bureaucrat’s or a politician’s mind. But if you use the information to educate your community and then go the bureaucrats and politicians with a set of demands that meet the needs of your community, you have a much greater chance to be successful.
At CHEJ, we work directly with community leaders to help them become knowledgeable and proficient in understanding the technical, health, statistical and scientific aspects of chemical exposures. We also work with community leaders to help them understand how to use technical information to achieve their goals and win what their community needs to resolve its environmental problem(s). What we do includes reviewing testing data; cleanup plans; technologies for treating/disposing of hazardous waste and household garbage; reviewing plans to build new facilities; defining a community-based testing plan that includes where to test, what to test (soil, air, water), what to look for; evaluating a health study completed by a government agency or other entity; and so much more. CHEJ also has more than 60 guidebooks and fact-packs on a wide range of topics that you can use to focus your group on what it needs to be successful.
So don’t get trapped into believing you can win over the bureaucrats or your politicians by gathering information, or become frozen into inaction until you gather just a little bit more information. What really matters is what you do with the information you have and how it fits strategically into your organizing plan. To learn more about CHEJ’s technical assistance services, see our website at http://chej.org/assistance/technical-assistance/