Backyard Talk

Knock Knock Is Anyone Home at EPA?

EPA has gone dark. McCarthy is awaiting the end of her term and no one is protecting the American citizens or our environment.

It is outrageous that Administrator Gina McCarthy refuses to acknowledge the citizens living near the Bridgeton/West Lake Superfund site. What is wrong with her? Just Moms STL wrote a letter requesting a meeting in May of 2015 and never even received an acknowledgement that they asked for a meeting. They traveled to Washington, DC anyway in hopes of seeing McCarthy after their federal delegation of senators and congress representatives sent a letter to encourage McCarthy to meet with them. The community received nothing from the office of the Administrator. Not a call, a letter or even an e-mail saying she had a prior commitment or was on travel.

A second letter was sent this past fall to say the community leaders are planning to travel to Washington, D.C. in February and would she please meet with them to discuss the Superfund site which has been mismanaged by her regional staff. Again there was silence. I personally called every day but one in the month of January and February leading up to the date that local people were traveling to D.C. On many occasions when I called, all I received was a voice mail message that asked me to leave a message and someone would get back to me. I left message after message and no one, not a single person from the agency returned my call.

On a few occasions I actually talked to a woman who answered the phone. She was courteous and respectful and always promised to deliver the message to scheduling department. “Someone will call you back soon.” But no one ever called. The citizens living around the site began a telephone campaign to McCarthy’s office. It was only a week until they travel to D.C. and no one provided an answer if McCarthy would meet or not. The community sold cupcakes, brownies, t-shirts, and worked hard to raise the funds to visit D.C. and meet with the Administrator to explain what was going on from their perspective.

With a slim chance of meeting with McCarthy, now two years since their first request for a meeting was made, they climbed on a plane and came to D.C. While there they met with their congressional delegation, allies in the field but never had a meeting with McCarthy. Also they were never denied a meeting; it was deafeningly silent. My goodness if the answer is “NO” then say so. To say nothing is irresponsible, inexcusable and further victomizing the victims.

I stood outside of McCarthy’s office at 9 a.m. the last day of the groups visit. From the sidewalk I called her office and explained that local leaders are downstairs and waiting for a response from McCarthy before they need to leave for the airport. The public relations office sent down a two young people to receive the letter the community had for McCarthy, outlining their concerns. They apologized that McCarthy wasn’t available to meet. She couldn’t have told the citizens before they left St. Louis that she couldn’t meet? It is not a big request to ask for a simple yes or no of availability.

My take away . . . fire McCarthy. My tax dollars should not be spent on someone who works in government and ignores the citizens of the United States. All she had to do on both occasions is say I’m sorry I’ve got a previous engagement. Common courtesy should be a requirement of feredal employment.

Backyard Talk

It’s The Ground Game That Matters In Politics & Policy

The election is over and the analysis is being done. What worked, what didn’t and how can we learn from this experience? One strategy that everyone agrees worked was President Obama’s ground game; it made a difference.

On election night Donna Brazile a democratic advisor/strategist said that when the Obama campaign staff said they were going to re-energize their base and expand it she didn’t think expanding was necessary. She went on to say that she was wrong. Expanding the base was the right move.

Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what the environmental health and justice movement must do—energize and expand our base. The on-going top down strategy is not working we are not winning. For years the focus and majority of our resources have been placed in the Washington, D.C. environmental efforts rather than building the base . . . and it’s not working. The Climate Change legislation and energy issues, for example failed miserably.

Our movement needs a stronger ground game. We need to take the lessons learn from this past election and begin to build at the base in communities—not for a short term victory but to last over time with a continued effort toward growth. To accomplish this we need to shift resources to create a more balanced approach to change, investing in community groups as well as large D.C. environmental organizations.

Many believed that because of Citizen United that big money will dictate outcomes of issues and/or elections and community organizing is no longer critical to winning. They believe purchasing a full page ads, getting our messages right, investing in lawyers, scientists and so on is the way to win. Again Obama’s campaign demonstrated that all of that ads, message and so on is important but only when directly coupled to an organized, connected and strategic base of community organizations.

The Obama campaign is not the only example of where the ground game mattered. If you look at New York State and the issue around hydro fracturing you’ll see that the governor wanted to move fracking forward. However, due to a massive organizing at the base across the state fracking has been stopped at least temporarily. There were scientists, lawyers and lobbyists involved in that struggle as well, but it was the people at the streets that tipped the scale and forced the governor to rethink his position.

Today we have confirmation of what needs to happen for our issues to move forward—a strong ground game and shifting ample resources to sustain that effort. Large donors and foundations need to rethink their giving decisions and invest more dollars in the base. We need that base to work smarter not harder to energize and expand the reach, goals and breathe of people.

Hurricane Sandy was our most recent wake up call to the enormity of our problems. We can’t afford to move slowly. Today is the day, now is the time for everyone to think about how you can help to build, strengthen, and connect the grassroots efforts for change.