Greens failed grassroots miserably

  Dear HCN,


I'm sure environmentalists are ready to declare the Sagebrush Rebellion over now that People for the USA is closing its doors (HCN, 12/18/00: People for the USA! disbands).


Sierra Clubber Bruce Hamilton couldn't resist one last distortion, telling HCN readers that PFUSA went about "buying rural representatives." Hamilton also pointed out that "Corporate interests threw $2 billion into this election."


Don't flatter yourself, Bruce. Very little of that "corporate" $2 billion was "thrown" at environmental groups. Al Gore and George Bush threw over $300 million and nearly as many lawyers at each other over leadership of the free world, not over environmental issues.


PFUSA's budget never went over $850,000 a year, yet we managed to patch together a nationwide, multi-issue coalition. We could barely afford twine to keep PFUSA together, much less go about "buying rural representatives."


Industry supported PFUSA mainly when the public relations people and lawyers couldn't handle the crisis du jour. Supporting long-term relationships of mutual support was sadly rare. We darkly joked among ourselves that businesses looked upon PFUSA as some kind of desktop "grassroots button": Push it and howling mobs would magically materialize.


The only hope PFUSA had was perhaps our members would do the principled thing for free. When they did, boy, was it wonderful. More often, though, human nature got in the way. The coal guys loathed oil people who didn't care about ag people who hated motorheads who didn't like loggers who didn't like the constitutionalists who didn't like anyone. About the only thing they disliked more than one another was, of course, enviros, and only when convenient.


Watching supposedly "allied" groups and individuals fix bayonets and charge one another while the "enemy" laughed their butts off was not wonderful. Still, at least in part because of the often fickle efforts of PFUSA and its allies at exposing foolish Green initiatives, Greens found themselves failing miserably at the grassroots in the West and rural America ... to the point where, about eight years ago, declining membership and increasing factionalism had Greens bayoneting each other, too.


The high-mucky-mucks at the Environmental Grantmakers Association decreed that the roughly $500 million in grants they dole out to Green groups every year wouldn't be wasted buying bayonets. Grants would instead buy loyalty. Strategically coordinated funds would go only to those who could, and would, follow orders.


That half-billion in annual EGA money has converted many Green "grassroots" activists into elitist front men * a conversion eased by Bill Clinton's presence in the White House. Hey, who needs to build grassroots support for stupid policies when slick lobbying for an executive order will work?


PFUSA's corporate supporters didn't really believe in the sort of grassroots politicking PFUSA offered, but as long as Greens practiced it, PFUSA had a niche. When the Green "moneypersons" deliberately killed off their grassroots, PFUSA no longer had a job to do.


Environmental policy, like most other policy initiatives, has become an expensive private war in Washington, D.C., between "wealthy corporate fronts" and rich, elitist foundational fronts - a public relations and spin shoutfest in which the voice of grassroots citizens (those this is all supposed to be of, by and for) is not heard. Dave Skinner
Whitefish, Montana

The writer is a former staffer for People for the USA.

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