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Synthesis/Regeneration 7-8   (Summer 1995)

Lessons from East Liverpool

by Terri Swearingen, Tri-State Environmental Council

Gather information

The first step in organizing is to gather information about the issue. I started by reading everything I could find on incineration. (Rush To Burn: Solving America's Garbage Crisis) I would look up references in books or articles and search them out. If I read a news article about a scientific study, I would call or write the author to get the study so that I could site the research paper rather than a newspaper.

Define your goal

The second step in organizing is to define your goal. What is it that you really want? For example,Your ultimate goal might be to establish a recycling facility in your community, but the step before that might be to stop a municipal trash incinerator that's currently operating.

If you compromise to begin with, you'll never get near to what you really want.

In determining your goal it is important for people to know exactly what they want, and not "chicken out" by compromising. I've heard citizens opposed to a cement kiln burning hazardous waste who said that they wanted the results of the trial burn to see what pollutants were being emitted. But their real desire was always to stop the burn. We always get a lot further by being completely up front and honest about what our goal is. Shoot for the moon. That way if you miss, you'll still be among the stars. If you compromise to begin with, you'll never get near to what you really want.

Develop a strategy

Once you research the issue, develop a strategy. Determine who has decision-making authority over the issue. Meet with other people who share your beliefs. You might go door to door. Find friends, neighbors and colleagues who share your beliefs. You might announce a public meeting. When people get together, form a group. Make sure that the group has a very clear goal.

Announce the formation of the group to the media in a press conference as soon as possible. This gets more people involved by letting the rest of the community know what's going on. It also lets the industry or local government know there is citizen involvement or opposition.

Be vigilant in obtaining the facts and sharing the information. An important point to remember about presenting information, whether to the public or to the media, is to present one fact at a time. Remember that the press will only cover what we spoon feed them.

As Martin Luther King said: "Make injustice visible."

In all we do, we must draw very distinct lines and present a clear picture. As Martin Luther King said: "Make injustice visible."

It needs to be made perfectly clear that WE are honest citizens without any hidden agendas. WE are telling the truth and we're not motivated by money. WE are motivated by love of our children, our families and our community. WE are committed to principle and promise, not politics or profit. It is really a battle of LOVE vs. GREED. We have to be clear about "for-profit" polluting industries: THEY are the ones with the profit motive. We must paint the picture of angels vs villains. There are no gray areas—it's black and white, right or wrong.

To get this message across, it's helpful to keep in mind the four "C's:" clarity, conscience, commitment and sacrifice.

Clarity: Get your message across very clearly with images or symbols.

Conscience: Appeal to the conscience of all who see what's happening.

Commitment: By planning and participating in a series of escalating activities, we build momentum that helps us reach our goal and demonstrates that our commitment is long term.

Sacrifice: As leaders, we must show how far we're willing to go by how much we're willing to give and give-up.

Blocking an EPA Public Hearing:

On September 24, 1991, approximately 700 citizens attended an EPA hearing held in East Liverpool. We smuggled in anti-WTI signs and 5 electronic bull horns. When EPA started the meeting, we ended it by chanting and singing anti-WTI slogans and songs, drowning out EPA officials. The shouting continued for 40 minutes until EPA walked out.

We held a press conference prior to the hearing to tell the public that the hearing process was a sham, and we explained why. We even had a "Funeral for Democracy" and used a casket and American flags. One citizen even played taps (semi off-key!) We distributed an informational "fact-sheet" with an explanation of why the hearing process is a sham.

It's important to note here that we had prepared a month in advance. We had first gone to the Governor of Ohio to get him to take action. We informed him of the consequences if he didn't. Basically we declared that "all hell would break loose". We vowed to participate in peaceful, non- violent direct action and civil disobedience.

Clarity: Our explanation of why the hearing process is a sham was direct and to the point. The media liked it because it was creative and interesting. It was visually effective.

Conscience: The picture we wanted to present was the tyranny of the EPA bureaucracy vs the will of the people.

Commitment and sacrifice: Taking over the hearing involved breaking the rules with the possibility of arrest.

The action served to increase momentum. We were successful in our efforts to drive out the EPA. Therefore, we were seen as the winners and other people became involved.

Fence climbing

On October 13, 1991, we held a rally and march, attended by 1500 people, at the WTI site. 33 citizens, including actor Martin Sheen, scaled the 8 foot fence around WTI. We were arrested and jailed for criminal trespass.

The action took a great deal of advance preparation. It took four Greenpeace campaigners plus a handful of community leaders working full time for a month to pull it off, but the preparation paid off. The objective of the rally was to get out large numbers of people, and have an effective, informative and moving event while maintaining peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience.

Clarity: It broke down the barrier of the property rights myth: that property rights are more valuable than human rights. The WTI fence represented a statement by WTI that we may be entitled to protect our children but not beyond —inside— their fence.

Conscience: In a peaceful, non-violent way, we called on other people's consciences by our actions: singing hymns and praying inside the fence.

Commitment: People were taking the risk of breaking the law.

Sacrifice: Many of the 33 arrested remained in jail for two full days and nights as a sacrifice to draw attention to the injustice.

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