“Eastern Kentucky University Environmental Forum.”
While preparing for this piece, it was asked some specific questions which require more time than what I have to answer. However, I will try, within the time constraints, to address most of them.
First, let’s talk about the grassroots movement in the affected communities. It must be understood that for a lot of the people, prospects of having a power plant or coal gasification plant in their community is, in their mind, a blessing because of the potential for a better financial future.
Bear in mind that, for the majority of the time, these projects target poor and uneducated communities, so any of us tries to stop the construction of such facilities will be viewed as the enemy. For those people, the thought of possibly losing their chance at a better life will be frightening. So before gaining any support for a movement, a job is to successfully debunk all the lies that are told to these communities.
For example, town hall meetings or meetings at people’s houses, where they can invite neighbors to discuss the facts. That is a great opportunity to provide literature on the subject matter, also answer questions, etcetera. People tend to be more receptive and more intimate settings, be prepared to make suggestions like, for example, you may say something like, “Perhaps your city council could try to attract alternative energy firms, which are becoming increasingly popular.” You’re asking people to turn away a chance at finally making enough to support their families, so they will want to hear your alternatives.
While it wouldn’t be smart to make promises, there is nothing wrong with offering alternatives. Be a good listener. People like to be heard. Getting people in prison involved does require a different approach because of all the rules and regulations governing protests which is no protesting at all. So then the approach has to be one of organizing fellow inmates in a way that isn’t violent or disruptive because that will defeat the movement.
A formal objection letter individually signed is the best way to deal with any proposed toxic project near a prison. It takes careful crafting of the letter itself, then the logistical nightmare of circulating the letter or copies thereof for the population to sign without the system getting wind of it.
Although the letter would be individually signed according to most institutional policies, it would be a petition punishable by months of solitary confinement, so just the fear of that makes it hard to get inmates to participate, but not impossible. I personally mobilized close to 3000, and we stopped a coal gasification plant from being constructed 300 feet from our prison. The community was also helpful by also protesting the construction.
How can academics help in grassroots movements? Academics have the best weapon to help the grassroots movement. As an example: research. They have access to facts, studies, and scientific data, which is crucial to show people the dangers they and their families face by allowing the polluters into their communities.
I believe in the facts that self-preservation is a great motivator. Once people understand the facts as they really are, they will gravitate to our movement. If there is one thing we would also like to delay, that is death. When faced with the prospect, people will choose their lives. Always present the facts that are backed by science.
You do not want to lose credibility because you are part of a movement, and if your credibility suffers, so does that have the movement. Always speak with truth to power and facts that there is no need for hyperbole. Science and facts are on our side.
Without doubt the thought of turning away what could be much needed financial help by way of the new jobs being proposed will be a very frightening proposition for the folks in these poor and, most times, rural communities. So it is our job to explain to them with plain and clear facts that the cost far outweighs the benefits.
I encourage everyone here today to come join us at the Fight Toxic Prisons Convergence in from June 8th through the 11th. Thank you.