Which Grassroots Constituency?

Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:23:54 -0500

DATE April 25, 1996
TO Grassroots Recycling Network Steering Committee
FROM Bill Sheehan

RE Who is Our Target Grassroots Constituency?

Below are two replies followed by my original suggestion that the Total
Recycling Campaign needs to include the energy and input of facility
fighters (often disparagingly called NIMBYs). Determining exactly which
grassroots communities we need to target is a critical strategic

I take a different view of facility fighters than Rick. Sure they are
motivated by self interest -- protecting health and property values.
What is wrong with that? I believe their concerns are usually
justified and that the party line about Subtitle D landfills being safe
is a lie.

I believe we need them because (1) they have the energy to push
something big like zero waste (Rick's "technicians, teachers,
scientists, recycling businesses, and environmentally aware people"
won't rock the boat alone); (2) we need to stop wasting any way we can,
if only to drive up the price and make the world safe for resource
conservation; and (3) we need to directly address social injustice
aspects of wasting: poor and minority communities bear a
disproportionate burden of waste facilities for middle class garbage.

Sure, some 'NIMBYs' want help locally but then won't help with state- or
federal-level resource conservation issues. But the key is to use the
local crisis to push an alternative. I see a tremendous opportunity
here. The NIMBYs I have worked with are HUNGRY for a sound alternative
to a landfill. If we can make Total Recycling more than a wistful
vision I think these folks will be our strongest allies.

There is an important difference between mobilizing and organizing.
With mobilizing, you supply the message and try to get a million people
to play your tune. With organizing, you go to the people and ask them
what they need and try to address it. Mobilizing is the model for a
mass letter writing/email campaign. That is o.k., but I don't see that
alone as bringing about fundamental change. I think we need to organize
around local community needs if we are going to be successful.

Well, those are my thoughts. We need more opinions on this so please
jump in!

--Bill Sheehan

Reply to Bill Sheehan's original message (at end) from Rick Anthony:

I don't think we play to the facilities fighters.
We can offer them information, guidance,
they will spin everything they have leaned
to stop what is front of them
through any means necessary.
They are reactionaries.

A proactive community recycling movement
could have prevented the situation most times.
We can possibly find in that crowd
a few thinking people who can see
beyond the immediate reality.

But the technicians, teachers, scientists,
recycling businesses, and
environmentally aware people are our majority
They are to whom, we need to talk to
and who will move the agenda.

The facility fighters are on the agenda,
They are not the agenda.

-- Rick Anthony

Reply to Bill Sheehan's original message (at end) from David

Strategically, I agree that the grassroots
facility fighters are a potent force that have not connected with
advocates on the state and national level very often. In my report to
Environmental Action more than a year ago, you will note that I
connecting with these folks in pushing a sustainable materials agenda.
are hungry to be able to promote a no-landfill, no-burner alternative at
local level. The challenge is to offer them a truly workable solution
available commercially now - perhaps that is the Total Recycling
idea, but with the present economics there will still be some
components that would have to be transferred to a landfill.

Original message (excerpt) from Bill Sheehan:

DATE April 20, 1996
TO Grassroots Recycling Network Steering Committee
FROM Bill Sheehan

RE Thoughts on Our Messages

The key questions as I see it are what issues do we push and who is
going to help push? The answer to the latter will affect the former.

1. Reach Out to Facility Fighters. If we propose fundamental changes
like total recycling and revising tax codes don't expect those
comfortable with the status quo to rock the boat. We need to engage the
progressive people in the National Recycling Coalition because we have
the technical and business expertise to create a sustainable materials
economy. But as a whole I fear we progressives in the NRC are too
comfortable and respectable to push for something big alone.

The critical group we need, I think, is folks fighting waste facilities,
incinerators and landfills in particular -- the Justifiable NIMBY Set,
as I think of them. From my experience in the Southeast, I see these as
the only folks with the fire and energy to rock the boat. They are
certainly a diverse bunch: bedrock conservative red necks, poor and
minority folks, as well as educated progressive types.

Nationally, the organizations and individuals I come across most often
are Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, Paul Connett, Peter
Montague, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Action Network (I am sure you all
connect with others). I suspect that CCHW has the largest network of
folks fighting landfills and incinerators. Most of the above focus on
hazardous waste, but in the 'solid waste' arena Greenpeace and RAN seem
to specialize on trees, which of course relates to paper waste.

I believe many grassroots waste facility fighters will respond eagerly
to the message of zero waste/total recycling if we show how it can be
done technically and economically. A statewide coalition of community
activist groups in North Carolina I have worked with is enthusiastic
about the idea. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has been
fighting (mostly successfully) every kind of waste facility from nuclear
and hazardous to incinerators and private megadumps for over a decade.
They have been talking tentatively about doing away with landfills, but
haven't had the time or expertise to develop the idea. Interestingly,
they say that in the (mostly rural) communities where they work they
'don't see the tracks' of the North Carolina Recycling Association,
which I think of as one of the most active and progressive SROs in the

2. Develop a Message That Helps Facility Fighters. I believe we
need to explicitly and aggressively confront landfills (where over 80
percent of wasting in the U.S. occurs), as well as present an
alternative. Plug the toilet. ....