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#480 - Campaigning in the '90s, 07-Feb-1996

How can environmental justice advocates win in the '90s?

Will the techniques of the '70s work, when lobbying Congress resulted
in passage of a dozen environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act?
Probably not. This Congress hardly seems in a mood to pass new
legislation to protect people or wildlife.

Will the techniques of the '80s work? During the '80s, activists
learned to use visible (and photogenic) protests --combined with the
issuance of well-researched reports --as a way of getting their story
into the mainstream media. Publicity sometimes led to the collapse of
bad projects (such as nuclear power plants and solid waste
incinerators) or at least to compromises and improvements in bad

Certainly these publicity techniques may still have some merit in
particular instances, but mostly they don't work any more and therefore
the '90s require something different. The '90s require the building of
a large base of support among people who are being harmed or frightened
or in some way screwed by "the system." And those people have to be
convinced that their support will lead to some real demands for real
change --not just another law that can't (or won't) be enforced, not
just another picture on page 28 of the newspaper. As the big
environmental organizations have started emulating corporate polluters
in almost every way, activist-oriented people have become disgusted and
have turned away from them--with good reason.

So something new is needed for winning in the '90s. As the
environmental justice movement meets in Baton Rouge March 15-17 to
discuss a strategy for ending the poisoning of Americans by dioxin (see
REHW #479), it makes sense to think generally about campaigning in the

We have previously described a campaign style developed by Food &
Water, Inc., in Walden, Vermont (see REHW #401, #419). To defeat food
irradiation (the proposal to zap food with large quantities of
radiation, as a preservative), Food & Water placed placards in health
food stores around the country, and they mailed out hundreds of
thousands of "pledge cards," asking people to send back the cards,
pledging that they would take several actions to prevent the
irradiation of the American food supply. The goal of the campaign was
to stop food irradiation --not to "regulate" it or "control" it, but to
kill it, plain and simple.

Tens of thousand of people sent back pledge cards, often with a hand-
written note, such as "Great! Finally someone who is unwilling to
compromise! Count me in!" Food & Water sees the American people divided
into three groups: ones, twos and threes. The threes wear black hats.
They are the environmental destroyers, and we all know who they are.
Although they personally may be very nice people who are merely trapped
inside a corporate structure that has deprived them of the freedom to
make decisions based on their own consciences, from the viewpoint of
campaigning for environmental justice, they are hopeless and should be

The twos are "on the fence." They are often good-hearted people who
"want more information." They are not ready to act. They want to be
convinced. These people, too, are hopeless from the viewpoint of
campaigning in the '90s. They too should be ignored. Talking to them or
sending them information will sap precious resources and will not lead
to any action. (If a two is in a position of power, such as a reporter,
it may be worthwhile spending some time trying to convince him or her -
-but ordinary twos should be ignored by campaigners.)

Ones are people who "get it" and are ready to take action. These are
the people who mail back the pledge cards --especially those who write
personal notes on the cards. These are the "troops" for a campaign.
Their names go into a database. When asked, they will write a letter,
make a phone call, or take some other action.

What do the troops do? In the case of food irradiation, Food & Water
threatened to boycott supermarkets that said they would place
irradiated food on their shelves. Furthermore, Food & Water threatened
to boycott particular food producers who were leaning toward adopting
food irradiation, such as Frank Perdue, the chicken magnate. Food &
Water asked ones to phone Mr. Perdue explaining that they were about to
start a national boycott of Perdue products, starting with a picket
line at their local grocery store. After a few dozen phone calls, Mr.
Perdue did an about-face on food irradiation and wrote Food & Water a
letter pledging to abandon irradiation plans.

This strategy has another component: purchased media. Food & Water
hires advertising agencies and publicists to produce print ads and
radio spots. The results are slick, professional work. The print ads
appear in such places as the NEW YORK TIMES and in industry newspapers
and magazines read by executives of supermarkets and food-industry
trade associations. The ads are blunt and hard-hitting. The ads send
several messages, in addition to whatever appears in the text: they
convey that Food & Water is sophisticated, savvy, aggressive, capable,
and well-heeled. They convey that a serious campaign --including
punishing boycotts --has begun. And they convey a sense that there is
more to come. Radio spots are mass-produced on audio tape, and are
mailed to several thousand executives in the food industry, with a note
saying, "You should listen to this tape. We plan to run it on radio
stations in your area soon, unless you pledge to turn your back on
irradiated food." The tape explains in 30 seconds why food irradiation
is dangerous and how a supermarket boycott can succeed. Naturally, the
executives do listen to the tapes, and they immediately recognize that
their slim profit margin is about to disappear. (Supermarkets run on a
1% to 2% profit margin, so even a modestly successful boycott can throw
them into the red.) Suddenly, irradiated food doesn't look as
profitable as it used to. Taking the Food & Water pledge begins to make

The only food irradiation plant ever built was called Vindicator, in
Florida, and as a result of Food & Water's campaign, Vindicator went
bankrupt. There are now rumors of new plans to irradiate food in
Illinois, but for now Food & Water has a total victory. The basic
technique that worked was forcing the food industry to adopt Food &
Water's position, thus giving Food & Water economic clout that it
otherwise lacked.

Now Food & Water has taken on pesticides, using the same strategy. The
goal is to end pesticide use on food. Not regulate it. Not reduce it.
End it. Pledge cards have gone out to hundreds of thousands of people,
and professionally-done placards are appearing near the check-out
counters at health food stores across the country. The ones are being

Simultaneously, a media campaign has begun. This summer, ads began
appearing in the NEW YORK TIMES, sponsored by Food & Water and by
Environmental Research Foundation. The ads were written and produced by
the advertising firm Montague &, in Westport, Connecticut. The first
two ads ran in the NEW YORK TIMES and didn't seem to attract much
notice. The third ad ran in SUPERMARKET NEWS December 11, 1995, and it
got the food industry's attention. The ad is dominated by a large black
silhouette of an assault rifle. The headline says, "More people are
killed by their salad." The text reads, "The assault rifle ban is a
good law, and it will save hundreds of lives. But every year, literally
thousands of men, women, and children die from a silent and invisible
assault: Toxic pesticides on fruits and vegetables. So we've launched a
nationwide campaign to alert food industry professionals and everyday
consumers to the dangers of toxic pesticides. As we all work hard to
promote the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for
better health, we had better make sure that the produce is really
healthy. And that means produce that is free of toxic pesticides. To
join us, or for more information on what you can do right now, call 1-
800-EAT-SAFE. Because telling children to eat their vegetables
shouldn't be a death sentence."

The ad ran in SUPERMARKET NEWS December 11th. THE PACKER, another food
industry newspaper, refused to run the ad. However, on December 18, THE
PACKER wrote a news story announcing that the ad had run in SUPERMARKET
NEWS, thus conveying to food industry executives the very message that
the ad was intended to convey.[1] A week later THE PACKER reported that
"three major produce industry associations wasted no time" in
responding to the ad. THE PACKER reported that the Produce Marketing
Association (PMA) had faxed the ad to all of its "retailer and service
wholesaler members"--thus spreading the message further inside the
industry.[2] The ad space had been purchased as a "two for one holiday
special." SUPERMARKET NEWS readers complained about the ad, and the
NEWS decided not to run the ad a second time; they also did not charge
Food & Water for the first placement, so the ad ran free.

On January 3rd, the PMA announced they had formally requested the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Food & Water and
Environmental Research Foundation for "unfair and deceptive
advertising." The PMA asked the FTC to "enjoin" further dissemination
of the ad, and to enter a "cease and desist order declaring the Food &
Water advertisement to be unfair and deceptive." The PMA has further
asked the FTC to "issue a cease and desist order to prohibit Food &
Water, Inc. from representing, directly, or indirectly, that produce
treated with agricultural chemicals in compliance with EPA regulations
is unsafe."[3]

Michael Colby, executive director of Food & Water, responded saying,
"1996 is going to be filled with new ads and efforts to tell people at
the grass roots about pesticides and chemical residues." Colby promised
radio ads targeted at 7 Supermarket chains --Shaw's, Grand Union, Winn-
Dixie, Kroger, Hy-vee, Safeway and Albertson's. The aim is to mobilize
ones to pressure their supermarket managers to offer pesticide-free
(and preferably locally-grown) foods, thus putting "market forces" to
work protecting human health and the environment (while helping local
farmers and the local economy).

Do pesticides really kill people? And what has all this got to do with
dioxin strategy? Next week.

--Peter Montague


[1] Larry Waterfield, "Ads take aim at produce supply," THE PACKER
December 18, 1995, pg. 3A.

[2] Dave Swenson, "Ad stirs quick response," THE PACKER Dec. 25, 1995,
pg. 4A.

[3] "PMA Seeks FTC Intervention on Defamatory Ad," NEWSFLASH [a press
release from the Produce Marketing Association, 1500 Casho Mill Road,
P.O. Box 6036, Newark, Delaware 19714-6036; phone: (302) 738-7100]
January 3, 1996. 2 pages. Press contact: Kathy Means at (302) 738-7100.

Descriptor terms: environmental justice; campaign strategy; pesticides;
food irradiation; food safety; vindicator co; food & water;
environmmental research foundation; lobbying; media; dioxin;

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