The ultimate judgment has been rendered on Bill Clinton's environmental
programs. In July, the leaders of 15 major environmental groups sent a
joint letter to all their members saying,
"You have never received a letter like this before. This is the FIRST
TIME the combined leadership of the nation's leading environmental
groups have sent a single call to action to our combined memberships.
"Even during the Reagan/Watt/Gorsuch years, we have never faced such a
serious threat to our environmental laws in Congress. Polluters have
blocked virtually all of our efforts to strengthen environmental laws,
but still they are not satisfied. Now, they are mounting an all-out
effort to WEAKEN our most important environmental laws."
The letter was signed by the leaders of the nation's 15 largest
environmental organizations, ranging from National Wildlife Federation
to Greenpeace. (Mysteriously missing is Environmental Defense Fund
[EDF] in Washington.)
A serious threat inside Congress? How can this be? With a Democrat in
the White House, a Democratically-controlled Congress, and a dedicated
environmentalist for Vice-President, where are the corporations finding
support for an all-out war on the laws that supposedly protect us from
industrial poisons and the naked despoliation of our dwindling natural
In truth, Mr. Clinton and the big environmental organizations bear
equal measures of blame. The only consistent thread running through all
of Mr. Clinton's appointments and policies is his desire to nourish
global corporations (which are the major source of the re-election
funds that he so desperately needs). Now corporate America is feeling
emboldened by Mr. Clinton's obvious preference for all things
corporate, such as his appointment of Stephen Breyer to the Supreme
Court, and his gift of NAFTA. Global corporations coveted NAFTA and Mr.
Clinton worked hard to get it for them, with active help from most of
the big environmental organizations (excepting Greenpeace, Friends of
the Earth and Sierra Club).
Mr. Clinton's 1993 "tax reform" law permitted global corporations to
continue to evade their fair share of taxes --a principal reason why
the middle class and the working poor are hurting today.
Mr. Clinton gave corporations something else they had been lusting
after since 1958: scrapping the Delaney Clause in the nation's food
safety law. Right now the Delaney clause prohibits cancer-causing
chemicals in processed foods. Instead of extending this prohibition to
raw foods, Bill Clinton has promised to kill it entirely. After Mr.
Clinton has his way with us, cancer-causing chemicals will be added
legally to ALL our food.
The chemical corporations are drooling over this proposed change.
Delaney has been a major thorn for them. Delaney doesn't allow tiny
amounts of poisons, or negligible amounts or any other weasel words.
Delaney says zero and it means zero. Industry wants Mr. Clinton to
scrap Delaney and substitute a standard called "negligible risk" which
EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] defines as "just enough
cancer-causing chemicals to kill one in every million citizens during a
lifetime (70 years)." The citizens who will be killed by Mr. Clinton's
revised wording are "negligible," meaning they don't count for
anything. For the most part, the big environmental organizations have
gone along with Mr. Clinton's plan to substitute "negligible risk" for
the zero-carcinogens standard now embedded in the Delaney clause.
(Again, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are exceptions.)
In sum, Mr. Clinton has shown himself willing to sell out the American
public on essentially every important environmental issue, whenever
corporate executives tell him to. And the big environmental
organizations have been trotting along at the end of Mr. Clinton's
leash, hoping to be thrown a bone next time they're invited to dine at
the White House.
Now it seems the big environmental groups have suddenly discovered that
the baby sitter has set the baby on fire. Thus their July letter asking
ordinary Americans to weigh in with a letter to Congress--a tactic
unlikely to work. In the TV age, Congress can buy all the votes it
needs if it has sufficient money, and corporate America pours the money
in through a giant funnel.
Where does this leave environmental protection?
In the hands of the rest of us.
All is not lost because the grass-roots movement has some shrewd
strategists at work. For example, Wally Burnstein and Michael Colby at
Food & Water in Vermont. Wally and Michael are conducting a "negligible
risk" campaign. They have sent out several hundred thousand
"declarations" asking people to sign up, pledging,
"I oppose the government's 'negligible risk' policy which allows the
death of an 'acceptable' number of American children by condoning the
presence of pesticide residues in our nation's food supply.....
"I oppose allowing the sale of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices,
grains or foods of any origin which contain pesticide residues of any
type for any reason whatsoever....
"I hereby hold the local, state and federal governments, food industry,
grocery stores, and their executives personally, individually and
collectively responsible for any disease or affliction, including
cancer, birth defects, allergies or other which might result, now or in
the future, from being forced to consume pesticide residues without my
knowledge and/or consent," the pledge says.
Food & Water has received TENS OF THOUSANDS of these pledges, many of
them with angry hand-written notes attached, like this one from
Patricia Nowicki in Connecticut:
"I categorically reject anyone deciding that one of us could legally
contract a disease or die so that some corporate entity's bottom line
ends up black."
And this one from Traci Davis in Florida:
"My family and I live in South Dade and we are continually exposed to
pesticides sprayed by planes on the crops. The 'mist' of chemicals does
not only land on the crops but on us and our property and homes. Is the
government trying to ensure the death of all Americans?!"
These people are mad as hell, and Food & Water is forming them into
Neighborhood Networks. Neighborhood Networks are composed of people
whom Wally Burnstein calls Number Ones --people who get it and want to
DO something. (Number Twos are seeking information, weighing the
alternatives, basically paralyzed. Number Threes are simply hopeless.)
These Neighborhood Networks of Number Ones are linked together by
telephone trees, and they carry out coordinated phone and letter-
writing campaigns. Their targets are always carefully selected
corporations --NEVER GOVERNMENT. They scare the hell out of selected
corporate targets. When one caves in, they start on the next. This is
how Food & Water killed the plan to irradiate food. When corporations
and government ganged up to treat our food with radioactivity (to kill
germs and extend shelf-life), Food & Water focused on grocery chains,
and on food producers like chicken man Frank Perdue. They used a simple
tactic: they rang the phone off the hook saying, "There are a lot of us
and we're ready to take action. If you irradiate chicken, or if you
sell irradiated chicken, we'll boycott you." The grocery chains caved
in right away. Even tough-talking Frank Perdue caved in, and so did all
the other chicken producers.
The WALL STREET JOURNAL paid a tribute to the successful tactics of
Food & Water last April with a slashing editorial attack (April 27, pg.
"...[N]o major supermarket chain is willing to stock irradiated food,
and no major poultry producer is willing to treat its birds.
"The industry seems to be cowed by the hardball tactics of an outfit
calling itself Food & Water. The tiny group (membership: 3,500 [sic])
produces a steady stream of T-shirts and leaflets..." The JOURNAL went
on to accuse Food & Water of being antinuclear, unscientific, and
paranoid. In the JOURNAL'S lexicon these words mean "successful
In truth, there are half a dozen good reasons why irradiating food is a
dumb, dangerous idea, which we will discuss in a future issue. For
today, the point is that Food & Water has developed successful tactics
that the rest of us should be using to protect our homes, our
neighborhoods, our children, and our future. These are tactics that
corporations cannot use against us the way they have learned to use
grass-roots-organizing-with-money against us. And they are tactics that
The main idea it to pick a vulnerable corporate target, one that fears
consumer opinion. Use that target as a battering ram to attack the
corporation that created the problem in the first place. Greenpeace is
doing this with its stunning campaign against TIME magazine, aimed at
forcing TIME to abandon chlorine-bleached paper. If a high visibility
target like TIME caves in (which it will, sooner or later), other major
paper-users will follow. The corporations that supply TIME's paper will
get the message, and chlorine-bleached paper will begin to disappear.
(If history is any guide, EDF will then hold a press conference to
announce that THEY persuaded the paper industry to abandon chlorine.)
Soon a major customer for chlorine will be gone and the campaign's
ultimate goal --to end chlorine production --will have been served.
Then on to the next target. And the next.
[For information on Greenpeace's TIME campaign (including a startling
poster about breast cancer), phone: (202) 319-2444.]
Notice that this strategy doesn't rely on government at all. Government
at present is pretty much hopeless --it has been captured by
unpatriotic, tax-evading corporations. Until we can break the hold
of corporations ($$) on the political process, there's not much to be
gained working in that arena. As more and more people see that
corporate campaigns can get us what we want, they'll join in, building
the movement. It's already happening. When the movement is larger --and
current trends in jobs, justice, environment, health and wealth all
promise to make it grow non-stop --then we can confront the
corporations directly and take back our democracy.
Until then, movement-building is what we must do.
First step: Sign up for Food & Water's ONE AMERICAN VOICE CAN MAKE A
DIFFERENCE campaign and help put an end to pesticides. Phone 1-800-EAT-
SAFE to find out what you can do. Only Number Ones need apply.
 GET: Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, AMERICA: WHO REALLY
PAYS THE TAXES? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994). And GET: AMERICA:
WHAT WENT WRONG? (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992) by the same
authors, who work for the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.
Descriptor terms: bill clinton; ronald reagan; james watt; anne
gorsuch; congress; nwf; greenpeace; edf; corporations; stephen breyer;
supreme court; friends of the earth; sierra club; tax reform; delaney
clause; pesticides; carcinogens; cancer; food safety; epa; wally
burnstein; michael colby; food & water; vt; strategies; tactics;
neighborhood networks; food irradiation; radioactivity; radiation;
frank perdue; chickens; poultry; domestic animals; livestock; boycotts;
corporate campaigns; wall street journal; grocers; supermarkets; time
magazine; paper; chlorine bleaching; pulp and paper industry;
corporations; taxation; tax evasion; donald barlett; james steele;
america: who really pays the taxes; america: what went wrong;