Just 5 days after the disastrous Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, 250,000 people congregated on the Mall in Washington DC for the 40th Anniversary Earth Day celebration.
While oil and gas surged from the broken pipe in the Gulf destroying marine ecosystems, killing dolphins, turtles, birds and other creatures and oozed destructively toward shore, I watched a sea of 250,000 people gather in front of the Earth Day stage. I waited in expectation for protests against off shore drilling to begin, especially when White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Secretary, Nancy Sutley took the stage.
Talk about a colossal missed opportunity for the environmental community to send an important “no off shore drilling” message to national media and the government! No uprisings from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice or even Greenpeace, or from the quarter million attendees. The silence was deafening. What has become of the environmental movement?
Cyber activism, in my view, along with discouragement over the lack of fair balanced media coverage, and the industry supported money-flush anti-environmental organizations, are destroying the spirit of the environmental movement.
All national environmental organizations now rely on websites and email blasts to rally activists. Sure it’s cheaper and saves trees by reducing paper use, but to me websites are like retail stores; they are totally dependent on walk-in business. Email blasts are “outbound” or “outreach” efforts, but many people ignore them because the message always asks for money and therefore smacks of a fundraising ploy. Plus you usually get upwards of 15 requests from different organizations asking you to contact your legislator about the same issue. After a while you can’t remember to what you responded or from which group. It’s ridiculous.
Out of curiosity, I asked a few legislators’ Aids what it’s like on the receiving end when email blasts come in. Several responded, “We can tell when a special interest blast comes in and we acknowledge it, but we also know that it comes from a national environmental organization and not our constituents. It doesn’t count nearly as much as when constituents show up in our office or write us a personal letter.”
The most damaging part of cyber activism to the “movement”, in my opinion, is when activists respond to e-alerts they think their job is done; their conscious is clear; they did their part and therefore there’s no more sweat equity required. The email has negligible impact on the legislator, especially when the legislator gets sizable campaign donations from anti-environmental groups.
The end result, when you need to get a huge Wisconsin rally turnout at a legislator’s in-district office or at a serious environmental disaster site for a protest, very few show up. Or you hold the 40th Anniversary Earth Day event on the Mall in Washington DC during the worst oil spill in history and out of a quarter of a million spectators no one protests.
It’s time to slap the Defibrillator on the environmental movement. We need to resuscitate the environmental movement by getting people to stand up and be counted, in person, and to show up in larger numbers as they did in Wisconsin.
The anti-environmentalists have money power; our only power is people power. Mouse pad activism showed no measurable results at COP-15 in getting a world agreement on climate policy nor did it get us an energy bill in America. We’re getting trounced! It’s time to rethink our strategy and get people out from behind their laptops and back in the oppositions face. The environmental movement needs to show the same kind of energy and turnout numbers that happened in Wisconsin and demand the needed changes that will save our planet.