Having all branches of the federal government under conservative control leaves a lot of pro-environment citizens like myself feeling disenfranchised at the political level.
In the early days of our country and until the end of the 19th century, we had three powerful social forces: the federal government, local government and civil democracy. Of the three, I would argue that civil democracy has been by far the most powerful. Activists were responsible for breaking away from Britain in the first place. Civil democracy, funded by private philanthropy, fueled the two great social movements of the 19th century – the abolition of slavery and the struggle for women's rights. Creating Yosemite Park was not Teddy Roosevelt's idea. It was the activist John Muir who talked Roosevelt into ditching his Secret Service men and camping under the redwoods. African-American kids and tired housewives, who refused to sit in the back of segregated buses and stood up to local authorities, forced the federal government to finally enact civil rights legislation. Anti-war activity stopped the war in Vietnam. Citizen kayakers and fishermen work to bring down obsolete dams and let the rivers flow. Duck hunters have done the most to protect waterfowl in North America.
People may be afraid of the term "activist" because they associate it with extremism but I'm talking about normal citizens who want the government to live up to its obligation to protect our air, water, and all other natural resources. These activists are forcing politicians and corporations to take steps in the right direction. Activists have an infectious passion about the issues they support, whether they are mothers fighting to clean up nearby toxic landfills or farmers losing their fourth-generation family business to urban sprawl. These are the people on the frontlines, trying to either make the government obey its own laws or to recognize the need for a new law.
Worldwide, more than 100,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are working on ecological and social sustainability. In the United States alone over 30,000 nonprofit organizations are addressing such issues as biodiversity, women's health, renewable energy, climate change, water conservation, trade laws, population growth and wilderness protection. The fact that these groups have all arisen independently, without any common institutional framework, is a tremendous statement about the extent of the environmental crisis. Many of these grassroots organizations are far more capable of solving problems than are self-serving multinational corporations or government agencies. Most of them are local groups working long hours with minimal resources, and they hang on by the thinnest thread – depending on small donations and fund-raising events like benefit auctions and bake sales.
So I say now, more than ever, we need to encourage civil democracy by joining or volunteering for these groups, but also by getting out to the polls and voting in the mid-term elections. The change we desire requires action at the governmental as well as the civil level. Let's get out and support those candidates who believe that we must first of all protect our home planet.
We can still have a voice in democracy.