Friday, August 21, 2009

Direct Action

I have learned in my time that if you are not satisfied with something, frequently the best way get from there to 'satisfied' is through direct action. Of course that isn’t always practical; if you are dissatisfied with the state of public transit you probably won’t be able to fix it just by grabbing your shovel and digging a new commuter train route. But you can vote. You can go to a city council meeting, a Transportation Improvement Board meeting, and voice your opinion. You can also stop and pick up grandma and two righteous students along the way so they can share their opinions. (might be best not to take the Escalade though) But you thioght abouthow much work it wouldtake, how many meeting, how manypeople you;d have tombilize to actually have aneffect, you might not even try. Don't confuse too hard with impossible.

I’m no starry eyed, airy fairy, kumbayah humming dreamer thinking that positive affirmations and a macrobiotic diet will result in world peace. I know that direct action works, I have seen it many times.

Back in the last century when I was a long haired woods hippie living in a cabin in the upper reaches of the Skagit River valley I actually saw this work in spite of my ‘rage against the machine’ dark cynicism. From 1967 to 1983 a large power company (Puget Power) planned and proposed building two nuclear power plants a few miles downriver from where I lived. Puget Power went so far as to buy a couple sections of land and were pretty far along in the permitting process by the time the county commissioners held their first public hearing on the proposal. I think they expected it to be a walkover; who wouldn’t be for a big new industrial development that would create hundreds of jobs, millions of dollars of investment and a nice fat addition to the local tax base?

Well the first hearing was rescheduled to be held at the new high school gymnasium: There were literally hundreds and hundreds of people who came out to voice their opinions and the little historic county court house only seated about 150. To make a long story short my up river hippie friends became part of a coalition of people of every stripe who wouldn’t give up, wouldn’t go away, and wouldn’t accept somebody else’s nuke plant in their back yard. I recall at one of the meetings, one of the 'suits' from Puget Power going on and on about how safe this facility would be and how it would produce enough power to supply all the needs of Seattle and the surrounding communities. (championing the needs of Seattle in rural Skagit county, nice sell job!) To which one of the long haired hippies (they’re always ‘long haired, aren’t they?) said “if it’s so safe why don’t you build it on Mercer Island?” The answer of course was that Mercer Island wanted cheap electrical power, but they damn sure didn’t want a nuclear power plant.

History is always about ‘framing’ and I am disappointed to look this subject up in the records that exist and find that the project was “shelved due to controversy”. There are so many other ways to describe the result: “The project was terminated at the will of the people”, or “Local residents rejected a large corporate intrusion”, or … well you get the idea. Why is direct action controvesial? Why isn't apathy controvesial?

I know when people are dissatisfied it is common to either whine and complain, or hope like hell that someone else will come along to fix the problem. We all have to be careful not to get too complacent or to give up before we even try; we have to at least make an effort to effect the change (or save of the status quo) we wish to see. Inertia is the resistance of mass to a change in its state of motion. It can take a lot of energy to ‘get the ball rolling’, and likewise it takes a lot of energy to turn an oil tanker around. But just because it's hard, lets not wait for someone else to effect that change.

There was a time not too long ago when people understood that if they wanted to see something get done, like as not they would have to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” You can be small and thoughtful, but stay active and you can change the world. (or stop a nuke plant, create a better public transportation system, … or create a new brevet route!)


  1. Now I know who to blame when my electricity bill rolls in... Freakin' hippies...

  2. "Freakin" Hippies? ... I think not! That would be Mr. Long Haired Freakin Hippie to you!