March 25th, 2011
“Total Tactics” is something you can see at work in the efforts to fend off the disinformation campaign assembled around the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project. Which is cool.
A 5 MINUTE VIDEO with environmental senior statesman and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Mark Dowie. He talks about the importance of “total tactics,” which is something every environmental activist should know well.
If you are at all interested in the topic of environmental activism you should take 5 minutes to view the video above, which I did for Earth Day, 2005 with one of America’s senior statesmen of the environment, author Mark Dowie. He’s one of my environmental heroes (and I don’t have many). He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, “Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century,” which is a great, great book and essential reading for EVERYONE involved in environmental activism.
One of the topics he covers in the video is the idea of “total tactics” — a term coined by Saul Alinsky (who was the subject of Hilary Clinton’s senior thesis that the right tried to make into an issue during her campaign — that she worships leftist rabble rousers). The idea is simply that within any cause there is going to be a spectrum of approaches at all different levels, ALL of which are needed and should be RESPECTED within the movement. The tactics need to be total. He uses the example of civil rights where Supreme Court judge Thurgood Marshall was addressing the issue at the highest levels of government while Martin Luther King, Jr. was out on the streets organizing the masses. Both approaches were needed in the end to achieve success.
At the tiny, neighborhood level of the Malibu Lagoon you can now see a similar sort of pattern in the efforts to fight the campaign of disinformation that is being waged by opponents to the restoration project that is set to begin on June 1.
THIS JUST IN: Here again is our Malibu Lagoon video. The local newspaper, The Malibu Surfside News, just published an article about it. The opponents are trying to attack the video, but their major criticism seems to be, “You didn’t address everything.” Really? Who has the time to address their endless treadmill of complaints?
1) AT THE LARGE ORGANIZATIONAL LEVEL (the 5 minute video)
Last week there were a lot of sighs of, “Finally!” when we posted our 5 minute video addressing 5 distortions that have been going on lately regarding the restoration of the Malibu Lagoon (there are so many, we were forced to limit it to just the 5 most common). Previously, the environmental groups supporting the project, which include Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation, and Audubon Society — all headed up by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission — had not yet addressed the controversy in any loud, public way.
In their defense, up until last fall the project had appeared to be a widely supported “done deal” since 2007 when the work was originally scheduled to begin. If not for the state having financial problems back then, it would have taken place with little resistance and be long since completed. So in some ways it’s understandable that no major communication efforts had been assembled (though on the other hand, this is one of the overall failings of the environmental community — the tendency to assume everyone thinks the same way they do).
Regardless, by January it was clear a campaign of disinformation had risen around the restoration project to the point that the age old environmental war cry of “Stop the Bulldozers” had been co-opted by the project opponents (who were initially funded by nearby homeowners who simply don’t want the imposition on their privacy) and they were spreading numerous inaccuracies about the project. Something needed to be done. The 5 minute video is the result of realizing that, despite the irrationality and even silliness of the rumors and disinformation being propagated against the project, a clear, confident statement was needed from the leadership voices of the project.
A SAMPLE OF THE CURRENT BLOG WARS. You have to respect the local citizens like Steve Woods and Bob Purvey. Together they have provided a double barreled response, willing to get down in the trenches of the disinformation campaign being waged against the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project.
2) AT THE RABBLE ROUSING LEVEL (the local website)
So while the video provides a confident and professional statement for the public, there are still the non-professional wildfires of gossip raging throughout the community which are most clearly heard on the city’s local website, The Patch. This forum is the equivalent of many climate blogs in relation to the topic of global warming/climate change where the voices of climate skeptics can be heard bickering with their opponents.
The level of intensity of the controversy can be seen in the comments following every item posted about the lagoon project, reaching it’s worst in THIS item last week which drew 174 comments. Scanning what is said you can see a handful of the opponents, including Marcia Hanscom, the head of the “Stop the Bulldozers” effort and several of her colleagues, fighting tooth and nail on every possible angle to stop the project.
What you won’t see in the comments are any signs of the environmental leadership from the major organizations. None of the participants in the video have the time or energy to take part in this endless fracas at that level. Nor should they be expected to. But you will see several local citizens — most notably Steve Woods and Bob Purvey — who are matching the opponents point by point, relentlessly addressing all of their attacks no matter how illogical or unfounded.
And this is where the total tactics element is seen. I had originally questioned the environmental leaders as to who these two guys were and why they aren’t part of the unified effort. The first comments were to the effect of, “We’re not in touch with them.” But more recently I’ve been hearing that actually some of the people at the environmental groups are indeed assisting the blog commenters by providing them help with the facts. And that’s the way it should work — showing respect for people working at all different levels.
So in Mark Dowie’s example, the environmental groups are the Thurgood Marshall element while the blog commenters are the Martin Luther King, Jr. element. Pretty good role models.
SCIENTISTS AS SCUMBAGS: THE “SO-CALLED TRUTH”
The thing that really drew me into this issue last fall was hearing the voice of “anti-science” emerging in the attacks on the science behind the lagoon restoration project. I spent four years making two feature films about the attacks on evolution and global warming science. After you spend that much time listening to the language of the attacks you begin to develop an ear for it. And so it kind of stunned me to begin hearing that same language at the local, neighborhood level in Malibu.
If you want to know what I mean by this, just take a look at this editorial from the Editor published in the local newspaper last month. Reading it you almost get the feeling that the editor picked up much of the phrasing and thinking from the many climate skeptic blogs. It really is astonishing. The basic message is, “Today, scientists are no better than lawyers.”
And it makes you want to ask, once again, where is the leadership of the profession of science in this broad societal trend? When will the profession finally step up and say, “We’re under nationwide attack”? Is there really any leadership for the profession of science, or just a bunch of gigantic, acronymed organizations and faceless committees? Who knows, but when the anti-science rhetoric has filtered down so precisely to this level you can be certain this isn’t a trend that is going to go away if ignored. People are feeling “empowered” at the idea that “science is just somebody’s set of opinions.” Where does it stop?
The Malibu Surfside News
The ‘Science’ of Malibu Lagoon
Anne Soble, Editor
When there are irreconcilable differences of opinion in the public policy arena, there are often those who will respond that the decision should be left to the experts, or it is best decided by the science of whatever subject matter is involved. It is conveniently forgotten that science is as science does and often serves as the handmaiden of those who control society. When religious institutions were the source of power, they dictated science. Now it is government, corporations and foundations that hold the scientific reins, as well as the research purse strings. No one wants to remember that it was science that once held that the world was flat, that people of color were inferior, that women were unable to be educated, and working in mines and mills would not harm children. The list goes on.
Everyone is familiar with the maxim that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but academics have several sayings to the effect that the laws of science bend for whoever is paying the bills. The concepts of scientific objectivity and “truth”can and often do take opposing forms. Scientists bought by big agriculture will say that pesticides do no harm and their impact on local groundwater is negligible. Scientists for mining interests say that gouging the earth is good for the environment. Scientists for the food industry say that additives that prolong shelf life have no effect on those eating their products. Caveat emptor. Go to any local, state or national hearing on just about any proposal to regulate anything and there will be scientists with comparable credentials at opposite ends of the opinion spectrum. Thus, it is always imperative to ask which master a particular scientist might be serving.
The pretense remains that there is an irrefutable truth like a simple mathematical formula with only one correct answer. The objective application of this so-called truth is often the ploy used by the so-called expert to deny the citizenry an opportunity to have a say about what directly affects them. It is not yet clear which “science” has the upper hand in the Malibu Lagoon project. Is it the science of bureaucrats, the science of the well-paid consultants,or the science of those who will benefit from project contracts? Without that information, scientific directives are meaningless. Scientists have political views and economic needs that affect their outlook and can dictate which variables they will include and which ones they will ignore, with the latter often assuming greater importance than the former in the end result.