Saturday, April 13, 2013

Drop by Drop. The Value of Small Acts of Activism.

Loomis Miller

My father was an active conservationist in the 1960's and 1970's. At that time there were still serious proposals to log the Olympic National Park. He was particularly concerned over an effort to build a highway along the Washington coast from the northwestern-most tip of the state down to the Oregon border. This included a strip of stunningly beautiful coastline that was the only wilderness on the continental west coast.

It was argued that this highway would boost tourism and create jobs. It would be progress. But he thought that conserving a wilderness beach was more important than turning Washington's coastline into Seaside Oregon, our version of Coney Island. He figured there were already enough souvenir stands selling postcards of beautiful beaches.
He was a commercial photographer and, along with others, he hiked the beaches, camped in the rain, took pictures and gave slide shows to anyone who would stay awake to watch them. He wrote letters to lawmakers and generally made a nuisance of himself. In the end, the highway wasn't built, and if you ever get a chance to hike this wild beach along our coast I'm sure you would agree that it is a rare treasure. And, if you want souvenir stands, there are still lots of those in other places.

My father was no John Muir, he didn't neglect his family and dedicate his life to this cause and he didn't stop the highway by himself. But he added a few drops to a stream of activism that saved one small part of our natural world.
This all comes to mind because of a response to an email I sent out recently. I am the president of our small local teachers union. I am one of those union bosses you hear so much about. I encouraged our members to contact their legislators to urge them to restore some of the cuts that our school, students and teachers, have taken over the last few years.
The person responding to my email was frustrated because we really have gotten a raw deal for years. We wrote letters, we called legislators, we attended town hall meetings, we wore tee shirts, and what did it get us?  Well, we haven't gotten raises; hell, we took pay cuts, we still have large classes, we took the state to court and won, and even with that nothing seems to change. So the writer asked, “Really, what was the point?” I totally get the frustration.
But I would simply answer that without activism it would be worse, a lot worse. I would argue that without the 100,000 phone calls that our state union’s members made, we would have a governor that is even less concerned about the welfare of students and teachers than the one we do have. I would argue that without the letters and phone calls we would have health care costs that are higher than we already do. And I would argue that without educators in the field saying enough is enough, we would be faced with even more brain dead education reforms than we already are.
And I don’t think I even need to argue that without folks writing letters, making phone calls, and giving slide shows, we would have burger stands instead of stands of old growth cedars along the Washington coast.

So, are things ever going to improve, and not just get worse less quickly? I really hope that is the case but I can't be sure. But I am absolutely positive that if our side isn't heard, public education will suffer. And kids will ultimately suffer the most.
All parents give their children advice, and like most children, I didn't listen as much as I might have. But near the end of his life, my father and I were talking about a fight we were having in my small town. It had resulted in the anti-tax gang failing several school levies in a row. Our local school was hurting, kids were losing out, and it seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. He simply said, "Todd, don't let the sons of bitches win." So that's why I fight, so the sons of bitches don't always win.


  1. Drop by drop indeed, that's one of the main ways to get things done--many people, many individual actions!

    Loved the Washington coast story--thank you to your father for his role in preserving that beautiful area.

  2. Thanks for the inspiration, Todd. I don't know whether your brothers read your posts, so I sent this one to them. Seemed important.

  3. You are a really great writer, Todd. I envy your ability as I ponder how to best communicate with the US Senators who voted down the gun control efforts. Like you say, drop by drop, we'll wear the bastards down!

  4. Thanks all. I wonder what to say to the Senators too. But anything is better than nothing.