Monday, January 19, 2015

The power of protest … by gimleteye

Two issues galvanized large protests in South Florida recently: the effort to protect the last remaining pine rock lands in Miami-Dade and the River Coalition; citizens struggling against government policies and practices that continue to sacrifice the Indian River and Caloosahatchee Rivers in order to protect Big Sugar.

A crowd of hundreds of citizens gathered over the weekend to the Zoo Miami neighborhood to protest the plan of developer to put a big new Walmart and related development in pine rockland, adding to the footprint of suburban sprawl stretching to the Everglades. The River Coalition in neighboring counties to the north have galvanized around the destruction of waterways (and real estate values) in order to keep Lake Okeechobee levels low. It's the same phenomenon: politics leaning heavily toward industries that harm the Everglades.

So where are the protesters for the Everglades?

There are many reasons but one rarely highlighted: how large and well-funded environmental groups have embraced to negotiating tactics and compromises with polluters that exclude protests. The leaders of these groups won't throw rocks, they won't throw stones, but if every step towards Everglades restoration is a half-step, they will never -- not in a million years -- reach their aim. And so it has been for the past three decades and more: half measures, billions spent, and constantly shifting baselines.

The protest faction of Everglades defenders have never been supported by either big funders or by big environmental groups in Florida. (As president of Friends of the Everglades, I could go on for a few thousand words but I would lose your attention.)

It is a shame because millions of dollars have been contributed and good people dedicated to doggedly pursuing the goal, but if they lose the public in the process of their good works, what good is it?

Part of the capitulation is along the lines of Stockholm Syndrome; by which hostages begin to identify with their captors. So, for many years it has been claimed that if Everglades defenders protest too loudly, they will lose support of the legislature and of Congress for critical funding. Their captors say, if you don't stay in the room with us and our 'win-win', our 'private public partnerships', and so forth, then funding will go elsewhere. To Chesapeake Bay. To the Great Lakes.

The protestors at the Indian River and in southwest Dade, for protecting the last 2 percent of pine rockland in the county might be mocked and derided by insiders, lobbyists, and industry groups that represent the Great Destroyers, but never underestimate the power of a small group of committed individuals working for change.

To supporters of Ludlam Trail -- engaged in a difficult effort to get Florida East Coast Industries to agree to using its property for a linear park in an area of the county that desperately needs one -- and opponents of Florida Power and Light's nuclear ambitions at Turkey Point: take heart.

When people lead, leaders follow. These days, leading means doing something that is not very easy at all: effective protests that aren't single events but ones that continue to ratchet up the pressure. So carry on, protest leaders. Carry on.

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