Sunday, September 14, 2014

Selling Out a Movement to Guarantee a Seat at the Sacred Table of the Status Quo: Pennsylvanians Against Fracking

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, State Gamelands 75, PA


What follows are two items--intimately connected. 

First is an email exchange between myself and a representative from Food & Water Watch --an organization that claims to be anti-fracking but, in advocating for a moratorium that has no chance of becoming a reality, and in supporting the Democrat candidate for governor Tom Wolf who is avowedly pro-drilling, cannot make that claim with any force or consistency. 

The significance of Food and Water Watch here, however, is two-fold:

(1) FWW is one of the organizational conveners of a new coalition--Pennsylvanians Against Fracking (PAF, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking)--which cannot claim with any force to be against fracking. Indeed, they cannot coherently claim to support any position other than that conciliatory to the will of the Democratic Party--a party that, despite its hollow insistence to the contrary is as comfortable as the Republicans with 


(a) the ongoing liquidation of the state's ecological assets,
(b) the destruction and basic human rights violations of communities, and
(c) the surveillance of the Commonwealth's citizens

It's also interesting to note that there appears to be no website for PAF other than a Facebook page whose single post links to a Marcellus Drilling News story applauding the cooperation between the gas industry and anti-fracking activists (The One Issue on Which Anti- and Pro-Drillers Agree | Marcellus Drilling News). Indeed, the article presumably approved by PAF is a cheerlead for Breathe Easy Susquehanna County--a group which advocates sitting down with the gas companies to work out "best practices" for continued drilling.

(2) FWW--Colorado recently sold out Coloradans who they'd led to believe were in good hands because FWW had promised to champion a "statewide ballot initiative to bolster the authority of communities to ban oil and gas extraction." FWW not only caved to pressure intended to protect the seats of Democrats, but like Congressman Jared Polis, they were willing to settle for "feel good" measures like convening a stakeholder group that includes gas company representatives as if they were community members toward regulating--but not empowering communities towards self-determination.  What the Colorado case shows is that FWW is not about banning fracking--but about whatever pretense to regulation will insure it stays in the good graces of a two party system that is really a no party system (How Congressman Jared Polis and Food and Water Watch sold out Colorado | Colorado Statesman).

Indeed, if FWW were interested in achieving a ban--if this were PAF's goal--they'd join Shale Justice--the PA coalition and 5013c that vets applicant organizations for mission statements consistent with its mission. The fact, however, is that aspirant Big Greens (little greens) like PAF and its faux-coalition members cannot take this principled stand and keep their place at a table at which compromise is routinely served up along with deals--just like the one Polis agreed to.

The email exchange below is important in that it illustrates the emergence from within the anti-fracking movement of a new breed of appeaser/collaborator, really an old breed of opportunist who sees in the ongoing crisis the opportunity to cash in on the momentum this movement has generated over the last six years. But what makes this exchange particularly significant is that no one in this new faux-coalition could possibly believe that a moratorium on drilling is even remotely possible--and so we are left to wonder what are its real objectives. 

Here's the correspondence:

FWW:  

Hey Wendy-

I just left you a voicemail to this effect and am writing this email to follow up. It seems like you have a bunch of concerns and I wanted to try to address them over the phone, but without that route right now I'll start things off with this email.

I don't know where your information on this coalition is coming from but there are a bunch of things you've assumed that are just not true.

1.  Pennsylvanians Against Fracking will allow any group to join- anyone can fill out our online form, but we make follow up calls to any entity that signs on to verify who they are, and we also regularly
look over the list to make sure member organizations are appropriate. We will be creating a website, and we'll be listing members on that website, and there is no way you'll see CSSD [The Center for Sustainable Shale Development] or anything like that signed on. I don't know where that assumption comes from.


2.  Pennsylvanians Against Fracking is working to get Democrats elected and get a seat at their table- This is a coalition of 501c3 nonprofits that will not do any electoral activity, period. After the election, we'll be working to put pressure on whoever is elected to put a moratorium on fracking. I don't understand where the assumption that this coalition is in the pocket of Democrats comes from.


3.  The CELDF OpEd attacking Food & Water Watch- if you can explain to me how Food & Water Watch can be implicated in the backstabbing deal cut by Rep Polis, go for it, but the piece is just flat out baseless. Please explain to me how any of the article referenced is relevant to this situation. You write that you "have much more to say about this latest attempt to co-opt the anti-fracking movement." I'd appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me- we can disagree, but I'd like you to at least have your assumptions straight before making public statements.. There's no reason why a vibrant, robust anti-fracking movement can't have multiple coalitions pushing for different viewpoints.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

Let me address your points:

1. The sign on does not stipulate any vetting process whatsoever, so there is no way of knowing whether or what this is. Moreover, in so far as the principle conveners include both Food and Water Watch and Berks Gas Truth, there is no reason to believe that this coalition stands exclusively for a ban on fracking or its infrastructure. Indeed, if THAT were its goal, there already exists a coalition representing that position--Shale Justice. Why not simply join an already existing 5013c with grant backing?  Also, a follow up call is not a vetting process in any meaningful sense. At Shale Justice they ask for a mission statement, and it must affirm their commitment to the primary message. You make no
claim whatsoever about criteria for the sign-on, so you have no principled way of excluding CCSC, COGENT, BESC--or any other faux anti-cracking organization.

2. Working to get Democrats elected is precisely what we should NOT be doing, Sam. Tom Wolf is PRO-FRACKING. There are virtually NO Democrats who are anti-cracking, and this notion that electing Democrats will make some difference towards the end os a nightmare that many of us LIVE is fool-hardy at best. I appreciate you clarifying that point for me--but it is on that point precisely that you will receive the most criticism from folks like me. The argument made out by the Dems for a severance tax is ABSURD and it will HARM people. By leveling a tax upon which funding for education and other social programs will be based INSTITUTIONALIZES the gas industry. They will become part of the funding infrastructure of the state--there could be no better gift to them--and that is what YOUR
candidates support.

3. Thank you for making it clear that the real aim of this coalition is to get a seat at the table. That is a prescription perhaps for advancing the career aspirations of coalition members, but it is not a principled
stand to end fracking. And it will NOT achieve a moratorium. I voted with the Dems when it was still rational to think that achieving it could make a difference. That time is LONG past. The move to gain a seat at the table is nothing but conciliatory--and it will harm us all.

4. The CELDF article is very relevant because it demonstrates how clearly FWW is NOT about empowering communities, NOT about achieving a ban, and NOT about the defense of civil liberty--but, as you say, its about getting seats at the table for its own functionaries--and that's it.

5. The Civil Rights Movement could not brook BOTH a movement to end segregation and find some middle ground where African Americans could, say, go in the front door of the diner--but not vote. Ending segragation was all or none--either you were on board with that objective or you weren't. It would never have been remotely morally defensible to liberate some of the concentration camps during WWII--but sacrifice some others to the NAZIS. We will either come together as an international community to stem the tide of climate change--or we will all suffer, some far more than others, from the failure. The anti-fracking movement cannot brook BOTH the demand a BAN on the gas companies and simultaneously negotiate the terms of our surrender to them through regulation. So, no--there is room for many differing strategies, but there is NOT room for different objectives when those objectives stand directly contrary to each other. If you're for a ban, you cannot settle for regulation. If you're comfortable with the regulation required for getting a seat at the table, you have wholly jettisoned the struggle for a ban.

Perhaps you will label this "purist," but what it is is clear-headed and principled. I have no other agenda than to end fracking. Folks who are angling for a seat at the Democratic Party table do.


FWW: 


"Wow I can't believe I didn't include the 'NOT'- we are NOT working to get democrats elected" 


FWW:

And we are NOT working to get a seat at the table.

Wendy Lynne Lee:

[L]et me make this simple: if your sign-on orgs were interested in achieving a BAN, you'd have all requested admission to Shale Justice. You didn't. Ergo, your objectives must be something else, and THAT can be derived from other actions and inactions. Just to trouble shoot--I am no longer in Shale Justice--I rotated off the executive board months ago to pursue other scholarly projects. So, I have no vested interest here either. I do have an interest in the truth and in insuring that people are not misled. Hence, my FB post.

FWW:

This isn't about picking teams. There are many reasons why this coalition needed to be created. No coalition was working exclusively on a statewide level to stop fracking in Pennsylvania. My sense is Shale Justice has a much more expansive mission than that (local, state, national, international)- and that's Great. But what Shale Justice Coalition is and has been is not what Pennsylvanians Against Fracking aims to be.

As far as the other items-

1. Do we need to stipulate a vetting process? Once we have a list of members posted, you can tear it apart. But to insinuate we're designing this coalition to let the CSSDs of the world in is absurd.


2. We agree here. We want to stop fracking.


3. This coalition is about building power to stop fracking, period.


4. My question was more specific- I asked if you could explain to me how we can be implicated in the Polis deal. We fought hard for that ballot measure, and for several bans across the state. And we fought hard to keep Polis from stabbing us in the back. Can you explain to me how we "sold out Colorado?"


5. This is a straw man. We're not arguing for regulation. We're arguing for a halt to fracking as a means to get to a permanent ban. As far as the comparison with the civil rights movement, we must have studied different civil rights movements because the one I'm familiar with was chock full of diversity of strategies, tactics, and yes- objectives.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

This IS about picking teams--you can either be on the team that takes a principled stand against fracking OR you can be on the team that's willing to settle for regulation--but you CAN'T be on both teams; they're mutually exclusive.

Shale Justice is BOTH a statewide organization AND works in other states as well--indeed, we MUST seek to be expansive--otherwise we're not only acting merely parochially, we're broadcasting the message that we'd be comfortable with drilling elsewhere--just not here.

You're correct the PAF's aims are not those of SJ's--but that is what I find both troubling and misrepresented. PAF is not exclusively against fracking--that is a misrepresentation of its mission and the participatory orgs--including FWW.

1. Yes--you do need a vetting process. Otherwise any org CAN and will sign on--without it you represent nothing and no one. My suggestion of CSSD is not absurd--what prevents them from becoming a sign on? Where DO you draw the line?

2-3. I have no reason to think you want to stop fracking; indeed, supporting Democrat candidates--which is clearly where BGT stands--will not only not stop fracking--it will institutionalize it in the form of a tax base. If PAF wanted to stop fracking, it could not include FWW or BGT--neither of which have taken any such no compromise stand consistently.

4. I am going to leave Polis for now--but will return to this question tomorrow.

5.  Not a straw argument at all--my point is that the only objective worth defending in, for example, the civil rights movement was the one that ended segregation.

This really is pretty simple. If PAF's objective was to end fracking, its orgs would not have sought to reinvent the wheel, but would have joined SJ. Perhaps there are reasons of which I am not aware why its members opted against this obvious choice--but none of these can have anything to do with objectives.


FWW:

As far as FWW's mission, clearly we can represent ourselves as against fracking because we apparently made it through SJC's vetting process.

1. I didn't say we don't need a vetting process, I said we don't need to share one [Emphasis--WLL]. I'm much more concerned with getting stuff done than worrying about who we're going to have to keep out of this coalition.

2-3. Who are the democratic candidates anyone is supporting?

4. Okay, eager to hear your response. I respect your opinion but this specific point is unquestionably a baseless attack on our organization.5. In retrospect sure. But there were all sorts of more radical and more moderate objectives within the movement. It oversimplifies the movement to say there was only one objective, or one worth fighting for. That diversity allows movements to thrive, and if we tear each other down we're really not going to get anywhere. There are ways to constructively criticize our movement from within.


Wendy Lynne Lee: 

It's irrelevant whether you made it through SJ's vetting process in the past. You would not now, and you did not decide to join. I can only assume that this is because you do not really stand for a ban--otherwise you would have signed on. This argument is hurting you, not helping you.

1. So--you think PAF can have a vetting process that is SECRET? WOW! So PAF is really a secret society with a public face? And the ends--whatever they are--justify these nefarious means? WOW!

2. BGT is clearly on the side of trying to persuade Tom Wolf on the moratorium. Or, let me rephrase that, BGT is clearly on the side of using the argument for the moratorium as a ploy to get invites to Tom Wolf functions. Moreover, if PAF is not about getting DEMS elected, what is its reason for being--the elections are just around the corner. Don't you think it obvious what this timing implies? And AGAIN--if PAF is about gaining a ban, THAT is Shale Justice.

5. No--you are simply wrong here. Just as there could be only one morally defensible objective for the civil rights movement--ending segregation. there is only one here--ending fracking. PAF does not and cannot stand for that. You confuse "objectivrs" with "objectives worth defending" and with "inconsistent objectives." To promote regulation is to promote fracking.


SO Pennsylvanians Against Fracking is essentially a SECRET SOCIETY--like Skull and Bones--that has no publicly accessible vetting process--but chooses its members according to private criteria (or none at all). And this really says it ALL: PAF exists to advance its objective of insuring its own people have a seat at the table in a Tom Wolf administration. And THAT isn't about fracking at ALL even if PAF claims otherwise. THAT is a psuedo-coalition that's merely using fracking as a hot-button issue to gain cache at that table. If any of its organizations were serious about seeing fracking banned, they would have joined Shale Justice. They didn't--so we can only conclude that they have other objectives--Ones that we will be no more privy to than their secret selection process--might as well just call that FRIENDS OF SOME FOLKS LOOKING TO ADVANCE THEIR POLITICAL CAREERS. This is dishonest, and it hurts people.

FWW:

I don't see a moratorium as a means to regulation. I see it as a means to stop fracking, and a step towards banning fracking. I believe we state that in the coalition letter.

As far as why this coalition serves a unique purpose, I'd argue that it's practically unfeasible to run campaigns at every level of decision-making, and that to accomplish any goal, ban/moratorium/regs/whatever, you need to focus resources on one of those levels. That's what PAF is doing. That may be parochial, but the levers through which we make change happen are parochial.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

There was a time--now long past, as I have said already--when a moratorium might have had some positive effect. I VOTED with the Dems for that moratorium. I was at that Democratic Committee meeting with Karen Feridun speaking to the resolution. But that time is past for several reasons:

1. Tremendously much more damage since that time has been caused by this industry. We simply do not NEED a moratorium to "study" the damage. It's right in front of us every day. Hence THAT argument for a moratorium now sounds absurd.

2. If any sufficiently substantial number of Democrats were going to sign onto a moratorium--they would have already. They've had plenty of time. They didn't. They're not going to now (a) be) See (1), and (b) they do NOT want one.

3. The fact is that "the moratorium argument" is nothing more at this point than a device for leveraging this "coalition." None of you can seriously believe it stands a whisper of a chance--so I cannot take it seriously as anything other than a device for getting yourselves invited to Tom Wolf events, and subsequently getting yourselves seats at the Democrat administration tables. I think, in other words, this use of the moratorium argument simply a cynical ploy.



As for "practically unfeasible to run campaigns at every level of
decision-making...," that you string out goals "ban/moratorium/regs/whatever" is telling. It suggests you really don't get the Grand Canyon of difference between these utterly incompatible goals. Moreover, at least for one of them--the BAN--you had a coalition. If THAT was what you were after in PAF, you would have joined Shale Justice. That you continue to return to this theme only implies all the more that there are other reasons FWW didn't join Shale Justice--and that you don't want to lay these out for public inspection. I can only assume that this is because your objectives are NOT a ban.

The "levers through which we make change happen" are not necessarily parochial. we will not stem the tide of climate instability with any such approach. Moreover, what you really mean--as is clear from the context--is that you think change must be made through legislative/regulatory/within the laid out channels of law. But that law--as CELDF shows so clearly--is crafted FOR the corporations--not for either communities or private persons. It is a prescription for more of the same--fracking, CAFOs, Walmarts, etc. And I am sure you know that.

So, again, PAF is a cynical ploy to make sure its people get their seats at the tables of that legislation--but that will yield no moratorium--much less a ban--and you cannot NOT know it.

FWW:

I'm not going to engage in any discussion with you while you post my emails, out of context and misconstrued, publicly. In the midst of our ongoing conversation to boot. Good luck, Wendy.

I hope CELDF gives you an answer to my question on that OpEd that's satisfactory for you.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

[T]his is a PUBLIC media. None of us have any reason or right to assume otherwise. Moreover, I have nothing to hide, and I assume you don't either. I posted your missive ver batim--no misrepresentation, no deletions, no additions. And then I posted my response. If you weren't worried about the strength of your arguments, there'd be no problem here.

FWW:

You posted my comment without my immediate correction that there should be
a NOT in the second point, and you posted your comment knowing that my
intention was to communicate the opposite of what you responded to. That
is misleading, and out of context of where our conversation was at that
point in time.

I have nothing to hide, but I do generally assume that email
communications will not be shared publicly. I have nothing to hide, but
I'm not okay with 1 on 1 email conversations being shared without my
consent. Someone said something about civil liberties?

I think we're done here, but if you decide you actually want to know what
happened in Colorado you can call me. And please contact me by phone for
any future communications I don't feel comfortable communicating with you
by email.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

First, the fact is that you spoke the truth in the first post. I am more than happy to post the entire exchange--and let people judge for themselves. None of us have any justification in assuming that email is private. And none of us gets to demand consent. No civil liberties are violated in any fashion here--that is absurd--because you haven't the right to assume privacy, the right to consent--nope.

**********************

And there you have it. I think this exchange fairly epitomizes the implosion in the Pennsylvania anti-fracking movement--an implosion ignited not by any ideological divide, but by the hi-jacking of its momentum by those who aspire to be the sponsors of, as Chris Hedges likely rightly puts it, "the last gasp of the climate change liberals." "There will be no speeches. There is no list of demands. It will be a climate-themed street fair," where those more interested in advancing their own fame and fortune replaces substance--at the cost of us all  (Chris Hedges: The Last Gasp of Climate Change Liberals - Chris Hedges - Truthdig).

Just like Pennsylvanians Against Fracking--anyone can join the People's Climate March.

Not just anyone can join the real resistance. For that--you have to have some guts.  I'll be there with a camera--on the look out for actions that might actually matter-- PopularResistance.Org, for example:
“The march is symbolic,” said Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance when I reached him by phone, “but we are past the time of symbolism. What we need is direct action against the United Nations during the meeting. This should include blockades and disruption of the meeting itself. We need to highlight the fact that the United Nations has sold out to corporate interests.
A bit too scary for folks who are looking forward to that cup-o-joe with Tom Wolf. But then again, why should the United nations be the only faux-representative of the people to sell out?

5 comments:

e g said...

This whole exchange was awesome. They should be ashamed of themselves, Wendy. -- all a joke

Suzanne Gilbert said...

fantastic! thanks Wendy Lee for sharing the exchange. I'm so sad to say that the non-profit industrial complex is part of the mechanism to keep this empire slogging along. We should not expect any orgs. that are NOT TOTALLY GRASSROOTS to support ending empire...and that is what is needed before there is no reason to live in what lies ahead on our current trajectory.

Suzanne Gilbert said...

fantastic! thanks Wendy Lee for sharing the exchange. I'm so sad to say that the non-profit industrial complex is part of the mechanism to keep this empire slogging along. We should not expect any orgs. that are NOT TOTALLY GRASSROOTS to support ending empire...and that is what is needed before there is no reason to live in what lies ahead on our current trajectory.

Bill Huston said...

Can you link to the CELDF article so we can read it? Thanks.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Hi Bill--that link is in the piece: http://www.coloradostatesman.com/content/995059-how-congressman-jared-polis-and-food-and-water-watch-sold-out-colorado