Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Charade of Unity is not Unity; it's an Abuse of Trust and a Prescription for Enduring Harm: Response to Nathan Sooy and Clean Water Action

Nathan Sooy, Clean Water Action, and Josh Fox, Gasland
Governor Tom Wolf's inauguration, 1.20.15
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

In his response to a piece I posted recently where I dissect Food and Water Watch's (FWW) Senior organizer Sam Bernhardt's argument  that what the new Pennsylvania governor ought to do is impose a "halt" on new gas leases until the state can
adequately study whether fracking can be done safely--an argument that sounds reasonable on its face, but in fact belies a complete capitulation to Governor Wol'f insistence that we can "have our cake and eat it too--Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action (CWA) posts the following (reproduced ver batim):

Wendy, one problem with your theory is that the anti-fracking movement is entirely dependent on the organizational, institutional and financial resources of the larger environmental organizations. In the history of social change and in the near certainty of cases, something (new social movement activity) nearly always arises from a pre-existing organizational base. In the American Civil Rights Movement, the SNCC sit in movement arose out of the social organizational context of the SCLC and CORE. And SCLC and CORE, in turn, arose from the context created by the NAACP, the Historically Black Colleges, and Gandhian traditions brought to America by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. So, I am not threatened personally by new movements arising out of and possibly in reaction to the organizational basis of the anti-fracking infrastructure in PA that was created by Marcellus Protest, Clean Water Action, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Sierra Club, and others who had a base of funding and staff and whose staff had the time, talent, and inclination to bring activities together. New things happen. But one thing I do know. Individual acts do not a social organization make. You need infrastructure to support, encourage, and develop ongoing organization. And you need funding. If I were you, I would be spending my time organizing that infrastructure to nurture the movement I wanted to create. Wendy Lynne Lee, you are a scholar. I suggest that you take a look at all of this through the context of Resource Mobilization Theory (McCarthy & Zald). New social movement steps do not come out of nothing. It comes out of something that was already nurtured and created. (

About the only thing Mr. Sooy gets right is the line about how I am a scholar--but this, of course, is intended as damning with faint praise. 

Let's examine Sooy's reasoning:

One of the basic principles of logic involves learning to distinguish necessary from sufficient from contributory causal conditions. Causal arguments that fail to appeal to the correct cause and effect relationship are fallacious--that is, they misidentify the correct causal relationship or they see such a relationship where there is none. 

Sooy commits this causal fallacy in his very first sentence when he claims that "the anti-fracking movement is entirely dependent on the organizational, institutional and financial resources of the larger environmental organizations." In effect, he's claiming that larger environmental organizations are a necessary causal condition for the existence of the anti-fracking movement.

This reasoning is fallacious for at least four reasons:

1. Sooy mistakes contributory (if even that) causal conditions for necessary ones: as the organizing of the disruptive events inside the inaugural venue made abundantly clear, such groups like Clean Water Action, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, and Food and Water Watch not only had no bearing on the success of that disruption, it in fact was successful despite the utter lack of participation of the leaders of these organizations. Indeed, the notion that somehow the courageous folks who risked arrest did so only because they thought they'd have support from Sooy, et. al, is ludicrous. It's like claiming that in his magnificent "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King saw himself as dependent on the white clergy to support the Civil Rights Movement--when precisely the opposite is the case. King chastised his clerical fellows for their lack of committed involvement, their predictable capitulation, their insistence that racial equality had to wait. King moved forward despite the apathy, cowardice, and racist attitudes of his fellow clergy--not because of them. So too, the eight brave folks who were arrested at Governor Gas Wolf's inauguration acted despite the faint-hearted dependence of these faux-environmentals on a political system that rewards them so long as we don't put an end to the fracktastrophe. Note carefully, this is not to say that the risks undertaken by the Wolf protesters are the same as those of the incredibly brave civil rights activists at, say, Selma, Alabama. But it is to say that until we are prepared to take those risks, the gazillion dollar gas industry is going to keep right on fracking and pipelining us into oblivion. And it is to say that because climate change is the global civil rights issue of the 21st century that until we get clear about that fact, we're going to settle for the dry crumbs offered us by these fake greenies.

2. Sooy's position leads to a reductio ad absurdam: if Sooy's correct that the anti-fracking movement is dependent on the bigger environmentals, then there is no movement and there has never been one. The Big Greens cannot brook the possibility of a movement--any movement--since, by definition, a movement lays claim to criticism of the system that has spawned it, refuses to be dependent on a system that generates conditions of harm, and it demands that the system change to prevent that harm or be overthrown. But CWA, et. al. not only fails to challenge that system, it actively benefits from it in the form of donors and political access. As I have argued elsewhere, these groups directly undermine the prospect of any anti-fracking movement from ever emerging by effectively colluding with law enforcement to "protest" only in designated "free speech zones," to not engage in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, and to not be any real problem to the powers that be. In so doing, they get to portray themselves as the "rational" activists against the "radicals." But the truth is that it is only the radicals--those willing to question the very system that benefits the gas industry, the corrupt political system, and the Big Greens who benefit from both--who will ever get this movement off the ground. To therefore claim that that movement is dependent on these Big Greens is to claim that there is no movement. Of course, Sooy may be right about that--but I don't think that's what he wants.

3. Sooy's argument insures that the gas industry wins, and wins big: to the extent that these smaller wanna-be greenies like CWA and PAF model their organizational structure after the BIG greens like the Sierra Club, they cannot as a matter of policy support any movement. The Sierra Club's explicit policy is to not participate in any act of civil disobedience, and while movements are about many strategies to achieve a goal--like the end of fracking--to preemptively bar members from participating in a direct action insures that unless the goals are very very small (say, moving a pipeline route from my yard to yours) they will not be achieved. No doubt the Sierra Club leadership knows this--so we can only assume that their real objectives have nothing to do with ending fracking, and everything to do with perpetuating and growing the Sierra Club donor base. In that case, of course, SC might as well stand for "sugar candies" or "soggy conjectures"--cuz' that's about as much of a movement as they can support. Nonetheless CWA, PAF, FWW are SC-Clones to the extent that what they value most are their greenie images, their donor base, and their access to whomever is in power.

4. Sooy commits the specific causal fallacy Post hoc--"After this, therefore because of this." Sooy claims that there'd have been no Civil Rights movement without a number of organizations to provide its "base."While it is possible that that is the case, there is no way to determine that it is necessarily the case. Just because these organizations did provide support does not mean that others might not have arisen to the occasion had they not, or that no organization would have provided that base, but rather more loosely affiliated citizens with the same objectives. Indeed, Sooy doesn't get his history correct here since some of these organizations became organizations in virtue of and during the Civil Rights Movement--hence could not have been its base. To claim that no movement can emerge without an organizational base is just silly. Indeed, it is virtually always in resistance to organizational or systemic injustice that movements arise--and the fact is that an effective anti-fracking movement must come to regard organizations who model themselves after the Sierra Club as antithetical to their objectives since those organizations have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Disrupting Governor Wolf's inauguration
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

At bottom, however, it's just monumentally arrogant to claim that the anti-fracking movement is dependent on groups like CWA, PAF, and FWW. 

It's like Sooy thinks these groups bear some sort of parental relationship to the decision whether to engage in an act of protest, nonviolent civil disobedience--or any strategy to bring attention to the issues. 

But Nathan Sooy is not my dad--and he doesn't get to lecture me about what I should read about movements. Indeed, were CWA so expert, you'd think we'd have seen some modest results with respect to getting the gassers out of the Commonwealth. 

And I'll bet  that if you asked, say, Maggie Henry why she was willing to risk arrest during the Gas Wolf inauguration, her reasons wouldn't include appeal to whether Clean Water Action thought it was OKAY.

The notion that the Big Greens 
are the mommies and daddies 
of the anti-fracking movement is nuts.

And it's pompous nuts.

This sort of peremptory arrogance puts Sooy in the same league as, say, state police officers who, reporting to the Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee, think they can intimidate folks into behaving according to a system that rewards Sierra Club-Alikes for towing the line, staying in their "free speech zones" drafting their repetitive petitions, having their one-off marches--

while it punishes real citizens for demanding to live in the democracy we were promised with the clean water and air to which we have a right. 

The proof here is in the pudding. None of the organizations Sooy sites have gotten us one iota closer to a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania. My god, they haven't even really slowed the disaster down. While they ask you for your money, the industry just keeps on keepin' on--ravaging of the state's water and air.

Lastly, Sooy says that "Individual acts do not a social organization make." 

He's right--but that redounds only to his failure and the failure of the organizations he defends. 

Had CWA, et al, organized even just 100 of their loads of sign-onmembers to join the eight arrested, the inaugural events would have seen very different news coverage. And--just to trouble shoot for one rather lame response--this isn't because civil disobedience is the only tool we have in the ban fracking tool box.

It's because without civil disobedience 
as an option we are enfeebled 
from the very outset.

Without that potent prospect,
we broadcast the message that 
we do not have the 
courage of our convictions. 

We concede that our cause 
is not sufficiently significant, 
and that we care only so far as 
we are not inconvenienced.

Nathan Sooy's failed argument reminds me of an image that epitomizes that entire day: 

As I was leaving--hightailing it home to process photographs--I walked past the building where Maggie Henry and her fellows were being charged and processed. As I looked to cross the street, I saw Nathan and Karen Feridun (PAF) strolling together away from the protest--and away from that
Maggie Henry,
Governor Wolf's inauguration
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
building. I have no idea where they were headed chatting and laughing--but what I do know is that there was no risk. They were walking free outside on the streets of Harrisburg. Maggie Henry was being booked on her part in the disruption of Wolf's inaugural speech, after which she got to go home and face the harm done to her directly by the gas industry. 

Sooy would have us believe that it's in unity with some organization to which Henry somehow owes loyalty--although it has done nothing to protect her. I don't pretend to know Henry's specific motives--but she owes nothing to an organization whose policy bars them from standing with her to protect her farm.

Not a goddamn thing

A charade of unity is not unity; 
it is an abuse of trust 
and a prescription 
for enduring harm.

The Big Greens count on folks like Maggie Henry to be the "radicals" so that their paid staff can continue to play the system as the "rational activists."
Nathan Sooy in the
Free Speech Zone
Governor Wolf's
Photo Wendy Lynne Lee 

But they are not activists, and they have no movement. 

And if you doubt this, simply look back to what Sam Bernhardt of FWW "demands":

A moratorium to study 
what we already know 
is damaging to health, 
environment, and community 
in order to determine 
whether we ought to halt 
what we already know 
must be banned.

If that's the best organizational support we can get, we're better off looking to each other and leaving the greenie beneficiaries of the status quo behind.

Indeed, anyone who works out here in the actual trenches of the effort to stop the gas companies from destroying our communities knows that while movements are partly about money--first and foremost their about experience, guts, and commitment. 

Movements are borne 
out of pathos, 
not petitions. 

They're peopled by 
intrepid insurgents,
not polite protesters.

A movement is more of siege than of soiree.

Unless you're a Big Green like the Sierra Club, or a wee little aspiring greenie like Clean Water Action.  

So, like Bernhardt's argument before him, Sooy's fallacious reasoning only shows us that we can do far better than settle for the thin gray gruel of "moratoriums" and "halts" and pleading with governor gas wolves.

The clear direction of reason points one way only: 

a ban that excises the gas industry from the state in defense of the right to clean air and water and in recognition of our moral duty to act to stem the effects of climate change for our future kin.

Anything short of that demand, and our having our cake and eating it too is throwing out the baby with the bath water.

A baby that's the planet.


Citizen Sane said...

Mr. Sooy may publicly call for a "halt to fracking", but he doesn't really believe it will ever happen, as he admits in this email he sent to me in the spring of 2014. He is clear that he is willing to settle for "regulation and enforcement" when there is no regulatory model anywhere that he can point to that has worked when it comes to extreme unconventional shale oil and gas drilling.

May 6, 2014

Some political reality:

I do not think that the Gas Industry or the political establishment in Harrisburg thinks that we can stop the drilling - ban fracking in Pa - or pass a moratorium.

These forces know that environmentalists do have the power to embarrass them occasionally on particular enforcement and regulatory questions. Having to admit that 161 families lost their water to drilling operations was a major negative for them, for example.

And they further know that the Democratic Party establishment and their most powerful allies in organized labor and teachers unions badly want to strongly and severely tax the industry to pay for social services and government programs including education.

That is the political reality. One does not have to agree with the way things are. But it is necessary to see and recognize the way things are.

The various parts of the environmental and anti-fracking movement in Pennsylvania do not agree about the way to proceed into the future. That is another reality. But I would rather not spend my precious life attacking people who do not want to fight this battle the way that I want to. I would rather just find the people who I can reasonably work with and make some progress on a course of action.

Those who want to take a militant and absolutist stance on Shale Gas should find those who agree with them - choose a course of action - and move forward. Don't worry so much about what the rest of us are doing.

Nathan Sooy

The Farmer's Wife Pasture-raised Poultry said...

I think back to the first time I met Nathan Sooy. It was at a protest rally held at the Rachel Carson building. I alluded to supporting him and his effort in another post on PennLive but that was not the case, actually, and I am ever so happy to have my memory jogged. I attended that rally to support one of the speakers at that rally, not Nathan Sooy, who has turned a blind eye at every chance to the human suffering in the shale fields of Pa. I was there supporting Melissa Troutman, co-founder of Public Herald and Triple Divide film maker, who at every pass has given witness and voice to that suffering and the injustices perpetrated by the gas industry! The very idea that these paid shills worked to diminish what the eight of us tried to accomplish is as reprehensible as the Sierra's mandate on its members! Everyday I am more horrified by the complacency of these individuals, who draw a salary for what they do or don't do. Someone please recognize the 61 year old. Grandmother, former organic farmer who has been cheated out of her life's investment, the woman whose children can't return to the land they grew up on to raise their families. The woman still required to pay taxes on the earthquake damaged homes. Exactly how much suffering has driven me to the point where my only option was to disrupt a public ceremony? How much suffering would it take for everyone to finally get off the couch? Trouble with that is by that time when it is impacting everyone's food and water, it will be too late to do anything about it. The woman who lives across the street from the cryogenics plant I did everything "acceptable" to try and prevent them from building it got not one apple from her orchard, her cherry trees met the same fate my cow did and no one is responsible for these losses?!? Not the industry that caused them, not the insurance youpay for,hell don't even try to contact your insurance company, they do everything but lagh in your face. What is going to take to wake people up to this impending disaster? Sad fact is it has to be personally affecting you. I tried my darnest to bring the organic farming community on board 5 years ago but failed miserably. Now true to that personally affected in MY backyard I have other organic farmers onboard. Sadly we can't do this alone!

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thank you Citizen Sane for posting this letter from Sooy.

What Sooy means by "militant and absolutist" is actually "informed by the facts, resolute and clear-headed" as opposed to CWA's own position--conciliatory and ready at every turn for concession.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thank you Farmer's Wife--I can't really add anything to this other than: yes.

Michael Bagdes-Canning said...

This is a powerful piece but I think there is one problem with your formulation, Wendy - PAF shouldn't be lumped with any of the other organizations you have listed. PAF is a coalition with many members and a working majority on its steering committee is held by grassroots organizations (MOB, Marcellus Protest - which Nathan should not have listed with the other groups because MP is a lean, mean radical fighting machine, and PACWA). These grassroots groups kept pushing PAF in the direction of a ban and, on Inauguration Day, "Ban Fracking Now" greeted the new governor. "Halt" and "End" were mere rest stops on the path for Diane, Briget, and Jenny. When it was time to show our hand, PAF was standing with the folks on the inside and it was a joy to behold.

8 people on the inside tryng to disrupt the inauguration would have been a wimper. 8 people on the inside with the "Ban Fracking Now" soundtrack coming from the outside was a line drawn in the sand. It showed that our movement is now working in concert.

I agree with an early statement made by you - it would have been even more powerful if we had had 100 people on the inside willing to disrupt.

We aren't there yet. Risking arrest is a big step that, once crossed, changes the equation. On this particular occasion we had 3 newbies. When we mobilize for the next big action, my guess is that we'll have more.

The first time I was part of an arrestable action, it was too intimidating for me to contemplate. However, watching the powerful battlefield occupation at Blair Mountain unfold was life altering. Two months later, during my second such action, I was arrested.

I no longer fear arrest (though I am always extremely nervous during the night before). My convictions now demand that I stand up for my friends, my neighbors, my children and grandchildren.

It's our job to build capacity in our movement. The powerful voices from the PAF rally attest to the convictions of the participants. We have to demystify the civil disobedience component so that more people will boldly step out of the "free speech zone" and into the spaces we have been excluded from.

I think you've misread Diane (who was arrested on the inside), Briget, and Jenny. You suggested earlier that they were being led by folks with other motives. They were not. They stuck to their principles and prodded PAF toward the ban message we (the grassroots groups that make up PAF) always wanted. I know that the three of them were stung by the criticism.

Initially, we (the rogue actions) were "with but not of" PAF. But knowing full well where I intended to go and who I hoped to associate with - Diane, Briget, and Jenny invited me to participate in one of the initial PAF rally organizing calls. Alex was also on that call. Including us was not a move made to endear themselves to Wolf.

Diane sat in on all of our calls and Jenny and Briget on some. They were fully onboard and, when some of the less grassrootsy groups pushed back, they stood firmly with us.

To echo Nathan, they chose "a course of action - and move(d) forward." They didn't "worry so much about what the rest of us are doing."

I'm proud to stand with them.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

HI MIchael--and thank you for your thoughtful observations. Please allow me to respond to them.

First, to your comment that "PAF shouldn't be lumped with any of the other organizations you have listed. PAF is a coalition with many members and a working majority on its steering committee is held by grassroots organizations (MOB, Marcellus Protest - which Nathan should not have listed with the other groups because MP is a lean, mean radical fighting machine, and PACWA)."

Time will tell whether PAF is a genuine coalition or a facade of a coalition. I appreciate that there are some members on this board that are pro-ban--but what I also know if that PAF IS Karen Feridun, that Karen Feridun IS committed first and foremost to promoting the fortunes of the Democrat Party, and that she WILL continue to insist on the "moratorium" message even though a highly persuasive case can be made that a moratorium is meaningless at this point.

Moreover, if I am to take PAF seriously, then I must take their messaging seriously--and thus far it is a far far cry from a ban. A halt is not a ban--and if PAF supported a ban they'd say "BAN."

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

To continue:

Lastly on this point, Feridun--and therefore the messaging of PAF IS consistent with CWA--and Feridun is closely allied with Mr. Sooy. I begrudge them not one moment of their friendship--that's not my point. What I'm saying is that their messaging is indistinguishable, and I can only attribute that to Sooy's influence over Feridun.

Second, if " "Halt" and "End" were mere rest stops on the path for Diane, Briget, and Jenny" there was no way this could be publicly known. And I have to say, I'm incredulous about that. If PAF is going to CONSISTENTLY support a BAN, they need to jettison these nonsense weasel words, and call out for a BAN. They DIDN'T.

There is no good argument to be made for the claim that eight people inside risking arrest while every one of the other LEADERS outside merely chanted loudly--but took no such risk--is "working in concert."

It makes far more sense to think that these LEADERS outside are comfortable with letting the same people who always take the fall continue to do so--especially you and Alex and Greg.

The message from these faux leaders--Feridun and Sooy particularly--is that they're the "rational" activists who can talk to the new governor--while you, et al. are the "radicals"--the ones that give the police and the MSOCC something to do. I think they send a terrible message to the rest of the well-intentioned protesters--and I think it speaks volumes about the depth of their commitment that they do not behave with the courage of their claimed convictions.

Had PAF any intention of putting 100 people in that venue--they could have. They DIDN'T because making that demand of the new governor is not their objective.

Third--the powerful voices at that rally were NOT PAF. They were largely the same people who have been coming out to these actions for YEARS. To credit PAF with their commitment is truly unfair to them--many would have been there anyways--AND PAF sent a profoundly confusing message:

The folks at the protest were calling out the word that PAF didn't mention even as much as ONCE during the press conference--BAN.

PAF is trying to have their cake--maintain their political access and their credibility as players WITHIN the system-- and eat it too--appear like they actually want to DO something about fracking-- MIchael--and it IS wrong.

I have made no mention of Diane, Briget, or Jenny in any of this criticism. I would ask them WHY they persist in PAF when its objectives are apparently not theirs'. But I have not ever called them out by either name or organizational affiliation. I'd argue that it's not me about which they should be stung--but rather PAF--and why their push to adopt the messaging of the ban goes unheeded.

In other words, Diane's, et al's ire ought not to be directed at me--if they're pro-ban, we're on the same team. It's at Feridun and Sooy they should be aiming their criticism.

A coalition includes a potentially wide array of differing groups with respect to STRATEGY--but NOT message. Until PAF adopts one consistent message, it's just a front for Feridun's and Sooy's aspirations--and those are neither your's nor m mine--nor, I gather, Diane's, et al.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

At bottom, it's really pretty simple. If we ask the question:

"Why didn't Feridun and Sooy take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate that their organizations stood for a ban, that they deserve the credibility with which their members invest them, and--most important--that they really are willing to stand up to the governor? Why weren't they among the disruptors when it would have been the absolutely most powerful action they could have taken given their name recognition and their prestige in the anti-fracking community?"

Answer: because they're not going to risk access to that governor--because that access is worth abandoning THAT opportunity.

And that's it.


Frack Free NYC said...

I strongly concur with Dr Lee's assessment of PAF and the general "slacktivist" movement in PA. With a handful of notable exceptions, the opposition to dispersed industrialization in PA has followed a course of appeasement and accomidation. They self-censored their demands, their acceptable range of actions, and even who could logistically participate in their meetings and events. Unless you were retired, unemployed, or staff from a non-profit, there was little way you were going to be available for middle of the work week call-ins or rallies. And God forbid any of these people should take the time to actually learn the science behind the extreme energy assault. It was obvious that a few opportunists saw this as a way to advance their own career agendas within established political structures. But that game is changing. The planet demands it.

David Walczak said...

I concur with Dr Wendy Lynn Lee that what we do and how we do it is who we are. It's necessary to call out fraudulent actions. I do not see this as a personal attack on Sooy or any of the big greens. It is a questioning of whether or not we are actually doing any damn good to STOP fracking. Mr Sooy is in all sincerity not in any way understanding the realities of how defense of one's community (large & small) work. The gas and oil conglomerates have the disposition and outward apearance of the wolf that swallowed grandmother in fairy tales long ago. The only difference is that in today's real life drama grandma can't be cut from the belly of the beast alive. Once grandmother is eaten she is dead for sure.

Defending is what this is all about. If we can do it without civil disobedience or arrest that is all for the batter. More often than not, risk, like /Dr Lee refers to is a necessary ingredient. Risk free protest, is about the same as trying to have tidy sex. Good sex is usually messy. Protest without risk most often goes unnoticed and is an exercise of intellectual self gratification. Tidy sex and no-risk protest seldom have results.

When big greens deter or ban their members from participating in protest that risk arrest, it's like the absurdity of being corralled into a free speech zone to speak your mind. If you can't say what you want to shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Wolf why bother saying what you have to say.

Dr Lee's arguments are very civil and challenging and make sense. We live in a grown-up world. No fairy tales will save us. If we can't challenge our comrades, how can we expect to challenge the enemy?

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thank you David Walczak!