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Rep. Rahall Plans Oversight for Park Service


Reprahall_copy    I wonder whether Mary ever considered the possibility that Democrats might be running Congress during her stint as director of the National Park Service? I mean, back when she was nominated and confirmed the November election was still almost two months off. Sure, even then the tea leaves didn't look good for the GOP, but Karl was sounding awfully confident.
    No matter, it is what it is. And for Mary, that means appearing before congressional committees that likely will be, shall we say, a bit more probing and demanding than those run by the Republicans. For a glimpse at what might be, here's what Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, the incoming chair of the House Resources Committee, has to say about what he expects from the Park Service:
    "For nearly a century, the National Park Service has sought to conserve our country's significant natural, cultural and historic areas. Places such as the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg, or the ancient pueblo dwellings of Mesa Verde are all eloquent characters in our American story. These sites are meant to be managed by the National Park Service in a way that will provide enjoyment, yet leave them unimpaired for future generations. Achievement of these goals requires balance, vigorous public participation, common sense, and humility in the face of the challenge before us. But consistent underfunding and misplaced management priorities have left park infrastructure crumbling and park resources degraded. There are even instances, such as the management of bison at Yellowstone National Park, where current policies are causing the destruction of an American icon. We must commit to careful review of park proposals to ensure that they are consistent with the overriding mission of the National Park Service, and conduct oversight of decisions made by the Administration to ensure sound stewardship of our natural and cultural heritage."

    Kinda makes you want to reserve a front row seat with a box of popcorn, no?
    Of course, talk is cheap. Last April we heard the requisite concern voiced over the plight of the national parks and little seemingly was done. So while Rep. Rahall's words sound promising, let's wait to see his actions before applauding too loudly.


I have seen a lot of the mass movement stuff from within the anti-war movement over the past few years. If you want a primer on anti-war movement politics, I sure could give it to you. And, frankly, I'm disgusted by it. In the so called anti-war movement for instance, the main organizing groups have been the ANSWER coalition, which is a front for the Stalinist Workers World Party (regardless of any supposed split you may have read about between ANSWER and another front, the International Action Center), and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), which is headed by Leslie Cagan, herself a communist - in fact UFPJ is heavily dominated by Communist Party USA and Committee of Correspondence Types. They have a much broader appeal and tend to prefer a more single issue, liberal approach, but for any grassroots group that has tried to work with UFPJ, it can be nightmarish if you stray from the line or criticize the operating structure. Both groups rely heavily on the mass mobilization as its means of movement building, but by and large these mobilizations are ignored and often serve as gigantic fundraisers (when successful) for the big organization (who by the way hate each other) often for the purposes of having yet another mass mobilization. Both groups are heavy-handed top down organizations that in many respects mimic the power structures they supposedly oppose. It is nearly impossible for a true bottom up approach in ANSWER and only apparently possible within UFPJ (which has the trappings of democracy but is still actually run by the clique in New York). I raise all this because first of all, I know firsthand about the difficulties of building large grassroots movements, have worked on the local and national level within these movements (staying anchored in the local, but Leslie Cagan and I for instance know each other), and I agree with you that the anti-war movement has been an absolute failure. UFPJ is trying to take credit for the last election; ummm, one has heard of UFPJ, and I think maybe the Iraqis had something to do with that. However, I have not lost hope in a mass social movement; I simply have lost hope in one that works on the basis of large national organizations who organize umpteen marches on Washington (which by the way, most people in Washington don't participate in and wish would go away). I think that building such a movement must take decades, and even if no one thinks we have decades, that's exactly what's required to do this right - nothing else is really worth doing. We don't have the luxuries of the indigenous cultures, say in Oaxaca, who already have communal organizing structures to fall back on. We have to build a movement from scratch while at the same time existing within a culture that stacks itself against such radical organizing models. Now, the tough part is getting traction and maintaining it when there's very little good news to come for such a movement for several years. It's full of frustration, heartache, missteps, betrayal, and severe shortages of material resources. And, when you finally succeed at all, you get repressed by the authorities. It's tempting to take shortcuts, but those shortcuts almost always destroy the work (like accepting that big grant from that big donor, who has now essentially bought you out - where I work, it's Gates Foundation money; in the movement, it's Ford Foundation or even a single wealthy donor as was the case at the Washington Peace Center). But, is this impossible? Who could say otherwise, and what other course is really worth it? With the National Parks, one reason we worry so much about them is because we've lost the sense of connectivity among our neighbors, with our own jobs, with the environment around us. We want to hold on what's still left of something we all long for, at least those of us living in this society. If we want to save those parks, the best way is to increase the connectivity of struggles and issues, people, plants, and animals among us. Easier said than done! But, again, what really is the alternative? Mass movements, like the anti-war movement, have failed because they don't really present an alternative way or organizing. They are avant garde movements focused around single issues or a small set of issues using an organizing process that is no less alienating than what we have in our normal lives. One wonders whether they are really mass movements at all; perhaps, they are simply panderers to something stressful in the mass culture. I think we can do better than this; it's not like it hasn't worked elsewhere to some extent. Maybe, the Oaxacans are currently being repressed, but I think they will bounce back because of all I've heard about their support mechanisms, about the ways that indigenous communities use consensus in organizing. If we see where we ourselves fail and how doomed we are if we don't do better, then perhaps people will start meeting to make something better actually rise up. As for blowing things up, I don't talk about that sort of thing. Without a real movement, what difference would it make? So, I have plenty of hope. It's not been a good year for organizing, but I still have no reason not to believe that this is the only likely path to any lasting success. Jim

Jim don't despair, long as we have Kurts blog and your solid impute (and others) the battle to keep the National Parks in sovereign hands for the American public...there's always hope!!

Jim et al, I fear we as a society are too self-centered and distracted to muster any type of uprising, mass or otherwise, in defense of the national parks. We can't even manage much visible protest over the Iraq conflict. Remember the 1960s and the Vietnam protests? Kent State? Much was at stake for young Americans back then. The draft existed and death was not much farther off than a notice in your mailbox from the Selective Service folks. Today there's no draft and, so, little outward concern of being scooped up out of your comfort zone and deposited in Bagdad six months down the road. We see no sustained protests over our nation's health care policies, no sustained protests over this administration's tax policies, no sustained protests over the looming insolvency of Social Security. And so I hold little hope that there will be any mass uprising in defense of national parks. Hell, we can't even get members of the congressional national parks caucus on the same page. Back in the 1980s Earth First! attracted headlines for its "tree vaccinations," the uprooting of survey lines in the wilderness, and Ed Abbey's wonderful book. But it was such a rag-tag operation and couldn't compete financially with the big boys and so lost its ability to be a meaningful force. That's another key problem: money. PR campaigns are so slick and invasive these days that it's laughable to mount an uprising without budgeting for that aspect. Scott Silver at Wild Wilderness certainly has the passion burning in his belly to focus an "uprising," but lacks the deep financial pockets. So as much as I'd like to see a grassroots uprising in the name of national parks, I hold out little hope. I think we're stuck with lighting candles with hopes Congress will do the right thing.

Jim, very good commentary! What are you a nut shell? Sounds to me your ready to light a fuse somewhere. In regards to the Hoover Dam and like environments, maybe John Wesley Powell would of thought messing with the Hoover Dam. I think Edward Abbey had it right..."The pen is mightier than the sword" in theory! Stick to your pen Jim!!

Snowbird, I know some people in Earth First! I know some people who have been involved or have been alleged to have been involved in much more militant groups than that (need I say more?) In DC, there definitely is a gap between the grassroots people's movements on various social justice issues and those in the environmental movement. No one here gets along very well, but it's mostly personality conflicts more than politics. I have a lot of experience in grassroots movements and a lot of thoughts about what makes them successful or not successful. One thing I'm sure of, though, is that nothing meaningful or beautiful changes from the top, that all changes of any substance happen from the bottom. So, I want to see movements without people at the helm (at the top) in order to make that happen. That has a million challenges...ten million challenges...a billion challenges...but I can't think of any other movement really worth living for. If there needs to be a public uprising, it has to start in local communities and has to respect each voice within those communities, and so it has to build a sustainable base. It involves a lot of not so sexy work building infrastructure. It has to be able to absorb many defeats. I am wary of building a national parks strategy that depends on increasing visitation to the parks, for obvious reasons. I think if you care about the parks, you must build an appreciation of them and connect them to those other things going on in local communities; they are connected. That strikes me as more sustainable and not dependent on support simply from the puppet masters who work at foundations. I also believe such a movement has to be essentially nonviolent (though nonviolence is an extremely loaded term, and I meet it with suspicion usually when I hear it), though not non-forceful or passive (satyagraha, right?). Unfortunately, most nonviolent movements are essentially passive and are not willing to use any kind of force whatsoever. Is blocking an intersection to keep people from going to work violence? I've heard that said! Gandhi would be rolling in his grave to hear how people interpret his teachings. Any public uprising that is meaningful is truly public, truly participatory, and truly inclusive of a wide web of related issues, strategies, and tactics (and the wide tension and animosity that results among people within a movement). It must have education and skill sharing and resource sharing and trust building at its very core. The rightwingers who come here think what I am saying is liberal; it's not liberal. The liberal would organize a public uprising around putting pressure on the government to make changes, essentially to reform a system that's otherwise pretty good. The liberal might accuse this of being libertarian, but it's not that because you must show fundamental respect for the small local core of people you work with and must be accountable to pretty much everyone and every being in the universe. If it's not liberal, the rightwinger calls it socialist, but it's certainly not that, since this isn't about taking over the machinery of government, it's about reconnecting government back into the people who supposedly make it up. My friends aren't terribly fond of liberals or socialists, though we find ourselves somewhere on the left (I guess - it's not clear to me we fit on any linear spectrum). However, I have a soft spot for everyone :). Earth First! as I understand it uses something like this model of organizing. I worry, though, about basing a movement wholly in principles of deep ecology without a more (and less) robust ideology. As much as I think deep ecology moves things in the right direction, I think it's not encompassing enough, which is perhaps why there is such a division among radical environmentalists and radicals who work on other issues. I also don't think it's always rooted enough in the community. On the other hand, in places, it may be a way of starting. As I explore people's movements in Greater Yellowstone, I'll be interested to see what presence groups like Earth First! have had in that part of the Rockies. I must admit I haven't heard much at all. It will be fun to learn. So, are you saying your dream is to blow up Hoover Dam? (umm...don't answer that...LOL)

Uprising!? I think Earth First with Dave Foreman (at the helm in the 1980's ?) tried to bring attention for some source of public out cry over the rape and pillage by are run amuck capitalistic out of control goverment.

So, Alan, I'm intrigued. What would the public uprising look like? Depending on what such an uprising would look like, count me as interested. And, yes, I agree. I wrote about this in respect to my particular favorite park on my blog, "No New Radical Wind in Yellowstone," and provoked a response out of Kurt. But, there are public uprisings, and then there are things called public uprisings, and so I'm curious what you mean and how serious you are. Jim

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