From the Publishers

Life is like a balloon ...
or is it a piñata?

by Carolyn Chase
o new readers of SDET, I hope each edition stands on its own in delivering issues of relevance and ways to get involved. But long term SDET readers may have noticed that in the last issue, and then this one, there has been a notable drop in the coverage of politics and related land use and endangered species concerns such as Multiple Habitat Planning programs and governmental resource protections.
This is not because the political threats to our quality of life have lessened. It's more because many of the issues, and the environmentalists who participate with these issues, have confused this editor so much or simply left me in the dark. I can't in good conscience share with y'all what you could be doing to make a difference at this point. And if I can't figure it out, I surely can't explain it to anyone else. Have you ever felt yourself in this position? It's like, geez, won't somebody please get it together so we can get more people involved to help?
Unfortunately, what I've learned is that most activists, government staff and elected officials are not oriented toward getting more people to help. Really. They seem so consumed with deploying their personal power inside the system that little time is left for working with the public. It seems, as far as they are concerned, the fewer people in the process the better. More people means more work for them and less influence. Instead of seeing new people as a source of power and creativity, new people coming into the process are most often considered an intrusion. Or, as never being able to know enough about the program for their opinion to matter.
The education, if it's to happen at all, is set up to be one-way: from the experts to the people or between experts, with very little time for the public to ask questions. This is big shame, and the reason why the environmental movement in general is not able to flex more political muscle. Even in my position ­p; with experience volunteering and supporting local environmental groups ­p; I have a hard time finding out about key meetings or being informed of the outcomes. This makes it hard to report.
But I haven't given up. I continue to attend the meetings I manage to find out about and review the documents I manage to get a hold of. At some point, I will disgorge a great article about endangered species, the process, the laws and politics.
In the meantime here are a few short things you should be aware of: I have joined with a group of community members and conservation activists to start a new Political Action Committee (PAC) to better organize people and build political power. We are oriented toward bringing new people into the political process, and teaching ourselves how to express the political will of those committed to long term sustainability and quality of life as our bioregion grows. We are currently working on our constitution. If you would like to participate in any way, either call or send me email.
In closing, I'd like to share a couple of things I have learned in the last couple of month's worth of meetings about local conservation issues.
Business is organized, "the people" are not, and the environmentalists are not very well organized. A small group of dedicated activists, many of them volunteers, try to keep up with full-paid lobbyists hired by the building industry and property interests. Even when we have a victory at the local level, the developers are already lobbying to have it undone or compromised at the state and federal level. And vice-versa.
This process demonstrates what one great guy at the City explained to me as the "politics as balloon" metaphor: "Politics is like a balloon. You push in one place and it pops up someplace else." This idea has helped me understand how politics is played off among and between the federal, state and local jurisdictions.
But an equally valuable model was suggested by a friend of mine who is also trying to figure out to work the system to protect quality of life. "Isn't it more like a piñata?" she asked. "Let's see. You beat it long enough and candy falls out. If you swing and miss, you get nothing, and look stupid in the attempt. You're blindfolded as you make your attempt, so you really can't see what's really going on - which is someone else manipulating the piñata to make if even more difficult to get the candy." Hmmmm. Fits quite well, I'd say.
Anyone who'd like to link up with those of us swiping at the piñata of politics, let me know! Some of us are getting quite good and are having fun at the same time.