New book profiles "ordinary" environmental crusaders
provided by Smith College
n the post-industrial era almost any citizen can name an environmental danger in his or her community, pointing a finger at hazards ranging from industrial waste to untreated sewage. Some accept these dangers as inevitable. But many people do speak out. It takes a lot to fight City Hall or Acme Chemical or Consolidated Nuclear. How do people find the time or the resources or the courage?
A remarkable number of today's heroes are ordinary citizens, says Myron (Mickey) Peretz Glazer and Penina Migdal Glazer, professors of sociology and history at Smith and Hampshire Colleges respectively.
"Once these citizens come to believe that the health and safety of their communities are in danger, they are willing to take great risks to pursue their cause," asserts Mickey Glazer. "They are willing to face ostracism, economic sacrifices and even threats of violence."
The Glazers draw their conclusions from work on "The Environmental Crusaders: Confronting Disaster and Mobilizing Community" (Penn State Univ. Press, 1998), the result of five years spent interviewing 140 activists, public interest group members, journalists, union leaders, and corporate and government employees in the United States, Israel, and the former Czechoslovakia. The Glazers wanted to find out how the courage of ordinary people helps to build a more accountable and democratic society.
"When it comes to courage, our greatest role models may well be our own neighbors," Mickey Glazer claims, offering as evidence the following figures from the book:
Are Bailie, Robinson and Newman anomalies, or can anyone become an environmental crusader?
"What sets successful reformers apart is both their passion at the outset and their ability to sustain the fight over years and decades," the Glazers claim. Like the activists they profiled in their earlier, highly acclaimed book, The Whistleblowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry, these reformers, once they get involved in the battle, refuse to back off.
"If they retreat," Mickey Glazer explains, "they feel they have given up and let others down. For some people, a lengthy struggle is too stressful, but for true environmental crusaders it is galvanizing. They strengthen their resolve by building a sense of community solidarity."
While acknowledging that not everyone is cut out for the crusader role, the Glazers reject recent claims that civic responsibility is declining in America. Are more people retreating into private life as they become alienated from their societies?
"Quite possibly," Penina Glazer responds. "But at the same time, our research shows that there are literally hundreds of thousands of people and thousands of environmental groups who believe that change is possible through responsible collective action.
"Their organizations may not have charters, constitutions or fancy offices. But when the need arises, there are grass-roots environmental crusaders throughout the country, in every community under attack, organizing and saying 'We can do something together.'"
|Contact: Laurie Fenlason (413) 585-2190; email lfenlasoncolrel.smith.edu; Web www.smith.edu.|