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Citizen Engagement

Published: May 2, 2009, Author: JayTaber

Living with No Tomorrow

The April 21 FRONTLINE special Poisoned Waters  looks at the last chance for Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound to avoid becoming dead zones. In that special, Washington’s governor remarked that without citizen engagement, Puget Sound will die. As FRONTLINE observed, that engagement revolves around the state’s Growth Management Act.

Washington state’s Growth Management Act, itself the result of a 1990 citizen’s initiative to prevent the crisis aired in Poisoned Waters, was fought tooth and nail by both political parties, unions, and all major business interests. Throughout the state, those of us who heeded the call by organizing concerned citizens in our communities were threatened, assaulted, or harassed by vigilantes organized and funded by the Building Industry Association. In 1996, eight of these vigilantes went to prison for making bombs to murder community activists and elected officials. (See Public Good Project archives.)

The reason these battles are fought over and over again, with the public interest continuously losing ground, is that there is no continuity of leadership in community organizing. The reason leadership is not sustained and nurtured is there is no formalized community support, and thus no means to teach the lessons and skills needed to protect themselves. Rather, leadership is perpetually squandered as if there is no tomorrow–a self-fulfilling prophecy.

(Jay Taber is a writer and storyteller in San Francisco.)

Chief George Manuel Memorial Indigenous Library

The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.

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