Politics of Desperation
Air Date: Week of February 4, 2000
Some activist groups, frustrated that candidates aren’t speaking much about the environment, have begun to hound the candidates at campaign events. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports.
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For years, presidential campaigns have been fairly quiet affairs, with little of the tumult and protest that marked the campaigns and conventions during the Vietnam War, for example. But direct action may be coming back. During the recent New Hampshire primary, some frustrated environmental activists who were feeling ignored, especially by Democrats Al Gore and Bill Bradley, decided to grab some placards and bullhorns and head for the barricades of confrontation. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's the morning before the New Hampshire primary, and Al Gore's local campaign headquarters is locked tight and guarded by police. A handful of protesters has come from Ohio to call the vice president a liar.
SWEARINGEN: This is the litmus test for Al Gore. Is he really the environmental vice president, and now possibly the president, that he calls himself?
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Terry Swearingen leads a group of grassroots activists who've hounded Mr. Gore for years. They claim he broke a promise to block the opening of a hazardous waste incinerator in eastern Ohio. Seven years ago the group staged a sit-in at the White House, and today they're ready for a sit-in here, until they get what they want or get arrested.
MAN: I just was handed this by --
WOMAN: It's a letter from the White House
MAN: -- a member of the Gore campaign. It's a letter from the White House...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: After an hour, the confrontational tactics pay off. The vice president, who for years has been saying his hands were legally tied in the matter, agrees to an independent investigation of the incinerator. Terry Swearingen.
SWEARINGEN: This shows the power of the threat of civil disobedience. This is response is -- we're actually pleased with it. It's a step -- a step in the right direction. That's what it is.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's a small victory, but these days grassroots activists say small victories are the best they can get. Although Al Gore has an impressive environmental record, it's not a central theme in his campaign, and the same is true for Bill Bradley.
CROWD: (chanting) Hey, candidates, take a stand, global warming what's your plan? Hey, candidates, take a stand, global warming what's your plan?
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Mr. Bradley's been attracting protesters, too, like at this town meeting in Derry.
O'CONNELL: Well, we're basically here today to encourage all the candidates to develop a plan to address global warming and make it forefront issue.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Christine O'Connell of Ozone Action and Doug Israel of Campus Green Vote want to force candidates like Gore and Bradley to take a more vocal stand.
ISRAEL: I mean, I know that Gore and the candidates care about these issues, but we're standing out here every day. They just don't want to talk about them at all.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The protest, though, isn't exactly at center stage. The environmentalists are relegated to the side lawn, next to animal rights activists who are dressed in pig costumes with signs saying, "Tax Meat." There's also a man here with a boot on his head, who wants the government to force Americans to brush their teeth.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The environmental protests don't seem to affect Mr. Bradley. He speaks to voters for half an hour and global warming never comes up.
BRADLEY: ... that we can do more in terms of education and health and race relations in America, and campaign finance reform and gun control...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Of course, it's not only a question of persuading the candidates to speak out, but getting the public's attention, too. Eric Gustavson was glad to see the protesters out front.
GUSTAVSON: I'm glad that they feel passionate about the issues they feel passionate about, and I think that's great what they're doing. I respect them for what they do.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But Jennifer Hazel points out it's easier for demonstrators to get noticed at small-town events like those in New Hampshire.
HAZEL: It's a little easier because we're a small state with a huge amount of attention placed on us. So it's easier for smaller voices to get a large hearing.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Grassroots activists may have a tougher time as the campaign moves away from New Hampshire's face to face political environment, but they're not giving up. The climate-change activists vow to be a presence at campaign events in Florida and New York. And Al Gore's chances in Ohio may be affected by his new set of promises concerning the hazardous waste incinerator there. If he doesn't deliver, he may find demonstrators ready to occupy his Ohio offices on the eve of Super Tuesday. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.
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