Eugene Weekly : Natural Resistance : 2.5.09

Working Democracy
Our abundant ways to effect change
by Mary O’Brien

As one among the fortunate who are still employed, I look over the past week of work and volunteering with a great deal of gratitude — for some choices our country made long ago, last Nov. —4, and today.

Monday.  I’m compiling materials for a coalition of 15 conservation groups, all of whom have the long-term health of southern Utah’s national forests as some portion of their 2009 work schedule, whether their organization focuses on oil and gas extraction, livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, clearcutting, lead bullets and condors or the forests’ no-longer eternal springs.

Tuesday. 1) A phone strategy conference with border citizens working for a better solution to Mexican-U.S. social and economic disparities than an environment- and community-destroying Berlin wall. They’re poor, they’re new to activism and they’re planning to teach citizens from 40 states how to lobby Congress for better approaches.  2) A phone strategy conference with three other people to plan a Working Beavers gathering in Spokane, Wash., with scientists, ranchers, conservationists and economists. (Yes, beaver are an economically sound watershed investment).  3) I bike to the Bijou to see Milk, the story of how Harvey Milk and his gay neighbors helped San Francisco, then California and ultimately our country understand why gay people deserve as many human rights as heterosexuals.

Wednesday.  1) A phone conference with fellow moderators of an upcoming “NEPA at 40” gathering. This conference will celebrate the 40th birthday of my favorite environmental law (National Environmental Policy Act) next to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The last two laws effectively discourage our government from acting secretly or dictatorially; the first requires that our government at least consider reasonable alternatives to behaving badly environmentally — including reasonable alternatives you, as a citizen, propose. 2) A phone conference to develop a reasonable alternative to proposed clearcutting of aspen and conifers on one national forest under NEPA. 3) A Citizens for Public Accountability meeting, working toward a prioritization of effective campaigns for keeping Eugene and Lane County governments accountable to all of us.

Thursday.  1) Twenty-five Eugeneans meet for the umpteenth time to inch toward our final report on options for west Eugene to simultaneously enhance its transportation, businesses, environment, and neighborhoods.  (Are we having fun yet? Not always, but we’re gonna get there.) 2) A second movie in one week (which is a personal record): Frost/Nixon, in which a lightweight, British TV talk show host and a humorless researcher help our country hold an ex-president to our rule of law as well as ethics.

Friday.  Going to court is averted via a ninth and final version of a joint “appeal resolution” between two conservation groups and one national forest: we’ll jointly examine conditions on a subalpine sheep allotment that I contend is being battered beyond legal standards for forests. Government, citizens and scientists will all look at the same piece of ground at the same time this summer. 

Here’s to our country’s incredible democracy, citizens and shared lands.

Mary O’Brien of Eugene has worked as a public interest scientist since 1981. She can be reached at