By Jennifer De Shields
Reading the chapter on environmental campaigns in A Citizen's Guide to Grassroots Campaigns was very informative. I don’t hear much about grassroots campaigning, and normally when I hear anything about it it’s normally negative. Not negative in the sense that people think it’s a bad idea, but negative because people don’t really think that it can work. In our media and entertainment we always hear about stories of the underdog taking on their opponents and winning, despite the impossible odds. We’ll watch movies about the renegade cop taking justice into his own hands or the woman taking on the male oppression in a sexist world, or we’ll turn on the news and see a town rallying behind a good cause. In the real world, activism is much different. When you start to try to rally people, sometimes you’ll get inspired people who want to help but most of the time you’ll get jaded people who don’t want to get involved. You’ll hear every excuse from “I just don’t feel that strongly about the subject” or “It’s not really that big of a deal”, “It’s just the way things are, there’s no point in trying to change things.”
I feel like that last response is the comment I get the most. People are very aware of the way the country works: we have the government running things along with corporations. To some people it’s almost too overwhelming; they feel that there’s no way you can fight the government or big business and win. In some respects this is true; it is certainly not easy to take on anyone or anything with a lot of power. In other ways, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The people in the government are there because we voted them in. These big business are so big because we buy their products. They may have the power, but we were the ones who gave it to them and we certainly can take it back.
Reading these stories of successful grassroots campaigns lifted my spirits. It was very refreshing to hear these instances of people organizing and getting important things done. Reading about the Sterling Forest Campaign was fascinating because I heard a lot about it from my former environmental history professor Howard Horowitz. He and other professors at Ramapo College fought very hard for Sterling Forest to be saved from development. I’ve seen the Highlands forest during various drives along Rt. 287, and it amazes me that people actually wanted to turn it into office space and more suburban housing. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful forest with an abundance of wildlife; why would anybody want to turn that into something we don’t really need? I’m glad that somebody was fighting to preserve the little green space we have left in this state, especially in the Highlands. I don’t live around here, I’m actually from South Jersey, very close to Philadelphia, so I don’t get to see mountains. The mountainous areas up here are so beautiful; we should be doing whatever we can to save them.