By Lisa Quaglino
The chapter "Saving a Swamp and Other Landmark Campaigns" in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns showed first hand the hard work that goes into conserving land and stopping it from being developed. Of the three different areas of land preservation profiled in this chapter, the one that stood out the most was the conservation of the Great Swamp. This example shows how much hard work and dedication can pay off, even when it seems the odds are completely against you.
The reason the story of the Great Swamp is so inspiring is mostly due to the opponent that these citizens had the face: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. When a large company like this one has plans to build an airport, it seems like it would be nearly impossible to stop them. Leader of the citizen campaign, Helen Fenske, had other ideas, however. Even more impressive than the fact that she helped to stop the airport is the fact that most of the planning and campaigning involved was run out of her own kitchen. The issue was close to her heart, being the view the kitchen looked out on to. Her motivation is a main reason the campaign was able to have such an impact.
Another reason the campaign became so successful was the attention the citizens were able to get for the Great Swamp. Events such as exhibits at malls in the area of the wildlife that would be impacted by the building of an airport was just one of many ways those involved with the campaign were able to overcome a giant as big as the Port Authority. As Fenske stated, gaining listeners and followers of the campaign and then convincing them to participate in hands on work, is the most important aspect of any grassroots campaign. The more people who are passionate about the outcome of the campaign, the more successful it will be, and that is exactly what happened here.
Another surprising aspect of saving the Great Swamp was the time period in which it occurred. As stated in the book, the campaign took place in the early 1960’s, prior to the wave of environmentalism that swept the country starting with the first Earth Day in 1970. It could even be said that the attention the Great Swamp got helped to contribute to the Nation’s realization that more of our land needs to be preserved rather than developed. And today, it can continue to inspire other grassroots campaigns across the country.
Not only did those involved with saving the Great Swamp work to keep the Port Authority from building an airport, they also turned the land they saved into wildlife refuges and county parks with educational centers. Possibly the most important aspect of this campaign is the fact that the citizens were able to take everything they accomplished to the next level. Organizing, getting people involved, saving the land, and turning that land into what it is today, the Great Swamp campaign is nothing short of amazing.