By Nick Bower
What people could learn from the section of A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns titled “The Great Swamp Campaign” is that no matter who the opponent is, if enough people fight as hard as they can for a cause they believe is crucial, then there is a good chance the people will win.
A decade before the first Earth Day in 1970, a large group of concerned and passionate citizens took on the massive Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which wanted to construct an airport where the Great Swamp was situated, 30 miles west of New York City and 20 miles from the Newark Airport. The Great Swamp Committee was then formed, which then started the Great Swamp Campaign. They publicized their purpose to get more people to support them, and also got the attention of politicians and other organizations' attention. In the end, they were able to raise enough funds to purchase the majority of the swamp to prevent the Port Authority from building an airport there.
“If the cause is just, if the majority of people are behind the protest, there is much a grassroots movement can and should do,” noted Cam Cavanugh, author of “Saving the Great Swamp.”
This is a prime example of the power of numbers. What started off as only a handful of people who wanted the Port Authority stopped grew in numbers, and therefore grew in notoriety and funding. With enough people concerned about an issue, their elected officials are inclined to try to do something about that issue, whether or not they really care what that issue is about. And although they were going up against a powerhouse in the Port Authority, which was never stopped before, they were able to raise enough money and attention to their cause through their energy and determination to achieve what they wanted.
One of the leaders of the campaign, Helen Fenske, set up the campaign’s headquarters in her kitchen, where she lived right on the edge of the Great Swamp, meaning she probably had the most to lose from an airport being built in her own backyard with the constant sound of airplanes, not to mention the fumes that would affect her.
It took Fenske and the rest of the Great Swamp Committee five years to keep the Great Swamp a swamp, and not an airport, but they accomplished their goal. Which goes to show that although there is certainly corruption in today’s world, and corporations have much more influence than any politician will admit, a group of ordinary citizens can make a difference.