Monday, October 23, 2006

"Democracy School" Workshops Challenge Corporate Rule

Time to Learn A New Strategy?

Ellen Hayes and Steve Kowal, two graduates of the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program at Antioch University New England, have recently started a movement-building organization called Advocates for Community Empowerment (ACE). The mission of the organization is to help empower New England communities to go beyond conventional regulatory strategies and secure a truly democratic future by enacting enforceable by-laws and ordinances that place control in the hands of ‘we the people” while stripping corporations of their illegitimate power to usurp people's rights to a clean and healthy environment. This strategy has already been used to good effect in western Pennsylvania through the efforts of Tom Linzey and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

As one of the activist training tools for learning to apply this new strategic model in various local communities, Ellen and Steve will soon begin offering the "Daniel Pennock Democracy School" weekend workshop developed by Tom Linzey of CELDEF and Richard Grossman, a founder of the Program on Cororations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD). The "Daniel Pennock Democracy School" was named after a teenage Pennsylvania boy who died as a result of corporate land-applied sewage sludge and teaches the hidden histories of corporate power in this country and outlines CELDF's promising new strategy for making our people's movements much more effective at securing real democracy.

"Democracy School Changed Our Lives"

Ellen and Steve both come from corporate sales and business backgrounds, but each independently sought out Antioch’s Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program because of their concerns about the social and ecological consequences of a political economy dominated by transnational corporations. This concern only deepened for them when Hayes and Kowal were exposed to the work of Richard Grossman and Thomas Linzey in the EAOP's course on "Corporate Power, Globalization, and Democracy." As Hayes observes, “I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Richard Grossman speak at an event I was attending as part of my class project. It seemed as if the knot in my stomach and the confusion in my head resolved into an overarching understanding of how our society has come to its present condition.”

Inspired by their own attendance at a Democracy School soon after, Hayes and Kowal soon included the Democracy School's teacher training program with CELDF as part of their EAOP master’s course work. Now, with the formation of ACE, Hayes and Kowal are bringing this “revolutionary” strategy to northern New England.

As Steve Kowal explains: ”When I decided to begin my studies with the EAOP program my goal was to find a methodology of activism that would be rooted in fundamental change rather than in the endless “hamster wheel” environmental efforts to 'Stop this' or 'Save that.' When Steve Chase introduced me to the work of CELDF, I knew immediately their's was a strategy that could make a difference. I hope our work in New England with ACE provides inspiration and real aid to communities who want to preserve their way of life and their environment. We hope to inspire citizens by pulling back the veil of corporate power and empowering them to take progressive steps to assert their rights as 'we the people.' We hope our new movement-building efforts and our partnership with CELDF can spread this new organizing model throughout New England.”

The first couple of Democracy Schools to be taught by Ellen and Steve, with assistance from Tom Linzey and Richard Grossman, will focus on the concerns of activists from communities facing the adverse effects of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and incineration, particularly incineration of Construction and Demolition (C&D) debris. These Democracy Schools will be 16 hour intensive learning opportunities for community activists, selectmen and concerned citizens who want to enact positive, fundamental protection for their communities and environment. They will both explore the limits of conventional regulatory organizing and introduce participants to CELDF's new organizing model that helps empower citizens to confront the usurpation by corporations of the rights of communities, people, and the earth.

For more information on ACE, or bringing a Democracy School workshop to your community, visit ACE's new webpage. If you live outside of New England, you can also check out the webpage of CELDF as well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

David vs. Goliath? -- EAOP vs. NAM?

Who knew that the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program's "The Well-Trained Activist" blog would show up as a link on the website of the National Association of Manufacturers? But, this week it did. NAM, one of the largest corporate lobbying/PR organizations in America, linked to the new EAOP blog as one of many examples of crazy propagandists and Joe McCarthy-like demagogues who urge sustainable reforms in how we organize and conduct our economic and political lives to address the "fake" problem of global warming.

Their long, hyper-linked, article was written by Bob Carter, an Australian scientist opposed to the growing international scientific consensus on global warming. NAM's web article is entitled "McCarthyism, Press Bias, Policy-Advice Corruption, and Propaganda Everywhere." The article is actually a good example of the sophisticated kinds of PR efforts often used by high powered, corporate-backed, global climate change deniers. I think it makes for an interesting read.

I'm strangely honored to have the National Association of Manufacturers link to the EAOP blog as a thorn in their side. I'm just glad that there are still some high-road, socially-responsible businesses and executives in this world who take the problem of global warming seriously and are doing what they can for global climate stabilization.

However, it is very clear from this article that environmental advocates still have a lot of work cut out for them.

Keep on keeping on!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New Study on Activist Training in Academia

Recently Eli Pariser, the Executive Director of MoveOn.Org, made the following comment about Antioch University’s five-year-old Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program:

"Lots of people care about the future of our country, but not all of them are as active or effective as they could be. There are just too few institutions that help inspire, train, and nurture progressive activists. That's why I'm so excited about Antioch University New England's Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program. It's a graduate program that offers in-depth activist training and even connects its graduates into an ongoing support network. I encourage everyone seeking to work as a public interest advocate or a grassroots organizer to check out Antioch's advocacy and organizing program."

I am glad Eli gets what we are trying to accomplish--and I am also happy to report that we are increasingly fielding calls from innovative educators who are considering setting up similar activist training programs at their own schools.

Well, I now have an in-depth resource to offer such educators—my recently completed thesis entitled Activist Training in the Academy: Developing A Master’s Program In Environmental Advocacy and Organizing. This curriculum action research report offers readers two key things. First, it provides a discussion of the key theoretical issues facing educators who might want to create activist training programs at their own colleges and universities. This section describes my own journey as an educator in higher education; includes a history of several activist training programs inside and outside of academia; offers a detailed look at what advocates and organizers most need to know, and then looks at what are the most appropriate educational techniques for academic training programs geared to activists.

In the second section, Activist Training in the Academy offers a detailed case study of the development process and curriculum design of the master’s program in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing I have directed since 2002 at Antioch University’s Keene, New Hampshire campus. This section includes the original proposal for the program, a report on the faculty’s initial response, the key questions they needed answered before agreeing to launch the new program, and an outline of the basic curriculum design we developed for the Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program.

This new study on activist training in academia is available online and is also available at cost in hard copy. For more information contact:

Steve Chase
Director, Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch University New England
40 Avon Street, Keene, NH 03431