It’s Not Easy Being Green
by Bing Futch
The voice on the other end of the phone was casual, pleasant and it wanted to know if I’d be interested in coming down to the Orlando headquarters of the Environmental Victory Project. The voice, which belonged to a seemingly mellow guy by the name of Ben, informed me that the project was a non-partisan effort by the League of Conservation Voters to elect an environmentally-conscious president. It was immediately clear that George W. Bush was not to be their endorsee. During the 1996 and 2000 elections, I had not received a single canvassing phone call, so it was with some relief and excitement that I accepted the invitation from an organization whose single-mindedly green platform resonated with my own.
According to their website (www.envirovictory.org), The Environmental Victory Project’s big plan is to win what they consider to be the five key battleground states for senator John Kerry. In these states, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Florida, EVP volunteers hope to stage an unprecedented grass roots awareness campaign consisting of neighborhood canvassing, town hall meetings, press events and early voter rallies. But its most powerful tactic would concentrate on encouraging discussions regarding the environmental issues that effect us all. When you stop to think about it, the magazine racks of issues that pepper the landscape of a presidential campaign are often divisive depending on who you are, where you are and how old you might be. The young adults who are strongly urged to “rock the vote!” often could care less about the candidate’s record on health-care or tax-reform while older registered voters have their own pressing concerns regarding social security and prescription medicines.
When it comes to whether or not the ozone hole will widen, increasing the need for full-body protective atmosphere suits to avoid lethal sun-poisoning, the gap between demographics suddenly shrinks.
You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate a tree, or a sky of robin’s egg blue, or clean, crystal rivers and white sandy beaches devoid of oil sludge and factory waste. The environment that we live in is shared by all and it effects us all, whether we accept the responsibility or not. When a two-gun Texan like Dubya sits in the White House and continues the Bushian trend of handing lucrative drilling contracts to cronies while resisting calls to research ways of utilizing alternative sources of energy, inaction credibly translates into responsibility somewhere down the road. C’mon – don’t hybrid electric vehicles seem like a really cool idea?
I arrived at the EVP’s Orlando headquarters (714 E. Colonial Drive), not far from the International House Of Pancakes that serves as one of the premier “after the clubs close” dining spots in The City Beautiful. Volunteers were still straggling in, reporting for the later of two canvassing calls-to-action, signing up and heading deeper into the offices for some orientation and door-knocking basics. Sandra Diaz, guiding the Community Outreach effort, happily noted that “80% of the volunteers” were in college and deeply passionate about environmental concerns. Besides recruiting within the state of Florida, the EVP has also managed to attract supporters from other states such as Ohio and Texas, encouraging them to board busses bound for The Sunshine State in an effort to get the word out. Many of these hardy people from all walks of life have risen to action based on Dubya’s lousy record on the environment, which earned the LCV’s first-ever “F” grade.
“You can say whatever you want, he’s gonna do whatever he wants – I mean, how many protested the war before it happened? Thousands, tens of thousands of people, and yet we still had the war,” says Diaz. “Bush does not listen to us, we do not have access. With Kerry, we feel like we’re gonna have– that the people will have more of an influence, and people want clean air, people want clean water, and I think he’s gonna listen.”
The simplicity of the green message and its importance to everybody was underlined by the Florida state director for the League Of Conservation Voters, Allan Oliver. “It’s actually putting people back into politics, having a conversation with people in the most respectful way that you can and getting them engaged,” he said. In the five key battleground states, volunteers have knocked on approximately 650,000 doors nationwide with over 143,000 knocks recorded right here in Florida, despite four hurricanes that sometimes found canvassers scattering out of the way or having their temporary lodgings damaged. The sheer scope of the EVP’s efforts makes this campaign an unprecedented call-to-action, one that is being received positively by Democrats and Republicans alike. “What we’ve definitely found is that everybody is interested in this election, but all they get right now is negativity,” said Oliver.
That, the constant flame-baiting and spinning each camp conjures in propaganda magic, and a general jadedness on the part of disenfranchised Americans has led to a frightening drop-off in voter participation compared to past elections. According to the U.S. Secretary of State’s office, only 57.62% percent of the voting age population made it down to the polls in the presidential elections of 2000 with 75.46% percent of registered voters casting their ‘druthers. Recent news items such as the ongoing Nevada investigations into the alleged “trashing” of Democratic voter registrations (www.klas-tv.com/Global/story.asp?S=2421595) or the increased reports of electronic voting machine malfunctions in more than one state have only added to overall voter malaise. But Oliver is optimistic about environmentalists pulling together and defeating Bush.
“If you were to actually add up nationally all the different members of different environmental organizations, you’re talking about a population of 11 million,” he said, noting that unions represented a population of 12 million. “If the environmentalists were actually to go, get out and get as active as the unions were, we would have at least equal the effect on politics that the unions do.” Aside from the already pro-active green types that are considered “self-identified environmentalists” (some 900,000 statewide), there are the students, homemakers, small business-owners and just plain folks who are caught up in the day-to-day stresses of scheduling life. Recognizing how difficult it is to get the vote out on Super Tuesday, Diaz introduced an option that many people, myself included, were unaware of previously: early voting.
“It’s a really convenient way, you can fit it around your schedule, you can get it out of the way and you don’t have to stand in line November 2nd and your vote is counted,” she said. The EVP has planned a number of Early Voter Rallies that, she hopes, will make not only make it easier for people to become more involved in the political process, but will also serve as a recruitment center for more volunteers. “The goal is to get those people who are already done to help us to get other people out to vote.”
The Environmental Victory Project will be holding such a rally on Monday, October 18th at 9 am in the Lake Eola area of downtown Orlando near Central Blvd. and Rosalind Ave. The featured speaker will be Dick Batchelor, former chairman of the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission and a former state representative. There are other early voting rallies to follow – folks interested in participating in the early vote can contact Sandra Diaz at (407) 420-1781 or by e-mailing her at Sandra_diaz@lcv.org. Another plus for this concept is that early votes leave a paper trail – and what with the emergence of electronic voting machines across the country, easily buggy and prone to system errors, it’s clearly the preferred method of vote recording. At least for the vote-makers.
As I stepped into the bright, sunny Saturday afternoon brilliance, it was heartening to know that there was a powerful undercurrent of movement for change taking place at this electoral eleventh hour. Spurred on by the reprehensible actions of an ill-gotten administration, a nation of concerned citizens seemed to be rising with clenched fists, determined to have their voices heard in a seemingly forgotten democratic experiment. So many Americans, especially after the Supreme Court debacle that handed Bush the 2000 election, feel as if they’ve been silenced, that it’s futile to make the vote effort because “it just doesn’t matter.” However, it seems to me that voting in the 21st century is a little like learning how to hit a baseball. Sometimes, as the ball’s rocketing towards you, you’re inclined to skitter out of the way or close your eyes as you swing the bat. The difference between the two approaches is clear: if you’re not there to swing, there’s not a chance in hell that you’ll hit the ball. But even if you close your eyes, the possibility that you might hit the ball is present. A case for batting practice if there ever was one.