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December 04, 1992 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1992-12-04

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The Michigan Daily -Friday, December 4, 1992- Page 5


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'This is a democratic society

where people are allowed to speak out.
When somebody does something to shut
(activists) up, it is a loss for the whole community.'

by Gwen Shaffer
Daily Environment Reporter
Every time Kim Maxwell leaves for work or
goes to the local store, he worries about his
family's safety.
Since Maxwell - a resident of Freeland,
Mich. - began volunteering his time to fight
local polluters, he has received threatening letters
and phone calls, and his home has been burglar-
Maxwell is not alone. Environmentalists state-
wide said activists are encountering harassment
and intimidation tactics at an increasing rate, and
fear the movement could be losing dedicated
people who do not want to put their safety in

cies are unreceptive to complaints.
"Some people have suggested police depart-
ments are on the take from corporations," she
said. "I do know a lot of police dismiss it as
O'Donnell said the rise in reported incidents
may be related to corporate employees afraid of
losing their jobs due to environmental activism.
"I'm not sure, but maybe as the economy is
getting tighter, people are getting freaked," she
Why now?
Although it may occur at any time, Maxwell
said harassment of TRACC activists tends to be
cyclical. The more effective the group is in

Woiwode said the real tragedy occurs when
environmentalists leave the movement out of
"This is a democratic society where people
are allowed to speak out," she said. "When some-
body does something to shut them up, it is a loss
for the whole community."
Jeanne Whalen, spokesperson for
Greenpeace'snationaloffice in Washington, said
her organization has seen an increase in both the
intensity and frequency of attacks against its
"The stakes are being raised now - the
harassment is more blatant," Whalen said. "In a
strange way, it is testament to the success of the
environmental movement."

Activists say intimidation occurs on several sending a Annie Hunt, executive director
levels. They feel threatened for Citizens for Alternatives to
by both the corporations Chemical Contamination in Lake,
they are fighting, and by Mich., agreed that increased vis-
neighbors who fear losing ibility leads to heightened intimi-
their jobs because of nega- dation against activists.
tive publicity surrounding "Whenever harassment picks
the companies that employ up, we figure we're hitting on
them. ?-- something," she said.
Even if intimidation tac- d -k Hunt said scare tactics have
tics donotcause environmen- i ;fl been used against her. She said
tal activists to step back from d phone connections have repeat-
the movement, harassment " ° edly been cut off in mid-conver-
may affectthem inmore subtle i77 sation and she has been tailed in
ways. to her car going to and from meet-
Since the Freeland group 4 (ings. Mail she sends to the
Tri-County Residents for Al- *44 - TRACC office is frequently re-
tematives to Chemical Con- W ceived opened or never arrives
tamination (TRACC) formed in I at all.
1989, members claim their tele- (A v ° Instead of giving in to her
phones have been tapped and harassers, Hunt said,her deter-
their carsandhomes broken into. mination has increased. Al-
TRACC evolved in reaction though she is not certain why
to the deraihnent of several CSX she is being victimized, she
train cars, which spilled toxic p (" suspects the harassment is
chemicals en route from nearby Cas 7 coming from both company
Dow Chemical: The spill led to a A, a4 &, AI officials and their employ-
fire and the evacuation of thou- -. ees.
sands of Freeland residents. "- -- t'i'" "I would guess in most
TRACC members said mail ad- ,, r cases someone higheruphas
dressed to the organization is fre- I grumbled, and someone
quently intercepted or delayed. e 1v C 4 lower down has taken the
KevinMason, chairforTRACC, initiative himself,"shesaid.
estimated that during a three month O'Donnell said her cli-
period last year, TRACC received , a ents have experienced ha-
50 pieces ofmailmarked "Received L rassment in a variety of
Unsealed" by Freeland Postal Ser- t , forms, including having
vices employees. In June1991, Max- Q their homes torched and
well, director of transportation for their dogs shot. O'Donnell
TRACC, asked the U.S. Attorney's said she feels tacticsaimed
office to investigate the mail tamper- 't44D- atrobbing activists of their
ing. sense of security are most
Fred Van de Putte, a U.S. Postal common.
. i iA i. f rti - ffi said message to the nublic. the more Since most of the information TRACC and

want to endanger them."
Mason said harassmentdirected towardactiv-
ists is sorely misplaced. "We aren't after Dow,
just alternatives to chemicals," he said.
Remas said she believes if companies dis-
cover unsavory details about an environmental
activist's personal life, they will be used against
them as a weapon to distract the public from the
real issues.
Remas pointed to a 1986 incident where a
Greenpeace member was arrested and forced to
take a physical exam, uponwhich it was discov-
ered she had a sexually transmitted disease.
Dow Chemical, the company she was fight-
ing, leaked this information to the media, suc-
cessfully switching the focus away from the
actual Greenpeace cause.
Remas said she feels Dow Chemical is target-
ing her because people in her community trust
and respect her.
"They couldn't find any dirt on me," she said.
"That's why I was such a threat to them -
because I spoke the truth."
Remas said she often feels as if there is an
"invisible bubble" over the Midland community
because Dow Chemical controls somuch of what
goes on there.
"The people there are living the American
dream, but in order to live the dream, they have to
wear some blinders," she said.
Dollars and threats
In addition to the personal threats and physi-
cal attacks encountered by environmental activ-
ists, money is often used to keep information
about a cause from reaching the public.
Tom Geiger, campaign director for the Public
Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM),
said his organization encounters an entirely dif-
ferent level of harassment because it works on
environmental legislation, as opposed to direct
"I see ahugeamountof special interestmoney,
coming from a few sources, spent to defeat legis-
lation," he said. "Maybe this is not such an
obvious form of harassment, but it is potentially
more dangerous."
Geiger said it is frightening because without
vast financial backing, even excellent causes do
not stand a chance.
"It gets at democracy and who's controlling
politics," he said.
Similarly, Woiwode said the type of harass-
ment mostfrequently encountered by SierraClub
activists is in the form of strategic lawsuits against
public participation - SLAPPs.
In the last few years, thousands of citizen
activists have been hit with SLAPPs, typically
filed to divert the attention of activists and scare
them into silence.
Recently, a Sierra Club member was threat-
ened with a SLAPP from paper company offi-
cials wxo disagreed with comments she made at
a public forestry meeting.
"This puts activists in a financial bind,"
Woiwode said. "Instead of worrying about the
issue, they must concentrate on the suit."
The fact that nearly two-thirds of all SLAPPs
are ultimately dismissed in court proves thatfilers
don't need a good case - the only things neces-
sary are money and a good lawyer.
Looking forward
Just as Dan Quayle called Al Gore "Chicken
Little," in reference to the children's character
who claimed the sky was falling,.Maxwell said he
has been referred to as such by corporate officials.
However, environmentalists said they are
putting their faith in Gore and his commitment to
their causes. Activists said although they are
presently experiencing harassment, they see the
situation improving with new national leaders.
Woiwode said aRepublican administrationin
Washington for the past 12 years has contributed
to the acceptance of harassment because she said
it encouraged the antagonism between environ-
mentalists and businesspeople.
"The government feeds people to backlash

against environmentalists by creating conflict
between the economy and the environment,"
Woiwode said. "Hopefully the new administra-
tion will realize that attitude messes up every-
Inset A copy of a threatening letter received
by environmental activist Kim Maxwell.

day in the
life at our
All aboard for the moving
tour of the University of Michi-
gan. We'd like to remind you to
please remain seated throughout
the ride and please keep your
arms and all other appendages
within the vehicle at all times.
We'll start our tour by
looking at this famous campus
- the
President's Matthew
You'll Rennie
notice the
ing. Such
decor is
difficult to
in this day
and age.
The price
of flowers
is going up. But we found a great
solution for this kind of problem:
We raise tuition. Works every
We like to play a little game
with our students and tell them
that the President actually lives
there. Hah! Actually, our
president doesn't live anywhere
around here. He only makes his
appearances when some famous
alumnus is about to write a big
donation check.
On your right, you'll notice
Ulrich's Bookstore, where you
can obtain all your school needs
- such as $50 textbooks written
by your instructor.
These teachers are such
altruistic souls. They are very
concerned that their students
receive state-of-the-art informa-
tion, so they make sure they
require the latest editions every
year. Their royalties really have
nothing to do with it.
The great part about our
bookstores is that you don't have
to do any price-comparison
shopping because they're all
owned by the same company. No
point in wasting time trying to
get the most for your dollar,
We also have our own form
of justice here at Michigan. You
don't have to worry about all
that constitutional rights crap
you learned in high school. We
were confused by that, too, so
we decided to throw it out.
We replaced it with a new,
improved version. (What did our
founding fathers know, any-
way?) Now, we can hold our
students accountable for their
actions anywhere in the world.
They don't even have to be
wearing Maize and Blue.
Plus, we don't have to worry
about that trial-by-jury nonsense.
We all know about those
loopholes in the justice system,
so if we don't want someone on
our campus, we can just give the
kid the boot. You can usually
just tell if someone's guilty
And the students just love it!
We even invited some of them to
help us write it. They began by
yelling something silly like they
didn't want a code at all, but
after we explained to them that
they didn't have any choice, they

were thrilled.
Oh, here's a rare sighting!
You folks are in for a real treat.
If everyone would look out to
the left, you can see a fully-
tenured professor. I'm sure
you've all read how we have so
many of them here, but they
don't always show themselves
on campus.
Those of you who look too
much like students should be
careful - they don't like your
kind. You might scare him back
to the lab.
On your right is the Fleming
Administration Building, but
don't look at it! You might set
off the alarms.
Here you see our favorite part
of the trip -- the athletic
campus. This is where we take
everyone who is upset about
something at our fine university.
After a few choruses of "The
Victors," they forget all their
And this solution is so cost-
effective! Our athletes make the
school millions of dollars every
year, but we get to keep it all.
Isn't that great?
The only time we really get
mad is when the athletes get out
of line and do ridiculous things
- like try to work part-time jobs

ervc epuvuuwiuui cnormao c, Sl
the investigation failed to uncover the source of
the tampering, but noted that it is a "significant
"You have to consider that the Freeland post
office is small - the mail may have gone through
Saginaw or Lansing," he said. "I hope they re-
open the investigation because one time or an-
other, we may be in a position to catch the
Carol Remas, an activist who worked on
chemical issues while living in Midland, said
links between big business and the government
cannot be overlooked in explaining why the
investigation was closed before the source of the
mail tampering was determined.
'The post office is connected to the federal
government," she said.
Because of these business and law enforce-
ment connections - particularly in small towns
- activists said it seems pointless to report
AfterMaxwellreceivedaletter froman anony-
mous sender threatening to "flatten" his "big
nose" if he did not cease "stirring up trouble," he
reported it to the police. Maxwell said he doubts
if an investigation was ever undertaken.
The police: implicated
AnnWoiwode,directorfor thestatewidechap-
ter of the Sierra Club, said police need to take
complaints from environmental activists more
seriously. "Clearly there needs to be a more
aggressive effort on the part of officials," she
said. "Activists should not be made to feel like
they are nuts and need to be subverted."
Sheila O'Donnell, a private investigator in
Mill Valley. Calif. who has looked into a number

g1VJr, lVUF~l, UV11
intense the scare tactics become.
"As the movement solidified, members started
getting followed to and from meetings," Max-
well said. "My house was broken into last year-
nothing was stolen but my files were rifled
Although Maxwell could not say with cer-
tainty who is behind the harassment, he believes
it is partially linked to local residents working for
the chemical companies his group opposes.
"Industry tells workers they will lose their
jobs if environmentalists keep going," he said.
Jay Westbrook, spokesperson for CSX Trans-
portation of Jacksonville, Fla., expressed shock
when asked if he was aware of allegations that
CSX employees are harassing TRACC mem-
bers, as a result of the 1989 chemical spill.
"We worked with the DNR and the last corre-
spondence I saw on that issue, they were quite
pleased with the cleanup," Westbrook said.
"Frankly, I am stunned that someone is not
He added that any allegations of mail tamper-
ing and phone tapping by CSX employees are
"There's nothing we can gain by something
like this -a company the size of CSX has little
use for that type of activity," he said. "We have
quite an extensive ethics policy, and harassment
against anyone is not tolerable."
Despite CSX denials, Woiwode said it is not
uncommon for large corporations to harass envi-
ronmental groups. To the contrary, she asserted
that grassroots movements are particularly vul-
nerable to intimidation.
"One of the advantages of being a large orga-
nization is that we have legal expertise to provide

other environmental groups collect on the affects
of chemicals is public information, activists feel
the break-ins and phone tapping are designed
strictly to scare them.
"We don't have anything to hide," Remas
Remas said she believes Dow Chemical offi-
cials see her as a threat, particularly since a former
Dow employee informed Remas that the com-
pany is keeping a file on her - including a
videotape of her nursing her child on a park
In addition, Remas said she has been followed
in her car while returning home from meetings by
the same car colleagues say they have noticed
tailing them.
Patricia Brink, environmental issues commu-
nication manager for Dow Chemical, said she is
unaware of allegations of harassment by Dow.
"We have an excellent relationship with local
environmentalists," she said. "Any information
we have on any individual is public information."
Brink added that the company would like to
work more closely with environmental groups on
controversial issues. "Our aim is to have con-
structive groups so we can solve these problems
Fighting back
While Remas said she was sometimes intimi-
dated, she will not give up her involvement in
environmental issues.
"If we don't do this now, what is life going to
be like for our children?" she asked. "These
people need to be exposed."
TRACC members said formerly vocal activ-
ists have left their group as a result of threatening


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