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Blog Posts: Activism

June 30th, 2015

Texas-sized Hypocrisy Served Up in Denton Over Fracking Ban

By Scott Edwards


Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Last February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott delivered his first State of the State and made some promising proclamations. “It’s time for property owners – not government – to truly own their property,” he stated. He also made ethics reforms pledges, “prohibiting lawmakers from voting on legislation from which they could profit and more disclosure of campaign finance information.”

Abbott’s commitment to giving citizens a real say in their property uses and taking on legislative influence-peddling couldn’t have come at a better time for the people of Denton, Texas. In November of 2014, the Dentonians voted overwhelmingly to protect their property, their children and their communities from the many adverse impacts of fracking, an irresponsible and largely unregulated method of gas extraction. Abbott’s promises presumably meant that under his watch, government would never be allowed to strip away the democratic rights of Denton’s local citizens at the behest of industry.

But then in May Abbott signed into law HB40, a bill reportedly scripted by the oil and gas industry, thereby stripping away the property and local voting rights of the citizens of the city of Denton and every other town and city in Texas. Industry’s lawyers wasted no time running into court to bully Denton’s City Council into dropping its ban under the threat of attorney’s fees.

Abbott, like so many others who take up the mantle of political life in Texas and elsewhere quickly embraced the “talk is cheap, but campaigns are expensive” mindset that permeates our political system – his oil and gas buddies had funded his gubernatorial election to the tune of over $1.5 million, more than any industry in the state.

If Abbott is so concerned with ethics reform, perhaps he needs to start with himself.

Of course, there are plenty of other places for him to start, too. One of the primary Republican sponsors of HB40, Senator Troy Fraser, has received $215,850 in campaign contributions from oil and gas. The other Republican primary sponsors of HB40, Representatives Drew Darby, James Keefer and Phil King, reaped benefits in the amounts of $143,865, $340,183 and $113,000 respectively from the industry.

Political sellout in Texas, though, is not a partisan problem; the Democratic primary sponsors of HB40, Rep. Senfronia Thompson and Rep. Rene Oliviera also feed from the oil and gas trough; they’re just satisfied with much smaller portions. Thompson and Oliviera only got a paltry $55,401 and $69,600 in campaign money from the industry.

It gets even uglier: When Denton passed its fracking ban, it was sued by two entities, one of which was the Texas Oil and Gas Association, or TxOGA. It was one of TxOGA’s lawyers who reportedly helped write HB40. In 2014, TxOGA wrote Abbott a check for $30,000 to add to the $70,000 they’ve given him over the years. That same year, TxOGA gave Darby, who introduced HB40, $2,500, while giving bill sponsor Fraser $20,000 in 2012. Keffer, another bill sponsor, has been paid $28,500 by TxOGA over past years. TxOGA has also given money to both Thompson and Oliviera in past years. You can only imagine what TxOGA’s “contributions” to each of these politicians will be in 2015.

This goes beyond a company giving money to a candidate of its choice – this is an active litigant in court giving money to a group of legislators to pass a bill that they need to win the case, while bankrolling the governor who needs to sign the bill even though doing so directly conflicts with the promises he made to his own constituents.

The hypocrisy is stunning. The only winners in this whole mess are the oil and gas industry. But the citizens of Denton and grassroots activists will continue to fight the undue influence the industry has over democracy in Texas.

May 26th, 2015

Exclusive: Water Defense Video Shows Tar Balls, Oil Slicks Near Kern County Irrigation Site

By Darcey Rakestraw

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published Water Defense’s results of testing it has conducted on recycled oil field wastewater used to irrigate crops in California. Over a two-year time period Water Defense’s Chief Scientist, Scott Smith, collected samples from treated water sold to the Cawelo Water District. The results? The water contained powerful industrial solvents toxic to humans—higher than he’d seen previously at oil spill sites. Industry officials and the water district told the Times they think the water is safe for crops, citing that they are complying with testing requirements.

In a video released today, Scott takes us to the meeting point of the freshwater and the recycled water for irrigation. Scott told us the tar balls and oil slicked water he saw were just like what he witnessed from the Gulf oil spill. We talked to him about how this practice has been monitored, and what this news means for advocates for our food and water.

Darcey Rakestraw: You’re obviously passionate about exposing water contamination from the oil industry. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this work?

Scott Smith: The world is running out of clean water and we must educate millions of people quickly if we are to protect our water resources for future generations. I am passionate about diagnosing water contamination problems and solving them with environmentally responsible solutions. The real problem in California and many other states stems from elected officials and regulators not serving the best interests of the people they represent, allowing the oil industry to pollute while refusing to adequately test the water or enforce proper testing.

My life and business were wiped out in oil contaminated flood waters in 2006. When I realized that there was no effective technology to remove oil from water, I became obsessed with developing a technology that could. developed one based on biomimicry, which was adopted in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster in 2010. My invention helped preserve and protect the sensitive wetlands of the Gulf Coast.

While working side by side with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico, I witnessed people getting very ill from the oil contaminated water and yet the water was being declared free of oil using testing methods that were incomplete and gamed. Believe it or not, it was the elected officials and regulators that were gaming the test results.

When I discovered this, I felt obligated to educate the rest of the world in order to drive changes in water testing. I made it my life’s mission and developed new testing methodologies that could not be easily gamed and could detect the full gamut of chemicals in the water, from oil and related chemicals to endocrine disrupting metals and metalloids. You can’t solve any problem until you identify the problem.

DR: How did you join up with Water Defense?

SS: In 2013 during the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, I was testing and identifying oil and chemicals downstream while the regulators and elected officials were declaring the water safe and clear of contamination. I ended up on a few YouTube channels and in the news. It was at this time, John Pratt and Mark Ruffalo of Water Defense found me, reached out to me on Twitter, and set up a meeting with me later in the year. Shortly after that they asked me to join them at Water Defense. We have done a lot of work since then on putting together a system that will empower people and communities to know how their water is being harmed by polluters. Mark told me this was where the environmental movement was weak. They did not have good, easy to deploy, independent and relatively inexpensive water testing. Most polluted communities had to rely on state agencies or the polluters to get test results. We saw in Dimock, Pennsylvania how the state agencies were withholding test results to keep from embarrassing themselves. They did not want to take responsibility for the contamination that was happening on their watch.

In all my travels I have come to see that this is the norm. We came to realize that we must let data lead the debate and that we were not getting great public water data. This is a game changer. Water does not lie. We can’t solve the problem without knowing what the problem is. Now we are armed with credible data. We can give that data openly to the public. Now they can debate with real science that is free from political contamination. They can literally take control of their own water quality. That changes everything. We have to put polluters on notice. We are watching you. We are there. The jig is up. They cannot be expected to regulate themselves and the entire way we monitor water on the state level could use real updating.

DR: How did you decide to focus on this issue (testing recycled wastewater used on California crops), and how did you commence collecting and testing the samples cited in the Times article?  

SS: Initially, a few people concerned about the issue contacted me. They wanted to know if the recycled oil wastewater sold to farmers and used in the irrigation of crops (i.e. almonds, tangerines, grapes, etc.) being promoted by the fossil fuel industry and state officials was free of chemicals of concern. I always viewed California as a leader in protecting the environment and quite frankly could not even believe what people were telling me. I thought that in no way could it even be possible that oil wastewater could be used to irrigate the food we eat everyday throughout the country. Since the Gulf oil spill in 2010, I have been to over 50 disasters where I have conducted water testing. So, I agreed to go to Kern County, California to investigate. Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked when I found myself surrounded by food crops with the smell of oil coming off the irrigation water. It was worse than what I smelled during the BP Gulf oil spill. When the test results came back we found dangerous and toxic chemicals in the irrigation canal system. This water was presumably already treated. The levels of these toxic chemicals exceeded what I have tested in official oil spill disasters. But this was not even an official oil disaster in Kern County. This was irrigation water to which workers and the community were exposed. If this were any other industry or a company not involved in oil production, regulators would have stepped in and fined the responsible party and/or shut them down. Its incredible.

DR: Were you alarmed by the findings, or did you expect the wastewater to show these levels of contamination?

SS: I found it incomprehensible that not only does the State of California allow this to go on, but that municipalities within the State actually brag about the practice of using oil wastewater for irrigation with incomplete and inadequate water testing.

DR: In a video on the Water Defense website, you talk about how companies and local officials typically take “instantaneous” water samples from the surface to test for contamination, but your testing involves testing the entire water column over time. Can you expand on why this approach is better?

SS: The instantaneous water testing is equivalent to a split second picture or a still camera. Water Defense cumulative water testing, on the other hand, is essentially a video security camera that monitors what exactly is flowing through the water over time. It is not an issue of Water Defense testing being better per se, but more complete in that if the chemicals are in the water, cumulative water testing will find them. While the instantaneous testing is helpful, and has its place in the toolbox of water testing, you can easily get a non-detect for that split second in the water when there are actually dangerous chemicals present. Instantaneous testing is subject to variability versus cumulative testing, and this can lead to false non-detects for instantaneous testing. Lastly, if testing isn’t ongoing and independent, it is impossible to know what is in the water. The good thing about our testing is that it’s very easy to deploy and very difficult to foul. We also happen to be independent. We are just trying to get the truth out to people and let them decide for themselves. People deserve to be told the truth. We believe water doesn’t lie. When testing is given priority then we can solve the problems.

DR: What did you think about the response of water officials quoted in the article? They seemed to downplay the findings.

SS: I really feel for the water officials as they are in a tough spot. They are confused and scared. I look forward to working with them in a cooperative and transparent way to preserve and protect the precious and declining water in California. There is no reason to be confused or scared because we can all work together to monitor the contamination and stop it. This doesn’t have to be this way. But someone has to be responsible here. Someone has got to oversee what is happening here. There seems to be a huge lack of oversight. It may cost more money on the front end, but when people start getting sick it’s only going to cost that much more. We don’t want to wait for the worst-case scenario, when all it takes is a little bit of common sense to know that if you aren’t careful you will be harming people.

DR: What other projects are on the horizon for you and Water Defense that you’d like to tell us about?

SS: I have never been more optimistic and excited about the future because it is our plan to make Water Defense open-source cumulative water testing a common thing. This is not rocket science. The Water Defense testers can be deployed by anyone. They are pretty much fool proof. We want to empower millions of people to be citizen scientists and monitor all the waterways in the country. In a few months, we plan to formally launch the “We Are There” campaign. It will be focused on taking action in the field with citizen scientists to deploy Water Defense open-source cumulative water testing to find water contamination. We want to bring people together to remove and stop the contamination. I have also recently consulted with the EPA on the proposed changes to oil and chemical spill regulations. This would include adoption of open-source cumulative water testing along side the grab sampling being used today.

The good news is each person that reads this can take part in changing the laws to better preserve and protect our water. By writing to his or her elected officials and demanding they contact the EPA to support these changes, people will be doing a lot to keep this type of thing from continuing to happen.

To learn more about Water Defense, visit their website,

To take action to protect California’s water, sign our petition to Governor Jerry Brown asking him to ban fracking.

May 14th, 2015

Biking to Work in the Motor City

It’s National Bike to Work Week and to celebrate, Food & Water Watch decided to interview one of our very own. Meet Meredith Begin, online organizer and cyclist extraordinaire.

How does riding your bike to work relate to Food & Water Watch’s mission?

Food & Water Watch Online Organizer and avid cyclist Meredith Begin

Food & Water Watch Online Organizer and avid cyclist Meredith Begin

Food & Water Watch champions access to safe food and clean water. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment. Transportation is also a key factor in people’s lives and has a huge impact on our environment. When automobile companies strategically bought and dismantled much of public transit infrastructure in Metro Detroit, they gained control over the business of moving people. Now, most Michiganders are dependent on cars, and suffer the added expense of auto insurance and gas. But I believe people should be able to have reliable, affordable choices in how they get around. By biking to work, I’m leading by example and helping to grow the movement to demand better infrastructure and safety for all road users. We shouldn’t have to be reliant on fossil fuel, auto and insurance industries whose bottom-line is not about moving people around but making a profit.

Do you really bike to work in Detroit?

Yes! I actually live about a mile north of the city line in a quaint city called Ferndale.

My shortest bike route from home to the office is 10 miles exactly, but my favorite route is about 13 miles.

You’ve said some areas of Detroit are “pretty country.” What do you mean by that?

Well, I’ve seen some pretty wild animals — a lot of pheasants, which are quite beautiful birds!

Detroit had a population around 3 million at one point, so space-wise, it’s pretty big. Now, with a population of less than 800,000, the neighborhood roads have far less traffic than planned and there is a lot of open space, ideal for urban farms, apple orchards and even aquaculture facilities!

Why take on the Motor City by bike?

Oh, wow. I get this question a lot, especially in Metro Detroit, and could probably write a book on the topic.

It’s perhaps important to know that my bicycle was my primary mode of transportation for over 10 years when I lived in Washington, DC. It was faster than walking or taking the bus. And more often than not, it was faster than driving — maybe not for everyone, but the four years I spent as a bike messenger before joining the Food & Water Watch team (seven years ago!) gave me the skills and physical ability to bike far and fast.

I never really thought I’d be traversing the Motor City by bike but my decision to move “back home” allowed me to take on the challenge. So, when I’m asked, some of my favorite answers include “I prefer to burn calories over fossil fuels any day,” and “life is about the journey, not the destination.” But, really, the reasons are endless.

Here are my top five reasons I bike to work:

  1. I get to bike through a variety of neighborhoods and experience Detroit in a way very few do.
  2. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Morning exercise wakes me up.
  4. Biking makes it easier to patron local establishments
  5. The commute is just downright FUN!
April 28th, 2015

Truth from the Tap: A Water Industry PR Blitz

By Darcey Rakestraw

Click here to download a copy of our Borrowing Trouble report

Read one of our latest reports on water privatization.

The National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) has launched a new campaign,, to undermine advocates who want municipal water systems operated and owned by local, democratically elected councils—not by big companies accountable to shareholders.

But the truth is, the private water operators behind the site have a poor track record when it comes to serving communities. Company executives drive the management decisions, not locally accountable water boards, and they have a financial incentive to cut service, cut maintenance and cut the workforce. This often results in delayed repairs and slow responses to customer service requests. There is ample evidence that maintenance backlogs, wasted water, sewage spills and service problems often follow privatization. In fact, poor performance is the primary reason that communities demand their local governments reverse the decision to privatize and resume public operation of previously contracted services.

For many communities, frequent and massive rate increases are the most pronounced consequence of privatization. On average, private sector companies charge higher water and sewer rates than local government utilities. For example, a 2010 survey of the largest water utilities in the Great Lakes region found that privately owned systems charged more than twice as much as municipal systems. The researchers attributed this difference to private companies’ taxes, profits, higher overall service costs, and ratemaking practices.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of failed privatization efforts:

  • Within a year of Veolia taking over the water system in Indianapolis, thousands of residents experienced billing problems and consumer complaints more than doubled. In 2005, because the company lacked proper safeguards, an error caused a boil-water alert for more than a million people, closing local businesses and canceling school for 40,000 students.
  • The privatized system in Gladewater, Texas violated federal water quality standards 16 times, and residents described the water as “dark brown” and “foul.” The company failed to perform work required by its contract, and its water plant operators were lacking the necessary certification.
  • In Gary, Indiana, after United Water downsized the workforce, residents experienced numerous service problems. In May 2008, a state inspection found that the district, under United Water’s management, violated discharge limits 84 times from 2005 to 2007.
  • The New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office issued a scathing audit of United Water’s Camden, NJ It found that inadequate contract supervision and the company’s poor performance cost the city millions of dollars.

Read more examples here.

Lifting the veil on industry attacks of advocates

It’s no wonder that communities get wary when they hear their local water system may be considering some form of privatization. To combat this resistance, the water industry’s latest PR campaign asks, “Why are activists meddling with your water?” The strategy appears to be to confuse people by equating the relatively meager resources backing public interest groups to the massive resources of industry.

Financial support from our more than 70,000 members keeps us independent of corporate and government influence—enabling us to take uncompromising positions and win strategic fights that threaten industry interests.

The growing numbers of industry-backed attacks on Food & Water Watch actually underscore our effectiveness, and are a good example of why some donors do not want their names publicized. It is their right to remain anonymous, and we guard our members’ privacy in order to protect them from harassment. GuideStar, a top source of information about nonprofit transparency and best practices, recently gave us their GuideStar Exchange Seal, demonstrating Food & Water Watch’s commitment to transparency.

What’s not so transparent is how the water industry lobbies to secure their interests. Comprised of large U.S. water companies and the U.S. subsidiaries of multinational corporations like Suez, the NAWC has been a member of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), alongside Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. ALEC works to ensure that state legislation is modeled to support its industry-friendly policy goals, including deregulation and privatization. One of its bolder resolutions has been one to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency. ALEC has even backed restrictions on voting.

Some companies, such as Amazon, Coca-Cola and more recently, Google, have backed out of ALEC because of its reactionary agenda. But in 2012 NAWC publicly defended its membership in ALEC, and, as journalist Sarah Pavlus noted, it’s not the industry’s only dubious association: American Water’s Pennsylvania subsidiary and Aqua America have partnered with the oil and gas industry on a lobbying effort to expand fracking (water companies sell the industry water used in fracking operations, and also recognize that the treatment of wastewater from fracking is a lucrative business opportunity.)

The solution

Instead of promoting private involvement in municipal water systems in the form of public private partnerships, the federal government should adequately fund water infrastructure projects. It’s understandable that communities consider private investment to improve crumbling systems: much of our country’s water infrastructure is nearly a century old, and many community leaders look to lease their water systems out to address budgetary shortfalls.

However, instances of water privatization are still pretty rare in the U.S. As of 2012, only six percent of local governments contract their drinking or wastewater services to private, for-profit entities. Since 2000, major water companies have lost 169 contracts in the United States.

That’s because communities have learned the hard way that they can do better. Part of democracy is asking local and federal leaders to stand up for what’s right when it comes to the things we can’t live without. We cannot live without water.

The real truth from the tap

These brazen water industry attacks underscore that advocates and communities are being effective in their work every day to protect our essential resources. They also present an opportunity to talk about how big companies attempt to sway the debate around important issues like how our water should be managed.

April 22nd, 2015

Time for Congress to Protect our Public Lands from Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter at a public lands rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Wenonah Hauter at a public lands rally outside the Capitol on Wednesday.

Today is Earth Day, an ideal time to think about what we can do to better preserve and protect our environment. Fittingly, the Protect Our Public Lands Act, which would ban fracking on all federal lands, was reintroduced today by Congressmembers Mark Pocan and Jan Schakowsky, and 12 additional cosponsors.

Sadly, fracking has already seriously damaged our public lands. By the end of 2014, oil and gas companies held leases on more than 34 million acres of public land, and more than 200 million additional acres are currently being targeted for drilling. These lands were set aside by past generations for the protection and enjoyment of future generations. Yet the oil and gas industry has been allowed and even encouraged by our current crop of federal leaders to decimate this land.

When President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management originally proposed rules to regulate fracking on public lands, more than 650,000 public comments were delivered demanding an outright ban on the practice instead. Ironically, President Obama is giving his Earth Day address from south Florida’s Everglades today, a delicate wetlands habitat that is under threat from fracking on adjacent public lands. While Obama selected the Everglades to highlight the risk that climate change poses to the location and the rest of our planet, his Earth Day message is wildly inconsistent with his support for fracking.

More and more Americans are demanding real action against fracking on the federal level. We are fortunate to have key members of Congress who are willing to heed this call. The rising national movement against fracking has been driven not just by emerging science, but also a groundswell of grassroots activism. In response, New York enacted a statewide ban in December and the Maryland General Assembly recently passed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium on fracking. It is becoming more clear that regulating fracking still risks accidental spills, water contamination, methane leaks, earthquakes and habitat destruction. The only way to negate these risks is to ban fracking entirely.

The Protect Our Public Lands Act is a huge opportunity for Congress to get on the right side of history by protecting national resources and heritage, while also decreasing America’s contribution to climate change. It is time for real action to be taken to protect our country’s pristine lands and pass the Protect Our Public Lands Act. Banning fracking on public lands should be a no-brainer for Congress and the President.

Tell you member of Congress to support the Protect Our Public Lands Act!

April 6th, 2015

Standing Up For Philadelphia’s Sustainable Economy

By Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks is joining Food & Water Watch to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan”.

Philadelphia’s biggest polluters are trying to bring even more dirty and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure to our city, threatening our sustainable local economy and the health of our citizens.

In the early 1970s, my block of Victorian brownstones faced demolition to make way for a strip mall. Compelled to save our homes, my neighbors and I organized, fought the demolition plan and won. I realized then that people can exercise our true power when we work together.

It was on the first floor of my house on that block that I founded the White Dog Café in 1983, which became a pioneer in Philadelphia’s vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene. Now, the oil and gas industry is pushing forward a plan they’re calling the Philadelphia “energy hub” that would sideline sustainable local economies like our bountiful local food system. So I’m standing with Food & Water Watch and the other organizations working to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan.”

This is important to me, not only because a fossil fuel-based economy threatens life on Earth for future generations, but also because it poses an immediate danger. Every day, oil trains carrying highly flammable crude oil pass right through our neighborhoods, only blocks from my own home. Across the continent, these same trains have derailed, causing horrific explosions and fires that have lasted for days.

Judy Wicks oil train

Judy Wicks standing in front of an oil train, just a few blocks away from her home.

Philadelphia could be next.

Tragically, natural gas explosions have already happened in Philadelphia. In my neighborhood, where the lines are nearly 100 years old, gas leaks are a regular occurrence. Last year, a row house only four blocks from mine blew up due to a gas leak, destroying adjacent houses and damaging 10 homes. Residents escaped with their lives, but their homes were completely destroyed. Just last week, a gas explosion in New York City collapsed three buildings, killing two and injuring nearly 20 people.

Philadelphia has the opportunity to plan a safe and clean energy future and to grow our urban economy to be among America’s most sustainable cities. We can invest in our regional food and renewable energy systems and encourage the sustainable economies already thriving in our city. However, some of our city’s dirtiest fossil fuel executives have a different plan in mind. They want to turn Philadelphia into a hub for dirty energy with more oil trains, more gas pipelines and more explosive fossil fuels like liquefied natural gas. Let’s make sure that the Philadelphia City Council does not invest our tax money in this dying, dead-end and deadly industry.

Like the mall that nearly demolished my home over 30 years ago, the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan” entraps us in a stale vision that we need to move beyond, and precludes new and creative dreams like White Dog Café once was for me. Help us defeat these fossil fuel pipe dreams and protect a vibrant and healthy future for Philadelphia!

Click here to send a message to Philadelphia City Council urging them to steer away from this dangerous plan.

Thanks for taking action.

Judy Wicks is the founder of the White Dog Café. She also founded Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and Fair Food Philly. 

March 11th, 2015

Fifty Years After Selma, We Still Need To Organize to Protect Our Civil Rights and Environment


Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

Protect our democracy:
Oppose Citizens United


By Wenonah Hauter

Last weekend, many leaders gathered in Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the violent police crackdown on African American community members who were marching from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote. The televised police violence captured the attention of the nation and ultimately led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). But today, thanks to a small handful of wealthy elites, we must redouble our efforts to maintain our civil rights — as well as protect our environment and public health.

Voting rights under attack 50 years later

The same big corporate interests that are behind the legislative push to deregulate our environmental laws and prevent any meaningful action to protect our planet are the same ones pushing to restrict access to the ballot, effectively rolling back 50 years of civil rights gains. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), made up of corporations including Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, lobbies for reactionary state legislation around the nation like backing restrictions on voting including voter ID laws. It is no wonder that these powerful interests are working to restrict the vote – their agenda is unpopular and they can only continue to push their regressive policies by preventing popular democracy from flourishing.

The VRA was the ultimate outcome of effective organizing. It was used to strike down many onerous, discriminatory, and oppressive laws that disenfranchised people including poll taxes, literacy tests, inequitable redistricting plans, voter ID laws and other unfair measures that restricted or otherwise interfered with the right to vote.

In 2013, however, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, ushering in a new era of legislation restricting the right to vote. From Texas to Wisconsin and Alabama to Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) conservative state legislatures, at the behest of ALEC, have moved to restrict the right to vote.

Another powerful grassroots movement: fighting fracking

We can see the impact of voting rights and participatory democracy through the environmental work we are engaged in – and the powerful movement rising up over the past decade to stop hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in our rural communities is a great example. New powerful technologies have enabled the oil and gas industry to drill deep into previously hard-to-reach sources of gas, but the cost of the new technique is high: some people who live near fracking sites have become seriously ill from contaminated air and water. Others can light their tap on fire due to the amount of methane in their water. What’s worse, the oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, but many are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Communities with fracking have seen declines in property values, increases in crime and losses in local tourism and agriculture.

The costs of the new hydraulic fracturing technique are so high that communities from New York to California have risen up to say no to fracking. More than 450 communities have successfully passed measures taking action against the destructive practice. And thanks to strong grassroots organizing, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo moved to ban fracking last December. Everywhere the governor went, he was met by people urging him to keep fracking out of the state. Countless protests, call-in days, petition gathering events and other grassroots pressure finally tipped the scales in democracy’s favor.

We must keep organizing to shore up progressive wins

We must keep up the pressure—from organizing to stop fossil fuels development in favor of developing cleaner energy technologies, to upholding and advancing civil rights gained at Selma.

As we reflect on the 50th anniversary commemoration events, it is critical that we push for a legislative restoration of the Voting Rights Act. And, it is important for all of us in the environmental and broader progressive movement to actively support these efforts, while at the same time working at the local, state and national level to insure that our basic rights are upheld.

The environmental and civil rights movements, beyond being ultimately progressive in nature, have common cause. We know that communities of color and the poor are disproportionately impacted by environmentally polluting industries, which are driven by large corporate interests. From fracking operations that impact communities in California’s central valley and Pennsylvania’s rural communities, to water privatization that affects people living in large urban areas like Detroit, to factory farms that pollute rural communities from New Mexico, to Iowa and North Carolina, the communities that are most likely to be impacted by environmental pollution are also most likely to be affected by legislative efforts to restrict the vote. Environmental rights and civil rights go hand in hand and communities that are impacted by environmental harms need to be empowered to protect themselves through free and clear access to the ballot.

As we are battling to restore our planet, we need to stand together as a broad based progressive movement to restore our democracy and the right of everyone to fully participate in it. The acts of the protestors of the civil rights movement took great courage. Again, we need acts of great courage to sustain our democracy.

Food & Watch is proud to have stood against the regressive efforts of ALEC as members of the Democracy Initiative, a broad coalition advocating for reforms to get money out of politics and expand the right to vote. We are proud to have stood with the NAACP’s Rev. Barber and the Moral Monday movement and protests in North Carolina. And, we are proud to stand with communities suffering from environmental pollution across the country. But we must do more and we must do more together.

We live in a time where our environment and our democracy is threatened by a cabal of massive corporations led by people that are willing to destroy our communities in order to extract every last bit of profit. We need the maximum engagement and participation of all to push back against these forces.

Let’s reflect on the courage and achievement of the brave marchers for justice in Selma 50 years ago and then recommit to championing meaningful legislation to advance voting rights, restore our democracy and protect our environment for all people and future generations.

February 27th, 2015

Climate Deniers Watch: Sen. Jim Inhofe Thinks Snowballs in Winter Disproves Climate Change

Mitch_JonesBy Mitch Jones

We are used to Congress’s Climate Deniers making boneheaded statements, but the bottom of the barrel has definitely been scraped now.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, brought a snowball to the floor of the Senate yesterday as “evidence” that the scientific basis for belief in climate change is untrue. There’s even video.

Apparently, that there is snow in Washington DC in February 2015, disproves that 2014 was the hottest year on record. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s probably because you aren’t as easily confused as the chairman of the Senate’s environment committee. Or, maybe you aren’t in the paid service of the oil and gas industry. Senator Inhofe, on the other hand, has taken at least $1.7 million from the oil and gas industry to fund his campaigns throughout his career. And the oil and gas industry has gotten its monies worth.

Global_Climate_Change_MapNot only has Senator Inhofe promoted patently absurd arguments on the Senate floor, he wrote a whole book of them. Science deniers like Inhofe ignore the facts about what climate scientists say about the strange behavior of the polar jet stream during the last few years. It’s responsible for the frigid weather that the south is experiencing right now. Anyone who is serious about following the newest research on climate knows that greenhouse gases are causing chaotic and unpredictable weather patterns. But the oil and gas industry are paying politicians to be blind to this fact. Read the full article…

January 22nd, 2015

Opportunity for Some, Favoritism to Corporate Interests


By Wenonah Hauter

Once again, dark money ruled on Election Day 2014 when a slew of die-hard reactionaries swept into office, their victories clinched by donations from a small group of selfish big money donors. These wealthy funders seem to believe they can hide behind the gates of their fancy estates and not experience the adverse effects of global climate change or the consequences of the other regressive policies they promote. So how did these radicals, who are out of touch with the values of most Americans, spend their second week of the 114th Congress? Rubbing elbows with one another and the other sycophants that feed at the trough of dirty money.

I’m talking about the Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action’s 2015 Conservative Summit, “Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None,” the perfect setting for a love fest of extremists that included a number of House and Senate members. Speaking on their frightening agenda for energy, the House budget, trade and other matters, the name of the game for the current Congress is DEFENSE. Read the full article…

January 9th, 2015

Brother Dave Andrews Left a Legacy of Good Will for a Good Fight

Brother_Dave_AndrewsFrom the Food & Water Watch Staff,

For those of us here at Food & Water Watch, the arctic chill that has gripped much of the nation this week brought with it the sad news of the passing of a beloved colleague, friend, and member of our family. It is with a heavy heart that we share with you that Senior Food & Water Watch Representative Brother Dave Andrews passed away on Monday, January 5. Brother Dave was an integral part of the mission here at Food & Water Watch, having devoted much of his life’s work to ensuring that communities both at home and overseas had access to healthy food and safe, clean, affordable water. In addition to being a remarkable ambassador for the critical issues that affect billions of people around the world, he was a gentle friend and mentor to many here among our staff.

While Brother Dave retired from Food & Water Watch last August, he was still very much in touch with many of us here and we will forever be grateful for his service and friendship. We thought the best thing to do would be to reach out to some of his colleagues on the food team who worked closely with Brother Dave throughout his time with us. We asked them to share a few thoughts about Brother Dave so that you, our readers and supporters, can get just a small idea about how important he was to us and to the goals of our organization. The quotes are followed by links to some interviews and articles Brother Dave wrote that might give you an idea of just how special he was. We now say goodbye to our friend who we will miss greatly. Read the full article…

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