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On November 20, 2014 The Fresno Green Party wrote:
Lessons From The Fracking Ban Fights Of 2014 By David Atkins
As the President and Congress prepare for a battle over the Keystone pipeline, another quieter battle between the oil and gas industries and the public is taking place over fracking. With states able or unwilling to implement major restrictions against fracking and other high-pressure injection techniques like cyclic steam and acidization, it fell to local communities across the United States to offer resistance in the form of local bans in 2014.

Some bans succeeded while others did not. I myself was the campaign manager on one of the unsuccessful campaigns, Measure P in Santa Barbara County. As such I was an up-close witness to the political mendacity of the oil companies, and can provide some insight into how to better approach these battles in the future.

1) Where labor, including and especially public safety, are opposed, bans will likely fail.

By far the biggest difference in California between the successful bans in San Benito and Mendocino counties and the unsuccessful one in Santa Barbara County wasn’t the funding differences but the opposing coalition. Unlike in San Benito, Mendocino or even in Denton, TX, in Santa Barbara County Measure P was opposed by a variety of trade and public safety unions who had been persuaded by oil company deception into believing that county property tax revenues would be severely impacted by the ban. Sadly, these unions had already been convinced of these positions before I even came on to manage the campaign.
That led to nearly $6 million of devastating TV, radio, mail and print ads featuring hunky firefighters and earnest police officers wrongly promising residents that banning fracking and acidizing would have a negative impact on schools and essential services. Spanish-language advertising to Latinos used subtle coding to insinuate that out-of-touch white elites would kill their jobs and their schools. It was a particularly disturbing campaign of half-truths and outright deception. But the fundamental lesson is that it’s practically impossible for a progressive coalition to win when opposed not only by over 10 times as much oil-funded campaign money, but also by labor groups trusted within the progressive community.

Ultimately, Measure P failed not due to unexpected weakness among Republicans, but rather severely weakened support among Democrats. Our conversations with voters indicated that the barrage of advertising threatening schools and ambulances was a primary reason why.

Santa Barbara was not the only community in which the opposition of labor groups helped doom a fracking ban. Fossil fuel corporations in Ohio defeated bans in Youngstown, Kent and Gates Mills by enlisting the help of labor groups more concerned with temporary oil jobs than with the health and safety of the communities in which they live.

2) The battle is easier when voters have first-hand experience of the negative impacts.

This was the case in Denton, Texas, where residents overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban in the birthplace of the technique. One interesting feature of the Denton ban was that it was shockingly bipartisan: the ban passed by almost as wide margins in Republican precincts of the city as Democratic ones. In California, by contrast, support and opposition to the bans was much more partisanized. Essentially, residents of Denton had been so enervated by over 250 obnoxious and dangerous wells right within city limits that citizens of all political backgrounds had had enough. Close proximity and experience were also factors in some of the successful efforts in Ohio, while in Santa Barbara the negative effects of high-intensity extraction were mostly theoretical to voters. Indeed, voters in Santa Barbara County were most opposed to the ban in the more rural north county where the most oil extraction has traditionally taken place.

3) Students and youth are very opposed to fracking and similar techniques.

Anti-fracking efforts in Ohio were a mixed bag for a variety of reasons, but this year the biggest difference was the student population. Athens, Ohio, passed a fracking ban due in large part to the presence of the students of Ohio University. Denton, TX, was also assisted by a strongly activated student population. Preliminary vote counts from Santa Barbara County show that UCSB and surrounding precincts (particularly in Isla Vista) voted for the fracking ban by 80-20 margins. In Santa Barbara County, however, the student body population was too small vis-a-vis the entire county’s population to make enough of a difference.
Even so, the strong opposition to high-intensity drilling techniques among younger voters is a beacon of hope for the future.

4) At least initially, bans in areas with large populations will be easier to pass within city limits.

San Benito and Mendocino counties have the advantage of being quite small in population, which means that it’s easy to have conversations with most of the voting population. Santa Barbara’s Measure P ran the biggest field campaign the county had seen in quite some time if not ever, making hundreds of thousands of calls and knocking on thousands of doors. And it was effective: voters with whom the campaign was able to have a conversation were persuaded to vote yes in very high percentages. The campaign was even winning undecided callbacks by a 2-1 margin. But in an election with over 100,000 votes cast, Measure P simply couldn’t talk to enough voters to win.

Moreover, there’s a difference in many voters’ minds between fracking in unincorporated areas, and fracking within city limits. Targeting smaller (and more liberal) populations of voters within city limits won’t have quite the impact of larger bans, but have the opportunity to be more likely to be successful at first while building momentum and educating the population about the dangers of high-intensity extraction.

In sum, activists across the United States built incredible momentum toward environmental justice in Texas, California and Ohio. Young voters are incredibly supportive, residents don’t want to see fracking near their homes, and actual conversations with voters about the dangers of fracking and similar techniques can beat a barrage of oil money. The news stories about the dangers of these techniques keep coming out nearly every week. But at least for now, it’s going to be harder to pass bans in more conservative and less urban areas. And it’s going to be practically impossible if trade and especially public safety unions can’t be convinced that the bans will actually be beneficial for them over the long run.

David Atkins
(323) 353-5229

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Blog For The Fresno Green Party
On November 16, 2014 The Fresno Green Party wrote:
National Efforts For Police Accountability & Community Empowerment Must Include Salinas, California
Salinas, California may be as far removed as Ferguson, Missouri as a city can get—or from Staten Island or South Central Los Angeles or Fullerton, CA. Salinas is known more for John Steinbeck, lettuce, or Cesar Chavez jailed during conflicts between the United Farm Workers Union and growers.

But what Salinas has in common with those other cities and communities are deeply significant: Poverty amid an area with extravagant wealth, race discrimination (in Salinas mostly against Mexican and Central American farm workers), and violence (Salinas has one of the highest violence rates in the nation). There is also a disturbing trend of police murders involving unarmed residents—five since March of this year.

The highly publicized murders by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, leading to ongoing civil disturbances, or Eric Gardner in New York, are worthy of community outrage—and meaningful government action. Yet few if any commentators have linked these police murders with those that may involve Latinos, as in Salinas, or whites, as in Fullerton, CA.

Blacks in this country have faced a horrendous history of senseless attacks by law enforcement. During the 1960s many civil upheavals were sparked by police attacks on unarmed black men or women. The 1992 Los Angeles Uprising blew up after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers in the beating of Rodney King.

Yet historically Mexicans and Puerto Ricans have also been on the other end of the police stick. And there is an increasingly number of poor whites, including among the homeless, such as James Boyd of Albuquerque, shot in the back by police, and Kelly Thomas, beaten to death by officers in Orange County.

If we don’t connect the dots, the police murders in Salinas—that involved Mexicans and Salvadorans—may seem removed, fleeting, unimportant.  Most of the poor and Spanish-speaking population lives in East Salinas, on the “wrong side” of the 101 Freeway. On the west end are predominately better-off communities. Some people call this the “lettuce” curtain. Since March through July of this year, police killed four East Salinas residents who had no weapons, save work tools like a leafing knife, shears, or a cell phone. One young woman videotaped officers with guns drawn against one of those residents; the man appeared scared, disoriented, trying to walk away before an officer shoots him. The dead were Angel Ruiz, Osman Hernandez, Carlos Mejia-Gomez, and Frank Alvarado.

Unfortunately, in October police reportedly tasered and tussled with an alleged drug-addled Jaime Garcia, 35, before he succumbed—reports say prior health conditions and drugs may have led to his death. Yet an hour after Garcia perished, police say his core body temperature was 104.9 degrees, possibly caused by the combination of drugs, health issues and electric shock.

Over the years I’ve gone to Salinas numerous times, talking in schools, colleges and community centers, addressing the gang violence. I’ve spoken and done poetry readings at nearby Soledad Prison. When I ran for governor as a Green Party candidate leading up to the June 2014 primary elections, Salinas proved a great place to find leaders and organizers willing to challenge the status quo for representation, a strong voice, real justice. I also visited the sites where 13-year-old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa, CA had been killed by a sheriff’s officer, and where Alex Nieto, 28, was slain by police on San Francisco’s Bernal Hill, next to a neighborhood I once lived in.

I even marched with around 4,000 people in Salinas last May to protest the police killings.  Now I lend my voice, and forty years of expertise in urban peace, gang intervention and police-community relations, to see an end to police terror and mass incarceration—also for true community political and economic empowerment.  The country is in intense turmoil around the militarization of police, tied to deepening income inequality. All these deaths at their hands must be reckoned with. At the same time, we cannot forget those who fell in Salinas, California.

By Luis J. Rodriguez, Los Angeles-based writer, activist, former candidate for California Governor.

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