1995 CPEO Military List Archive

From: dbkGU@hamp.hampshire.edu
Date: 08 Jun 1995 15:09:43
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: Conference comments
Posting from "David Keith (ISIS)" <dbkGU@hamp.hampshire.edu>
Reply-To: "David Keith (ISIS)" <dbkGU@hamp.hampshire.edu>

I sent this first to Lenny and Aimee who each encouraged me to 
post it. It breaks Lenny's length recommendation. I received the comment 
that I need to give more consideration to the idea that citizens are 

Dear Lenny and Aimee,

Thank you for putting together the conference. You put in a lot 
of work-- it showed and I got a lot from the experience. 

As with other such events I have attended, I believe the most 
important part is not just hearing information or making 
connections, but making friends. I did and I thank you. Rather 
than attempt a cool, objective analysis, I will start by describing 
what I felt as the conference progressed.

As some one who has a backlog of adversarial relations with the local 
base (Westover ARB), I came to S.F. with considerable reservations about the 
whole RAB concept. I am very concerned that cooperation can too easily 
become co-optation. I suspect many people would describe asuccessful 
RAB as one that acts as a damper to absorb and dissipate citizen anger.

On Friday and Saturday, then, I felt a growing sense of 
defensiveness. The message I was hearing was that citizens have 
won, the doors are now open, and not only are we citizens no longer needed, 
we are actually impeding effective cleanup. We might be of some 
help in making sure the military and its consultants have the 
money they need and that they spend it well. But the better a RAB is 
functioning, it seemed, the less the real need for citizen 

Merv Tano's talk about the need for looking at the long term and 
learning to "dance with the devil" makes perfect sense to 
me, but I could not help feeling displaced. As long as the military is 
listening to Tano's corps of experts, then those of us who made 
the military start listening can declare victory and go home-- 
which does not give us much incentive to put work into a RAB. I 
also worry that those doing the compromising can too easily open 
valves on the steam-pressure activists built up at such cost in 
effort and time. The compromises spend our savings. I heard terse 
replies to questions about ways to press the military as rebukes; pressure and 
antagonism are old and bad, cooperation is good. 

I bought Tad McCall's higher call to use RABs as a new model for 
democracy. In the terms McCall and the Rev. Black used, I get 
interested again in participating. I do not see the role of RAB 
members as one of shuttling information between the military and the 
community; instead, we help create the community. The military makes
stakeholders. We help stakeholders recognize themselves as a group within 
a still greater community of interests. 

Ideally, getting information to citizens gives them power. The 
conference emphasized access to expertise. If the goal of RABs is 
strictly to advise the military on how to do a better job of scrubbing 
soils, then only such expertise can help them do it. The subtle, but very real 
difficulty is that the experts can simply make citizens irrelevant. Why 
bother with the intermediaries if advice is the only function? Why not 
just have your experts talk to my experts? If we are all cooperating anyway,
citizens just slow down the cleanup. Informing citizens serves no
constructive function toward actual cleanup and only serves to mollify public 

Please do not think I am asking to remain ignorant. Citizens do 
need technical expertise. But expertise is every bit as 
inherently undemocratic as martial hierarchy. Experts can, by the 
information they possess, command higher authority in a group and 
can direct the terms of discussion toward the area of their 

Which brings me at last to comments that might help next year's 
planning. Speaking for your own group at Moffet Field, Paul said 
that RAB members recognized that ultimately technical questions 
were secondary; the real issues were political. This is a crucial 
distinction that deserved more attention. 

Leslie Byster's organizing skills workshop helped, as did the 
Reverend Black's environmental justice talk, but these seemed more 
to emphasize who should be included or how to get people involved 
than why they should become involved. I would have liked more 
discussion of what role citizens can play on a RAB board. Most of 
this conference involved either technical questions of cleanup or 
technical questions of how to regulate and facilitate cleanup. 
Yet even your own group, Lenny, discovered that the larger 
emphasis has to be political. So for next time, I would like to 
start with this question: what does it mean that the issues are 
ultimately political?

By political, I am not just referring to political organizing. I 
mean that some of these questions cannot be solved by science. 
For instance, while scientific methods may calculate risk, the 
acceptability of risk is a political question.

As you said, Lenny, the off-times are usually the most important 
and I did appreciate the chances for people to get together on 
their own terms. No matter what the emphasis of the lecturers, 
they provided a place to start more personal discussions that were 
extremely valuable. My initial defensiveness diminished as I had 
a chance to talk informally with others at the conference. I 
suppose I should have enjoyed the chance to talk with those whose 
views I do not share-- and I certainly did-- but I only began to 
relax when I found kindred spirits, especially when I did not 
expect them to be. Not putting our affiliations on our name tags 
was a dirty trick, but I appreciated its astute deviousness. Even 
though we could check the address list, we could not make instant 
assumptions about each other. 

I have been picky in this letter, but I want to end with sincere 
thanks. Even if I did not come away from the conference with any 
clear answers, I got good questions. Please keep up the good work. 

Sincerely, David Keith

PS: My next letters will be to Congress.

PPS: 1.) We do not just represent a community, we help form it.
 2.) What does it mean that the issues are ultimately political? 

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