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News from the Front #28:

How Citizens Can Make a Difference: Bringing About the Salmon Revolution

In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. 

George Orwell

There is plenty of recent bad news on salmon recovery. Today NMFS turns potentially hundreds of thousands of Northwesterners into federal criminals through its new 4(d) rules, although it claims it will only prosecute flagrant violators. The Director of Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife, Jeff Koenings, is trying to bring federal enforcers after irrigators in the Columbia Basin Project, formally requesting that NMFS initiate consultations with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Project operations. The Director, in collaboration with the Nez Perce Tribe, also recently shut down any attempt to measure survival of endangered Snake River fall chinook salmon and benefits of smolt transportation. Federal District Court Judge Anna Brown in Portland has just declared that permits issued decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct irrigation withdrawal structures in rivers and streams throughout the Columbia River Basin are really ongoing federal "agency actions" subject to the Endangered Species Act.

For a change, rather than report on these negative developments at length, I decided to put some effort into a more positive approach to the issue. I travel the Pacific Northwest a couple of times a month to give speeches on the subject of salmon recovery. Recently, in Medford, Oregon, an exasperated listener said: "I'm tired of going to all these meetings to learn about how bad things are. I know how bad things are. What I want to know is, what can I do to make things better?"

The answer is to get involved in politics, in the broadest sense of the word. As science, law and common sense have disappeared, decisions about salmon management are now almost purely political decisions, and perhaps the only way to improve salmon management is to bring political pressure to bear on the decision-makers.

There is no shortage of roles for those who would like to get involved. Volunteers are always needed to help defend against the War on the West. Many groups of farmers, ranchers, timber workers, miners and others who use natural resources have organized groups to represent them. So too have those who are disgusted with our present government as a matter of principle. Here are a few of their websites (I'll be happy to amend this list to include additional organizations supplied by interested readers):

Alliance for America
Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise
Chelan/Douglas Farm Bureau
Citizens for a Sound Economy
Columbia River Alliance
Common Sense Salmon Recovery
Communities for a Great Northwest
Constitution Party
Environmental Conservation Organization
Libertarian Party
Northwest Citizens Network
Northwest Council of Governments & Associates (
Okanogan Resource Council (
Oregon Cattlemen's Association
Oregon Farm Bureau
Oregonians in Action
Oregon Lands Coalition
Oregon State Grange
Default.htm Oregon Taxpayers United
Pacific Legal Foundation
Save Our Dams
Tyranny Response Team
U.S. Conservation (Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council)
/ Washington Farm Bureau
Washington State Grange

Many of these groups were organized to promote specific economic interests of their members. Mindlessly escalating salmon policies threaten the livelihoods of more and more citizens (exemplified by recent closures of timber mills and aluminum plants), so that membership in these groups is growing. While economic self-interest is a powerful motivator toward political action, it is not enough.

John Stuart Mill once remarked that one person with beliefs is more powerful than ninety-nine people with interests. Citizens fighting the War on the West must not lose faith in their ideals and beliefs to move others. Honor may no longer be common. Courage may no longer be common. But people know honor and courage when they see them, and they respond positively. Those seeking wise use of natural resources and the protection of private property against overbearing government are pursuing mainstream American ideals shared by the majority of all Americans. If they stand together, they cannot fail.

Yet for the most part, activist groups work separately, with loose or non-existent coordination. These groups and their members should draw strength from thinking of themselves as part of mighty armies of citizens, who stand beside them--even if they stand in another county or another state. What are some of these armies of the Salmon Revolution?

One reason I write to describe these armies at greater length is because I think that the next step for the kinds of groups described above, and their members, is greater coordination. Put bluntly, they need to combine forces to become armies, and not merely rag-tag bands. And I think the greatest effectiveness will come from organizing their forces along the lines described below. They need not sacrifice autonomy; they merely need to join larger task forces where they can make a contribution. This, of course, is the cornerstone of the environmentalists' strategy to remove the Snake River Dams: the Columbia and Snake Rivers Campaign.

The Candidate Corps

People in rural areas often express despair because on statewide issues, they are outnumbered by an urban majority. It is certainly true that the forces seeking common sense salmon management, and common sense approach to governance in general, are outnumbered. This means that in the short run, it is foolishly optimistic to imagine that sensible candidates can succeed on a statewide or nationwide basis. In the long run, they can, because the rural values are the values that made this country great and successful, and the pendulum will eventually swing back.

In the meantime, forces for common sense governance need to focus on local offices. It is fairly easy to get a group of people together to support the takeover of a local government office in a rural town or county. These local offices are critical to the fight for sensible salmon recovery and sensible governance.

Local county and city governing bodies are under enormous pressure to issue local regulations prescribed by central authority, whether or not there is any reasonable basis for such regulations. The path of least resistance for counties and cities is to simply do what federal and state officials want. It takes local officials with real spines to stand up to unreasonable federal and state demands. The more right-thinking local officials can be elected, the slower the spread of those demands. Imagine if half the counties in the Pacific Northwest simply refused to go along with federal and state demands, forcing the federal and state governments either to capitulate, or abandon the pretense of "cooperation" and take over directly. Fighting for control of local offices is critical, because history teaches that centralized authority and even tyranny spreads fastest when local officials enable it.

Local public utility districts also offer important opportunities for seeking effective salmon recovery. These PUDs are largely supplied by the Bonneville Power Administration, and the dollars they collect from their customers go to support huge programs of utter waste, such as spring flow augmentation at nearly $200 million a year, or excessive spill programs that are approaching $100 million a year. Yet in the most recent BPA rate case, public power representatives failed to advocate rollbacks in wasteful salmon spending, and lower electric rates for their customers. Imagine if half the public utility districts in the Pacific Northwest told BPA that they were going to hold the functional equivalent of a rent strike until BPA's policies changed.

While centralized standards and curriculum are a growing threat to local autonomy, local school boards with an activist approach can nonetheless educate new generations to be skeptical of ever-growing federal and state governments, and look to local citizens to solve local problems. Local school boards can also prevent environmentalists from supplying the science curriculum, a rapidly growing problem that is producing politicized students that cannot draw fair conclusions from environmental data. Imagine if school districts throughout the Pacific Northwest collaborated to come up with their own curriculum for the study of government and environmental science, one that emphasized the risks of tyranny and the genius and importance of the Founders' design for governments of limited power, and the tradeoffs inherent in management of natural resources.

Even state legislators, though often outnumbered by liberal urban representatives, can often exercise a powerful influence by blocking programs on the margin, and using the legislative forum as a means to publicize state and federal abuses. State legislatures don't have to fund state officials to collaborate in federal attacks on their citizens, but they will continue to do so until more sensible legislators are elected.

Effective candidates, and those who work to support them, are the cornerstone of the Salmon Revolution. Activist groups should focus on endorsing and electing local candidates. Those who lobby existing government officials are important too, but their efforts are secondary to actually capturing public offices. The Salmon Revolution needs the kind of people in office who don't have to be lobbied to do the right thing.

The Media Corps

The first instinct of many who learn the truth about salmon recovery is to write a letter to the editor responding to misinformation in their local paper. This is particularly true for older Americans who are more trusting about the media. If only the media knew the truth, they think, they would begin to publish what is really going on. Often that is true. More often, media bias is impossible to overcome.

Nevertheless, a real virtue of sending in letters to the editor is that every letter received is presumed, probably correctly, to represent the views of hundreds of citizens who don't bother to write in. Thus each time you send a letter to the editor, whether the editor agrees with you or not, he or she is forced to confront the possibility that he is alienating hundreds of readers by printing whatever prompted the letter. Newspapers are businesses, and cannot, in the long run, continue to champion unpopular positions. The Media Corps help convince editors and publishers that they are taking unpopular positions.

Citizens should not hesitate to go further than merely writing letters. Reporters and editors are quite willing to meet with critics of their coverage. This can establish a personal relationship that inevitably changes the nature of the coverage. Skillful lobbyists and politicians build relationships with editors and reporters for just this purpose. The architects of The Great Salmon Hoax devote massive resources to this end. Federal and state officials even arrange joint meetings with strings of newspaper editorial boards to build support for particularly stupid policies.

There are ample resources on the Internet to give members of the Media Corps ammunition for dealing with the media. Groups like those above can identify particular examples of media misrepresentations that demand response, and organize events (e.g., letter writing parties) to involve their members. This website and others provide useful information on salmon recovery. National organizations, such as Accuracy in Media, offer information about broader biases in media reporting.

In their most advanced form, the Media Corps can also create their own info-mercials and strike back against environmentalist propaganda. In my travels, I have heard many short stories, like the Chehalis farmer's wife who found a seal in the salmon viewing windows at Bonneville Dam, that should be memorialized and transmitted broadly. In many cable television markets, advertisements can be purchased for less than $10 a spot, yet reach thousands of people. We are beginning to see the first steps in this direction with Washington State Senator Bob Morton's "Managing our Salmon to Death" video, though as usual, the environmentalists are far ahead. With modern video-editing technology, it is easy to customize info-mercials for sponsorship by particular groups.

Leaderless Resistance

Some of the widely-publicized protests of our day are legal, but many are not. A group of citizens visiting the home of a troublesome bureaucrat, and peacefully displaying signs protesting his or her overbearing policies, may or may not face legal action. A group of citizens who occupy the office of that bureaucrat are surely subject to removal and charges for trespassing. A group of citizens who posts signs on utility poles probably violates local ordinances. Yet all these and other activities are essential to bring about change in unjust policies. Many of the groups listed above have shunned such actions, even as their opponents use them effectively.

Nonviolent civil disobedience is the most effective response to many injustices, but not too much can be written about such actions, and those involved must often remain anonymous. It is risky for ordinary citizens to group together to practice civil disobedience. We have now empowered our government with extraordinary powers to call such protestors racketeers, throw them in jail, and force them to forfeit their property to the government.

A thoughtful if alarming essay summarizes the historical precedent for leaderless resistance:


During the American Revolution "committees of correspondence" were formed throughout the Thirteen colonies. Their purpose was to subvert the government and thereby aid the cause of independence. The "Sons of Liberty", who made a name for themselves dumping government taxed tea into the harbor at Boston, were the action arm of the committees of correspondence. Each committee was a secret cell that operated totally independently of the other cells. Information on the government was passed from committee to committee, from colony to colony, and then acted upon on a local basis. Yet even in these bygone days of poor communication, of weeks to months for a letter to be delivered, the committees without any central direction whatsoever, were remarkable similar in tactics employed to resist government tyranny. It was, as the first American patriots knew, totally unnecessary for anyone to give an order for anything. Information was made available to each committee, and each committee acted as it saw fit.
The Internet provides the means for instant communication. Informal committees are already springing up, such as the Northwest Citizens Network, where like-minded individuals can get locally-specific information about federal initiatives in their areas.

Nonviolent civil disobedience can capture the imagination of young people, without whom the Revolution can never succeed in the long run. Young people know that their governments are corrupt and unresponsive. Too often, though, they are misdirected into attacks upon capitalism or multinational corporations rather than focusing on the real problems of poor governance.

The Funding Corps

Every revolution takes money, but none of the foregoing armies needs funding from any centralized source. The ultimate power of grassroots democracy is that time and talent can overpower money.

Nevertheless, there are many right-thinking Americans who are prosperous, and are willing to spend their hard-earned money to accomplish a specific purpose. But they must be approached to fund specific projects with specific goals and objectives. Activist groups fighting the Salmon Revolution need to to adopt the models of the Left, and prepare written proposals with budgets and objectives. Citizens should have faith that persuasive plans will get funded. Just as individual citizens are left wondering "what can I do?", so too are organizations with funds wondering how to spend them effectively.

Another model from the Left is foundations. Citizens who care about the future of the country should take the opportunity to leave bequests for those working to keep American values intact. Many older citizens, whose children are well-provided for, can be persuaded to donate money to foundations. I am most familiar with legal foundations in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., the Washington Agricultural Legal Foundation, Oregon Lands Coalition Legal Foundation, and the Pacific Legal Foundation), and while these groups are only taking baby steps at the moment (and like any baby they stumble and spit up on themselves from time to time) they are rapidly growing in wisdom and experience.

The power of direct mailings and mass appeals is also a tool of the Left that is underused in the Pacific Northwest. Members of the Candidate Corps in particular need to focus on direct mail fundraising. Internet technology has simplified the process. Services such as will process on-line credit card contributions to a variety of entities for a fee that will shrink as competition emerges for such services. Everyone who is online collects more and more e-mail addresses, and by forwarding requests for donations to those addresses, they can help build the war chests to finance the Revolution.

The Internet also makes it possible for those receiving the money to account for it instantly, putting their finances on display for all to see, to engender trust that the funds are used appropriately.

The Signal Corps

As mentioned above, the Internet provides a powerful mechanism for uniting right-thinking citizens across the Pacific Northwest and beyond. One example of the power of the Internet is the website, where self-described "Freepers" collaborate on public demonstrations and related projects against the Clinton/Gore Administration.

With free software, citizens scattered across different counties and states can hold free conference calls and even collaborate on written documents. But it takes hands-on training to use the software. The Revolution needs citizens who can maintain computer servers and can help educate others about these tools and how to use them. The Signal Corps offers real opportunities for those who sell and service computers, particularly in rural areas, to build a clientele while fighting the Revolution.

Ultimately, the Revolution needs an electronic forum where members can come together in a group like the Knights of the Round Table, and support each other's efforts. There are many potential quests for such Knights, and software voting/collaboration tools offer the means for people to choose the battles they will fight. Community-based calendars, databases, and e-mail lists can tell interested citizens precisely where to join the battles.

The Future of the Revolution

History teaches us that over time, the federal and state governments can be expected to become more and more intrusive. Prosperous times will mask their pernicious effects upon the economy, but prosperous times will not last forever. As conditions worsen, and more and more citizens will join the Revolution.

Each time someone puts down their People magazine and turns off the television, and joins one of these armies, we get one step closer toward a Pacific Northwest with salmon in the rivers and a government responsive to citizen needs. Margaret Mead once said: "Never doubt that a small and highly committed group of people can change the course of history." While farmers and ranchers may constitute less than 2% of the American population, they and their allies can lead America back to a political reality where the government fears the people, and not vice versa.

Finally, it is worth noting that a very important part of fighting the Salmon Revolution is to enjoy doing it. Participating in a great venture is a satisfying experience, and most so when you know that you are not alone, and that others stand with you. In Grange halls and meeting rooms across the Pacific Northwest, over potluck dinners, groups of Northwesterners are finding fellowship in a common cause. They are replacing barn-raising with consciousness-raising, and as they defy and replace worthless officials, and take steps that really can put salmon back in the rivers, their sense of accomplishment will grow. You are invited to join them. 

© James Buchal, June 21, 2000

You have permission to reprint this article, and are encouraged to do so. The sooner people figure out what's going on, the quicker we'll have more fish in the rivers.

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