Tuesday, December 10, 1991

The State of the Economy is Lousy

The state of the economy is lousy. Businesses are scaling back their workforces left and right. IBM. General Motors. Xerox. TRW.

500,000 less homes were built this year (1991) than in 1988. 2.2 million less cars were sold. 1.7 more million people are out of work.

And as for the polls? According to a Time/CNN poll conducted November 26, 1991, only 46% of Americans approve of the way George Bush is handling his job as President. A paltry 18% think Bush is doing a good job of handling the economy.

Even more sobering for those who think government can do something about this crisis is that the estimated budget deficit for 1992 is $348 billion, more than twice the $155 billion deficit our country faced when Ronald Reagan left office three years ago.

What's to be done?

One solution is to shift more of the tax burden from middle and working class taxpayers to the wealthy, who can afford a slightly larger tax bite. Businesses are saying don't increase our corporate taxes, or else we'll cut back on jobs. But it's foolish to assume a minor increase in personal taxes for wealthy business owners would cause such financial ruin that their businesses would in turn be shut down. What harms business the most is a decrease in the demand for its products and services, caused by a loss of discretionary spending power by the broader middle and working classes.

Wednesday, May 1, 1991

SEAC, Energy Independence and Corporate Accountability (by Ericka Kurz)

What's Going On, and What Does It All Mean?

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), pages 14-15, May 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Things are zooming along with our Energy Independence Campaign, as are other Corporate Accountability campaigns such as Coors, Hydro-Quebec, and British Petroleum.

Corporate Accountability is really about democracy and decentralized decision-making in all aspects of society. It's actually a very "American" idea, in the original Constitutional, Declaration of Independence sense. We must make every effort to display the way in which the original ideals that founded this country have been abused and practically redefined - ideals like the "free market," which is about balanced, competitive economics accountable to citizens; not about big business monopolizing resources and claiming the right to do whatever it wants. Adam Smith probably rolls over in his grave when oil companies claim their right to drill the Alaskan Refuge (according to his "free market" principle), in spite of citizen opposition. It is the oil, nuclear, auto, and coal companies which are impeding a transition to efficient, renewable energy. With what sort of free market politics are they really operating?

Forbes Magazine in March called several members of the SEAC National Council (our 17 regionally elected representative schools) and the National Office to ask about our Corporate Accountability Campaign. They had seen the report MBD (an investigative agency for corporate interests in Washington, D.C. - see the Jan/Feb. issue of Threshold) had written up on SEAC and the Catalyst Conference that had phrases sort of like "SEAC...restructure Capitalism...bla bla bla" in it and made us look a little bit like the New Youth Red Fascist Centralist Leninist Party. Anyhow, Forbes was curious (and as we know pro-business - they tore Ralph Nader apart in one of their issues); so we tried as best we could to explain that we're not anti-business or anti-corporate, but pro-democracy and pro-accountability. We're more red, white and blue than Chevron or Amoco any day.

Democracy and Energy are the two most important issues which we as environmental activists can focus on, since more democratic political, economic, and social institutions will allow people everywhere to protect the natural resources they depend on, and since efficient, renewable energy will allow for more decentralized control of our energy production. Energy underlies everything: with an oil-, nuclear-, and gasoline-based energy system we have pesticide-based agriculture, air, water, and land pollution, nuclear weaponry, and centralized, powerful institutions which don't pay for economic "externalities" and manipulate our government with billions of lobbying dollars.

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SEACers Act for Energy Independence in D.C.

or, Young Lobbyists do that Democracy Thing!

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), pages 12-13, May 1991

by Jennifer Karson and Ericka Kurz
Coordinators, SEAC's Energy Independence Campaign

What happens when Thomas Jefferson, Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin, Uncle Sam, and a bunch of excited SEAC'ers demand Energy Independence? Read on...

Friday, April 12th, Energy Independence Day in Washington, D.C. brought together a group of college and high school student environmentalists that was small but committed, educated and ready to fight for democracy, efficiency, and renewables! The Energy Independence Campaign organized about 150 young revolutionaries from NJ, NY, CO, IL, PA, DE, CT, NC, VA, MD, and DC who took the message all the way to their Senators' and Representatives' snug offices on Capitol Hill: America's Youth want a Strategy, not an Energy Tragedy!

(Click pages for larger images)

Tuesday, April 16, 1991

SEAC members lobby against Bush's National Energy Strategy

"18 SEAC members travel to Washington to lobby against National Energy Strategy," Daily Tar Heel, 4/16/91

By Natarsha Witherspoon, Staff Writer

Eighteen members of the UNC Student Environmental Action Coalition lobbied on Capitol Hill on Friday against President Bush's energy strategy. Lisa Abbott, co-chairwoman of SEAC, said the National Day of Action involved students from across the country. "I think it was the first time many UNC students lobbied on the Capitol and said what they believed in and were listened to," she said. Ericka Kurz, SEAC's national campaign coordinator, said about 150 students attended the rally, which was part of SEAC's "Energy Independence" campaign.

Part of Bush's National Energy Strategy calls for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and coastal areas of North Carolina for oil drilling. Abbott said the strategy also includes deregulating the nuclear industry, which would take away the power of citizens to prevent the operation of nuclear waste dumps and sites. SEAC members want Congress to make energy conservation and finding renewable energy sources their priority, she said. "The strategy never mentions fuel efficiency," she said. "It is lip service. There is no specific funding for the conservation of energy." Randy Viscio, SEAC's national outreach coordinator, said the group wanted Congress to pass the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Bill, which would raise the average fuel mileage of new cars from 26 miles per gallon to 40-45 miles per gallon.

Abbott said, "We asked our representatives to co-sponsor a bill in the House and Senate saying our country needs to reduce our dependency on oil. It was exciting to see students from all over the country," she said. A training session gave the students tips on lobbying, she said.

The students from UNC met with environmental aides of Sen. Terry .Sanford, Rep. David Price and Rep. Charlie Rose, all of North Carolina, Abbott said. Other students from UNC-Greensboro spoke with N.C. Sen. Jesse Helms' aides, she said. "The representatives were receptive and knowledgeable about the issues," she said.

"I think the strategy Bush has proposed, the National Energy Strategy, will be passed piece by piece," she said. "If it was to be adopted we could have one of the biggest disasters we could ever imagine in this country. It would destroy our land and leave us more dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear power." Viscio said the lobbying efforts included letters, phone calls and petitions. The rally was really a small part of the campaign, he said. Kurz said SEAC was considering holding a national conference that would concentrate on the energy campaign. "Students at UNC have done a great job locally, writing 30 letters," she said. SEAC has more than 200 chapters at colleges nationwide, with its national office located in Chapel Hill on Franklin Street.

Friday, March 1, 1991

Tell the Bush Administration what we think about his National Energy Tragedy!

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), pages 24-25 (centerfold), March 1991

poster designed by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

energy efficiency

The Declaration of Energy Independence

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 23, March 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Around the world and in this nation we face a crisis - a crisis of dependence on nonrenewable resources which threaten our health, defeat democracy and drive us to war. Oil and nuclear power as sources of energy pollute our neighborhoods with petrochemical waste and radioactive toxics. Oil and nuclear power as industries wield their tremendous financial influence to corrupt our government and undermine public interest.

Safe and democratic energy alternatives are as readily available as the sun and the wind. But their utilization will require the dismantling of the oil and nuclear oligopolies which currently control our energy production. The departure from limited and dangerous energy resources and the transition to sustainable ones, which will benefit the citizens of this nation and beyond, must be mandated and led by our highest elected representatives. But increasingly we see that our representatives no longer stand for the will of the people. They have been bought by oil dollars and industry lobbies.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, and as citizens of the world have the right to secure their freedom, independence, and destiny. That at the base of these pursuits lies the production of energy: with it we build our infrastructure, maintain our agriculture and express ourselves as creative beings; and that energy should benefit the many who use it, not the few who produce it. That to revitalize and sustain our economy and democracy, we must put in place a decentralized system of efficient, renewable energy.

(Click page for larger image)

Saving Our Future from Oil (by Ericka Kurz)

Saving Our Energy and Ecological Future from Oil: Targeting BP and API

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 11, March 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

BP (British Petroleum) Campaign

BP is the Biggest Producer of American oil, is one-half responsible for the "Exxon Valdez" oil spill, owns a refinery and chemical plant in Lima, Ohio which produces more toxic waste than any other facility in the entire northeastern US (the death rates for cancer in Lima are way high), and ranks as the world's third Biggest Polluter. Combine that with their strong anti-environmental lobby, and BP is a Big Problem we can't afford to ignore.

The goals of the BP campaign are to empower folks to take on these important issues, to pressure BP to clean up their act, and to promote the transition from oil dependency to renewable energy sources...

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SEAC's Energy Independence Campaign (by Ericka Kurz)

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 10, March 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Getting as many people as possible to sign onto the Declaration of Energy Independence (an economics and energy equivalent to the original Declaration of Independence) will serve as a petition for citizens' input into our National Energy Strategy (NES), which has been denied by the President and his administration...

In D.C. plus other locations (Friday, April 12)

We SEACsters will be gathering in D.C. for some stunts, marching, speaking-out, and grassroots lobbying.

We'll be letting Congress, President Bush and the nation know that our generation demands an end to the oil and nuclear empires and the beginning of a system of democratic, efficient, renewable energy!

We'll present Congress with our Declaration of Energy Independence, then spend Saturday and Sunday in D.C. strategizing for the future of our Energy Independence Campaign...

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SEAC National Campaign Coordinator Report (by Ericka Kurz)

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 7, March 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Hello, I'm Ericka Kurz, a senior at UNC with a very low grade-point. I'm sort of an old lady around here; I've been doing this SEAC thing since the spring of '89, when I became SEAC co-chair at the Campus Y. I was appointed campaign coordinator last June. It's been one hell of an experience witnessing this movement grow, and as you can imagine, I'm slightly burned out but still a true believer. When I graduate in May I'll probably do something a little more low key for a while like selling hot pretzels on a sidewalk.

To give you an idea of how the SEAC Campaign works (and how I as campaign coordinator fit into the picture), I'll outline the way in which our current Corporate Accountability Campaign came into being and how all of us in SEAC will continue to determine our campaign activities in the future...

(Click page for larger image)

Friday, February 1, 1991

SEAC: a grassroots network and decentralized democracy

"New kids on the Earth," Sierra. Jan/Feb 91, p34.


Not content to prepare only for a high-income future, many students are working today to improve the world.

TODAY'S TEEN AND "twenty-something" environmental activists are showing themselves to be low-key and coolly efficient. Demonstrations and rallies aren't really their style; these high-school and college students would sooner organize a tropical-hardwood boycott or produce a catalog of their school's "environmentally sound" courses than take to the streets.

Whatever their tactical approach to current issues, today's up-and-coming defenders of the Earth are eager to put a new face on environmentalism. Reared during the Reagan era, they pride themselves on their fusion of 1960s-style idealism with '80s-style practicality. With high spirits and boundless energy, they've formed an efficient nationwide student-organizing machine composed of a bewildering array of political and social-change groups.

Among the largest components of this new activist mechanism is the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), which members call "Seek." Formed in early 1988 by two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students who wanted to communicate with other green-minded youth, SEAC has grown rapidly. In October 1989 the organization's first national conference, Threshold, drew 1,700 activists to a three-day powwow at the Chapel Hill campus. Participation swelled to 7,600 at Catalyst, SEAC's second major gathering, held last fall at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. For that event students came from all 50 states, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Serving as an umbrella organization for more than 500 campus environmental groups, SEAC functions as a grassroots network, an information clearinghouse, and a spiritual resource for "empowering and enriching" its members, who may choose to undertake activities as politically neutral as promoting solid-waste reduction or as controversial as marching for animal rights. "We try to be a decentralized democracy, where ultimately the grassroots decide what their stance is" on any given issue, says UNC-Chapel Hill student Ericka Kurz, one of SEAC's original organizers. Coordinated, top-down policymaking is distasteful to the leadership, and member groups don't necessarily have to support any regional or national action, explains Lara Mears, a student at Texas A&M University who serves on SEAC's governing body, the National Council. The organization, she says, simply "brings together groups that have been working on a variety of issues, motivating them and giving them a voice nationally."

At Mears' school, for example, TEAC (Texas Environmental Action Coalition) has published a community recycling directory and set up company-sponsored recycling bins in the dorms. At Stanford University, SEAS (Students for Environmental Action at Stanford) is concentrating on getting environmental studies incorporated into the academic curriculum. And at UNC-Chapel Hill, students are looking beyond their campus, drafting a resolution challenging the state's road-construction budget.

So far SEAC has concentrated primarily on coalition-building. But at campuses where no environmental-action groups yet exist, SEAC promotes such politically inclusive and pragmatic activities as recycling. National Council member Lisa Abbott of UNC-Chapel Hill says recycling is one of the best tools an organizer can use to involve students, "because a large number of people have to work together. From there, it's easy to get them talking about other issues."

Besides the youth of its members, what distinguishes SEAC from most mainstream environmental groups is its attempt to incorporate a broad array of social issues into its agenda.

Soon after Threshold, where guest speakers represented what students saw as the predominantly white, male, middle-class environmental establishment, SEAC began to cultivate alliances with grassroots organizers of minority, labor, and consumer groups--the sort of people who provide what Kath Delaney of the National Toxics Campaign Fund calls the "new voice" of environmentalism. As a result, Catalyst speakers included Winona LaDuke, president of the Indigenous Women's Network; Cesar Chavez, president of United Farm Workers; consumer advocate Ralph Nader; and Physicians for Social Responsibility founder Helen Caldicott.

Behind this shift in emphasis is a definition of environmentalism that stretches to include "anything that impacts on a living organism," as National Council coordinator Beth Ising puts it. David Ball, student coordinator of SEAC's administrative office, says the term means protecting not only the environment but "the people who live in it," and thus working toward "eliminating sexism, racism, and homophobia, promoting peaceful and nurturing philosophies over militaristic and exploitative ones, and questioning why corporations have so much control over how common resources are used."

Such broad-minded thinking isn't found just among college groups. Creating Our Future, a Marin County, California-based organization made up mostly of high-school students, and its national offshoot, Youth for Environmental Sanity (YES!), have also wedded traditional environmental thinking to social concerns.

Creating Our Future organizer Joseph Pace, a 19-year-old high-school graduate, regularly visits schools to promote environmental awareness. He tells students they should be aware of how their actions affect the world around them. For him, concern for animal rights and social justice make up part of the "compassion for all beings" implied by the word environmentalism. YES! organizers are touring the country, bringing a similar message to hundreds of thousands of primary and secondary school students in 25 cities in 13 states. Sixteen-year-old Santa Cruz, California, resident Ocean Robbins, a YES! spokesperson, says students are doing "tons of things" to address such issues at countless schools throughout the United States.

While some veteran environmentalists might scoff at such all-inclusive idealism, many are enthusiastic about the new trend. "Some of these students have an awareness that I am just beginning to have myself," says the National Toxics Campaign Fund's Delaney, who has been active in the environmental movement for ten years. "They're very committed to a democratic process, very sensitive to gender and cultural issues, and beginning to develop a plan to bring in students who haven't historically been involved."

Environmental theorist Barry Commoner, who spoke at Threshold, views the students as natural allies of grassroots activists. While the big environmental organizations "are negotiators, litigators, lobbyists," he says, the students "are much more like community groups, oriented toward anti corporate activism."

Indeed, established grassroots organizations have begun to see a potential gold mine in SEAC and other youth networks. Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes believes SEAC'S influence will ultimately depend on whether its leaders can effect change. But their ability to turn out large numbers of activists, Hayes says, gives SEAC, Creating Our Future, YES!, and similar groups "de facto political power." Hayes, like Commoner, notes that students, dismissed by activists during the Reagan years as "investment bankers on the make," have become increasingly sought after by some of the major environmental organizations - "not just as foot soldiers, but as allies."

KEIKO OHNUMA is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

Catalyst was a thunderclap of inspiration

"Catalyzing student action," Environmental Action, Jan/Feb91, p7


Maybe it was the realization that the fate of the environment is becoming more dire with each passing semester. Perhaps the promise of burgeoning campus political action after two decades of apathy enticed them. The lure of Robert Redford, Billy Bragg and Jesse Jackson may have had something to do with it.

Whatever the reason, 7,600 students converged on the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in October for the Student Environment Action Coalition's (SEAC) national conference, more than doubling even the most optimistic forecasts of its organizers and quadrupling the impressive attendance at the group's first conference the year before. Dubbed Catalyst, the three-day conference drew students from 1,100 schools in all 50 states and 11 countries.

Catalyst focused on organizing skills and networking among students, including an ambitious array of workshops, ranging from the basics of campaign planning to an introduction to environment justice.

"It was a thunderclap of inspiration," says Ericka Kurz, SEAC's national campaign coordinator. David Ball, SEAC's co-coordinator, adds "Catalyst has given us a ton of momentum."

Not that the movement had been exactly snail-paced before Catalyst. Founded with 200 students in 1988 after two University of North Carolina students placed an ad in Greenpeace Magazine, SEAC now boasts supporters from nearly every college campus in the country. The group recently moved its national office from a cubby hole in the University of North Carolina's student union to a rented office suite in Chapel Hill. In the last year, SEAC has hired five full-time employees and organized a national council with representatives from 17 districts around the country.

While encouraged by the sheer numbers that turned out for Catalyst, some student leaders are hesitant to call the conference an unqualified success. The big-name headliners overshadowed student networking, and a portion of the interest could be attributed to the "Grateful Dead effect" of students showing up primarily for the music and atmosphere, says Eric O'Dell, editor of SEAC's newsletter, The Network News.

SEAC is now broadening its work by tying the social justice issues of race, poverty and peace to the environment. At Catalyst, much of the discussion focused on building diversity within the movement, and SEAC plans to establish an advisory board that cuts across the lines of race, gender and sexual orientation.

SEAC also launched an on-going corporate accountability campaign on campuses across the country in November. Activities range from demanding environmentally sound university investments to protesting employment recruitment by Mobil. In an effort to draw attention to the connection between the nation's energy policy and the continuing military escalation in the Persian Gulf, students at Texas A & M University organized what may have been the first protest ever at the university, says SEAC member Lara Mears.

"A & M is notorious for non-activism. I was very encouraged that people are taking the time to get involved and to talk about the issues," says Mears of the 200 students who attended the rally.

Meanwhile, some national environmental leaders are applauding the waning of campus apathy. Denis Hayes, who heads the Green Seal labeling program and organized Earth Day campaigns in both 1970 and 1990, says that his environmental lectures on campuses a few years ago drew only 50 to 60 students even at the biggest schools. Now the lecture halls are routinely filled to overflowing. And unlike their peers a generation ago, today's campus activists have a more sophisticated understanding of the science and politics behind the issues, Hayes says.

"I think it is healthy for any social movement to have a strong youth component," he says. "The students are often the folks who arrive at the scene with a passion and state the issue in terms that demand action.

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Nearly 7,600 students converged on the University of Illinois for the SEAC conference.

Tuesday, January 1, 1991

SEAC talks to OCAW, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers' Union (by Ericka Kurz)

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 36, Jan-Feb 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Several SEAC representatives met with Tony Mazzocchi, Secretary-Treasurer of OCAW and publisher of New Solutions, a journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy. At New York City's Labor Institute in late November, they discussed common interests between OCAW and SEAC. The meeting consisted of three main topics:

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National Campaign Update (by Ericka Kurz)

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), pages 6-8, Jan-Feb 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

Oil and energy are very much on everyone's minds these days, and fortunately for us, we've been focusing on these issues since fall. Much is going on within SEAC on the local level, and this spring we'll see some action on the national level. What we need to do now is to solidify the campaign strategies which have been developed on every level, link organizers working on the different levels and in different parts of the country together more effectively, and in the meantime, strengthen our documentation of goings-on in every nook and cranny of SEAC. This article is an overview of what's been going on and what's being planned for our campaign on national, regional, local (and international) levels.

It's time for a battle of grassroots grit against the million dollar muscle of the oil and nuclear lobbies on Capitol Hill...

(Click pages for larger images)

In hopes of a more peaceful future (by Ericka Kurz)

Threshold (SEAC national magazine), page 4, Jan-Feb 1991

by Ericka Kurz
SEAC National Campaign Coordinator

(originally written 1/29/91, on night of George H.W. Bush's 1991 State of the Union address)

This war is hitting home for a lot of people. Many here in North Carolina have daughters and sons in the service and are doing all they can to give the troops moral support, my little sister Elizabeth just got arrested in an anti-war demonstration in San Francisco, and I'm working in the office for safer energy resources and stronger democracy in hopes of a more peaceful future...

(Click for full page original layout)

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