ACTIVISTS UPDATE: Posted Sunday, 31, 2014
FLUORIDE ACTION NETWORK DIRECTOR DR. PAUL CONNETT WILL SPEAK AT BRAVE NEW BOOKS - 1904 GUADALUPE - ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 7 P.M. HIS TALK/BOOKSIGNING IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. INEXPENSIVE PARKING ($1/HR) IS AVAILABLE AT THE NEARBY "500 MLK" PARKING GARAGE (ENTRANCE ON SAN ANTONIO) AND STREET PARKING - IF YOU CAN FIND IT - IS FREE AFTER 6 pm.
Fluoride Free Austin is an alliance of concerned citizens from all walks of life united behind the goal of eliminating the dangerous and costly practice of community water fluoridation. Fluoride Free Austin is not a card-carrying, dues-paying organization. It is a fire in the minds of men and women–a fire that will not die until Austin’s drinking water is free of the artificially introduced, health damaging hazardous waste toxin fluoride. If you agree with our objectives, then, wherever you may live, you can be a part of Fluoride Free Austin. Welcome on board.
You can actively help our campaign by downloading and distributing our handouts, sending us interesting news items to post and–if you live in the Austin area–emailing, calling or writing to City Council members and signing up to speak before the City Council. You can also take advantage of our Reading Room page, with its outstanding collection of links, to educate yourself and others. Please explore our website and make use of the resources you find there.
2014 - AUSTIN'S HUGE VICTORY: CITIZENS 10-1 REDISTRICTING
In May of last year, the citizens of Portland, Oregon scored a victory over forced fluoridation so huge and so inspirational that we kept it as our main Page 1 website story for over a year. Now it's time to mark a comparable, indirectly related triumph the people of Austin achieved over roughly the same time period.
In many ways, the Austin City Council as presently constituted is a lot like Portland's. It has seven members (to Portland's five), all elected at large—in other words, city-wide rather than by precinct—to serve a metropolis of close to one million. Theoretically, this means every Council member represents every citizen. What it means in practice is that Council members feel accountable only to big-ticket donors and special interests, while Joe and Jane Average find themselves unrepresented. In Portland, this played out spectacularly with a wildly out-of-control City Council (emboldened by the lame duck status of most of them) meeting secretly with pro-fluoride lobbyists for over a year to plan the implementation of a fluoridation scheme they knew their constituents did not want. Portlanders met their treachery (there's no other word for it) with a heroic and ultimately victorious counter-campaign.
Here in Austin, similar circumstances have led to a similarly arrogant and unresponsive Council. Ensconced in a handful of fashionably upscale zip codes, they rarely venture forth to mingle with the hoi polloi except for of staged events, and their pronouncements from the dais reflect a general disdain for issues that don't positively impact their bottom line or individual political careers. Nowhere has this attitude been more clearly on display than during the Citizens Communication portion of City Council meetings, where for the past six years, council members have regularly smirked, joked, talked, texted and walked out during our 3-minute presentations. Our own issue, however, represents but a microcosm of the general public discontent engendered by such intransigence.
Austinites—well aware that City Council's elitism springs from the at-large system with its concentration of power in the hands of a few wealthy players—had made no less than six attempts since 1973 to change the city's form of government to a more equitable district-based one. All had failed. But in late 2011 a fed-up citizenry was ready to try once more. The newly-formed grassroots organization Austinites for Geographical Representation (AGR) launched a petition drive to place on the 2012 ballot a measure that would create voting districts for 10 council members plus a Mayor still elected at-large. The measure further called for a Citizens' Independent Redistricting Commission to draw up maps for the new districts. As AGR set about gathering the 20,000 verified signatures needed to force a referendum, a threatened Establishment—backed by the Mayor and a Council majority—responded with its own counter-proposal. Designed to maintain the power status quo by providing for two at-large councilmembers, an at-large Mayor, and just eight councilmembers elected by district; it would also allow the Council to draw the new districts.
Throughout most of 2012, a contentious battle of the plans raged in the local media and in Council chambers: “The People's Plan” (aka 10-1) versus “The Council's Plan” (aka 8-2-1). Although powerful special interests backed the latter, the people's determination prevailed. Austinites for Geographical Representation officially turned in their collected 33,000 signatures (more than 22,300 of them pre-verified) to the City Clerk on July 31. And on November 6, contrary to the pundits' predictions of a “squeaker,” 10-1 sailed to an easy victory of 60% - 40%.
The next year was taken up with the work of the Citizens' Independent Redistricting Committee (a story in itself). The Committee unveiled its final map on November 8, 2013. When Austinites go to the polls to choose their City Council members this November, they will vote under a new system: one which for the first time affords them a measure of local geographical representation. Which brings us to the present moment.
With the 2014 political campaign season now in full swing, Austin stands at a crossroads. November will see a new 11-member governing body of whom two at most will be incumbents. The coming fall election presents a chance to reverse some of the missteps of previous City Councils, too wedded to past errors to reverse their course. That, of course, includes water fluoridation. But the opportunity goes far behind a single issue. We must take advantage of this historic opportunity by choosing our new Council members wisely. They will set the course of our city for many years to come.
Dr. Paul Connett, Director of the Fluoride Action Network, will speak at Brave New Books (1904 Guadalupe) on Wednesday, September 10, @ 7 p.m.. Watch this space for more details of his visit.
August 31, 2014