Melting Pot of Activists Confront Presidential Candidates in Iowa

By Cat Lazaroff

DES MOINES, Iowa, January 12, 2000 (ENS) - They came, they rallied, they made their point: labor and the environment will be big issues in the 2000 Presidential election. About 70 people converged on Des Moines today to bring a message to four major Presidential candidates, challenging them to provide clear blueprints of the steps they would take to protect the environment, labor rights and family farms.

Members of organized labor, environmental leaders, clergy, farmers, small business owners, recyclers, students, party activists and others met in Iowa to demand that the presidential candidates begin addressing what they call the world's most pressing issues - the protection of the planet and of jobs.

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Al Gore, shown here with wife Tipper, has worked to position himself as an environmental candidate (Photo courtesy Gore 2000)
"We’re going to ask candidates in this election to tell the people what their plan is," Don Kegley told ENS. Kegley is a U.S. Steelworker and cofounder of the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs & the Environment, the group behind today’s rally. "Don’t just tell us ‘I’m the environmental candidate, I’m the labor candidate.’ We want to know what they’re going to do," said Kegley.

An unprecedented alliance of labor, environmental, religious, indigenous, and farm leaders came together in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization and its positions on workers, the environment and human rights. Some of these same leaders and organizations hosted the peaceful demonstration in Iowa.

"We shut down the WTO in Seattle. What makes the presidential candidates think we can't get them elected?," said Kegley.

The demonstrators were in Des Moines because the Iowa Caucus, the first official poll to decide which candidates will be on the ballot in November, is only 12 days away.

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Steve Forbes provides a multimedia presentation Tuesday to supporters from the Sioux City, Iowa area (Photo courtesy Forbes 2000)
"None of the candidates are considering what the decisions we make cost the Earth," explained David Brower, cofounder of the Alliance. Brower, former executive director of the Sierra Club, founder of Friends of the Earth and founder and chairman of EarthIsland Institute, spoke at the campaign offices of Democratic candidates Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley, and Republican candidates Texas Governor George W. Bush and industrialist Steve Forbes.

Labor leaders from the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers Union also made presentations. Representatives of Iowa groups promoting family farms and fighting against enormous hog farms were also present. "We demand that the candidates honor and respect the farmers that grow our food and care for the land," said Denise O'Brien, founder of Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Religious leaders from the Catholic church, including Bob Gronski of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and the United Methodist church, including Reverend Susan Bowman of the First United Methodist Church, proved that support for the environment, farms and jobs crosses religious boundaries.

"This is the flowering of a new social movement," said Tom Weis, a grassroots environmental organizer with National Forest Protection Alliance. "These are not people who have been traditionally considered environmentalists."

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Bill Bradley, who has received endorsements from some major environmental and labor groups, campaigning in Iowa Monday (Photo courtesy Bradley 2000)
After a kick off rally in downtown Des Moines, the demonstrators traveled to the campaign offices to present their concerns and deliver a "People's Challenge" detailing the position information they hope they candidates will provide.

"We were really pleased" with the turnout, said Kegley. "Although it was bitter cold out, there was a good turnout. We took the people’s challenge to each candidate’s office. They were all very receptive, especially Gore and Bradley."

The Democrats’ campaign workers said the activists’ information would be delivered to the candidates, and that Gore and Bradley would be sure to respond to their concerns.

Bush’s office was less welcoming. "They had us in, but didn’t reply to any of the challenge," Kegley said. "But they did give us cookies."

At Forbes’ office, the reception was icy. Few of the demonstrators were allowed into the office, and they were told they could not bring their cameras inside.

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George W. Bush has come under attack from environmentalists in his home state of Texas over his pollution policies (Photo courtesy Bush 2000)
Among the key issues the group presented was support for efforts in Congress, led by Representatives Jim Leach, Republican of Iowa, and Cynthia McKinney, Democrat of Georgia, to end the commercial logging program in America's National Forests.

The activists also want clarification on the candidates’ positions on oil drilling in wildlife refuges, mining in National Forests, and other commercial exploitations of public lands in America.

"I don’t know how seriously they’re taking this right now, but we intend to keep building on this movement," said Kegley. "Over 100 organizations endorse this. We’re going to be in New Hampshire and California and everywhere else, challenging the candidates to clarify their positions on environment, labor and family farm issues."

"It's our planet," said Weis. "People are starting to realize what's at stake. We need to take back the environment to protect our democracy."