ACTIVIST SOCIOLOGY: PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
Department of Sociology
University of Wisconsin, La Crosse
Political Socialization in the Anti-War Movement
Community Action on Latin America (CALA)
Social Science and the Maintenance of the Status
The Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy (CAMDP)
Resisting Uranium Exploration
The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
James Klauser and the Mining Companies
Activist Sociology and Academic Freedom
Doing Guerilla Sociology
Many political activists of the 1960s argued that the only way to do effective
political work was to leave the academy and do full time organizing in
communities. A very different view, which the author shares, argued that
sociologists should use their social science skills to assist oppressed
communities working for social change. This essay traces the political
socialization of the author as an activist and sociologist from the antiwar
protests at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to his present work with
Wisconsin Native Americans defending their lands and cultures against multinational
mining corporations. The difficulties and rewards of trying to balance
the contradictory demands of an academic career and a commitment to sociological
activism are discussed.
For the past eighteen years I have worked closely with Wisconsin Indian
Tribes as a sociological adviser, community organizer, and environmental/native
solidarity activist. As a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin,
La Crosse, I also teach undergraduate courses in race and ethnic relations,
community organization and environmental sociology. Undergraduate students
frequently ask me how I became involved as a sociological activist. This
essay traces my political socialization as an undergraduate and graduate
student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and my involvement in
community based organizations opposing U.S. imperialism in Latin America
and the maintenance of colonial relationships within the United States.
Political Socialization in the Anti-War
I came to Madison in the fall of 1967 as a sophomore fresh from a college
seminary where I was training to be a Catholic foreign missionary. My first
political experience that fall was when I witnessed my fellow students
protesting Dow Chemical's use of napalm in Vietnam by sitting down in the
Commerce Building and blocking Dow job recruiters. I was not involved in
the protest but was sympathetic to the concerns raised by the protestors.
The students were prepared to be arrested in the tradition of nonviolent
civil disobedience. When I saw the police dragging the protestors out of
the building and beating them with billy clubs I was outraged. Instead
of arresting the students, the police were simply beating them. Instead
of paddy wagons, the students were taken away in ambulances. As classes
changed and an angry crowd gathered, the police used tear gas to disperse
the crowd. It was the first time that the Madison city police had been
called onto the campus. Ironically, the chancellor who authorized the police
presence was William Sewell, a liberal sociologist from the University
of Wisconsin sociology department.
I immediately joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and began
reading about university complicity in the war effort. On the Madison campus,
the most direct links to the war effort were the Reserve Officer Training
Corps (ROTC) and the Army Mathematics Research Center. While the Land Tenure
Center (LTC) was not directly involved in the war effort, it came under
much criticism for conducting studies of peasant land reform organizations
which could be very useful to authoritarian regimes that wanted to suppress
such movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The teach-ins about the
role of the LTC in the Third World opened my eyes to the importance of
social science as a research tool to preserve the status quo and to suppress
movements for social change. At the same time I had the opportunity to
learn from sociology professors like Eugene Havens and Maurice Zeitlin
how sociology could also be used to expose the role of powerful institutions
in maintaining oppressive social relationships.
Community Action on Latin America (CALA)
After becoming educated during the 1960s about the role of U.S. corporations
and the military in the maintenance of an American empire, I became the
research coordinator for Community Action on Latin America (CALA), a Madison,
Wisconsin, based anti-imperialist collective in 1971. CALA was one of four
regional centers funded by the United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE)
to "reverse the patterns of U.S. domination of Latin America and of Hispanic
peoples through inquiry/research, information dissemination, and political
action using the combined resources of university, community, radical action,
and religious groups (1991)." The other centers were at the University
of Texas, Cornell University, and the University of California at Berkeley.
The CALA collective included students, clergy, community members, and some
Latin American students attending the University of Wisconsin. Many early
CALA members had come from radicalizing experiences with the Peace Corps
or church-sponsored aid projects in Latin America. There was also a core
group of women graduate students who were determined to bridge the gap
between Latin American studies in the university and public awareness about
U.S. policy in Latin America. Many of us in the collective had actively
opposed the Vietnam War and were determined to prevent future Vietnams
in Latin America and the rest of the Third World. We assumed that if the
American people understood exactly what American corporations and the American
military and CIA were doing in Latin America, they would demand a fundamental
change in American foreign policy.
During the early 1970s CALA published newsletters, developed a speakers
bureau and organized national conferences to educate Americans about the
democratic socialist experiment in Chile and about U.S. attempts to overthrow
the democratically-elected government of President Salvador Allende. One
of the major reasons for U.S. hostility to the Allende government was the
assertion of Chilean sovereignty over its copper resources through the
nationalization of U.S. copper companies (Kennecott and Anaconda) by a
socialist government committed to an anticapitalist development strategy.
Both Kennecott and Anaconda were actively involved in U.S. efforts to "destabilize"
the Allende government (Petras and Morley, 1975).
Part of my job as research coordinator was to make connections between
U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the concerns of Wisconsin
citizens. I found this connection when Kennecott showed up in northwestern
Wisconsin, near Ladysmith, exploring for new sources of copper to replace
those that had been nationalized in Chile. Other mining companies, responding
to the wave of economic nationalism all over the Third World, were also
interested in Wisconsin's untapped mineral resources. Phelps Dodge, a major
U.S. copper producer, was exploring next to the Lac du Flambeau reservation,
near Woodruff-Minocqua and Exxon Minerals was exploring next to the Sokaogon
Chippewa reservation, near Crandon.
During this same period I was educated about Indian treaties and issues
of Native American sovereignty as a result of the 1973 siege of Wounded
Knee, South Dakota, and the 1975 takeover of the Alexian Brothers Novitiate
by the Menominee Warrior Society near Gresham, Wisconsin. The novitiate
had been closed since 1968 and was about to be sold by the Alexians. The
Menominee warriors seized the building and demanded that it be turned into
a hospital for the tribe. The warriors justified their action on the basis
of a federal law which required that any land that had been used for religious
or school purposes, and then vacated, be returned to the original owners
of the land. As the original owners of over 9.5 million acres, the Menominee
tribe was legally entitled to the land (Wells and Hensel, 1984).
After the warriors seized the novitiate, angry local whites and police
officials began shooting at the novitiate. Wisconsin Governor Pat Lucey
immediately sent a thousand national guardsmen to the scene. The warriors
invited leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM) to the novitiate;
Russell Means and Dennis Banks responded. With images of the massive U.S.
assault at Wounded Knee fresh in my mind, I attended a few meetings of
the Madison support committee for the Menominee warriors and wrote letters
to the editor urging a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The takeover
ended after 34 days when the Alexians agreed to hand over the property
to the tribe. No one was injured.
Because of my research on the social, economic and political impacts of
mining companies in Chile, I was invited to a 1976 conference at the Johnson
Foundation headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin on "Indian Tribes as Developing
Nations". The meeting was organized by Americans for Indian Opportunity
(AIO), an advocacy organization whose major focus was the use and misuse
of Indian lands and resources. Exxon Minerals had just announced its discovery
of one of the ten largest zinc-copper deposits in North America immediately
adjacent to the Sokaogon Chippewa reservation at Mole Lake, Wisconsin.
Two members of the Sokaogon Chippewa tribal council asked me to provide
assistance to the tribe in its dealings with Exxon. The tribe needed technical
assistance, legal help, and fundraising support to develop an effective
counterstrategy to Exxon's mining plans. Most of the media and even many
mainstream state environmental groups had already written off opposition
to Exxon's proposed mine near Crandon as a lost cause. By any objective
measure, the tribe's chances of success against the world's largest corporation
were not good. The Sokaogon band was the smallest tribe in Wisconsin, with
just over 200 members and a tiny land base of approximately 1,900 acres.
The tribe's annual budget was $1,200; the value of Exxon's energy reserves
alone exceeded $1.3 trillion (Bartlett and Steele, 1980)!
Before the company even began the mine permitting process, they were predicting
the start of mining by 1981. Even some of my friends in the Madison chapter
of the Union of Radical Political Economists (URPE) told me not to waste
my time on a hopeless cause. To such naysayers, native struggles to defend
their lands and resources appeared to be throwbacks to struggles already
waged and lost during the nineteenth century. I took great exception to
this view on both ethical and political grounds. I felt there was a moral
imperative to support native struggles because it was not just a matter
of preserving this piece of land or that particular resource; it was a
matter of preserving an entire way of life.
Beyond the morality of the situation, I also found compelling political
reasons to support native struggles. I challenged my fellow radical colleagues
to consider the possibility that native American struggles over land and
resources might prove to be the "Achilles heel" of U.S. imperialism . The
successful assertion of native American sovereignty would not only deprive
American imperialism of a much needed source of cheap raw materials for
expansion but would also provide concrete examples of how economic development
could take place on a basis other than the self expansion of multinational
corporate capital (Gedicks, 1977). Whether raw material supply was the
"Achilles heel" of American imperialism was not a question that could be
answered in the abstract; one had to develop a political strategy and put
it into practice.
At that point I made a political decision that my expertise about mining
could be more effectively used to assist native American communities in
Wisconsin to exercise their sovereign rights to control their own reservation
resources. As I focused my attention on multinational mining corporations
in Ladysmith, and on the Lac du Flambeau and Sokaogon Chippewa reservations
in Wisconsin, my political commitments shifted from supporting liberation
struggles in the external colonies to supporting resistance movements in
the internal colonies of imperialism. I never saw this shift as an abandonment
of my support for liberation movements in Latin America and the Third World.
By assisting oppressed communities in the United States, one was challenging
the power of multinational corporations to create and maintain resource
colonies around the globe.
Social Science and the Maintenance
of the Status Quo
In 1972 I began my graduate studies in sociology at the University of Wisconsin
in Madison. I did this with some ambivalence due to my first hand experience
with the university's support for the war in Vietnam and the suppression
of student dissent on the campus. My own participation in demonstrations
in the aftermath of President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the murder
of four students at Kent State by national guard troops in May 1970 resulted
in my suspension from the university and being placed on state probation
for three years. I served the first 90 days of the probation in Dane County
jail. During this period of personal upheaval, several of my professors,
including Eugene Havens, Ann Seidman and Joseph and Joann Elder, supported
me and my family in trying to get a fair trial in a city where local police
and the national guard fought antiwar protestors on a daily basis . The
judge who set my bail at $10,500 told me that if he were in my shoes, he'd
head for Canada.
Prior to May 5, 1970, I had planned to spend two years with the Peace Corps
in Panama. I had already been accepted into the program and been assigned
to their language training in Puerto Rico when Nixon invaded Cambodia.
I reapplied to the Peace Corps after I got out of jail, but my criminal
conviction prevented them from considering me. However, with the support
and encouragement of my sociology undergraduate adviser, Joann Elder, I
applied and was accepted into a volunteer project doing earthquake reconstruction
work in Peru with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social
action agency. The coastal village I worked in for the summer had been
devastated by the earthquake. Despite the loss of their houses, no one
had been hurt and the community spirit was not damaged. Midway through
the project, the local villagers redesigned the plans that had been drawn
up by professional architects in Lima without their participation. The
new housing plan more closely reflected the villagers' needs for large
backyards where they could raise animals. For the volunteers it was an
exciting lesson in community empowerment.
When I entered the graduate sociology program it was with one foot firmly
planted in community activism. The Student Advisory Committee on International
Affairs, which had been organized in the aftermath of the nationwide campus
protests against the invasion of Cambodia, provided me with a scholarship
to attend graduate school while I developed a pilot project around community
responses to multinational mining corporations in northern Wisconsin (Gedicks,
1975). I immediately sought the advice of sociology professor Maurice Zeitlin,
himself an antiwar activist and a scholar of both U.S. Latin American policy
and the corporate ruling class in America. Professor Zeitlin became my
graduate advisor, my mentor and my friend throughout graduate school. It
was Professor Zeitlin who helped me secure a fellowship to participate
in the Social Organization Training Program as a full-time student. Many
of the students in this program had been radicalized by the movements of
the sixties and were now planning careers that would combine teaching and
In 1973 I wrote an indictment of much of the social science research conducted
at the University of Wisconsin about rural communities for failing to investigate
the ways in which multinational corporations exert oppressive power over
communities at home and abroad (Gedicks, 1973a). I discovered that the
University of Wisconsin had done approximately 170 socioeconomic studies
of the economically depressed communities of northern Wisconsin and not
one of them mentioned any of the handful of lumber or iron-mining corporations
that had exploited the natural resources of the region, scarring the land
and leaving these communities as economically depressed as any Appalachian
coal mining community. Instead, the university-sponsored research collected
data on the reaction (the attitudes) of people toward their problems (poverty,
misdevelopment) but ignored the fundamental causes of the problems, not
to mention possible solutions to it.
As an alternative to the "top down" social science research on the victims
of oppressive power relationships funded by federal antipoverty agencies,
I proposed "guerrilla research" on the structure and activities of multinational
corporations with the explicit aim of providing useful information for
oppressed communities. It was during this period of the mid-
1970s that I began to work with citizen action groups and Indian tribes
that were resisting corporate and governmental pressures to transform northern
Wisconsin into a new mineral resource colony. During the final stages of
Kennecott's mine permitting process in 1976, I was asked to provide expert
testimony on Kennecott's track record on behalf of mine opponents who had
organized themselves in the Rusk County Citizens Action Group (RCCAG).
My testimony never made it into the official record because the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) abruptly adjourned the hearing when
the Rusk County Board of supervisors voted 21-0 to deny Kennecott's zoning
permit for mining. This citizen activist victory stunned the nation's largest
copper company and reinforced my belief that informed and politically-organized
communities could indeed challenge the power of multinational corporations.
The Center for Alternative Mining Development
After getting a sense of the potentially powerful alliance between native
peoples and environmentalists I decided that if I was going to work with
the Sokaogon Chippewa it would take a major organizational commitment of
time, resources and energy. Through my work with CALA, I had become aware
of the work of Shelton Davis and the Anthropology Resource Center (ARC)
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as the work of Roger Moody and Colonialism
and Indigenous Minorities Research/Action (CIMRA) in London (Davis, 1976,1977).2
Both ARC and CIMRA brought together social scientists and human rights
activists to develop and coordinate international campaigns to protect
tribal land rights in places like Brazil and Australia. These campaigns
targeted specific corporations and governmental agencies responsible for
the violation of tribal land rights and urged concerned citizens to put
pressure on these agencies to change their policies (Bodley, 1982: 205-206).
With these organizational models in mind I conceived the idea for a Center
for Alternative Mining Development Policy which would provide technical
assistance and organizational support for Native American and Euro-American
rural communities targeted for mining projects. Several church funding
agencies provided the initial funding for the Center.
As I was finishing my doctoral degree in sociology during this period,
I also offered to use my university connections in Madison to try to assemble
an interdisciplinary research team that could provide the tribe with a
social, economic and environmental assessment of Exxon's proposed mine.
With funding from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA),
I was able to assemble a research team that included graduate students
in sociology, anthropology, economics, hydrology and botany. The result
of that effort was the formation of COACT Research, Inc. This group of
radical academics helped document the hypocrisy of Exxon, which sought
to project the public image of a socially and environmentally responsible
corporation, by detailing Exxon's negative track record with other mining
projects. This information provided the Sokaogon Chippewa with a way of
gauging the reliability of Exxon's promises, based on the company's past
EDA ordered us to delete the Exxon track record section of the report (Miklethun,
1980). When we refused, EDA cut off all further payments for the project.
To prevent the project from falling apart, I had to borrow from the Mining
Center until the conflict with EDA was resolved. With the help of Wisconsin
Senator William Proxmire, EDA backed off from its demand to delete Exxon's
track record and restored funding about three months later.
Ultimately, the tribe decided to resist Exxon's efforts to establish a
mine near or on their land. The key, of course, to developing an effective
counterstrategy to corporate resource colonialism is to identify the weakest,
most vulnerable aspect of the project (for example, financing, dangerous
or unproven technologies, violation of native land rights, failure to comply
with applicable environmental laws, etc.) and organize a campaign around
these issues. The COACT study was designed to identify these project vulnerabilities
so the Sokaogon could more effectively defend themselves against Exxon.
In this sense the objectives and the emotional attachment of the COACT
research team to the Sokaogon community was a radical departure from the
Weberian ideal of "value free" and "objective" research, which is supposedly
more "scientific." From our perspective however, rather than being a hindrance
to scientific research, our emotional attachment to the community actually
increased our sensitivity to the fundamental issues at stake in this resource
conflict (Willigen, 1986:64). "For the Sokaogon, whose community would
be most immediately affected by the proposed mineral development, issues
of sovereignty, self-determination, treaty rights and the federal government's
trust responsibility transcend the state's mineral development interests
and Exxon's corporate timetable (Gough, 1980:391)." With the assistance
of Wisconsin Indian Legal Services, the Sokaogon identified mining impacts
upon their wild rice lake as one of the critical legal issues in the mine
permitting process. Any withdrawal of groundwater, or dewatering, of the
proposed underground mine would harm the rice lake and provide the tribe
with legal grounds to request a state denial of a mine permit.
COACT did a few community needs assessment studies after this but disbanded
as the core of graduate student members moved on to teaching positions
or other career goals. I did not move on to a teaching position but continued
to survive on meagre grants to the Mining Center. When I could no longer
survive on grant money, I started applying for teaching positions. All
that I could find were part-time replacement positions. Even then I had
a difficult time because, as I was told on numerous occasions, I was "off-
track." My activist research and organizing were seen as "unprofessional"
by potential employers (Gordon, 1983).
After the grant monies were exhausted I took advantage of the Center's
rent-free office space in a building attached to the University United
Methodist Church in Madison and lived out of my office. I had just separated
from my wife and now faced the prospect of having to abandon the battle
with Exxon for lack of financial resources. I ended up working at a series
of office and secretarial jobs and trying to continue the battle in my
Throughout this difficult period it was the thought of Exxon's cavalier
attitude toward the fate of the Sokaogon that fueled my determination to
stay involved in the conflict. Of course, Exxon's public image in Wisconsin
as a socially and environmentally responsible corporation (prior to the
Exxon Valdez spill) bore little resemblance to my conception. But to sustain
this image, Exxon had to continually suppress the Sokaogon Chippewa perspective
on mining. In December 1978, Paul Jason, Exxon's public affairs director
for the Crandon Project, contacted the Wisconsin Humanities Committee (WHC)
funding committee by letter and phone, persuading them to deny $28,000
in finishing funds for a documentary film I was producing about the potential
impact of Exxon's proposed mine on the Sokaogon Chippewa (Eggleston, 1979;
The official reasons the WHC gave for denying the finishing funds was that
I had "insufficient endorsement" of the film from native Americans and
that I was incapable of providing an "objective" viewpoint. The first reason
was false. The Sokaogon Chippewa Tribal Council had given its official
endorsement to the film. The second reason was partly true. I was certainly
not objective about the conflict. However, that did not mean I was incapable
of presenting Exxon's point of view, if they cared to provide it. But they
did not want to have a public discussion of the Sokaogon's opposition
to their proposed mine. The less said about this controversy the better,
as far as Exxon was concerned. And the WHC was not about to offend powerful
corporate leaders and their supporters in state government. While I eventually
did complete the film ( The New Resource Wars) ten years later,
Exxon and the WHC had prevented me from using the film to educate a statewide
audience about the Sokaogon Chippewa perspective on the mine when that
perspective was most needed.
Resisting Uranium Exploration
While Exxon was proceeding with its mine plans next to the Sokaogon Chippewa
reservation, Kerr-McGee, Getty Oil, Minatome (France), Uranerz (West Germany),
and other uranium mining companies were exploring for uranium in the granite
bedrock of northern Wisconsin. The CAMDP was tracking these companies through
their mineral lease contracts, which had to be filed with the county clerk's
office, and from their drilling permits with the Wisconsin DNR (Gedicks
et. al. 1982a). Kerr-McGee approached Potawatomi tribal leaders several
times for permission to explore on reservation lands. Each time the tribe
turned down the request. Finally, the Potawatomi tribal council passed
a ten year moratorium on all mineral exploration on tribal lands. This
did not stop Kerr-McGee, however. In May 1980 the CAMDP informed Forest
County Potawatomi tribal chairman James Thunder that Kerr-McGee had acquired
lease options to 22% of the reservation through an arrangement with the
owner of the mineral rights, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (Rogers,
1980a). After the tribe hired an attorney to challenge the leases, Kerr-McGee
offered to withdraw them.
As a result of the CAMDP's public testimony on the dangers of radioactive
emissions from exploratory drilling for uranium, the Wisconsin Legislative
Mining Committee had set up a special study committee on the safety of
uranium exploration (Rogers, 1980b). I was invited to sit on the committee
but declined the invitation, much to the surprise of the legislative chairperson.
I felt that this committee was a symbolic concession to the anti-uranium
movement but would never push for a moratorium on uranium exploration.
I could be more effective keeping up the pressure from the grassroots.
To facilitate community organizing against uranium exploration in the entire
Lake Superior region (including the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin
and Minnesota), the CAMDP sponsored a "Tri-State Anti-Uranium Organizers
Training Conference" at Lake Nabagamon, Wisconsin in September, 1981. The
conference brought together community organizers and technical experts
from Indian and non-Indian communities who were resisting radioactive colonization
in both the United States and Canada. By 1982, three tribes, five northern
Wisconsin counties and over 80 Wisconsin townships had passed bans on uranium
The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
By the time that Exxon filed its mine application with the Wisconsin Department
of Natural Resources in December 1982, grassroots environmental organizations
like the Rusk County Citizens Action Group (RCCAG) in Ladysmith were travelling
to the Rhinelander-Crandon area and meeting with the Sokaogon Chippewa.
Exxon had learned some lessons from Kennecott's defeat in Ladysmith very
early in the process and had conducted an intensive public relations campaign
to win over local politicians, newspaper editors, businesspeople and community
leaders. Faced with Exxon's propaganda offensive, RCCAG invited Phil Tawney,
a veteran political organizer and one of the founding members of the Northern
Rockies Action Group, to speak to a gathering of environmental activists
in Ladysmith, Wisconsin in July 1982. Tawney's organization had succeeded
in making Montana's coal companies pay a more equitable tax on their coal
production as well as observe strict envirnomental regulations. At the
conclusion of the conference the group voted to organize a statewide environmental
organization to focus on mining and water pollution issues. I was elected
executive secretary of the newly formed Wisconsin Resources Protection
Council (WRPC). As WRPC executive secretary, it was my job to initiate
a dialogue between the tribes who would be affected by the Exxon mine -
the Sokaogon Chippewa, the Forest County Potawatomi, the Menominee, and
the Stockbridge-Munsee - and their Euro-American neighbors.
Outside of the Indian communities, there was little public awareness or
concern about Exxon's proposed mine. Exxon's project manager, Mr. Donald
Achttien (pronounced "octane") was going out of his way to cultivate ties
with the local newspapers, t.v. and radio stations. As a result, local
people only heard Exxon's own news about the proposed mine. Even when WRPC
had arranged for the local public radio station to broadcast our forum
on "Citizen/Tribal participation in the Exxon environmental impact statement
process," Exxon intervened, convincing the station manager not to broadcast
the forum. Mr. Achttien wrote to public radio station WXPR to suggest that
"a biased forum of this sort which intentionally presents a distorted view
of mining is a disservice to the community (1984)". In fact, WRPC had gone
out of its way to present both sides of the mining issue. We had followed
every suggestion that WXPR radio had made to provide balance in the forum,
including invitations to both Exxon and the Wisconsin DNR to participate.
Exxon declined to participate and then used their refusal as proof that
the forum was hopelessly biased.
Despite Exxon's best efforts to suppress public discussion of the problems
associated with the mine, WRPC continued to organize public forums and
recruit concerned citizens to educate their neighbors. Exxon responded
with a slick, 24 page pamphlet, complete with maps, charts, diagrams and
glossy, full-color photos of all the streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands and
forests the mine would not endanger. The pamphlet was laid out in the style
of a child's fairy tale entitled "Crandon: The Quest and the Questions."
Within months, WRPC had isssued a look-alike pamphlet entitled "Crandon:
The Impossible Quest." As soon as Exxon realized that many people were
picking up the WRPC pamphlets, thinking it was Exxon's publication, the
company withdrew all its copies from circulation.
But it was too late. Exxon now found itself in the position of having to
publicly respond to WRPC's criticism of the proposed mine. Even the pro-mining
local newspaper, The Forest Republican, felt the need to reprint
WRPC's flyer on "Problems with Exxon's proposed mine at Crandon," while
giving Exxon the opportunity to respond to the criticisms (1986:1,3). One
of the problems we cited was that there was "No long term liability for
Exxon...Exxon says that the tailings ponds can contain the highly toxic
materials over a period of 5000 to 8000 years! Yet Exxon's financial liability
for the tailings ponds ends in 30 years after mine closure...If Exxon is
so confident about their waste containment technology, why did their lawyers
insist on a 30 year liability when they helped draft the state's long term
liability legislation?" Exxon's response to this charge was that "Reclamation
is assured through a bond, adjusted by the DNR, to provide sufficient funds
to guarantee that the mine can be totally reclaimed...After 30 years, if
Exxon's facility is functioning according to the reclamation plan, the
State assumes responsibility using the funds paid in during operations.
Within 30 years after the close of any facility it will be obvious from
monitoring activities whether or not there has been or will be environmental
damage (Kegley, 1986)."
Exxon never really addressed the problem of long term liability in its
response. As we pointed out in local public forums, at town board meetings,
and in letters to the editor, most of the problems with abandoned metallic
mines occur 50 to 100 years after closure, as the acid rock drainage seeps
into local water supplies (McNamara, 1976:51). If this was the best response
Exxon could muster, the project was in big trouble. By the time that Exxon
announced its withdrawal from the project in 1986, it had already lost
the decisive battle of public perceptions about the mine. All around me,
I could see a growing native-environmental alliance taking up a position
of strength in the new resource wars.
This new alliance, while one of the most promising political developments
of the last two decades, is still very fragile. It is often plagued by
distrust, covert anti-Indian racism, and potentially competing agendas.
A good example of the kind of cultural misunderstanding that threatens
this alliance took place recently at the December 1993 "Great Lakes Mining
Impacts" conference held in Ashland, Wisconsin. The conference was jointly
sponsored by the Mineral Policy Center (MPC) in Washington, D.C. and 22
environmental and native rights organizations in the upper midwest. This
was an historic meeting because the nation's leading mining reform organization
recognized the important mining battles that were being fought in this
part of the country and wanted to offer their assistance in the form of
technical assistance, background on the mining companies and their track
records, and lobbying assistance in Washington, D.C.
As one of the spokespersons for this native-environmentalist alliance,
I was asked to help MPC field organizer Will Patric in setting the agenda
and involving local grassroots groups and tribes in making sure the conference
served their needs. I spent most of my free time in the fall of 1993 working
closely with Will Patric organizing this event. Over 150 participants from
Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin came together to find out the latest
information about mining company activity in the region and to develop
an effective regional opposition to multinational corporate plans for resource
colonization. One of the most important aspects of this meeting was the
large tribal delegations from the Sokaogon Chippewa, the Lac du Flambeau
Chippewa and the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin. These are the frontline
tribes who are actively opposing proposed mining projects by Exxon Minerals,
Rio Algom and Noranda - the largest mining companies in the U.S. and Canada.
Unfortunately, the two keynote Native American speakers, Tom Goldtooth
of the Indigenous Environmental Network, and Ketih Lewis, a Serpent River
Ojibwa band council leader from Ontario, had to cancel their plans when
emergencies arose at the last minute. Tom Goldtooth had been scheduled
to speak about grassroots tribal opposition to mining projects on or adjacent
to Indian reservations, while Keith Lewis would have spoken about the impact
of Rio Algom's Elliot Lake uranium mines on his band. During the afternoon
plenary session the tribal delegations left and had their own meeting in
the cafeteria down the hall. I was one of several non-Indians invited to
participate in a discussion about how the alliance could best assist the
Sokaogon Chippewa and Menominee in opposing Exxon.
Just as we were getting into the details of a media campaign, tribal representatives
from Lac du Flambeau and Menominee raised questions about who was funding
this conference and why the Mineral Policy Center (MPC) was interested
in this issue. I was puzzled at first because I knew that Will Patric had
personally contacted each of the tribes during his organizing trips in
Wisconsin. Nonetheless, Tom Maulson, a well-known treaty rights activist
and chairman of the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Tribe, expressed his distrust
of the Mineral Policy Center and suggested that their hidden agenda was
to moderate the principled tribal opposition to mining. Instead of outright
opposition to mining, they saw MPC promoting a stance where mining was
permitted under strict environmental regulations.
As an organization, MPC is neither pro nor anti-mining. The organization
has helped grassroots groups oppose new mining projects but it has also
given awards to mining companies who have done an environmentally responsible
job of mining. They see their role as providing the technical information
communities need to evaluate whether they want mining and whether it can
be done safely. As I listened to the anger in Tom Maulson's voice, I began
to understand how they might see this conference as an attempt to coopt
a strong tribally-based opposition movement. After the meeting, the tribal
delegations came back in time for the beginning of the next plenary session.
Tom Maulson gave an impassioned speech about the native view of mining
as desecration of Mother Earth, told the audience why he didn't trust MPC,
and then announced that the entire tribal delegation was walking out of
The conference went on without the tribal delegations but the issues they
raised were hotly debated for the rest of the weekend. While I didn't accept
the argument that MPC was trying to coopt the resistance, I did understand
how that impression may have been created and I accepted some of the blame
for this. I was still convinced that an effective resistance movement had
to address the technical problems of specific kinds of mining projects
in order to do effective public education as well as develop legal and
technical strategies for opposing mine projects. I had miscalculated about
whether this was the most appropriate forum for that kind of discussion.
While the conference was a disappointment as far as Native American and
Euro-American dialogue was concerned, I was reassured when Tom Maulson
told me that this was not meant to be an attack on my credibility or my
commitment to the struggle. Before the tribal delegation left, we had set
up a number of meetings on the Sokaogon Chippewa reservation between the
tribes and the environmental groups to discuss long range political strategy
for opposing mining projects in the region. My position as a go-between
has always been a very delicate balance, but I've found that when conflicts
and misunderstandings arise, as they inevitably do, both sides have a high
regard for long-term political commitment to a cause and that is more important
than most mistakes along the way.
James Klauser and the Mining Companies
After Exxon's withdrawal from the controversial Crandon mine project, mining
companies interested in northern Wisconsin became acutely aware of the
importance of treaties as potential legal obstacles to developing mines
on and adjacent to Indian reservations. No one was more aware of this than
James Klauser, Exxon's chief lobbyist during the Crandon mine permitting
process. Shortly after Exxon's withdrawal, Governor Tommy Thompson appointed
James Klauser, who had served as his top political adviser during the gubernatorial
campaign, as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration. As
the opposition to the exercise of Chippewa spearfishing treaty rights escalated
in 1987 and 1988, Klauser assumed a leadership role in the state's attempt
to buy or lease Chippewa treaty rights. Under the terms of the treaty buyout,
the Chippewa tribes would give up their treaty rights to hunt, fish and
gather on lands off the reservation in return for a cash settlement.
As the state increased its political pressure on the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa,
the most active band of spearfishers, to accept a treaty buyout, I felt
compelled to speak out publicly against what I saw was the state's "hidden
agenda" behind the treaty buyout. With the help of the Midwest Treaty Network
in Madison, and with the support of the Wa-Swa-Gon Treaty Association on
the Lac du Flambeau reservation, I called a press conference in Madison
in July 1989. I charged the Thompson-Klauser administration with pushing
a treaty buyout so that the tribes would no longer have legal standing
to challenge state permitting of mines. I said it was "no coincidence"
that James Klauser, who was promoting the treaty buyout, was a former lobbyist
for Exxon Minerals. Although the treaties do not provide for any Chippewa
mineral rights, they do uphold the rights of the Chippewa to hunt, fish
and gather on the lands that were ceded to the U.S. government in the nineteenth
century. If the State of Wisconsin permits mining activity which would
destroy the habitat for hunting, fishing and gathering, the Chippewa would
have legal standing to challenge those permits and protect their treaty
resources (Rinard, 1989).
Secretary Klauser called my charges "ridiculous" and "categorically absurd"
but did not deny that the state was interested in promoting mining in northern
Wisconsin. I continued to publicize the integral connection between the
state's pro-mining and anti-Indian stance through newspaper articles and
appearances on public radio. After the Milwaukee Journal (Stewart,
1990) had published an extensive article documenting my charges, State
Senator Lloyd Kincaid (D.-Crandon), Exxon's chief booster in the legislature,
said my theory linking treaty rights to mining "should be buried, just
like any other garbage (Hildebrand, 1990)." Not long afterwards the mining
industry went after my job as a sociology professor at the University of
Activist Sociology and Academic
One day in the summer of 1991 my departmental chair, Robert Bilby, informed
me that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse had
received a letter from Governor Tommy Thompson asking for an accounting
of my activity as a university professor and as the director of the CAMDP.
The governor had enclosed a copy of the letter he had received from a John
Clema, who described himself as a past employee of the Kennecott Copper
Corporation who was very familiar with the exploration work that Kennecott
carried out in Wisconsin. Clema was then employed by Mining and Geological
Industrial Consultants of Perth, Australia. A copy of the letter was also
sent to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
Clema was quite upset about the fact that I had written a foreword to Plunder!,
Roger Moody's 1991 expose of Kennecott's parent company, the British mining
giant, RTZ. The book is a damming indictment of the company's worldwide
assault on native peoples, the environment and their own workforce. Clema
had heard about the book through an editorial in the London Mining Journal,
which called Plunder! a "frontal assault on RTZ , and particularly,
its associate company (in Australia) CRA. It is thoroughly researched and,
superficially, well presented (1991)."
Mr. Clema did not think the book was as well-researched as The Mining
Journal did. "Frankly," he wrote in his letter to Governor Thompson,
"I have never seen a publication with so many lies, falsehoods, innuendos
and misleading 'facts,' and please believe me, in my travels I have read
a few. I am very concerned therefore that an individual connected with
the University of Wisconsin has written a foreword and has stated a number
of things that, to my knowledge, are outright lies (1991:1)." Mr. Clema
suggested that "because of many of the blatant errors in the foreword and
Moody's book, a large number of lawsuits might flow from this." He enclosed
a copy of the foreword and posed a number of questions to the governor
and the Board of Regents:
1. Is Gedicks a professor at the University of Wisconsin?
2. Is this the standard of "research" now conducted at that institution?
3. Is the Center for Alternative Mining Development Policy part of the
University of Wisconsin, and how is this organization funded?
4. Does the University of Wisconsin offer tenure to its educators and under
what circumstances can educators be eliminated?
Bilby assured me that I had the full support of the sociology department
but the Vice Chancellor wanted some response to the charges so that he
could respond to the governor and the Board of Regents, if that became
necessary. I had no problem responding to the charges, thanks to the information
Roger Moody had provided about the conflict between aboriginal peoples
and mining companies in western Australia. I met with the dean of the college
of arts, letters and sciences, presenting him with a four page single-spaced
letter responding to the only specific example of what Clema alleged was
an outright lie. The dean also asked me for information about my role as
director of the CAMDP and where we obtained our funding. I felt confident
about my ability to document the charges I had made in the book, but uneasy
about the political muscle the governor and DOA Secretary Klauser could
exercise if they wanted to get rid of me. I called a handful of activists
around the state and let them know of my situation but did not ask for
any assistance until I had tried to resolve the issue through normal university
procedures. I also contacted a sympathetic journalist at The Shepherd
Express, an alternative newsweekly in Milwaukee, and provided him with
the background of my case that would be used only if I was fired or censored
in some way.
After providing all the information about my public interest and advocacy
work, the dean mentioned my unpaid service as director of the CAMDP in
a university newsletter and congratulated me for "this excellent public
So far there have been no further repercussions from this vindictive attack
on my professional reputation. But as the mining controversy intensifies,
I fully expect more attempts to silence me. I attribute my success thus
far to several factors. Most importantly, I have a very supportive department
that recognizes the value of applied sociology and activist research. I
bring this experience back into the classroom through my courses on race
and ethnic relations, community organization and environmental sociology.
My students appreciate my first-hand observations and my documentary films
about ongoing conflicts in communities all over the state. I consistently
score high in departmental evaluations of professional and public service
and I have made a point to publish in both academic journals and in the
popular press. I am also active in the Wisconsin Sociological Association
(WSA) and a book review editor for the WSA journal, The Sociological
The university administration has also been supportive of my combination
of scholarship-activism by providing me with faculty development and sabbatical
leaves and granting me tenure. Finally, the American Sociological Association
(ASA) is taking steps to recognize the importance of sociology as a tool
of empowerment for low income and minority communities. The ASA recently
awarded me a Spivack Community Action Research Fellowship to support my
sabbatical project working with the Sokaogon Chippewa to evaluate Exxon's
mine permit application this fall (1995).
The fact that I am employed at a branch campus of the Univeristy of Wisconsin
(UW) system removes me somewhat from the political intrigues that are part
of university life at a larger research institution like UW-Madison. It
would have been almost impossible to carve a niche for myself if I had
been at UW-Madison. The pressure to publish in the leading sociological
journals would have left little time for involvement in grassroots movements
or publishing in the popular press. And my direct confrontations with powerful
corporations and state agencies would have been frowned upon, to say the
My ability to survive as an activist sociologist at UW-La Crosse has not
been without its costs, however. I spend an enormous amount of time and
energy keeping in touch with a grassroots movement and providing assistance
where my expertise is most needed. It is a second career in addition to
my academic career. At one point I had hoped to combine this with a family
and kids, but not anymore. I don't see how I could find the time to do
a good job in all these areas.
Doing Guerilla Sociology
In his provocative work on The Last Intellectuals, Russell Jacoby
asks why the activist student generation that came of age during the poltical
upheaval of the 1960s failed to become the "public intellectuals" who address
the pressing political issues of the day in the tradition of C. Wright
Mills. At one point Jacoby suggests that "Radical sociologists may dream
of revolution, but they bank on their profession (1993: 118)." While there
is a great deal of truth in this observation, there is also a tendency
to overlook how many of us are involved in ongoing community struggles
as researchers, advisers, advocates, grantswriters, technical experts as
well as participants. We write in popular magazines and the opinion pages
of the newspapers, testify before legislative committees and governmental
agencies, coordinate corporate shareholder campaigns, appear as guests
on radio and t.v. talk shows, and even produce our own documentary video
and film productions on struggles the rest of the media would prefer to
ignore. This involvement hardly ever is recognized as academically meritorious
or conducive to advancement and is often the cause of denial of promotion
Despite these drawbacks, the numbers of us doing "guerrila research" or
"participatory research" are growing steadily (Stoecker and Bonacich, 1992;
Hall, 1992). And we are beginning to exchange ideas about how to be more
effective in our work for social change and how we can better "bridge two
conflicting social worlds" between activist research and academic research
As we enter a political era of social welfare cutbacks, attempts to roll
back the gains of the environmental movement and scapegoat minority and
immigrant groups for the nation's ills, this kind of sociological activism
is needed more than ever. I know from my own experience in working with
Native American and Euro-American groups in northern Wisconsin that collective
problem solving through concerted social action has proven extremely effective
in resisting resource colonization. My own thinking about this has undergone
a change once I realized that there were so many others involved in this
kind of activist experimentation that could be held accountable to communities
outside the university. The student activists of the 1960s did not abandon
their political ideals once they became part of the academy; they simply
tried to adapt their skills and training to a wide variety of situations
involving social change and the pursuit of social justice. We are now at
a point where our collective reflection on these experiences may signal
a paradigm shift, perhaps "a new way of doing social science (Park, 1992:30)."
1. I would like to thank Randy Stoecker, Abigail Fuller and Joyce Melville
for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.
2. Roger Moody began editing the newspaper Native Peoples News in
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