The big dogs should fear the growing force of American activism

The governments of republican Rome, and Republican America, have been described as being not democracies but oligarchies — small cliques of wealthy and aristocratic power, modified by elections.

Oligarchies strive to stifle opposition and thwart any change to their patterns of wealth accumulation. Hence, citizen activism is frowned upon by the powers-that-be and is always described derisively by the oligarchic, mainstream media.

When citizen power made itself felt this week, in a standing-room-only crowd at the board meeting of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, a new kind of American democracy made itself felt.

At issue was the proposed transfer of 54,000 acre-feet of water per year from a ranch on the Plains of San Augustin to the Middle Rio Grande Valley.

Water planners and stake holders all over central New Mexico opposed a New York company's plan to pump the water from the ranch they bought, wrecking the lives and water rights of stake holders not only in Catron County but also in Bernalillo, Torrance and Sandoval counties.

The proposed transfer, before the State Engineer, might have gone unprotested 20 years ago, but the minute it surfaced this year, a network of thousands of water-educated citizens heard about it immediately and began opposing it. They also learned that the conservancy district itself might not protest the transfer, because the district's consulting attorney was conflicted — working for the company that wanted to sell the water — and had not filed a protest in a timely manner.

The conservancy district this week voted to protest the transfer and to find a new attorney to represent it in the matter.

The arguments citizens raised were the kind that come from clearheaded, self-educated, school-of-hard-knocks water planners and stakeholders.

Taking such a huge amount of water is unsustainable, and to come to depend on it could be a disaster. Remember that 54,000 acre-feet is 6,000 more than the city of Albuquerque will divert from the San Juan Chama Project as drinking water this year. And the water's withdrawal from the San Augustin basin would disrupt the natural flow that already exists from that basin into the Rio Grande.

If it weren't for citizens who thought this this through voluntarily, with no vested financial interests at stake, this very bad idea would have slipped past us all, to the great enrichment of a few at the expense of many.

If anything is cause for optimism about the future, it is this citizen power, locally and nationally, activated some 50 years ago with the rise of environmental, civil rights and feminist movements. In that half-century, an ever-growing population of citizen activists has appeared to counterbalance oligarchic powers.

It has become self-evident now that millions of Americans have voluntarily educated themselves in the major issues of the day and have done such a sterling job of it that they can counter "experts" hired by the wielders of power.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
January 19, 2008