Tag Archives: critical mass

Western Bloc

Raising the nation’s public policy IQ…Adding the National Initiative to Democracy’s Toolbox.
Western Bloc Safe Power Campaign   

From draft book on the Koupal’s People’s Lobby by Dwayne Hunn.

Most of us held Nader in revered status, but Ed, before he met Nader, had often knocked him at Board meetings saying, “He just wastes a lot of energy putting words in the papers.  If he wants to make real changes in this nation. he ought to get on the national initiative band wagon…”

In November of 1974 Nader was about to host anti-nuclear activists from across the country for his Critical Mass Energy conference in Washington D.C.

After the Lobby-driven 70% ballot victory with the Political Reform Act in 1974, and because the Lobby had been one of the pioneers in the anti-nuclear movement with the Lobby’s 1972 Clean Environment Initiative, Ed and Joyce were invited to the conference. A rumor that drifted among Lobby mules at that time was that Nader’s staff wanted to shield Ralph from the “crazy” Ed Koupal. Shielding doesn’t work too well when you put Ed in front of audience where he initiates the tune and brings the crowd cheering his way.

They (Ed and Joyce) brought with then, besides their usual threadbare clothes, news of a California initiative petition for a statewide law that would stop nuclear power cold — possibly even result in its eventual complete shutdown in the nation’s most populous state. California environmentalists, with the official backing of the increasingly anti-nuclear Sierra Club, had launched their petition drive that same month. The goal of the effort was to put the proposal on the June 1976 statewide primary ballot.[1] For the Koupals, however, the goal was to turn a statewide initiative into a multi-state initiative, thereby  demonstrating the possibility of an entire section of the country voting on the same proposition —— a prototype national initiative.

Over a thousand citizens from at least 40 states attended the conference including more than one nuclear industry spy. When Ed recognized one industrial spy as having been his opponent in numerous debates over the 1972 Environment Initiative, he greeted the man, Hal Stroube, with typical bravado. Koupal told him he looked like a basket case who should be in a hospital, and perhaps he got that way from hanging around too many nuclear plants. According to Joyce, Stroube beat a hasty retreat and was not seen again at the conference.[2]

Ed’s talk and conference workshops on how to do the Lobby’s table method of collecting signatures went over so well that activists from Washington, Oregon, Colorado and several other states asked for help in organizing anti-nuke initiative campaigns.  Nader agreed to help finance the organizing trips through some of those states.

Over the next months Ed would take some all day and all night drives through those states and convince Lobby mules Telschow, Forester and Masche to serve as state campaign organizers.  The Lobby could only pay Telschow and Forester $99 per month and Masche, with a wife and two children $300. per month.  By the time the three returned for a 1975 Lobby Board meeting, they learned that they were to be:

spearheading a national movement known as the Western Bloc. The original goal of anti-nuclear initiatives in three states had been expanded to include fourteen western states, which would, in theory, create a solid “Bloc” of opposition to nuclear power covering nearly half the land area of the continental United States. The nation’s first national initiative drive had begun.[3]

By 1975 the nation’s best known car safety and consumer advocate started appearing at the Lobby’s door to hang out with one of California’s better used car salesmen and music makers. Nader made several visits to the Lobby and got to know Ed and Joyce, learning “what made the Lobby tick.”  He often questioned them on their special relationship and seemed intrigued as to how they made their intense political reforming work within a family and husband and wife context.

Nader was becoming enthused with the national initiative idea and saw it as a tool to address environmental and big money issues in politics. As Sonia put it, “Ralph wanted Ed to succeed with the national initiative idea because he saw it as a means to take care of environmental and big money issues…. Ed came out of a meeting with Nader and ”was jacked saying, ‘we’re going to Critical Mass and we’re going to talk about the national initiative.’”

Critical Mass 1975 was another huge conference drawing activists from all corners of the country. During the Conference a candlelight march went to the Capitol steps in honor of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear plant worker who mysteriously died in November of 1974 in a car accident shortly before she was to meet with reporters over nuclear plant safety issues.[4] Ed’s mantra, “If you want to change the country, you’ve got to be able to make and thereby change the  laws it runs on…”  now made sense to a crowd hungry to control the spread of what they considered to be dangerous nuclear power plants.

While the Lobby was gearing up for nuclear fission games, the murky and muddied political enemies it had made in Sacramento were not about to let it concentrate without dishing out some headaches.  The Lobby’s clean and hard hitting reputation caused more and more people to treat it as the peoples’ ombudsman where they could send information that caused more and more headaches for many less than enlightened lobbyists and politicians.[5]  The muddied politicians wanted to get even.  Since they had trouble sullying the Lobby name, they did what they thought was the next best thing.  They tried taking Peoples Lobby’s name.

What was angering the politicians?  Not only was People’s Lobby continuing to attack politicians who veered off course, but it was also attacking the recently installed officers of the Fair Political Practices Committee, the committee People’s Lobby had established to enforce the laws established by the Political Reform Act of 1974.  Now, not only the vested interests but the politicians and bureaucrats involved with enforcing the Political Reform Act and its laws were upset with People’s Lobby.

What was People’s Lobby charged with?  Not paying taxes.  The non-profit People’s Lobby’s corporate status was not suspended for not paying taxes.  The corporate status was suspended for not filing mundane governmental forms that thousands of corporations forget to file each year.

What were some of the government’s abuses of power against People’s Lobby?  The Franchise Tax Board wrote an unprecedented, seemingly personally crafted letter meant to cripple People’s Lobby.  This unprecedented letter was unprecedentedly hand delivered to the Agricultural and Services Secretary Rose Bird, Controller Ken Cory and Governor Jerry Brown.  No letter or delivery process remotely resembling this was ever done to the over 25,000 corporations who face suspension each year for failing to file their corporate papers on time.[6]

Peoples Lobby, like thousands of other corporations, forgot to file the fee. Consequently a bar, then named the Brass Rail[7],  that lobbyists and politicians would frequent by walking for three minutes out the Capitol’s side door and into the Sacramento Mall, paid the filing fee and took  the Lobby’s name.  In return, the Lobby paid the filling fee on a dozen corporations, including the then famous Helena Rubenstein Corporation.

The result of this attempt to intimidate People’s Lobby?  In a short period of time, the state backed off as the Helena Rubenstein  Corporation, or Credit Bureau of Sacramento County and at least ten others were ready to give up their functioning names to the Lobby.

Those cosmetic shenanigans meant little to Ed as he stepped onto the Critical Mass stage to inspire the crowd to fight the Western Bloc campaign, and begin what he saw as a scrimmage prior to a National Initiative Campaign.

Footnotes at page end.

Statement By Edwin A. Koupal, Jr.

at Critical Mass 75

November 17, 1975

I would like to take some time this morning to explain to all of you and to the Members of Congress here today what we as citizens have learned about the power of politics and the politics of power in the past year since CRITICAL MASS 74.

Behind you is a map of the United States. The sections of the map in red represent the Western Bloc states—states that have the initiative process and are involved right now in signature gathering or writing initiatives. This amounts to over two-thirds of the land mass of America. That’s political power!

The Western Bloc initiative petitions are precincted petitions of registered voters, people who voted at least in the most recent election in each state, people who put you members of Congress in office; people who hire you to represent them in Washington, D.C. Ours are signatures of over 1 and 1/2 million people all across America. That’s a provocative statement! And our signatures are committing various states across America to the ballot box on this all important issue of nuclear power.

The reason that we’re doing this is quite obvious. First, our political establishment in America obviously broke down on this issue, and, as many times has happened in America, the people are ahead of their elected officials.

We’ve seen the danger of atomic power. We tried to tell our elected officials before we got involved in this situation about the danger, and we did it in spite of the normal political frustrations that. so many times abound. We picketed and we boycotted and we leafletted and we appeared before committees and commissions and testified and did all of the political exercises and went through all of the frustrations that are demanded of people here in America. But the ultimate question, the one that really counts, is “do we really get what we want in the statute books?” Because in America, we are a land of law, and we deal best from the statute books. That is what really controls our society: the law.

But thankfully, in twenty-two states in America, we have a process of self government. WE the people believe that self-government far exceeds good government. Self-government is a process through which we can work around your honorable body of representative government, and bodies like yours all across America in various state capitals, when you are not responsive to the people’s needs. That is, we can write our own laws, we can go out and gather signatures, and we can go out directly to the electorate, which eventually leads us directly to the statute books with a peoples’ law. We can guide America the way we want it, without our hired hands getting involved.

.Now, to give you Members of Congress an idea of what you’re confronted with here in Washington: you have a national campaign coming up. Wouldn’t it be nice if we gave America some nice leadership on her 200 year birthday?  But wouldn’t it be even better if we gave America a 200 year gift of safe power and a better social existence?

In California, more than a million signatures have been gathered on the nuclear issue. California has qualified a safe power ballot proposition. It will be voted on during the primaries and that’s going to give some national politicians some fits because they’ve got to speak to California. There’s a geographic reality about California:  we’re bigger in area than the nation of Japan. One out of every ten persons in the United States is a Californian. We’re eleventh in gross national product for the whole planet and sixth. in budget. When the national politicians come out there and want the Californian’s vote, we’re going to want to know how they feel about the most important issue on our ballot in June, and that deals with safe power.

Oregon has qualified a safe power ballot proposition. Of course, Oregon has always led the nation in areas of safe environment and better living for people on earth.

Washington state will start gathering their signatures in January because of a kink in the law. It’s nice that the political spectrum in America has given us the right of self—government, but there are always certain little kinks to try to keep it away from us. It’s one of those things where we’ve really got it, but we really don’t have it, unless we work really, really hard in order to do it. Washington state is one of those situations.

Some of the states that are now gathering signatures on safe power initiatives include:

•   Montana. It’s over half qualified and they have until July to gather another 15,000 signatures. I think that if they ‘really got it cranked up, they could do that on a weekend and still go to church on Sunday morning.

•   North and South Dakota will be gathering their signatures in a few weeks.

•   Colorado needs 65,000 signatures. It was reported this morning that they have 35,000. Hooray for Colorado!

•   Not to forget Oklahoma. Oklahoma will be starting the latter part of December. That’s the home of Karen Silkwood, with ole’ Kerr-McGee sitting right in the middle of it. They’ve got all kinds of reasons to move on it. We’re going to get them now in Oklahoma, aren’t we!

•   Missouri’s writing its document now, along with Arkansas and Michigan.

•   Maine is gathering signatures. It will qualify – – no doubt about that. It’s a beautiful state and we’ll get it on there.

•   Iowa and Kansas. They have self- government there, but it’s not the initiative process; they only have the right of recall. I’d prefer to call it vote of confidence, or – – if you will – –  way to fire your elected employees when we, as employers, find that they are not responsible or responsive to our needs and requirements. So in Iowa and Kansas, there is a great move to find the elected officials who are not too responsive to the people’s needs in this all-important area.

Let me give you a little background on these signature gathering campaigns and the Western Bloc. This whole thing started about a year ago, after the last Critical Mass conference, Ralph Nader and myself sat down and said, “now what can we do?” We realized that at that point we really had to get to the statute books in order to really make the changes. Why don’t we try a couple of states – – Washington, Oregon and Colorado, for example – – and see what we can do?

As we got into these states – – to give you an idea of  the overwhelming necessity for you to begin to realize what’s really going on out there – – people from other states with the initiative process begged to have our organizers come in and train them to gather signatures and qualify initiatives; show them how to become a part of this massive Western Bloc movement.

We will soon have somewhere between 1 3/4 and 2 million signatures of qualified voters. That’s political power. That’s what hires you people. That’s what makes you tick. No more picketing and boycotting, no more fooling around with leaflets, no more testifying before committees. You see, that’s over now, because we’re going through the very process that built America and made America strong, and that’s the ballot box.

One more thing in closing. I want to point out that the Western Bloc – – as an organizer and a worker – – setting these states into motion, is spending less than $17,000 to do this. That shows that the people want it. You see, when people are on the move, money is insignificant. When you have to buy a candidate or sell a Ford – – or sell a Johnson or sell a Nixon – – it takes millions of dollars. But when you have an issue, it takes people. People will win!

Initiative campaigns that are people based have a wonderful synergy.  Grassroots campaigns rejuvenate the political bloodstream of America.  They force debate, discussion, thought and creativity.  In the end they educate vast numbers of American much beyond what their too often tight lipped and tightly vested representatives want them to learn.

When all the polls closed of what totaled 18 safe power,  anti-nuclear initiatives, none passed.  But suddenly American knew so much about this proclaimed  “source of power that would be too cheap to meter…blah, blah..” that few people wanted it in their backyards.  Suddenly big utilities who spent millions and millions to stop the initiatives from passing, stopped applying for nuclear construction permits.

The Lobby’s National Initiative scrimmage woke up the nation on nuclear power’s dangers.

[1]  This became Proposition 15, the Nuclear Power Plants Initiative which qualified for the ballot but was  rejected at the polls in 1976

[2]   From a David Schmidt letter to Joyce Koupal seeking editing comments prior to publication of his book, Citizen Lawmakers.  (Might be around page 33 of that letter.)

[3] Ibid. Schmidt letter to Joyce Koupal..

[4] The 19__? (get date) movie ‘Silkwood’ was made based on her life.

[5] Some examples of information coming to Lobby.  Source ‘Sonia remebers’ on People’s Lobby website. “Roberti and (Ed) he used to have long discussions about politics in general and how long a person could be effective.  It’s kind of interesting because every time I think of David Roberti I think of how long he’s lasted in the political system.  And one of Ed’s and Roberti’s favorite conversations was that you couldn’t last long because you get co-opted. You know, how long can an organiza­tion last.  Ed used to have this great line about the lung asso­ciation, ‘You know for years and years it was called the tubercu­losis association.  But they found a way to cure tuberculosis, but the organization had to live on so they called it the lung asso­ciation because no one will ever cure lung.’

“He was always very supportive of David Roberti and David always gave him inside information.  I know they talked on the phone.  He would call the office.  It was really quite a really terrific bunch of people that would call the office.  I remember Gann (Paul) used to come through and Ed would give him a bad time. And the Gray Panthers would come through and they’d always flock toward Ed and he’d always give him his two cent… They’d have a little bullshit session…

[6] People’s Lobby Newsletter of September-October 1975

[7]  Ibid. Schmidt letter to Joyce Koupal..

Critical Mass Conference

Critical Mass and the National Initiative.

Nearly 2,000 activists from across the country descended on Washington D.C. in November 1974. Most came at their own ex­pense. Some came as representatives of powerful utilities and had. to pay $100. to attend  Ralph Nader’s dream child, The Critical Mass Conference, seemed to be a success.

What was the purpose of the conference? To Nader it was to a

  1. Focus media attention on the swelling mass movement

against nuclear power.

  1. Expand the education process on nuclear power’s


  1. Exchange ideas on alternative sources of power —

solar, wind, etc.

For two of Nader’s friends and fellow political crusaders of increasing stature, however, the conference became a forum for more.

Ed Koupal, Executive Director of People’s Lobby, and his wife Joyce, formerly of People’s Lobby and now director of Stamp Out Smog, were invited by Nader to speak to the confer­ence on the initiative process. People’s Lobby, having been the prime mover behind California’s successful Proposition 9, the Political Reform Initiative that still has organized labor, big business, politicians and lobbyists in a twitter, can claim more experience with the initiative process than any group in the nation.

Little did the Koupals realize that their experience was to make a national impact at the conference and, finally, with Ralph Nader.

That impact began during Nader’s thirty minute keynote speech in which 2 of the 3 people he paid tribute to were named Koupal. The Koupals were instant celebrities. Their workshops on the initiative process were jammed. And their initiative ideas seemed to offer the first positive tools to activists loaded with facts and dangers but few successes.

An example: A noted academic, speaking to his workshop on the dangers of radiation, continued raising his voice and thus interfering with Koupal’s neighboring workshop session. Koupal, with lungs like a bull, was not to be outdone. Finally, the academic appeared and asked Koupal to keep his voice down, “It interferes with my important teaching session,” said the professor.

“Important,” retorted Koupal. “All you are doing is talking about the dangers of atomic power plants. Stuff we all know. We’re learning how to get a 100,000 signatures and stop those plants from being built. That makes these people 100,000 times as important as you.”

A cheer went up from Koupal’s class. Then everyone in the professor’s class came to hear Koupal.

The importance of the initiative process is just dawning on some of those people. It has finally fully dawned on Ralph Nader, and he is ready to put it on many more people.

Those who have worked with Nader know he is barraged daily with exciting ideas, and that he attests belief in many of them. He does not, however, help carry many of those ideas, since he already has so many that are pressing and necessary.

The People’s Lobby goal of a national campaign for a con­stitutional amendment to institute the national initiative, to coincide with the 76 presidential elections and a nuclear moratorium, has hit Nader’s elusive ‘push button.’ Nader has tabulated the costs and benefits and decided to add the national initiative to his list of crusades.

After their times together on the Mike Douglas Show, in Washington D.C., and in California, the Koupals have finally elicited a pledge of financial aid from Nader to help make the 27th .Amendment — A National Initiative and Recall  —  a reality. Nader has made sure, however, that the Koupals raise their share. He has informed his booking agent to get the Koupals honorariums and out on the campaign trail.

Harper’s Weekly Staff

Submission 12-8-74 From Dwayne Hunn