Tag Archives: john forester

John Forester remembers

John Forester phone interview 10-23-01 with Dwayne Hunn

Initiative America was not People’s Lobby effort. It was Roger and I ‘s effort… We did it on our own…

I don’t object to Initiative American being off-shot of People’s Lobby or People’s Lobby’s project. When Ed died Joyce and Faith tried to continue keeping the People’s Lobby organization going, and we just kept doing the national initiative as we thought Ed would want us to do..

The focus of Initiative America was to get the National Initiative on national agenda.. It was the logical step after the Western Block campaign.  Western Bloc was 100% Ed’s.  Roger (Telschow) and I and Ed (Maske) did the groundwork for the Western Bloc…We were the Lobby staff going around the country doing the states.  Western Bloc could have been called People’s Lobby.  For all practical purposes, we were People’s Lobby staff members outside of California….

Remember getting first check of $99.  with $1 withheld for social security… I bought a $45 pair of boots and saved the rest because People’s Lobby’s, or the people where we worked, fed and housed me.  I thought I was doing real well, and that what seemed like lot of money…  And the Lobby gave me blue van…

In the beginning I was dropped off in Oregon at Doug Phil’s house..    Two weeks after graduated from college.  Ed drove me to Oregon and left me in Oregon. Ed said organize the state and get it on the ballot… To me it was “Wow, I’ve got a key job with People’s Lobby and this is significant to work this closely with Ed. It was an honor. It was a dream job for a kid out of college just to be on the road.    Every person who met me had a room for me to stay in and fed me. And Roger went up and did Washington state.

After I got Oregon rolling, there was then a conference in Colorado.  Ed was driving with Ed Maske, or Roger – I can’t really remember who was with him for sure, and we met in Colorado.  That’s where, I think, the blue van was given to me, and so I drove to Oklahoma and Ohio.

Remember how Ed loved numbers.  Well, I used Ed’s love of numbers to try to do that campaign.  I tried to use his Fanatic Fifty idea…  called it the Oklahoma 100 — dividing number of people to the number of signatures needed to get it on ballot…  Had to find 3-4 people in each town and ask them to get the numbers.

Then did Missouri after Oklahoma …  In the show me state, we used the slogan “Show me Safe Power.”  We didn’t push the anti-nuclear but we stood for safe power….  We wanted it to be safe and insured, the way other businesses conduct themselves in the state… We were different from the anti-nuclear power groups….

There wasn’t a single nuclear power plant built after People’s Lobby’s, after we got the signatures…  We made an apparent national difference.. We always assumed our signature gathering effort was a contributing factor in what utility companies were or were not doing ….. Sure, we were educating nation like you say, but we thought it was more powerful than just education.. We inserted initiative into the media.  We gave citizen the power to present their issues to the public.  We always thought that since there is so much money, so much cost in building nuclear power plants that by creating the uncertainty with the initiative of the utilities being able to do nuclear plants, that some utilities probably factored that in to their decision making.  They’d look at our initiative and say maybe we should wait. We were a factor in their decision making process over whether they would order another nuclear plant.

People’s Lobby’s elections happened and all lost, (but we still stopped the construction of nuclear plants).

We joined up in Ohio, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s biggest county.  We met Pat Quinn in Ohio, where we helped him do an open primary.  We collected 33% of the voters in Cuyahoga County as signers on our initiative…  Roger an I figure we collected about a million signatures personally through all the initiative campaigns.. We had3 tables side be side at Cuyahoga Fair and every table had three people waiting in line. We had four issues on ballot at same time with one petition, with one signature… One was for RUCAG – ”Sing her for lower utility rates..”  Another for a  life line rate structure and to establish consumer watchdog utility groups – right when the energy crisis was going through the roof…

Then Ed was ill… It was the end of campaign, and we were on our own. We went back to see Ed in hospital.  It was sad.  Then we went back on campaign trail and all the initiatives lost…

We went back to continue doing the Western Bloc campaign for the  76 ballot….  Western Bloc included Mass and Maine, but I don’t think we got Mass on ballot, not sure…

Then our jobs were over and we were supposed to go back to LA to return the van.  Roger and I drove it back to LA, but in Ohio we were operating on our own, that ‘s what Roger and I were thinking.  We were asking ourselves, what did we want to do and what would have Ed done at this point.  We were 25 years old and with no job… We went to DC to check in with national groups. Instead of west, we went east to NY and DC, I think we also went to Key West, to see New Orleans and Florida.  Made some neat contacts in DC and then drove to LA.  Somewhere in here the Lobby stopped payment and boy were we pissed.  Don’t even remember why they stopped paying us. So we returned to LA.

I went home and Roger and I were communicating by phone and he said, ‘We have no money.”   And by now we didn’t believe you needed money to accomplish People’s  Lobbyish things.  The Consumer Federation of American had a symposium in DC and he was there and we wanted to form an organization.

Ultimately, we formed a national organization and call it Initiative America.  We created a logo that had  Mobil’s red, white an blue colors and a great name… People’s Lobby would have created this if Ed had been around.  Faith and Joyce had nothing to do it.  But it was  done by People’s Lobby staffers working for themselves, that was Ed Koupal reincarnated… We were going to keep doing what Ed had us doing but it was all now our work…  Roger went to Consumer Federation and said you ought to have Forester come and speak on initiatives.  Consumer Federation had a tight budget and could only pay for ticket out there and we’d pay for the ticket back..  We thought it was funny since we had no intention of flying back, and they funded the start of Initiative America by flying us out there.  Then we started working furiously on Initiative America at that point.  We met Bill Harrington who had moved to DC, and we liked Harrington’s address 1346 Independence Avenue. We thought that address sounded impressive, so we used it as our office address.

We knocked on Senator Abourezk’s door and met Kevin Murphy his aide. Staff at Abourezk’s office thought Initiative America was great idea… Then we developed this two-shift program to give us access to a real office.  At 5:00 Abourezk’s staff would go home and we would use his office after his staff left.  We’d get on phone and call all across the country. Get support from across the country and get others to get other country support.

Focus number two was to help the states who didn’t have the initiative process to get the initiative.  We kept it squeaky clean by just working process. Initiative DC was formed at the same time to get initiative , referendum and recall into the DC charter….  In time, we did amend home rule in DC, so they now have initiative, referendum and recall.  We wrote it and lobbied it through Congress, It had to be ratified by Congress and we got it passed,  in 78, I think.  So 18 months after hitting DC we amended their home rule charter…

Abourezk was on the Senate’s Constitutional Committee.  No proposed amendment to US Constitution ever got hearings faster than we did.  The Bill was proposed and we got hearings faster than anyone else ever did.  Two guys got an amendment to US Constitution sponsored, then got hearings and the hearing were well attended. That was in record short time from when Roger and I arrived in DC.  Two guys, no organization, no connections. We did that knowing what we could do with political bravado, which was instilled by Ed … His instinct was instilled in us for the rest of our lives… He made you think big and if someone said it couldn’t be done — you knew it could be done. We had a great time.

Then we started Initiative News Service which Dave Schmidt worked on, intended to be national clearing house for initiatives and we got lots of  people paying it, especially corporate entities who wanted to stay on top of legislation.  Literally called them and said citizens are also creating legislation, and they signed up for initiative news service. Initiative America, Initiative DC and Initiative Press (where do you think we got that idea from?) Since Roger had a natural affinity for mechanics,  we started a print shop.  We stole the model from  People’s Lobby.. We bought a press for $800. and found one on the street for free…. (Now they’re in same building we started in — Shoal’s Diner, a cheap place to eat.)  the free one came from an evicted print shop,  and Roger and I picked up a free printing press,,,

We got the school bus and put the printing press in it. Later from printing presses we bought a house and put printing press in it.

We got the school bus to drive around and educate the country on the initiative and put printing press in it to make our money, First print job was for National Organization of Women.  They order millions of 3X7 cards in favor of equal rights amendment, . and we got the job to print all their millions of cards to help them get their proposed constitutional amendment.. We made lot of money because we had zero overhead.. We had no idea how to bid so we’d call regular printers, get their lowest bid, and take 10% of their lowest price. We got jobs without knowing how to print.  We ran an extension cord into friends’ apartments to get the power to print the cards…

We wanted paper delivered to us on credit to a wheeled school bus and we had no credit..  Somehow we convinced suppliers that it was ok.  We convinced banks to lend us money to buy a house when we had none. Convinced Senators to introduce legislation when we were no body.  That’s how we funded our activities.  We became printers.  Roger figured out how to make print presses work. We ran what we called the world’s smallest conglomerate.  Printing, news, lobbying division which was basically People’s Lobby’s people — was exactly what Ed would do if he were 24.  It was People’s Lobby  model,  but when Ed died there was no Lobby, so we just did it like we thought he would do it….

Me: “Did you know that Faith Keating was compiling a report on changing the Lobby into a Common Cause type organization with moneyed funding base and ‘professional’ staffers and that Joyce was livid against that and defending Lobby workers like yourself as being the workhorse ‘pros’ who made the Lobby what it was?”  (Dwayne’s question to John)

No, I didn’t know that was going on.  DC is just full of non-profits like that .. That was the conventional wisdom way of doing non-profits, but it was not the  Koupal’s hobby and Koupal’s guerrillas way.. We were not doing it the traditional way.  We were doing it in the Koupal’s guerrilaist way.

It thrills me no end that Joyce was fighting  for us.. When Ed died it never occurred to us to work with PEOPLE’S LOBBY anymore because the Lobby was grieving into Ed’s loss… grieving over who should be the leader?  We had no interest in that. We are in DC and are the national organization. In fact, we invited them to the hearings.  Joyce was viewed in some way as an adversary since she didn’t want to allow the Senate to override.  Congress can change own legislation, courts can veto.  We merely wanted to have power to legislate…  We viewed that as meaningless, we didn’t care about the override argument.

We got everybody there (to 1977 Senate Judiciary Hearings)….  Roger and I were a little defensive because we know what we had done… We kind of felt like kids who were about to be scolded by the parents (Joyce Koupal) based on what we had done……  Truly didn’t care, we just had this agenda….

We calculated that in a certain period of time that we got more press than Common Cause.  We really felt that we were getting an unbelievable amount of press.

But then it ended.  Both of us were 30.  we were at the point where to carry it over would take a lot more energy. After doing this for 3-4 years we just closed shop, because at that point it would have required full time lobbying staff… We needed money.  We were more or less getting a life.  We were very realistic and recognized we had already gotten the most bang for the buck up to this stage.  The results to efforts ratios would have to turn on its head.  We’d have to work a lot to get a little done. Schmidt went with the newsletter… Roger kept the print shop and we basically checked out.  We left political action for the next generation.  We were proud that we took it further than others did… Proud we took it to Washington…. At age of 30 we both wanted to get on with our lives.  We didn’t’ t want to work for another organization.  Now both of us were pretty well working for ourselves…

Now I’m very active in trying to get voting rights for DC, On the board of Committee for Capitol City… Trying to have Maryland and City of DC merge.  Have DC become home grown city of Maryland.  In our proposal there would be voting rights for DC citizens by being part of Maryland.

(On my resume) I list myself as having a long term interest in voting rights,  without mentioning PEOPLE’S LOBBY and Initiative America.   We (in DC) are the only Americans who have taxation without representation.  Congress has exclusive representation …. Congress ordered the DC board of election not to count votes on marijuana initiative.. or spend money on that issue.. yet the people put the issue there.

After 15 years (of relative political inactivity) I’m getting back into politics a little.

Ed used to say  don’t talk about problems, fix the problem…. Identify the problem and identify the solution….   Capital city groups want to put itself out of business. Solve the problems by getting voting rights and put us out of business…  The other proposed solution is statehood for DC.  We decided union with Maryland was the better solution…. better to be a city rather than a state. Looking at the  big picture it shouldn’t be a state it should be a city…   Appeals to PEOPLE’S LOBBY spirit that perfect solution is to be a city in Maryland… As a city, I will get service and have  Senator and also participate in Maryland…. City hood within state of Maryland.  Our next campaign to have Maryland acquire DC as City….

People’s Lobby got to DC….We were the People’s Lobby staff members….   Roger came to the Lobby from NORCAL PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) …  I was the Lobby’s San Luis Obispo County Board member and both of us didn’t have jobs. Everything we did in Western Bloc was 100% for Ed…

Then after he passed away and he wasn’t there to tell us if it was a good or bad idea. Then we weren’t on salary.  If Ed were around it would have been People’s Lobby Initiative America and would have been staff members of People’s Lobby.  If Ed were alive he would have done Initiative America… We were doing what we thought he would have asked us to be done….

ME: IF HE would have had a radio form heaven, I said. You would have been listening to what he told you to do,

‘Exactly, yes.” John replied…

All the ideas of Initiative America originated with Ed’s concepts from what Ed had done for People’s Lobby.  After Ed passed away it wasn’t People’s Lobby’s.  It  was us doing it and with no conflict with the Lobby.

Western Bloc could have been called People’s Lobby for all practical purposes….    We were PEOPLE’S LOBBY staff members outside of  California doing the Western Bloc campaign.