Communities Opposing Divide-and-Conquer


Lessons Learned from the Crystal Geyser Campaign

Published as a Guest Editorial by Daniel Axelrod in the September 7, 2022 Mount Shasta Herald

This past May, something good happened. The California Court of Appeals found that Siskiyou County, CA, and Crystal Geyser Water Company (CGWC, a subsidiary of a multibillion- dollar Japanese Pharmaceutical corporation) used dubious procedures to push through approvals of a beverage-bottling plant on Ski Village Drive in Mt. Shasta, CA; approvals which violated established environmental law. This correct decision came well after CGWC itself decided to withdraw from the project in the face of what it termed “challenges" - likely the strong organized opposition of many hundreds of community members over the past ten years. As focused by We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review, W.A.T.E.R., the community pointed out the numerous ways the project would deplete water supplies and produce noise, and air and water pollution. W.A.T.E.R. would like to thank the whole community for its support and activism in achieving this significant victory preserving Mount Shasta's environment and groundwater supplies.

It is important, however, to draw broader lessons, because the nature of the "system" says that corporate attacks against local communities necessarily will continue. The system has no choice. It naturally pits large private corporations, whose only real goal is to make money and expand their power for their global investors, against working people and families, whose goal is to make decent money doing useful work in healthful and safe surroundings. These divergent goals sometimes can be made to seem compatible by slick corporate advertising. For example, the "other" Crystal Geyser (CG Roxane in Weed, CA) publicly claims on its website that it is "family-owned and operated with no corporate hierarchy" when in fact it is owned by "Alma S.A.", which is 49 % owned by the same giant Japanese pharmaceutical company as CGWC and 51% by a billionaire French family Papillaud.

Corporate lying sometimes works. Historical examples: "Tobacco is not harmful". "Scientists are divided about climate change". "The U.S. has the world's best medical care system." "Military weapon spending defends democracy around the world". All lies, but they do deceive people.

If false advertising and PR and outright lying doesn't quite work to mislead people, then "divide and conquer" techniques are employed. In the local case, Siskiyou County and CGWC sought to pit environmental protection against "job creation", although the goal of a corporation always is to operate with as few (and as low-paid) workers as possible, and then sell the product for as high a price as possible. This money machine operates until the "market" evaporates, or the corporation is bought by some international financial equity firm with different priorities, or the local resource they were mining for free in unlimited quantities runs out. Then the company departs, as did CGWC's predecessors, Danone and Coca-Cola. These regular corporate departures leave the workers and communities with nothing but devastated towns, health problems, and in our case, depleted wells.

Working people bear a well-justified resentment against the private corporate system that determines what and where and for whom investments are made, and that determines how the wealth produced by working people gets distributed. To misdirect that resentment, corporations (and their political representatives) use the "divide and conquer" strategy to tell working people that other working people, not the system, are their enemy. This is what underlies the corporate-funded political campaigns that pit long-term immigrants against short-term immigrants (and we are all immigrants if you go back far enough). "Divide and conquer" pits nationalities, ethnic groups, religions, races, genders, lifestyles, age, and education levels against each other, all to divert blame from the global economic powers at the top.

People all need a clean environment, jobs over which they have some control, good health care, good education, and decent pay. None of that is guaranteed by a system based on private mega-corporations. When we realize that working people of all types and backgrounds and nations can be much more powerful when we are united to oppose such a system, then there is hope for the future. While based in environmental issues, W.A.T.E.R. looks forward to participating in building that unity, both locally and nationally.