Despite the fact that she’s a “one-woman operation with volunteers,” those volunteers are helping to keep Nancy Oden’s petition to ban aerial spraying of pesticides alive. “We’re collecting signatures. Lots of people are volunteering. I can’t keep up with the support out there,” says Oden. Indeed, organizing all of the people who want to help her is one of Oden’s major difficulties. She says that she could use 10 Nancy Odens “to organize all of the support we have.” She could also use more help in her office, more help with her petition, more money …
Oden says she is not sure she’ll get enough signatures on her petition to get a referendum vote in 1998, but that she will keep gathering signatures for the following year if she doesn’t, since signatures can be up to a year old and still be good.
While getting signatures, Oden is also getting her message out. She spoke for almost two hours to some 30 students at Bowdoin College on a cold, wet night in October. “They stayed the whole time,” she says. “They’re getting together with students at USM and Bates, and they’re organizing not just on campus but in surrounding areas. UMO is also active. They [the students] are my organizers for cities around Orono.
“We seem to have skipped half a generation,” she continues, explaining that the current college student population is deeply concerned about the environment. “They have a thirst. They have to do something for the world.”
She has noticed this trend especially among women, even at colleges. Some 80% of her audience at Bowdoin was women. “They are the genuine activists,” says Oden, “the ones who volunteer at the polls. They want people to take strong stands. I’m seeing the same thing at USM and Bates,” she adds, while acknowledging the very caring and sincere men in the minority.
Oden says that she is finding that “regular people want environmental groups to take strong stands on the environment,” too. “I connect with the real people,” she continues. “Even growers say to me, ‘You’re right. [Pesticides] should not be going into the water.’ This isn’t a political issue, it’s a human issue. The petition is clear, straightforward. It’s giving democracy to the people.”
She sees that more “regular” people are concerned about pesticides, citing a woman in a tiny town near the Canadian border who made up her own petition against pesticides “because she was mad. She was going to present it to the governor or something.” When Oden called the woman to tell her about the aerial spraying petition, the woman “was ecstatic.” She is now circulating Oden’s petition. Among such people, says Oden, “I’m not perceived as an outsider or an extremist.”
MOFGA’s board of directors heard a presentation from Oden in June requesting its official support for the petition drive. The discussion continued in August. The Board believes, says executive director Russell Libby, that “our work is pesticide reduction. We’re already doing it; we’ve been consistent about it for years.” However, the Board decided not to endorse the referendum then, primarily because it wants to be clearer about what it means for the organization when MOFGA endorses referendum campaigns, and how, or if, we should be involved once it makes an endorsement.
For more information about Oden’s petition, you can call 622-0094 or write or visit her at 283 Water St., 3rd floor, Augusta, ME 04330.