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Disruptive Advocacy

Youngman_psa_sm_2This advertisement is by a U.S. organization called Earthjustice ("Because the earth needs a good lawyer") and I first saw it in The New York Times Magazine.

The copy reads: "If you breathe air, you're a plaintiff. Why? Because our lawyers are working for you by protecting the air, land, water and wildlife from big polluters."

Forget that the answer to the 'Why?' is a non-sequitur to the statement that precedes it. This is advertising after all. But am I the only one who finds the whole idea behind the conditional sentence "If you breathe air, you're a plaintiff" troubling if not offensive?

Here is what the copy says to me: You don't need a specific or even just cause of action before calling these attorneys. You don't need reasonable grounds for complaint. Your grievance doesn't need to be backed by sound science or fair and complete assessment of risk. And, most troubling of all, when it comes to putative "big polluters" you need only resort to the courts for redress of a supposed injustice rather than engage in some form of pre-litigation attempt at problem solving, dialog, mediation and -- dare I say it -- compromise.

The U.S. is the most litigious of nations. So perhaps this blatant call for disruptive and ideologically-based advocacy shouldn't be so surprising. But for me it undermines the legitimate and beneficial role that passionate environmental and social advocacy can play in making the world a better place through constructive, science-based and solution-oriented engagement.

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