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E-M:/ Fwd: Toledo Blade article on why part of MI I-73 Killed


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I-73 victim of e-mail 

May 28, 2000


Moments after learning that a section of the proposed
I-73 superhighway had been killed, Bedford Township
resident Rob Oreskovich pulled out a laptop computer
in his Nashville hotel room and e-mailed the good news
to hundreds of people he didn't know four months ago.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the
pharmaceutical salesman and founder of Citizens
Against Urban Sprawl Expressways (CAUSE) has
accomplished in a few months what once would have
taken years: form an effective, organized, well-funded
grass-roots organization to stop a federally funded
highway from destroying his neighborhood.

"Five years ago this couldn't have been done," Mr.
Oreskovich said shortly after learning that the
Michigan Department of Transportation had killed a
plan that would have carried a portion of I-73 through
Erie, Bedford, and Whiteford townships. "Five years
ago I don't think we could have built a coalition as
rapidly or as effectively."

Across the nation activists of every political stripe
- from union organizers and environmentalists to gun
rights and pro-life advocates - are relying more on
the Internet to carry their messages and fund their
campaigns on issues of local and national importance.

"E-mail has revolutionized a lot of things for us,"
said Sandy Buchanan, executive director of Ohio
Citizen Action, a Cleveland-based citizen's activist
organization that boasts more than 150,000 members

"It's a great way to communicate with a whole group of
people at once. It doesn't cost you any extra money,
and you can do it at 3 in the morning, which is when a
lot of this kind of work gets done," Ms. Buchanan
said. "It's such a time saver."

Mr. Oreskovich's story is typical of the difference
modern communications can make in a campaign.

"I started out going door-to-door down Samaria and St.
Anthony roads, stuffing fliers in doors and mailboxes.
It took me well over 100 hours," Mr. Oreskovich said.

But the impact of building a portion of I-73 through
Whiteford, Bedford, and Erie townships potentially
affected thousands of residents in southern Monroe
County. It was too many to hit with a door-to-door

Mr. Oreskovich needed a more effective way to get his
message out. He found it when one of his fliers hit
the door of Dean Vollmar, whose home on Secor Road was
in the path of I-73.

Mr. Vollmar, 41, a percussionist in the Toledo
Symphony Orchestra and owner of a web-based home
business, volunteered his time and talents to build a
web site that would later drive the effort to kill the
offending portion of I-73.

"As soon as that site went up, in the first week
alone, it got well over 1,000 unique visitors. And
it's grown from there," Mr. Vollmar said. "I went out
and bought a laptop to accommodate all the additional
work. I take it to [symphony rehearsals] with me, and
on the movements I don't play on, I set it on my lap
and work on the web site."

In addition to outlining CAUSE's opposition to the
I-73 project, the web site provides links and contact
information for politicians critical to the highway
corridor study. It also provides a mechanism for
contributing to CAUSE's grass-roots campaign and links
not only to media outlets, MDOT, and other government
agencies, but to groups from Michigan to the Carolinas
opposing the new highway.

"We built a [$10,000] war chest very quickly," Mr.
Oreskovich explained. "I think it scared the
politicians that we were able to build an organization
that quickly, put up yard signs, and collect money to
oppose this thing. We used the Internet to inform the
public and we started getting some statements made [by
local politicians] that they were against the

Joe Corradino, a Louisville-based consultant for MDOT
conducting the I-73 study, said his office was nearly
overwhelmed with e-mail on the project and its impact.

"When I go in to work each day, I spend half of my
morning writing responses or making phone calls
because of the number of e-mails we received," Mr.
Corradino said. Nearly half of the 400 people who
turned in evaluation forms for the I-73 project did so
over the Internet, Mr. Corradino said.

While it is the first such group locally to be
successful, CAUSE is not alone in utilizing the
Internet to fight controversial road projects.

In neighboring Lenawee County, a group calling itself
the Society to Protect Rural Areas, Wetlands, and
Lakes, or SPRAWL for short, is waging a similar
campaign to stop I-73 from slicing their county in

In Lucas and Henry counties, a group called FARMUP -
Farming Americans Resisting More Unneeded Pavement -
has used the Internet and e-mail extensively to fight
proposed improvements to U.S. 24 that would create a
$400 million bypass around Waterville.

But with all the magnificent communications
capabilities the Internet provides, it isn't a
substitute for the hard work upon which grass-roots
campaigns have relied throughout history, one expert

"The Internet, in terms of web pages and e-mail
[databases], is a necessary but not sufficient tool
that grass-roots organizations must use," said Mike
Dolan, deputy director of Public Citizen's Global
Trade Watch.

Mr. Dolan, who helped organize the protests in Seattle
during the World Trade Organization's meeting earlier
this year, said the Internet can connect people, but
they have to do more. The hundreds who poured into
Seattle were real people, not their cyberspace

"It is necessary in that it is an effective and
extremely useful way to transfer information between
autonomous [groups or organizations], but it is not
sufficient in the sense that it does not replace the
basic, older forms of organizing that make people
commit to do things," Mr. Dolan said.

One group that has utilized the Internet's attributes
with efficiency is the National Rifle Association. The
organization, known for the ability to bury lawmakers
with a blizzard of postcards, is a trendsetter in
using the Internet and e-mail to make its feelings
known in Washington.

"We still do the million postcard thing, but [the
Internet] has certainly been an expansion of our
grass-roots activities," said Jim Manown, a
Washington-based spokesman for the group.

Toledo city council members are familiar with the
NRA's web activities. Before they approved handgun
legislation in September, they got flooded with e-mail
- some from Toledo and some from gun advocates far
from the city.

"We could tell they were letters generated by the
NRA," said District 6 Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz,
who has kept a stack of more than 200 gun-related
letters, the most generated by any issue he's dealt
with on council.

Regardless of where they came from, however, they left
an impression.

"If you're asking me if it's effective, yes it is,"
said Councilman Louis Escobar. He said the sheer
volume of the e-mails caused him to take a look at
their contents.

The NRA climbed on the Internet bandwagon early,
starting its web site in 1994. It wasn't long before
the organization realized the speed and efficiency of
the newest communications tool.

"There's a definite advantage in using the Internet in
terms of responsiveness. If we want to get an alert
out to our members, they receive it within minutes,
and they can respond to their legislators almost
immediately via e-mail," Mr. Manown said.

The Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA's
political and lobbying arm in Washington, gets more
than 100,000 visits per week on its web site, and more
when gun control issues dominate the news, Mr. Manown

"It's certainly something that gets the attention of
congressmen when they turn on their computer in the
morning and hear 'You've got Mail.' "

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