Start a Local Fluoride-Free Campaign
The only thing that stands in the way of the CDC, EPA, and ADA forcing fluoride on more communities is YOU! The bottom line is that without citizen activists working at the local level, we will lose this crucial battle for cleaner and healthier fluoride-free drinking water. In fact, since 1990 more than 300 communities across North America have voted to end their fluoridation programs, largely due to small groups of citizens organizing local campaigns to educate their neighbors and local decision-makers about the serious health risks associated with the practice.
Local referendums and resolutions represent grassroots democracy at its finest. They give ordinary citizens the opportunity to address important public health issues right in their own community, and in the process, usually increase statewide and regional awareness of the issue through news coverage. In the process of removing fluoride, successful local campaigns also help build nationwide momentum for the end of fluoridation. As the old saying goes: “Think Global-Act Local.”
The Canadian city of Waterloo, Ontario is a great example of a local campaign that helped build momentum for further policy change. In October of 2010, a group of citizen activists, led by Waterloo Watch, were successful in getting a referendum question on the municipal ballot asking citizens if they wanted to continue fluoridation. Through constant media contact, letters-to-editors, door-to-door canvassing, and nonstop education of the public and local decision-makers, Waterloo Watch was successful in securing a majority of the vote opposing fluoridation. Following the campaign in Waterloo, campaigns to remove fluoride gained momentum throughout Canada, particularly in Calgary, Alberta, where just 4 months later, the city council voted 10-3 to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water for more than a million citizens. And the momentum created by the Calgary victory has resulted in dozens of Canadian communities debating whether to continue fluoridation in recent months.
So how can you start your own campaign?
Check to see if your community is fluoridated, when it started, the approximate population served, and what chemicals are being used. Take note of this information. Join the movement to stay informed and connected with FAN, and to see if an existing campaign is in your area, or to volunteer if one is not. Learn the basics about fluoridation, the arguments in opposition to it, and ways to refute claims made by proponents.
It’s important to know your state’s laws regarding fluoridation, particularly who has jurisdiction over the practice, if it is mandated at the state or county level, and what the procedure is for ending the practice locally. It’s also helpful to know what fluoride news has been made in your state. Local news stories can often provide you with local contacts and allies, information about your opposition, examples of successful campaigns in your area, and an idea of how your local media covers the issue.
Send a request in writing to your local water director/supervisor and CC your Town Manager (or equivalent), asking key questions about the fluoridation program and the local procedure for removal and approval of fluoride from the drinking water. If you don’t get an immediate reply, call their offices. These officials work for you, so don’t be afraid to request this information over the phone or in person.
Create a Strategy
If you live in a state with a statewide or county fluoridation mandate, then the only way to end fluoridation locally is to first take action at the state or county level. However, there are actions that can be taken at the local level even in mandated communities. You can work to pass a requirement for infant fluoride warnings on water bills, or pass a resolution urging the state/county to repeal their mandate.
If you don’t live in a mandate state, then there are generally three ways to end fluoridation: a city council vote, a voter referendum or town meeting vote, or a unilateral decision by a private water company, Mayor, water supervisor, or health director. Make sure to note each option you are given, this way you can start with the easiest (e.g. a unilateral decision by a mayor or water works director) then if that fails, act on the second easiest option (presentations before city hall and request a vote), and finally if that fails move to the next option (petition collection for a ballot referendum). Some campaigns have had success on the first try with little organizing needed, so start there, but know all of your back-up options.
Plan a timeline for the your campaign. Make sure you know when, and how often, the water board or town council meets and how long it typically takes for a resolution to get approval. In bigger cities, it may take months for a resolution to become law. Also, make sure you know if there are any deadlines for submitting resolutions or referendums, and if there are laws or rules that must be followed when collecting signatures for referendums or lobbying decision-makers.
If a referendum is your only choice for policy change, then start by learning the requirements for getting your question on the ballot. Your local Town Clerk can generally provide you with all of the requirements for putting together an official ballot petition. Once you know the rules, start going door-to-door with your petition, providing information about your referendum, and asking citizens to clearly sign their name. It helps to keep track of houses with no one home when canvassing a neighborhood, that way you can return at a different time to try again. Don’t forget other great petitioning locations, including outside the town dump entrance, outside city hall, in public squares, at local festivals and fairs, and outside local sporting events. With permission, you can usually stand outside supportive businesses like natural food stores and supermarkets.
Initiate the Campaign
Once you’ve chosen the fluoride campaign that makes sense for your community, you need to build your support. Identify and reach out to existing supporters. Fluoride campaigns work best when they are anchored by a coalition of groups and individuals, particularly medical and scientific experts. Who else might be interested in helping to pass the resolution? Do an internet search for anyone else who has opposed fluoridation in your community before. You can usually find supporters in news stories about previous fluoride campaigns, or in online forums or on social media sites opposed to fluoridation. Meeting minutes from previous fluoridation hearings can also give you names of people who have opposed fluoridation in the past. They may still be active and interested in joining your campaign.
What natural allies do you have in the community? Try to find coalition partners sooner rather than later. Coalitions work best when everyone is involved in the process from the beginning. Naturopathic doctor associations, chiropractors, organic food producers, health food stores and their customers, environmental experts, retired water works employees, clean water organizations, environmental groups and medical professionals are generally good groups to approach for support initially.
Identify a town councilor you think will be supportive of your resolution. This is essential if your city council will be making the final decision. Without a councilor who will actually take ownership of the issue and make it his or her cause, it will be difficult to successfully pass a resolution. You can identify likely champions by investigating officials’ voting records and asking your coalition partners if they have any allies on the city council. You can also provide each councilor with information on fluoride and approach them one by one requesting their sponsorship of your resolution. Once you find a supportive councilor, meet with him or her. Try to have people who live in the councilor’s district or ward meet with the representative. Once you arrange a meeting, try to organize as diverse a group as possible to represent your demonstrate that your issue has community support. At the meeting, you should present the councilor(s) with sample text of the proposed resolution, along with a packet of information supporting your resolution. This will make the councilor’s job easier, and make them more likely to support your issue.
Educate the Public
Start by telling your family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends know about your campaign. Ask your doctor, dentist, and any other scientific or medical professionals you know to sign our Professionals Statement. Download our Professionals Statement on fluoride here, print it out, and ask your doctor to sign it the next time you have an appointment.
If you’re a talk radio listener, call in and express support for reforming our fluoride laws. Even if the subject being discussed isn’t explicitly about fluoride, many related issues can be a springboard for urging reform.
Try to get the media interested. Once your resolution is introduced and scheduled for a vote, contact the media and ask them to do a story about the campaign. Resolutions give local media a way to cover larger issues through a community angle. Write letters to the editor and OpEds in support of the resolution. When there is coverage of fluoridation in the local paper, try to find the online version of the story and have supporters “comment” on the story, showing support for your resolution. Stories that receive a lot of comments, or Letters to editors, are generally followed up with further coverage.
Host a public forum about the resolution. It’s usually a good idea to hold a community meeting or other educational event to talk to your fellow residents about your resolution. Reserve space in a public library, town hall, or social hall. Advertise your meeting in local papers, on the internet (with a facebook group), and with posters around town. Organize a screening of the Fluoride Action Network’s “Professional Perspectives” film. Host several key speakers opposing fluoridation, if you can, and invite city councilors, their staff, and members of the media to attend.
Don’t forget to bring information packets to hand out to any members of the public or media who attend. Also, make sure to have a sign-up sheet to collect names, telephone numbers, and email addresses so you can alert these new supporters about upcoming campaign events and council actions.
Canvass neighborhoods. Just because your resolution isn’t a referendum doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go door-to-door looking for support. Write up a petition supporting your resolution and have locals sign it in support. This is a great way to educate the public and find local supporters, but if you also collect the address of each signer, you can later send a copy of the petition to city councilors highlighting the signers from their district, making the issue more personal for them.
Keep in contact with local decision-makers. “Lobbying” is just another word for letting your elected officials know how you feel about an issue. Communicating with your councilor is a right, not a privilege. You should make sure all of the representatives on the city council have a packet of information about your resolution. Try to get constituents from different districts to arrange meetings with their representatives to show support for the resolution. Remember those petition signers? Now is the time to contact them and urge them to call or meet with their city councilor.
Increase your base of support. As the date of the vote approaches, make sure you are working with residents across the city and asking them to call or write their representatives in support of the resolution. Organize a community-wide “call-in” day during which people from every neighborhood will call their representatives in support of the resolution. If a particular representative is opposed to the resolution, do targeted outreach in that neighborhood (canvassing). You can also use free online petition like www.change.org to organize emails campaigns targeting local decision-makers.
Attend all meetings. In some cases, study committees or subcommittees will consider the resolution before the full city council does. Make sure you attend these meetings and present the argument for your resolution during the public comments section of any hearings. On the day your resolution is going to be voted on, make sure the city council chambers are filled with supporters of your resolution. Bring colorful and eye-catching signs to show support for the resolution. Encourage supporters to speak in favor of the resolution during the public comments section, and make sure you have people ready with prepared remarks, particularly your scientific and medical experts. The day of the vote is your final chance to how that the community really cares about your issue.
As your campaigning against fluoridation, it’s important to keep in mind that community education takes time, discipline, and perseverance. While there are plenty of exceptions, most successful campaigns take months, if not years, to pass resolutions prohibiting fluoridation. To Win, your community will first need to learn about the issue together, and eventually work together, turning your resolution into the community’s resolution. Its crucial you consider yourself a teacher and not try to force your opinions on others, but instead take the time to educate your neighbors and local decision-makers. The TRUTH IS ON OUR SIDE, and when open-minded individuals take the time to look at the data and research, it’s evident that the practice should be prohibited.