Guardian Photo by Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover Photography

In the late 1990s, when Greenpeace dropped the ball on its environmental justice campaigns and hacked its staff from 400 to a mere 65, Bradley Angel’s final direct action for the organization was to quit in protest.

He immediately founded Greenaction and went down to Needles, California, for a standoff with five native Colorado River tribes against a proposed nuclear dump in Ward Valley. It became a 113-day protest, surpassed Wounded Knee as one of the longest Native American-led occupations, and resulted in a bill signed by Gov. Gray Davis prohibiting any nuclear dumps in Ward Valley.

It was the first of dozens of victories for the now 10-year-old nonprofit. The most recent was the closure of the oldest, dirtiest, most unnecessary power plant in California, the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. facility at Hunters Point.

On April 11, Greenaction activists gathered in the rain and physically blocked the front gates of the plant for a final direct action against the outdated operation, which eight years after its promised date of closure was still spewing 600 tons of pollutants into the air annually and slushing a toxic cocktail into the bay.

“We nearly always win,” says Angel, who made a point of partnering Greenaction with the local groups who’ve been involved on this project for 25 years to carry out the toxic surveys, protests, direct actions, and harping at city and PG&E officials it took to close the plant.

“And we don’t drop out,” says his coworker Marie Harrison, a longtime Bayview resident and neighborhood organizer who’s been working to close the plant since 1995.

Harrison crossed paths with Angel in that struggle, and in 2001 when he needed another staff member at Greenaction’s headquarters, she got the job. With the help of one other full-time employee, two part-time workers, and a crew of interns, they’ve played a key role in improving the quality of life for the residents of Bayview-Hunters Point.

Why is Greenaction so successful? “We believe in sharing the stories of victories,” says Angel. “We let everyone know about the PG&E shutdown. It teaches people they have the power.” Every victory adds clout to the organization. Angel says, “There are numerous examples of companies finding out that Greenaction was involved and dropping whatever they were pursuing.”

While Harrison holds down the fort in San Francisco, Angel spends most of his time in the field, circulating throughout the southwest as a de facto member of 20 other primarily low-income and minority communities that constantly find themselves in the crosshairs of environmental racism. This kind of networking benefits all of their campaigns. “Because Greenaction works in so many communities, we’re able to bring groups together to share information and form alliances against these corporations,” Angel says.

An ethical attitude about fundraising also differentiates Greenaction from the 501(c)(3) masses. “Unlike some other organizations that solicit funds in the name of a cause without actually partnering with that community, we only work where we’re invited,” Angel says. Rather than identifying a problem and trying to rally the masses around the nucleus of concern, Greenaction stands back and lets the community define what it needs and how the organization can help.

It’s approached nearly every day. “We try to do whatever we can, but we can’t say yes to everyone,” laments Angel. “At the very least, we spend some time helping them to strategize. We’re not a group who says not in my backyard. We say not in anybody’s backyard.”

Greenaction is now preparing a campaign to reduce diesel pollution in southeast San Francisco from the port, the staging area of Moscone Center, and the crossover of freeways 101 and 280. Eventually, Greenaction will take on the city’s Southeast Sewage Treatment Facility.

“We’re taking some time to prepare that one,” says Angel with a winning smile.

Originally published July 25, 2006 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian