Blogging Toward Blessed Silence in Alexandria
Very early in the morning--3 a.m. early--the dump trucks would rumble by David Henderson's place in Alexandria. Truck after truck, rolling into the Mirant power plant and then groaning back out, now full of flyash, a by-product of the coal burning that makes that plant the bane of many residents' existence in that part of town.
So Henderson, a public relations executive in the District, decided to fight back. He started a blog. "I'm fascinated by blogs," he says. He already had a blog of his own on media relations. Now he added one to chronicle life two blocks from the power plant. Mirant officials wouldn't respond to his complaints, and the Alexandria city government didn't provide help, so Henderson went out on his own. He posted photos of trucks arriving hours before the plant's supposed 7 a.m. opening time. He wrote about violations of the company's own policies.
In the community of Alexandria residents who are up in arms about the Mirant plant, Henderson became something of a folk hero. For years, and especially since the feds last December ordered the plant in North Old Town to resume operation, residents and city officials have tried various tacks to force the Mirant facility to shut down. And some residents now hope that their campaign may be on the road to success; an order from the state Air Pollution Control Board requiring Mirant to eliminate dangerous emissions is on a collision course with other branches of government that have joined the company's own efforts to keep operating.
Henderson says he doesn't agree with neighbors who believe it's his blog that did the trick, but last month, he finally got in touch with a Mirant community relations specialist who took an interest in his complaints. "She listened to me, checked it out and said, 'You're right,'" Henderson says. Mirant changed its hours of operation, and the trucks stopped coming through before 7 a.m.
"That was very responsive and I was impressed," Henderson says. "So I took down the blog."
Whereupon he says he received "some blistering emails calling me a sellout and accusing me of making a deal with Mirant." Henderson says there was no deal; he had never discussed his blog with the power company.
"I just didn't have any reason to have it up anymore," he says.
So while Henderson remains a fan of blogs, he says they are the wrong tool for this kind of political action. A blog is good for getting information out and for fomenting discussion, he says, but for finding a solution to a community problem, "you need to present the issue and solve it by talking. It just comes down to two people talking about how to find a reasonable solution. I started the blog because I couldn't find anyone to talk."
In my experience watching neighborhood disputes, I've seen blogs achieve exactly the kind of conversation about solutions that has made Henderson a happier camper. But I've also seen blogs--especially antagonistic, sensational ones--sour relations to the point that no one talks toward a solution. In Henderson's case, his blog seemed to provide a rallying point for others with similar complaints. Did that spur on the solution that developed? Not clear, but it certainly didn't hurt.
Now, as for the plant's overall operations.... Well, I hear other blogs are in the works. Stay tuned.
By Marc Fisher |
October 5, 2006; 6:59 AM ET
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