The Nation’s Back Yard: How Citizen Activists Nationalized Local Politics in the Fight to save Green Springs

Brian Balogh, University of Virginia

What could be more local than a NIMBY? The pejorative term coined in the 1980s caricatured those scrappy citizens groups that demanded that developers “put it anywhere else, just not in our back yards.” They blocked highways, homeless shelters and today are blamed for denying affordable housing to those who most need it. This paper examines just such a citizens group founded long before the Term NIMBY was coined. Historic Green Springs Inc. (HGSI) stopped a powerful governor from building a maximum security prison in central Virginia in the mid-1970s, then defeated Fortune Five Hundred W.R. Grace & Co.’s plans to strip mine. The vast majority of voters in impoverished Louisa County and every elected official craved the jobs that both projects would have brought to the local economy. Yet HGSI defeated both initiatives and the local political machine by turning to the federal government. With the aid of allies in the Department of Interior, key decisions by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and midnight Congressional legislation, HGSI created the first national historic landmark to be honored explicitly for preserving the history of thousands of rural acres, joining a small group of American landmarked icons including the Alamo and Mount Vernon. Using portions of the playbook forged by the Civil Rights movement, these back yard warriors defeated local majorities to secure a very different set of nationally protected rights – those that enhanced their quality.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 5. The History and Politics of State Perception