Becky Rom: Attorney, Ely native (canoe trip guide at 14!), and Boundary Waters activist

Jim Hightower’s new report on TTP activism — specifically, how, and with what great success, the grassroots is being mobilized to defeat the TPP — is extremely exciting to me. Clearly, when the worst shows its real face, the best rise up to defeat it.

Lessons from confronting the Global Goliath:

A plucky (and smart!) grassroots coalition has pushed the dastardly Trans-Pacific Partnership to the edge

So interesting that I would see the above post this morning, just prior to writing about my second Boundary Waters activist — see this, for the introduction to the topic, and this, for the first activist — namely, Becky Rom.

A slight, intense woman with an athletic build, I first noticed Becky when she was present in the standing circle that surrounded the Great Old Broads presentation given by Brenda Halter, Forest Supervisor for the Superior National Forest. Becky was there to cheer Halter on, and to say, interrupting Brenda any number of times, just how wonderful Halter was as the USFS Chief, “the best one we’ve ever had.”

Indeed, Becky’s praise was so effusive that it made me wonder what was going on. Halter’s was the first presentation to the Broads on the Boundary Waters threats, so it’s no wonder I didn’t grok the context — yet.

Halter comes across as very smart and serious and fair — indeed “fair” was one adjective Becky used to describe her, saying “she gives as much time to the mining companies as she does to me” — as she said this, she laughed. Which helped the rest of us to laugh too, despite our horror at the idea of what mining that creates sulfuric acid could or would do to the porous Boundary Waters area. Here’s a Minneapolis Tribune article featuring Becky that will help bring you up to snuff:

Mining’s regulatory outlook, enviro risks for North Woods explored

After Halter finished, Rose Chilcoat, Managing Director of the Great Old Broads, asked one simple question: “Do you, in your position as U.S. Forest Service Director of Superior National Forest, have the power to kill this proposal?”

“Yes.” (Said in a very small voice.)

Hearing this, Rose asked, slowly, plaintively, “What would it take to help you just say NO to this proposal?”

The question rang out long after Halters had departed, having maintained her composure throughout, while admitting to us that she feels her responsibility as a great weight: “I have trouble sleeping at night.”

Halter’s presentation was prelude to Becky’s, which came after dinner, and blew us all out of the water (so to speak). The woman is articulate, passionate, and has a wide and multidimensional perspective on the entire situation, culturally, politically, and historically.

She began by telling us her own story. Of growing up in Ely in an outfitter’s family, where issues related to Boundary Waters protection were daily dinner time conversation. Her father knew author and activist Sigurd Olson, who not only led the effort to protect the Boundary Waters area as a National Wilderness Area, but who was, in fact, in part responsible for the both the wording and the passage of the Wilderness Act itself. Becky herself started as a canoe guide when she was only 14 years old!

At this point Becky launched into the intricacies of both the proposal and the multi-layered context that drives this new copper mining threat forward. Spoke of all the times she and other activists have been in Washington D.C., to speak at hearings and/or see their representatives; of the politicians they have hosted in Ely, taking them on canoe trips, sinking them into their love for this wild land and its waters. She spoke of how the locals began, by reaching out to other organizations that have successfully fought global mining interests, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, which was formed in response to the “New World” mine proposed for the northeast corner of Yellowstone Park.

As I sat there listening to Becky, I remembered being present in 1983 at the first public meeting held to organize the GYC coalition! And I was filled with wonder — at how determined and focused groups of individuals can go up against corporations so powerfully as to actually shift the future of what appears to be, until they actually do, “a done deal.”

Here’s a Mineapolis Post article on that movement:

A look inside the campaign that killed a sulfide mine at Yellowstone’s door

Over and over again, the four organizations the Ely activists reached out to told them to make their campaign national, to form a coalition of interests. So that’s just what this tiny group of passionate locals did. They formed the Save the Boundary Waters Campaign with Becky at its head, and their campaign is drawing in lovers of wilderness everywhere. Here’s the photo on the front page of the website:

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 2.20.42 PM

It didn’t hurt their cause that Becky herself has been on the governing council for the national Wilderness Society since 1996! Here’s her bio there:

Rebecca (Becky) Rom has served on The Wilderness Society governing council since 1996.

Becky recently retired as president of Twin Cities Community Land Bank, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services for urban redevelopment of the Minneapolis-St.Paul metropolitan area.

For over thirty years she practiced law at Faegre & Benson, a law firm that has engaged in a national public interest practice in public lands and wildlife protection.

Becky has been an advocate of wilderness protection for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Quetico Provincial Park since the mid-1970s and, among other positions, chaired the board of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness for 17 years.

She has also been active in Alaska public lands issues, serving as a board member of the Alaska Wilderness League and founding and chairing the Alaska Coalition of Minnesota.

When Becky mentioned, probably three quarters of the way through her presentation to us, that she was an attorney, it all fell into place. No wonder she is so articulate and knowledgeable about regulations and laws and policies and all that gobbeldey gook that makes my eyes glaze over almost immediately — usually, that is. Not, however, when she, Becky Rom, speaks. Becky is riveting. I, and we, hung on every word.

I simply cannot imagine a better person to spearhead this grassroots challenge to the new mining proposals that threaten the Boundary Waters wilderness area.

So grateful!


Becky Rom on the left, speaking in Minneapolis




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