Andy Burton: Change happens in the boardroom |

Andy Burton: Change happens in the boardroom

Andy Burton
John Hart/ | The Union

Back in the summer of 1988, through the generosity of good friends, I had the use of a very charming and rustic cabin on one of the beaches outside of Tofino, British Columbia.

Tofino is a small fishing village on the western shore of Vancouver Island and at the time it was a destination for surfers, kayakers, tourists and every sort of outdoor enthusiast. I would make my way over to the island from Vancouver for as many three-day and four-day weekends as I could get away with, in addition to the occasional one or two week-long stretch.

At the time in question, Tofino was at the epicenter of a long-term series of environmental protests against logging activities in the area. The Canadian forestry company MacMillan Bloedel was actively logging parts of Clayoquot Sound, which includes the area surrounding Tofino, and its harvesting activities included the taking of some of the oldest Western Red Cedars in Canada.

The logging protesters used many tactics to prevent or discourage the forestry company’s work progress. There were occupations, sit-ins, blockades and protests … all manner of civil disobedience were employed by the environmental activists. Some hardy individuals chained themselves to trees or heavy machinery while others lay naked in silent protest, directly in the path of the logging equipment, personnel and vehicles. For the most part these actions didn’t really amount to much. Some few work days were lost to protests but usually police arrived to the scene and protesters were hauled away from the area, and in some cases away to jail.

Until we have leadership from both sides of the issue seated at the same table we may as well be out in the woods shouting at each other.

As months went by the effectiveness of the protests came into question. The resolve of the environmentalists was seemingly unshaken but the logging activity barely slowed. As time went by more people went to jail and more trees were felled.

Toward the end of summer, news circulated around town that a consultant had been hired. A specialist in civil disobedience and effective protest had been found and was coming to present at a town meeting. The whole community was invited to participate and the air was filled with optimism and great expectation. Nobody had heard of the individual, but that didn’t stop the group from building great hope.

On the evening of the event the meeting hall was packed. All available seats were filled and people were standing at the back and sides of the hall waiting to hear what the visitor had to say. The room was filled with tie-dye T-shirts, fleece pullovers, paddle jackets, Birkenstock sandals and flip flops. The room buzzed with hopeful anticipation.

At the appointed time the consultant walked onto the stage and immediately the room held its breath. The buzz that had filled the air disappeared and the crowd hung silent and slack-jawed at the sight of the evening’s speaker. He stood center stage, dressed in a three piece suit and carrying a leather briefcase. For many seconds nobody made a sound until, after just the right amount of dramatic pause, the consultant said “Lesson number one … dress like your opponent.” “Lesson number two,” he continued, “change happens in the boardroom.”

The rest of the evening was filled with similar lessons and messages. Individually and collectively we were encouraged to see the problem, as well as potential solutions, in an entirely different and new light. The speaker walked the audience through all of the reasons why their previous attempts at protest had been ineffective. He pointed out that when the loggers were confronted with protest or civil disobedience it did not even show up on the radar screen of the decision makers. The decision makers were in different locations — in some cases different countries — and the actions of the protesters in the woods did nothing to change their thinking, or their actions.

The group was encouraged to find a leader. Someone that could dress like the opponent, attend meetings with the opponent, and ultimately find a seat at the opponent’s boardroom table. The path to change, as suggested by the speaker, had to include winning the respect of those people on the other side of the issues.

This story came back to me recently after attending a community forum event at Grass Valley City Hall, where the topic of discussion was marijuana and how to go about making changes to accommodate the wishes of the city’s residents. There were many people who spoke that day. Many of them (if not all) were filled with passion for their ideas or positions and many voiced their feelings of being misrepresented by their elected leaders.

It seems to me though, that the lessons I was fortunate enough to be taught back in 1988 might also apply to our current situation here in Nevada County.

The proponents of changes to our city and county marijuana laws must find strong leadership. Leadership that’s both willing and capable of working with our elected officials on the process of making lasting and significant changes in our local laws. Laws and ordinances in communities like ours are made through following a process … a long and well established process. And any changes that we wish to make must honor and follow that same process in order to be made into law.

Until we have leadership from both sides of the issue seated at the same table we may as well be out in the woods shouting at each other.

Andy Burton, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His opinion is his own and does not represent the viewpoint of The Union or its editorial board. Contact him at

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