November 6, 2014 by John Crapper
Sometimes there can be a really good idea and for whatever reason it doesn’t fly. It was the wrong time, the wrong place or just the wrong atmosphere. Sometimes there isn’t a good explanation. It is inexplicable. Shit just happens and the idea turns to shit. That is what happened with the idea of The American Rock.
Flashback – It was 1977. I was taking Biology at Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City, Mo. My professor, Mr. Johnson, lectured extensively on problems such as overpopulation, pollution and energy. He sparked a passion in me concerning these issues. I began visiting his office,browsing his personal book collection, asking him for recommendations and borrowing his books. I read such books as The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. I don’t recall the titles of all the books I borrowed and read from his office but I do know they had a profound affect on me. After reading them I would discuss the issues with him searching for answers. He had a wonderful way of making me aware of the many interrelationships between these problems.
Flash forward – It was 1979. My wife and I were students at the University of Washington. We didn’t initially start out to form an organization. We first investigated existing ones we could involve ourselves in that were relevant such as Greenpeace, Crabshell Alliance and the Environmental Protection Agency. None of them were a good fit.
The US had suffered through two oil shortages due to cutoffs of Middle Eastern oil imports.
The first oil crises had been back in 1973 when the members of Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries or the OAPEC (consisting of the Arab members of OPEC, plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) proclaimed an oil embargo. This was “in response to the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military” during the Yom Kippur war. It lasted until March 1974. During this time cars waited in long lines to fill up. At the time the 1973 “oil price shock”, along with the 1973–1974 stock market crash, were regarded as the most severe economic event to happen since the Great Depression.
The second oil crisis happened in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. Amid massive protests, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, fled his country in early 1979 and the Ayatollah Khomeini soon became the new leader of Iran. Protests severely disrupted the Iranian oil sector, with production being greatly curtailed and exports suspended. When oil exports were later resumed under the new regime, they were inconsistent and at a lower volume, which pushed prices up. Widespread panic resulted, added to by the decision of U.S. President Jimmy Carter to order the cessation of Iranian imports driving the price far higher than would be expected under normal circumstances. Due to memories of oil shortage in 1973, motorists soon began panic buying, and long lines appeared at gas stations, as they had six years earlier during the 1973 oil crisis. This was the energy situation when we began our doomed attempt at establishing the American Rock.
I was also enrolled in a persuasive speaking class at the time. My first speech to the class concerned the existing atmosphere of apathy on American college campuses compared to the activism seen during the 60’s and early 70’s. I argued that even though the Vietnam War had ended our problems had not gone away but were in fact getting worse. I wove the issues of overpopulation, pollution and our energy dependency into this speech drawing off my discussions and readings from my past biology class I had taken in 1977. I got a standing ovation.
Thru a series of four more speeches, I linked together how if we, the people of America, especially the youth, could band together, for the cause of expansion of renewable energy resources, we could change the world for the better. During my last speech to the class, in the Winter of 1979, I made an appeal to them to become involved in an organization. Thirteen out of twenty-five said yes.
My wife and I immediately made plans for our initial organizational meeting the following week. Five days later at 7:00pm one out of the thirteen showed up. In the course of five days 13 supporters had dwindled to 1.
We sat there, sad, bummed out and totally baffled. We had brought the cause to the audience and they had accepted it. We had told them a change was needed and how to make that change occur. They had supported it. We had reached out and they had reached back, but only for a moment.
After the feelings of complete failure passed, we started to analyze what had gone wrong. We found few answers, but settled for a combination of “Just not the right time or place”. Then we realized something of great value. All of the steps can be taken, all of the loose ends can be tied and there is still the possibility of failure. We learned how important it is to be ready to activate an idea immediately after the energy of the audience is sparked and how quickly momentum is lost.
We re-grouped for a second try.