Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  41 minutes
Date:  2019
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English
Grade level: 7 - 12, College, Adults
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available

A Concerned Citizen

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Marine toxicologist Dr. Riki Ott, who helped fishing communities hit by the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills, creates a civics course to help young activists become effective.

A Concerned Citizen

A CONCERNED CITIZEN documents the work of Dr. Riki Ott, a citizen activist who predicted the Exxon Valdez oil spill hours before it happened and came to the aid of her Alaskan community in their battle to get fair compensation for their loss of health and income.

More recently Riki, a toxicologist, author, and activist, has been organizing the Gulf coast communities as they struggle to recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. Taking the lessons she learned as an activist, she is also spearheading the campaign called Ultimate Civics, a complete civics curriculum she developed that empowers students to participate in their democracy. Recognizing the power of money in politics she advocates for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood, and to reform campaign finance laws. She lectures nationally and internationally, inspiring students from fifth grade through universities and adults to take action and showing by example how one person can make a difference.

'It is my hope that, as people's health, livelihoods, and property are harmed by these extreme oil activities, people will understand the need to shift off oil to safer energy options and take action to achieve true energy independence. This is the movement that I see growing in all regions of our country.'

No classroom resources available.

[gentle instrumental music]

- [Riki Ott] People sometimes think that

a community is place-based.

I kind of think of my community as...

...as everyone and everywhere.

It can be an inner city,
it can be a high school,

a middle school, it can be a university,

or an occupy camp.

- [Woman] Exxon, you need
to see the face of a victim.

- That sounds big but
really, when I'm in a place,

I'm in that community.

It can be anywhere.

People want to do something.

- [Man] ...the 20% of the victims of that

oil spill that have already died.

[gentle instrumental music]

[bird chirping]

- I don't even remember
becoming an activist.

What I remember is watching my
father as a concerned parent

and just realizing that when
the DDT was being sprayed

out of the trucks in the
late 1960s in Wisconsin,

that something was wrong.

[suspenseful music]

[children shouting]

He was worried if the robins were dying,

his children might have health impacts.

He didn't know, I don't
think anybody knew back then.

He was a concerned father, he
was a concerned human being.

And he stepped up.

My dad, Fred Ott, sued
the state of Wisconsin

over use of DDT.

In 1969, the state banned DDT.

In 1972, DDT was banned nationwide.

To me, that really wasn't about activism,

that was living in a democracy.

Who's gonna take care of the democracy

if people don't step up?

[suspenseful music]

It's not about saying,

"Oh, somebody else is
gonna take care of that."

"Oh, the police will take care of that."

"Oh, the public health officials
will take care of that."

"Oh, my elected officials
will take care of that."

It's about what we can do as a community

of concerned citizens to
step up and fix things.

When I graduated from the
University of Washington

with a PhD in biology and toxicology,

I really wanted to go to Alaska.

That was the summer of 1985.

I got a job crewing on a
commercial salmon fishing boat.

This is how I first saw Cordova.

Well, I came in on a fishing
boat from Prince William Sound

and I just saw this
incredible little community.

I was elected to the board

of Cordova District Fishermen United.

Alaska's fishermen were
concerned that the oil companies

were ill-prepared for any oil spill.

Four years later, we had
the biggest oil spill

in US history, the Exxon Valdez wreck

in Prince William Sound,
our fishing ground.

So I stepped up, becoming
an accidental activist.

[dramatic instrumental music]

- One of America's most
magnificent waterways

is blackened and befouled
tonight by the biggest

oil spill in American history.

- [Reporter] 240,000
barrels, 11 million gallons

of Alaskan crude oil escaped
from the huge vessel.

- I had formed the mayor's
ad hoc committee on what

would happen in the
event of a big oil spill.

And the night before the oil spill,

we had scheduled Riki Ott
to come in and speak to us.

It was a teleconference--
she couldn't get in,

I think it was a weather
problem or something

that kept her out-- so she
was speaking from Cordova.

Riki has been quite an activist,

so we wanted to hear her comments.

And Riki then said, "Gentlemen,
it's not a matter of

if you have an oil spill,

it's a matter of when
you have an oil spill."

- When I flew over the
Exxon Valdez oil spill

on March 24, 1989, I
made a promise to myself

that I would work upstream
of these oil disasters,

because as long as we
drill we're gonna spill.

So, oil residue of the
Exxon Valdez 18 years later.

What it's really going to
take to drive a transition

away from fossil fuels
is a social movement

of ordinary people in America.

- [Man] Definitely.


- [Male Voiceover] On April
20, 2010, a powerful explosion

rocks the Deepwater
Horizon drilling platform

in the Gulf of Mexico.

The greatest concern is
that the crude will reach

the mainland, less than
80 kilometers away.

BP and the US Coast Guard
agree to spray a chemical

dispersant on an unprecedented scale.

The chemical dispersant is called Corexit.

More than four million liters
of Corexit are deployed,

according to official numbers.

- In this case, these
dispersants were used

in massive quantities, almost
two million gallons so far,

to hide the magnitude of
the spill and save BP money.

And the government, both
EPA, NOAA, et cetera,

have been sock puppets
for BP in this cover-up.

[ominous ambient music]

- [Riki] What these Corexit
dispersants do is sink the oil,

break it up off the surface,

sink it below the water's surface.

These are very powerful
industrial solvents.

What you use to dissolve
oil-based paint off your hands

when you're painting a house.

When it's sprayed on the surface,

it creates solvents that
move through our own skin

into our bodies.

A lot of oil evaporates
and goes into the air,

and then it blows over communities.

And people are breathing
this contaminated air daily--

three months straight of
using unprecedented amounts

of these very hazardous
oil-based dispersants.

- [Hugh Kaufman] Experts
saw that the amount of oil

being released is orders
of magnitude greater

than what BP, and NOAA
and EPA were saying.

And the cover-up started to evaporate.

But the use of dispersants has not.

We have dolphins that are hemorrhaging,

people who work near it are
internally hemorrhaging,

and that's what dispersants do.

[ominous ambient music]

- These dispersants are not a miracle cure

and they do increase the
toxicity of the dispersed oil.

- [Riki] Corexit use
was still experimental

during the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Corexit was widely applied
in exceptional amounts

during the 2010 BP disaster.

This time, scientific
studies would show that

dispersants are deadly to
marine life and humans.

- The average lifespan of
a person who did cleanup

on the Exxon Valdez is 51 years old.

Almost all those people who
did work on the Exxon Valdez

are now dead.

And BP is not giving the
information to the doctors

and the healthcare officials.

[ominous ambient music]

- I arrived in the Gulf
of Mexico communities

in early May of 2010.

By June, people were starting to say,

"I think I'm sick because
of the dispersant spray.

Why is EPA telling us
the air is OK to breathe

when I can step outside and
I get a headache instantly?"

- I'm just gonna go ahead
and give you the Demerol

because I know I may
not be able to get ahold

of the doctor right away.

- I got sprayed with dispersants
over, and over, and over.

I've been sick nine months now.

Nobody wants to step to the plate and

say these chemicals is poisonous.

- [Physician] Your face
appears to be quite swollen.

- It's about three times
its size and so is my neck.

- [Physician] And what's
the bruising on your chest?

- I don't know, it just appeared.

- I went to a skin disease specialist and

he told me that my rash--
that it is staph infection.

Basically, what I've had
to use is cotton balls,

gauze, band aids, tape, Betadine,

triple antibiotic ointments.

- People have pretty
consistently said the doctors

in the Gulf communities have
ignored their health problems,

have refused to treat them
as chemical illnesses,

and instead have been
treating five, six rounds

of antibiotics for something
that hasn't gone away.

- I have been on enough
Prednisone to kill a horse.

And I have had two shots
and I've been on four

different kinds of antibiotics.

And nothing is touching this at all.

- The federal government
has declared that there

is an acceptable human
health risk trade-off

with using dispersants
in future oil response.

And this is setting up
for this complete clash

of industry government
versus the citizens,

saying "No."

- It was our government's
responsibility to make sure

that our environment was protected.

In my opinion, they did nothing to do it.

All they did-- whatever
they had to do to please BP.

- [Riki] What I'm definitely
seeing now is jobs being

replaced with, "It's all
about oil at all costs."

- Upfront, we asked for
work for the fishermen.

And actually, we just
played right in BP's hands.

- We needed the jobs, we
needed to work, we needed money

so we could feed our
family, but at no time

did we sign on to put our
health at risk or in danger.

- [Clint] A lot of these
guys have families,

they have bills to pay, so
they went after the money.

They didn't talk because they were afraid

they'd lose a paycheck.

- I'm using the money I made
to clean up the oil spill--

the money that I made with
them is turning around

and going right back into my health.

And that's not the way it should be.

The money goes fast.

People across the coast are suffering,

they're losing their houses,
their boats, their cars.

I'm in the same position.

I've already lost my boat,
I've lost my business,

I've lost my life.

- Beaches all along the Gulf Coast

are clean, they are safe,
and they're open for business

as a result of the
massive cleanup operation

that's already taken place.

The majority of oil has now
evaporated or dispersed.

- That's why Corexit was so important.

As time went on, the financial
interests of the polluters

had a louder and louder
voice on how environmental

protection would happen.

For example, the manufacturer
of Corexit is owned

by a corporation that's
owned by another corporation

where the majority owner is Bill Gates.

Corporations are a vehicle,
they are not an individual.

Bill Gates could pick
up the phone and say,

"We are not going to
manufacture Corexit anymore.

We are going to spend 10 million
dollars to find something

that's not so toxic."

He could do that with one phone call.

- So they do whatever
they can do to keep us

dependent on the oil--

it's big business, it's big money.

And as far as them making
the drilling any safer,

I doubt it.

- [Riki] What rebuilding
the economy does not include

is the closures for shellfish,
the shrimp fisheries

are struggling--that
industry hasn't recovered--

the Vietnamese fishing community

where that's all they know.

- So we actually had a meeting
with some state agencies

here and they were saying that
all the seafood is very safe

and none of the fishers believed it.

- Herring are sensitive at
like 100 parts per trillion.

And the herring adults,
I just heard this year

maybe they're starting to come back.

So, 22 years.

The scientists who aren't
funded with BP dollars

are saying that there's a
problem with reproductive damage

in the basic forage fish
that underpins the whole

Gulf ecosystem.

- [Joey] I've lived off the
tourist industry my whole life,

but I also am not gonna
tell people to come down

and poison themselves
and convince them to eat

seafood if I don't think it's safe.

- Big oil companies and
the politicians on top

wanted things to look clean.

If they took a picture and
they found contamination,

the public would be angry.

But if they took a picture and

they couldn't see the contamination,

then the public says, "Ah good,
that problem's being fixed."

And if it took toxic
chemicals to do that and

people got sick, well, tough.

People were just getting in the way.

- [Riki] We have all these
environmental laws on the books--

Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act.

The trouble is the laws are on the books,

but what's happened is
corporations change the law

through lawsuits

so that anything that costs money,

such as our laws that protect our health,

become a taking of industry's profit.

- [Reporter] They just
declared a state of emergency

here in Calhoun County, and
I spoke with an official

with the state and they
say this may be the worst

oil spill ever in the Midwest.

16 miles of affected area,
877,000 gallons of oil

spilling into the Kalamazoo River.

- I was working with people
in Gulf Coast communities

on the BP oil disaster when
I was contacted by people

in Battle Creek, Michigan,
about another oil disaster

in July, 2010.

The Enbridge pipeline
had split and spilled

tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River.

This Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill became

the largest tar sands disaster
in our nation to date.

Somewhere around one million gallons.

Most Americans don't even
know about it because

the national media was
focused on BP's oil disaster

in the Gulf of Mexico.

I visited Battle Creek, Michigan,

and other oiled communities
along the Kalamazoo River

one year after their oil disaster...

It's definitely a different color

than what we had down there.

...and over the next four years.

[somber instrumental music]

People who stayed became sick.

By 2013, over a dozen
residents in one trailer park

closest to the river had already died.

A large amount of the
spilled tar sands oil

was not recovered.

The EPA estimated in December 2013

that about 20% of the submerged oil

still remained in the river.

The damaged pipeline was dug
up, repaired and replaced.

The response is the
most expensive oil spill

cleanup on record-- $1,185 per gallon.

The oil industry knows that
most of these public exposures

and illnesses are preventable.

I feel privileged to have
spent a year in the Deep South,

it's frontline communities.

I've been in communities in
what's called "Cancer Alley,"

which is an 82 mile stretch
of the Mississippi River

with massive amounts of refineries

that are polluting the air
and polluting the water.

And there's really high
incidence of cancer.

The people ask me, "We need information,

we need the science so
that we can have a voice

in what energy we want
in our own backyard."

I shared the science, but
I also shared the civics

because they go hand in hand.

[ominous ambient drone]

- We are here today because we are saying

we value ourselves, we value our future

and we value our children.

From beginning to end,
the fossil fuel industry

is a carousel of death
that we must get off.

We will keep our families safe,

we will restore our land and our property,

and we're gonna do it together!

[people cheering]

- [Group] We, the people won't be silent!

- Anyone who knows social
movements knows that

you've gotta change the
South, you change the nation.

What we gotta move is the Red
and Rural to make this work.

- [Group] What's the
solution to pollution?

Keep it in the ground!

- The last time I read the Constitution,

it said, "We the People."

It didn't say, "We the
petroleum companies,

chemical companies, politicians"
or any of the likes.

It just simply said, "We the People."

- [Group] We won't be washed
away! We won't be washed away!

[protestors shouting]
[intense instrumental music]

- [Riki] So our democracy is in crisis,

and this democracy crisis
was precipitated in part

by our oil dependency.

Big Oil is in our Congress writing laws

that they want the legislatures to pass.

It's in our executive branch,

writing the rules for these laws.

Big Oil is in our court system

in order to minimize
any fines and penalties

from harms that they
cause to our environment.

- It's pretty clear that
EPA today is in no position

to confront whatever
the big oil companies,

for example, wanna do.

- [Group] Congress, clean up the Gulf!

- It's gonna be very
difficult for the government

at any level to do the
kind of protective work

necessary to protect our
air, water, and land.

In some ways, we have
to turn the clock back.

And now, with some of the

campaign contribution laws,

large financial interests
carry even more weight

in Washington and Capitol Hill,

where you can contribute
unlimited amounts of money

to political candidates and hide the fact

that you're doing it.

- Did you know that on January 21st, 2010,

the Supreme Court ruled
that corporations have

the same rights as individuals
when it comes to free speech.

The courts decision opens the
door to unlimited spending

by special interest
groups and corporations,

including multinational corporations,

to spend without limit in our elections.

Essentially, that means
they can buy elections

and thus run our government.

- The Constitution was not meant to embody

a particular economic theory.

But that's just what the
courts have done over time.

They have embodied an artificial entity,

a business model, with human rights,

and since 1886 it has
just been one court ruling

after another that have
empowered this business model

and it's owners to
dismantle our democracy.

You have to change people's
minds before you can

change a culture and before
you can amend the Constitution.

So Move to Amend is about
amending the US Constitution

to affirm that only human beings
have Constitutional rights.

In other words, to abolish
corporate personhood.

Now, how are we doing that?

Because it's one thing to say,

"Let's amend the Constitution,"

but what does this look
like out in America?

- I knew about the Supreme
Court Citizens United case.

It really... to be frank,
it really pissed me off.

[rhythmic instrumental music]

For the first time in my life
I was happy to have lawyers

as friends because they
were the only people who

could understand why I was so pissed off.

[rhythmic instrumental music]

So when I saw Riki's presentation

around corporate personhood,
where she talked a lot

about Move to Amend and
how our government works,

it really resonated with me

because some corporation was behind it.

If I started looking at oil spills,

I'd come across BP or
I'd come across Exxon.

So for me, it seemed really
clear that if we really

wanna make any progress,
why don't we go after

all of them at once instead of going after

this individual corporation and
this individual corporation?

- People ask, "Well, who are
you working with in Congress?"

Forget Congress! OK?

Congress is broke and
the system is broken.

Why would we go to a
broken system to fix it?

This is about us, "We the People,"

taking back the power of the pen and

writing our own energy
legislation that writes

out the fossil fuel industry.

[audience applauding]

Daniel Lee told me that he
had gone back to his hometown

and he had started up a
Move to Amend chapter.

And the way he said "hometown," I thought,

great, more power to you.

This is what we need everybody doing.

And what do I discover
is that Los Angeles has

just passed a unanimous
resolution to amend

the US Constitution that
corporations are not people

and money is not speech.

And there's Daniel,

it turns out his hometown was Los Angeles.

- An affirmative vote
today will make Los Angeles

the first major city in
the United States to call

for a Constitutional
amendment to ensure that only

human beings, not corporations,

are endowed with Constitutional rights.

[audience cheering]
[uplifting instrumental music]

- In December of 2011, we
moved to get a resolution

through the Los Angeles City Council

because there's a lot about
civics in our constitutional

process that people do know,

but there's a lot that people don't know.

So if we pass something
through the LA City Council--

the councilors would
support a resolution saying

"Corporations are not people
and money is not free speech"--

we could, one, educate
people about the problem

because of Citizens United,
and on the second hand

we basically let people
know that we have the power

to solve this problem.

The policy of Move to Amend
at the time was to try

to either get a ballot initiative
for a city or a county,

or to get a resolution
through a city council.

Not only can we sway the
opinions of people who might run,

but a lot of us who already
agree on our principles

can become elected officials ourselves.

I'm actually running for city council in

Culver City, California, right now.

And I think I have a very good chance.

I came very close last time.

We need to get our people into power.

- How do you actually work
together in your community,

find common ground, identify
what is the problem,

identify possible solutions,
identify an action plan

to fix the problem?

That's really the heart
of democracy and civics,

are people doing this work.

- Preparing for the future
must begin, as always,

with our children.

And let's insist that
students not leave high school

until they have studied
and understood the basic

documents of our national heritage.

[audience applauding]

- [Riki] During the Reagan
years, civics was really

dialed back quite a bit and dumbed down

so that what's taught is,
"This is the ideal democracy.

We have these three branches of government

and we have this system
of checks and balances,

everything's just fine.

Shop and vote."

OK, you show up and you vote.

That's one day out of 365.

What are you gonna do the other 364?

The kids are not taught that
there's a difference between

the ideal that we set out
in concept, and the real--

what we have in practice.

And that there's a huge gap
between the real and the ideal,

and that we need to
work to close that gap.

I created a curriculum
to teach young people

basic civic skills, to
actually do democracy.

It's called Activating My Democracy,

and it teaches students
skills to tackle issues

affecting their lives or their community.

There are videos and
activities for students

and support materials for teachers.

It's interactive, it's fun,

and it inspires students to take action.

First, students learn about
some of the tools available

to citizens to protect their liberties and

well-being in a democracy.

Then they examine basic
concepts about our democracy

and some of the landmark laws
that have shaped our society.

And finally, they explore
game-changing ideas

and action plans.

How might the Constitution
be amended to ensure

that only natural persons
have natural rights,

not corporations?

These lessons inspire youth to
be game-changers in society.

♪ We, the people, are ready to leave ♪

♪ Because the White House
making it hard to breathe. ♪

In 2016, I was asked by
180 middle school students,

"If you were our age now,
what would you be doing?

What's the most important
thing you would be working on?"

And I realized that children their age

were actually suing the federal
government over the climate.

♪ Because you can never take
away the youth of the... ♪

- My name is Levi and I'm 10 years old.

If we don't stop climate change,

then I might not have
a home when I'm older.

And so that's why our
case needs to go to trial.

- What we do is we connect
with young people to uplift

their voices and give them
a say in our democracy

by helping them to go to
one of our three branches

of government, which are the courts.

One of the claims in the case

is an Equal Protection violation.

It's children born into this
dangerous climate situation

as a class are being
discriminated against.

- At the end of the day,
these institutions are just

made up of people, just like us.

And the best thing that
we could do is remind them

of their humanity.

- This isn't just traditional tactics

of activism and resistance.

This is us standing in our courts.

This lawsuit is a
demonstration and an act of us

young people reclaiming our democracy.

- We started looking at
the deeper roots in law,

like the Public Trust Doctrine and

fundamental constitutional rights.

We've been making really
significant progress

in the last couple of years,

winning some important
decisions that are moving

our cases forward on behalf of children.

[crowd shouting and cheering]

[somber instrumental music]

- Artificial persons
are about making money

versus human dignity, human
equity, human respect,

human equality.

Those are like apples and oranges,

those don't even belong
in the same court house.

Right now, civics, if it's even taught,

teaches the Declaration of Independence,

the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

What's not being taught
is something called

the Public Trust Doctrine.

...as part of the duty of your government

to take care of the air, the
running water, the sea...

Legal scholars and courts have called that

"the slate on which all
constitutions are written."

That's how foundational this
Public Trust Doctrine is.

It's about having public
property in the form

of the air that we breathe,
the water that we drink.

That actually is public
property that is held in trust

by our government.

It means we have to take
care of what we have now

so that future generations will
also be able to pass it on.

[rhythmic instrumental music]

- Public understanding
leads to public support.

So I'm a big believer in
educating the public in civics.

And in a democracy, if you
don't have public understanding

and public support, you're not
gonna be able to do anything.

- The scientists aren't
the ones who are the movers

and shakers, they're the
ones with the information.

It's up to us, the people,
to take that information,

integrate it, make it real and
take it to the policy people,

the people we elect.

- And as more and more of
the public understand this,

then there'll be support
for the regulatory agencies

and the government to
do something about it.

And the companies will, too.

If there's more pressure from
the public on Bill Gates,

he will pick up the phone and say,

"OK, we're not gonna use
this Corexit anymore."

- If I had to re-learn the
operating instructions of how

to run a democracy and how
we need to get it on track,

then maybe everybody did.

What side of the power line do you think

they put a corporation on?

Each of these is like a piece of a puzzle.

The puzzle pieces could only best be seen

if the students all come back together

and put all their pieces together.

Here, we have a huge cycle of power with

the Civil War amendments--
blue, blue, blue,

with people getting rights recognized--

followed by big chunks
of yellow and orange

as corporations gain human rights.

So corporations gain standing
in the Bill of Rights,

and then there's just
chunks of blue and orange

as the money-power seek
to regain their control

of the people.

This is Citizens United,
where then they use

First Amendment rights to usurp
our free and fair elections.

And once we've lost First Amendment

and free and fair elections,

really, we've lost our democracy.

I've been teaching this now
for like four or five years.

For me, it's not about
telling people what to do,

it's about giving people the tools

and watching them change
right in front of me--

that all of a sudden they get it,

that they can make a
difference, and then...

This is what a democracy's
about-- people caring.

There's a lot more wrong than
the oil that's on our beaches.

I waited 26 years for a new rule-making

post Exxon Valdez.

...the next oil spill
and the one after that,

and the one after that...

I co-founded Move to Amend back in 2009

because we expected an
adverse court ruling

in Citizen's United,
and that came to pass.

And we were ready for it.

The thinking with Move to
Amend is that we wanted it

to be grassroots, we wanted it
to be all across the nation.

Now we're active in 38 states.

But the point is that we
can't do democracy by proxy.

You really can't cast a vote

and then assume that
your elected officials

are gonna take care of business for you.

- I came back to Los Angeles

and joined the Move to Amend affiliate

that had newly formed here.

And we started going
around to small clubs,

like democratic clubs, Sierra
Clubs and things like that,

and passing resolutions in support of

a constitutional amendment that says

corporations are not people
and money is not free speech.

- Daniel is a really good
example of a community

coming together, finding
its power and saying,

"We're tired of politicians
that get into office

and then don't do what they
said they were going to do.

So we're gonna really search
for a grassroots candidate."

- We've got Daniel Lee,
who is going to step up

and make history as the
first African American

on our City Council in Culver City.

[audience cheering]

- [Riki] Daniel Lee stepped forward

and they elected him into office.

- The city was more or less built on oil

and oil exploration.

There's no reason for us
to tolerate still having

the Inglewood Oil Field operate.

- [Riki] Daniel Lee delivered
on his promise to minimize

corporate exploitation
of natural resources

in the Culver City jurisdiction.

- In 2006 in Culver
City there was a flare,

it made a lot of people sick.

Residents have been
organizing for over a decade

to try to make sure the largest
safety measures as possible

were put in place, and
prior to running for office

I had been working with
groups like the Sierra Club

and many other local groups
to try to lobby people

to close it down.

It's actually one of the big
reasons I think I was elected,

because so many people knew that I had

been working on that issue for so long

and I was not bashful about
my desire to close it down.

- And he's done it because
he's had a good basic training

in how corporations evolve
from business models

to artificial persons entitled and endowed

with human rights.

- And so I'm super excited
and proud to introduce

Ella Shriner, who's a part of the

high school Environmental
Leadership program.

- My name is Ella Shriner.

I live in Portland, Oregon,
and I'm 15 years old.

This is a proud day for Portland because

the City Council is about
to pass a resolution

that takes an essential
step towards the transition

to a cleaner, greener economy.

We're here as youth because we care and

not because we're on a payroll
or we're told to be here.

It's purely out of our hearts.

Which is why it is so
important for our voices

to be on the forefront of climate...

- This is where change really starts,

is here in a community.

- I think Riki Ott began
teaching young people

because she recognized
how powerful our voice is,

and wanted to teach us
about the government

that we're going to be
interacting with in our future

and how we can make a
difference from a young age.

Also, we are youth who
care about the future.

- This is the power of
middle school students.

They're ready, they're
passionate about things.

Once they get the tools, they take off.

- Youth whose vision is not
clouded by corporate voices,

youth who are too often ignored.

Let's all speak up today and
make sure our voices are heard.

Thank you.

I was really excited and
I also felt empowered

and inspired to continue my work,

and I'm thrilled that the
youth will be able to help

the city council in the future.

- I feel like we are on the
cusp of a serious revolution

where people wake up and
take back their power

and stand in it and demand that we become

a "little D" democracy
again, where the people rule

and the corporations
are subservient to us.

- [Group] ...are the
youth, respect our views!

We are the youth, respect our views!

- [Riki] I'm Riki, and you are?

- I'm Jamie Margolin and I'm 16.

- You've had a complete
different sort of awakening.

- You know when you have
something that you're called to do

and you're, like, "I need to do this,"

and you push it down and
then it, like, comes back?

- This is what's driven me the whole time.

If an idea comes to me, it
means I'm supposed to do it.

- [Group] Justice! When
do we want it? Now!

- It's not about me--

it's about my ability to
effectively communicate

my knowledge, my enthusiasm and passion.

- [Group] Take it to the polls!

- Under the Public Trust Doctrine,

we have the rights to the
air, the water, the land.

We're powerless because
I can't vote, I'm 16.

- What I like to do is encourage people

to find their passion and
grab one puzzle piece.

- I like the term "community organizer."

- [Riki] That's how we
can get this whole puzzle

put back together in a
way that will work for us.

- I didn't learn, you know,
there's, like, activists

and there's non-activists.
And then I learned about

corporate influence on the government,

and all the money in the government

despite the fact that it's
not in our best interest

and that doesn't make sense
if we're in a democracy.

- People who are looking
and paying attention

are seeing that there's a
lot of really big problems.

- ...why I think that there
was a hole in my education,

because we learned the ideal

and then once you learn the reality

the ideal seems a little bit irrelevant.

- This is exactly the way I felt.

- The first thing I would do
is to educate the public--

something that Riki Ott is doing.

[upbeat instrumental music]

- "What can I do? What can I do?"

That's always the main question I get.

I like giving people
the skillset and ideas

to move what they wanna do into action.

- It falls to each and every
one of us in here in this room.

- I would love to see more
people around the country

run for local office, move up to state,

and move up to Congress.

- [Riki] Because I travel so
much, I feel like the thread

in a crazy quilt,

seaming all these stories
of place together.

- Oil or tar sand.

- I guess that's what
I like about the people

who ask me to come.

If enough of us, of
all ages and diversity,

step forward now, we would be the change

that we're waiting for.

- We all need to come
together, as a community,

as a global community.

- It was designed so
people would have rights

that would protect them...

That's what I like best
about me being an activist.

In my own mind, what it's about
is effectively communicating

to others my passion, my
knowledge, my optimism

and getting people up off the couches

and motivated, and feeling
like I can make a difference,

no matter if you're 9 years old or 90.

[gentle piano music]

[percussive instrumental music]


'A Concerned Citizen presents complex ecological problems and troubling trends. This is a clarion call for people to get savvy and reclaim democracy by speaking out. See this film; be dedicated, persevere, and be the change. We'll all be healthier if you do, including the planet.' Rob Moir, President and Executive Director, Ocean River Institute

'This film is not just about oil spills and environmental activism. It is about the critical link between the concentration of economic power, and how that has led to the concentration of political power. Every citizen, regardless of where they are in the political spectrum, needs to understand how political polarization is driven by wealth polarization. We can have a more responsive democracy by learning the lessons offered in this film.' Daniel Craig McCool, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Utah, Author, River Republic: The Rise and Fall of America's Rivers

'Dr. Ott has used her voice as a scientist, activist, and citizen of the world to bring attention to the dangers of our fossil fueled society and the disproportionate health and environmental impacts experienced by people of color and low income communities. The reason why this film is powerful is because this story doesn't end with telling us about the problems we face. Instead, it provides the viewer with both a history of how we got into this environmental mess, as well as a roadmap for how to move forward...Best of all, we learn about ways that we all can get involved in creating authentic democracy. Highly recommended!' Anne Miller, Coordinator, South Seattle Climate Action Network

'A Concerned Citizen beautifully captures the sights and sounds of the places and people that Riki has dedicated her life to protecting and educating. We see the ecosystems in peril and hear the concern of citizens, and then experience Riki's approach to empowering communities through knowledge and the confidence to act. Through testimonials and her own insights, viewers walk away inspired by her life's work and catalyzed to take action.' Jenny Wiedower, Senior Manager, K-12 Education, U.S. Green Building Council

'Excellent...Dr. Riki Ott's sense of the future follows a vector that leans toward those who will celebrate Earth Day in 2101. That vector is civics. It gives permission for youth to argue that their inheritance trumps short term gain because Ultimate Civics teaches them to give themselves permission to shape now what only they will live to see in 2101.' Don Bunger, retired teacher, Highline High School

'Riki is one of the everyday citizens who will inspire more grassroots heroes and activists in America. They are sorely needed in this day and age.' Hugh Kaufman, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

'A Concerned Citizen is terrific, especially at the time of the Youth Climate Strike. This film documents the movement to curb the accumulating disaster of the fossil fuel economy and revitalize our democracy. It ranges from an eloquent scientist-activist to the accelerating student protest movement. It couldn't be more timely or informative, and is inspiring for a wide range of audiences.' Richard Tucker, Adjunct Professor, Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

'This beautifully shot film uses one woman's story to give a powerful message about the link between threats to democracy and threats to the environment. It reminds us that each individual has a role to play and that 'science and civics...go hand in hand.'' Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology and Environmental Studies, College of Wooster

'Riki Ott is a tireless scientist/activist/educator who has devoted her life helping people and communities across the country take back their destiny fighting corporate greed and government regulatory failure. This inspiring film captures her indefatigable spirit and passion for democracy and a sustainable planet. Let it inspire others to take up the cause she so ably champions.' David Donnenfield, Educational Technology/Filmmaker

'Riki Ott has worked, like so many activists before her, to protect us from allegedly 'safe' chemicals and 'harmless' environmental issues pushed by corporate interests and enabled by weak government oversight. But today, with our political system increasingly stripped of its democratic underpinnings and beholden to wealth, the need to address the links between ecological threats and economic/political ones has never been more pressing. This film shows us how to take that battle forward.' Brian Allen Drake, Senior Lecturer, Environmental History, University of Georgia, Author, Loving Nature, Fearing the State: Environmentalism and Antigovernment Politics before Reagan

'A must see video for anyone who wonders what he/she can do to change the world and needs a spark of inspiration. Like Riki Ott, we may begin to question one social problem (such as oil spills) and find that it leads us down a path to addressing an even bigger problem (decline of democracy), in ways that we never even imagined.' Lisa Eargle, Professor and Chair of Sociology, Francis Marion University, Editor, Black Beaches and Bayous: The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster


Main credits

Ott, Riki (on-screen participant)
Boudart, Bo (film director)
Boudart, Bo (film producer)
Boudart, Bo (screenwriter)
Boudart, Bo (videographer)
Utell, Susan (editor of moving image work)
Utell, Susan (screenwriter)

Other credits

Editor, Susan Utell; music composer, Malcolm Payne.

Distributor credits

Bo Boudart Productions

Bo Boudart

Bo Boudart Productions
Bo Boudart
Editor: Susan Utell
Writers: Susan Utell, Bo Boudart
Videographer: Bo Boudart
Music Composer: Malcolm Payne
Animation: Bill Groshelle, Adam Palmer

Docuseek subjects

Citizenship, Social Movements and Activism
American (U.S.) Studies
Business Ethics
Corporate Social Responsibility
U.S. Government and Politics
Climate Change
Youth Issues
Constitutional Law
Marine Biology
Environmental Justice
Toxic Chemicals

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Business Practices
Citizenship and Civics
Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Justice
Marine Biology
Political Science
Social Justice
Social Work
Toxic Chemicals


Dr. Riki Ott, marine toxicology, fishing communities, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon, civics course, young activists, whistleblower, Alaska, compensation, loss of health, loss of income, toxicology, organizing Gulf Coast communities, Ultimate Civics curriculum, money in politics, constitutional amendment, end corporate personhood, one person can make a difference, extreme oil activities, safer energy options, energy independence, activism, civics, climate change, riki ott, environmentalism, environmentalists, campaign finance, campaign finance reform, citizens united, corporate personhood, protest movements, youth movements, fossil fuels, oil spill, oil pollution, deepwater horizon, toxicology, toxicologists, move to amend; "A Concerned Citizen"; Bullfrog Films,doc,env; science; politics; sociss

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