The National Initiative for Democracy
Mike Gravel represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate
from1969-81. He served on the Finance, Interior, and the Environment and
Public Works committees, chairing the Energy, Water
Resources, and the Environmental Pollution subcommittees. Some of
Senator Gravel's legislative activities include:
late sixties and early seventies, the Pentagon was in the process of
performing five calibration tests for a nuclear missile warhead that,
upon investigation, was revealed to be obsolete. Yet the tests, the detonation of nuclear bombs under the
seabed of the North Pacific at Amchitka Island, Alaska – an
earthquake prone area – were scheduled to continue.
He opposed the tests in Congress and went beyond his role as a
Senator to organize worldwide environmental opposition to the
Pentagon’s tests. The
program was halted after the second test, limiting the expansion of
this unusual threat to the marine environment of the North Pacific,
which is a major source of food for the planet.
These tests created large caverns under the seabed,
encapsulating nuclear wastes with life-threatening properties that
would last more than a thousand years.
These caverns could rupture during an earthquake, spewing
contaminated wastes into the food chain of the North Pacific.
fission was considered an environmentally clean alternative for the
generation of commercial electricity and was part of a popular
national policy for the peaceful use of atomic energy in
the decades of 1950s and 1960s.
The Senator was the
first in Congress to publicly oppose this national nuclear policy in
1970 and used
his my office to organize citizen opposition to this nuclear policy and
persuaded Ralph Nader's organization to join the opposition.
These initial efforts, and later those of the environmental
movement which had come around in opposition, contributed to making the production of commercial
electricity through nuclear fission uneconomical.
The importance of this change in policy, confirmed by Three
Mile Island and Chernobyl, is to limit the uncontrolled threat to our
planetary environment by the continued production of nuclear wastes
and the proliferation of bomb-grade nuclear materials.
May 1971, Senator Gravel began a one-man filibuster that was
broken in September, forcing a deal to let the draft expire. Drafting the nation’s youth had been defense policy since
1947. In order to save face and break the Senator's filibuster, the
Nixon administration agreed to let the draft expire in 1973 if given an
extension in 1971.
Ellsberg attempted to secure the release of the Pentagon Papers
through a member of Congress in order to provide legal protection for
his actions in releasing this top secret historical study of how the
US ensnared itself in the Viet Nam War.
Since the Congressional leaders Ellsberg approached failed to
act, he turned to the New York Times and Washington Post, which
published excerpts of the study in June 1971. A Justice Department injunction and a Supreme Court decision
at the end of June put the publishers at risk.
The day before the Supreme Court decision, in an effort to moot
their action, Senator Gravel officially released the Pentagon
Papers in his capacity as a Senator communicating with his
constituency. Since the
Supreme Court had successfully intimidated the Fourth Estate, he
sought the book publication of the papers and was turned down by every
major (and not-so-major) publishing house in the nation – save one.
Beacon Press, the publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship, faced down the Nixon Administration by publishing The
Senator Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers.
Justice Department brought legal action against Beacon Press and the
Senator's editor, Dr. David Rotberg.
He intervened in the case, using his Senate office as a shield
for Beacon Press and Rotberg. Decisions
at the Federal Court and the Court of appeals protected the Senator
from prosecution but left Beacon Press and Rotberg at risk, so he took
the matter to the Supreme Court, against the advice of his attorneys.
The Supreme Court rendered a landmark constitutional decision
in the spring of 1972 narrowly defining the prerogatives of an elected
representative with respect to the speech and debate clause of the
Constitution. The Senator's
defeat before the Supreme Court placed him at risk of
prosecution with Beacon Press and Rotberg. With Watergate afoot the
Nixon justice Department lost interest in the prosecution of Ellsberg,
Gravel and Rotberg. However, the Court's decision did set the stage
for its later decision on the Nixon Tapes forcing Nixon's resignation
of his presidency.
decade of the seventies saw the legislative awakening to the need to
control environmental pollution.
Serving on the Environment and Public Works Committee during
his entire Senate career placed him in a leadership and
co-sponsoring role in every piece of meaningful environmental
legislation to come out of the Congress during this period dealing
with air, water, wastes, and energy.
United Nations, in the mid-seventies, was moving toward the
codification of a legal regime for the oceans covering two-thirds of
the earth’s surface. worked with UN leaders and committees, the Secretary of
State our UN ambassador and other agencies of government to secure the
UN’s enactment of the Law of the Sea – despite the opposition of
the Alaskan fishing industry. The
force of the momentum behind the UN effort was undermined by
legislation introduced by the powerful Senator Magnuson and his
Alaskan colleague, Senator Stevens, which permitted the U.S. to
unilaterally take control of the 200-mile waters bordering its land
mass. He delayed this
legislation for two years in the hope that the UN would act first, but
his opposition failed to stop its passage.
Efforts at the UN lost momentum, and agreement was not reached
until 1983. Shamefully, the U.S. is the only nation in the world refusing
to participate in the Law of the Sea Convention.
months before the secret mission to the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) by Henry Kissinger, the Senator introduced unpopular
legislation to recognize and normalize relations with the PRC, in the
hope of bringing about a re-examination of our bankrupt policy towards
the Chinese people.
CLAIMS SETTLEMENT ACT
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was the first major political
settlement of aboriginal claims, which were customarily dealt with
through a much less generous judicial process.
Senator Gravel co-authored the legislation and provided
outspoken leadership for some of its important, but less popular land
features. He was responsible
for removing the federal government’s paternalistic role in the
management of native economic affairs once the settlement was approved
by the Congress.
years of study and judicial delay, Senator Gravel introduced an
amendment in 1973 to empower the Congress to make the policy decision
about the construction of the Alaska Pipeline. Initially, the amendment was opposed in all quarters, state
and federal officials, the labor movement and including the oil
industry. Alone at the beginning,
he built support
and gained allies that in the end helped secure the amendment’s
passage in the Senate by one vote.
This accomplishment placed Alaska on a new economic footing.
The the pipeline has been responsible for 20% of the U.S. oil
supply, with a substantial contribution to the nation's balance of
payments and an economic beneficence that has transformed the quality
of life across Alaska society. Absent
his amendment, a retrospective analysis now indicates that the
pipeline would probably not have been built, condemning the nation to
greater foreign dependency and greater environmental pollution.
the early seventies, the Senator pioneered satellite communications
through a demonstration project that set up links between Alaskan
villages and the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD, for
medical diagnostic communications.
He then developed a proposal for the Alaska Legislature for a
satellite communications and video transmission system, which has
since been implemented, making Alaska’s system the most advanced in
an effort to broaden the ownership of capital in our society, the
senator authored and secured the passage into law of the General Stock
Ownership Corporation (GSOC), Subchapter U of the Tax Code.
With the hope of first using this law in Alaska, he brought
about an initiative decision in the state’s general election of 1980
on the creation of an Alaska General Stock Ownership Corporation (AGSOG).
As part of this effort, he negotiated a tentative agreement
with the British Petroleum Company to sell their interest in the
Alaska Pipeline to the AGSOC. The electorate failed to approve the AGSOC initiative.
BP now considers its pipeline interest to be one of the most
profitable of its Alaska holdings. Had the AGSOC been approved and the purchase gone through, it
would be paying out dividends of several hundred dollars a year in
income to every citizen/shareholder in Alaska.
Innuit peoples populate the Arctic regions of the globe.
At the senator's instigation and with a private grant he
secured, the North Slope native leadership organized a circumpolar
conference attended by Innuit representatives from Canada, Greenland,
and Norway. Their
periodic convocations on culture, environment, and other regional
concerns now include representation from Russia.
Gravel served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1963-66,
and as Speaker from 1965-66, where he:
legislation designing the structure and budgeting for a regional
high school system for rural Alaska, permitting native students
to receive their education near their homes rather than travel
to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ schools outside Alaska; and
legislative reforms, securing budgets to provide staffs for
members and to expand research and support facilities, initiated
electronic voting, and developed a hearing process between
sessions throughout the state that fostered citizen
authored Jobs and More Jobs and Citizen Power.
He used his position as a senator to officially release the Pentagon
Papers and facilitated their publication as The Senator Gravel
Edition, The Pentagon Papers, Beacon Press.
Gravel enlisted in the U.S. Army (1951-54) and served as an adjutant
in the Communications Intelligence Services and as a Special Agent
in the Counter Intelligence Corps.
He received a B.S. in Economics at Columbia University, New
York, and holds four honorary degrees in law and public affairs.
Gravel’s business career in Alaska encompassed real estate sales
and developments in Anchorage and Kenai.
His business activities have encompassed real estate,
finance, and energy. He
is president of Philadelphia II and Direct Democracy, nonprofit
corporations, dedicated to the establishment of direct democracy in
the United States and globally.
Gravel lectures and writes about governance, capitalism, energy,
environmental issues, and direct democracy.
He is married to Whitney Stewart Gravel and has two grown
children and three grand children.