David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.I Samuel 17:49-50
Taking on the United States government, who has shown itself capable of printing as much money as it needs when it is deemed necessary by circumstances to do so, is to face an infinite army of Goliaths. When the challenger is one person, an African-American woman, and her attorney who is working on a contingency basis, armed only with the twin modesties of truth and persistence, to hold any hope of success seems foolish, if not mad. Yet, it is the force of facts upon which justice rests. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, for ten years, was its champion, a relentless pursuer of the protective guarantees provided by law.
No Fear is Ms. Coleman-Adebayo’s account of her long struggle to correct the systemic racism within the Environmental Protection Agency, from which she had been fired, during the early years of the Clinton-Gore administration through the early years of the Bush White House. Dubbed as the first civil rights and whistleblower legislation of the twenty-first century, the No FEAR Act assures federal government employees that the law is on their side when they report corruption, criminal activity, and unlawful discrimination within the government.
After being reared by her mother Marsha Coleman attended Barnard College, and later earned her doctorate from MIT where noted activist, Noam Chomsky, served on her dissertation committee. She became passionate about African studies while at MIT and quickly became active in human rights issues in South Africa in the early years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. While at MIT, she met her future husband, Segun Adebayo, whom she frequently credits in her book as being a source of endless strength and spiritual support.
By all appearances Coleman-Adebayo was on the fast track. She earned a position with the EPA under the administration of Carol Browner and was appointed as the lead person in the Gore-Mbeki initiative, presumably to aid the new government in its exodus out of the throes of apartheid. Coleman-Adebayo took her mission seriously, too seriously for the EPA.
Thrust upon her in South Africa was a deadly environmental illness occurring in workers who were exposed daily to the mineral vanadium, a lightweight mineral considered strategic because of its ability to strengthen steel. It became apparent to Coleman-Adebayo that the EPA was interested in serving big business rather than alleviating human suffering. She watched as her position of leadership was handed to lesser qualified colleagues who were more willing to provide the kind of emphasis the EPA had in mind, that is, the enhancement of business opportunities for American multinational companies. Not clearly stated in her book, but implied, is that the EPA was serving the interests of the Vice President’s office.
The book details the long journey to justice, her victory over the EPA in its discriminatory practices resulting in an award of $600,000 in her court case, her long trek through the legislative process, aided by a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives, then the struggle to get out of Senator Joe Lieberman’s Committee on Governmental Affairs for a Senate floor vote, and finally the signing into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.
The strengths of Coleman-Adebayo’s book are its fine details, its personal passion and warmth, and the template it offers to aspiring activists. Readers who reach for such details, those who have more than a cursory interest in the workings of massive government bureaucracy and the corruption that often accompanies it, will give No Fear a prominent place on their bookshelves. Coleman-Adebayo is engaging, and her story is well-told.
Standing against the forces of giants, speaking truth to power, is one of the loneliest places one can stand. It causes one to question her own abilities, her own faults, and her own motives. The author says, “All I had to do was stop being me.” Almost unanimously, people choose the easier path, one of non-resistance, ultimately complicit, the “play along to get along” mentality. But, tide-turning historical events are those whose champions, sometimes armed only with small stones, deliver their arsenal of truth with divine precision and unwavering commitment. This is the story of No Fear.
Article first appeared on Blogcritics as Book Review: No Fear: A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA by Marsha Coleman-Adebayo.