The National Association of Neighborhoods (NAN) was in town last week to complain about energy. "They told us we'd have Exxon right across the table from us," said one of the 100 neighborhood leaders who came. He was delighted.
The two-year-old group does not trust individual congressmen and senators to represent neighborhoods any more than Exxon restricts its attentions to the congressional delegation from New York. Neither do NAN members expect much from town and county governments.
"Local officials really have no alternatives. Highway programs are 90 per cent federal money, sewer programs are 70 per cent or so. They're going to sit back and say they can't do anything about it," said Tom Logadon of Italian Village in Columbus, Ohio.
Like countless interest groups before them, neighborhood revitalizers think more and more than getting action on their worries means talking to Washington. They want to be heard at the same level as Exxon. With about 300 neighborhood organization members in 20 East Coast and Midwest cities, sees itself as a logical outgrowth of the growing back-to-the-cities movement - with one difference.
"We are the people," said NAN executive director Milton Kotler. "This is true democracy, grass-roots level people talking directly to their government."
Last week, delegates from 15 neighborhood organizations talked directly to officials of the Federal Energy Administration about President Carter's energy plan.
"It is apparent to us that if neighborhoods had been integrally involved in the formation of theplan, the thrust of the energy program and the items listed above would have been substantially different," said NAN board chairman Ron Schiffman in a statement to the FEA.
"People in my neighborhood in Brooklyn have different needs than people in the Bronx, let alone people in Savannah, Ga.," added Sally Martino Fisher, NAN vice president, "yet these are not reflected in the proposed energy program.
She had an additional complaint: "It seems to me that this book you are passing out on energy (the official Carter plan description) will require a translator for most people to read it."
At a press conference, Various NAN members said the meeting had been informative and even a little productive. "We backed 'em into a corner on one thing, the inconsistency between an energy crisis an dan unrestricted highway building program. They had no rebuttal," Kotler said.
The FEA asked the neighborhood organization to form a task force on highways and energy, to make recommendations in about a month. "We can say in advance that if they don't support some highway cutbacks we can't accept their commitment as genuine or the energy crisis as genuine either," Kotler said.
The group claims its members are a cross-section of urban and semiurban neighborhood groups, rich and poor, the kind that organize health clinics, food cooperatives, day care and job centers and senior citizen recreation programs. As the national policy "education arm," the nonprofit NAN uses its shoestring funding on many issues.
NAN formed a committee with the AFL-CIO in January to boost minority and senior citizen job training. Workshops at the fifth semiannual convention in Pittsburgh last month covered crime control methods, housing rehabilitation and fighting "redlining" by banks offering housing and development loans.
According to NAN members, FEA officials disagreed with the complaint that Carter's energy program puts an unfair burden on poor people. "We told them their rebates wouldn't work," said Vera Brantley McMillon of Newark, N.J.'s Tri-City People's Center.
"There was talk of a rebate at the first of this administration, and what happened to that?" she said, referring to Carter's abandoned scheme for a $50 tax rebate per taxpayer.
The group complained that the energy plan omitted any mention of mass transit and would require more money than manpower investment. "We believe that new energy sources should be labor rather than capital intensive," Schiffman said in his statement.
The neighborhood delegations had nothing but promise for Midge Costanza, President Carter's special assistant, and her aide, Jan Peterson, who arranged the FEA meeting. Costanza has agreed to meet once a month with a NAN representative, Kotler said.
"But we'll measure our productivity by the results after we form the highway task force," he said.