Poulsbo volunteer earns activist award

POULSBO — When it comes to retirement, one Poulsbo man is glad to be breaking the rules.

Gene Bullock, who was recently given the Washington Conservation Voters Activist of the Year award for his work with the Kitsap Conservation Voters isn’t putting his feet up just yet. Without the pressures of a daily 9-to-5, Bullock is taking his turn as a citizen lobbyist in the ever-heated political arena.

“I never intended to just sit back and play cards and hang out at the senior center,” Bullock said. “That’s for the old folks. I feel a certain responsibility. Now it’s my turn.”

After retiring nearly 10 years ago and spending five years touring the country by motor home, Bullock and his wife Sandra settled in Poulsbo and began volunteering with a vengeance. As a former editor and copywriter, he found many organizations in which his skill set was needed.

“As newsletter editor you’re right in the vortex,” Bullock said. “Boy, do you get an education. You can’t help but get involved.”

One of several organizations Bullock joined was Kitsap Conservation Voters, a chapter of Washington Conservation Voters, which is a political action wing of the Washington Environmental Council. KCV provides financing, training, strategic guidance and doorbell teams for candidates it endorses. Once elected, KCV holds those candidates accountable to its environmental agenda.

“They’re very, very active,” he said of the KCV, which issues an environmental report card for area leaders. “It’s a kick. I’m having fun.”

As a member of the KCV board, Bullock worked to defeat the International Speedway Corporation’s NASCAR stadium proposal, as well as property rights Initiative 933.

“It would’ve totally paralyzed our ability to enforce land use laws,” he said of I-933. “It was a bad, bad law. We defeated it.”

One important tool at Bullock’s disposal is his e-mail contact network, he said. Because of his extensive volunteering with organizations that include the Kitsap County Democrats and Kitsap Audubon Society, he can contact a lot of people, and fast.

“I’ve got my hand in all of these things,” Bullock said. “I can mobilize people in a timely fashion. I can literally pack the room with activists.”

Despite his extensive work on behalf of the environment, when it comes to stopping development, Bullock said he doesn’t want to be taken the wrong way.

“I don’t want to sound like a radical, tree-hugging extremist who doesn’t appreciate growth,” he said. “I understand the trade-offs. All development isn’t bad by any means. But if you’re not conflicted about growth, then you’re not paying attention.”

Bullock said making an impact has been a fun experience, and knows that while many don’t have the time, it’s often a change of attitude that gets things done in politics.

“People are disdainful of politics,” he said. “It’s just another name for human dynamics. It’s not enough to complain after the fact. If you really want to make a difference, roll up your sleeves and dig in.”

When it comes to his award, Bullock said he was thrilled to receive it, but wanted to acknowledge the behind-the-scenes workers who also contribute to the cause.

“I get my share of attention as a community noisemaker,” he said. “But this is what grassroots activism is all about. We’re doing a lot of the right things in Kitsap County, we have a lot of good people.”

Bullock said while national politics still provides a source of frustration, he hopes area leaders work to, among other things, create walkable communities and protect marine habitats. Local issues like these are where he can really establish change, he said.

“I’m in a position to influence a lot of people,” Bullock said. “Everybody wishes they could make a difference. I am making a difference. That’s a very satisfying thing.”

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