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Potsdam man starts Facebook page for Roethels

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POTSDAM — Ryan Meashaw has never met Laurel B. Roethel, but when he read about her plight in the newspaper, he had to do something.

Mr. Meashaw, a 33-year-old freelance Web designer from Potsdam, created a Facebook group supporting Mrs. Roethel, 85, of Ogdensburg, who is being saddled with a bill for more than $100,000 to clean up a mess on her property that her family claims she didn’t make.

“I was pretty much appalled when I learned the details of the Roethels’ story and felt moved to try and do something about it,” he said. “As a freelance Web designer I’m familiar with the power of social media and wanted to leverage that to gain some attention for the case.”

Mr. Meashaw said he was able to identify with Mrs. Roethel despite their age differences.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the underdog and try to right injustice when and where I can,” he said.

The group’s aim is to shed light on a problematic law, Mr. Meashaw said.

“Yes, the point is to raise awareness,” he said. “Not really sure what can be done in the situation, if anything, but once again at least we are getting people talking. If nothing else, maybe we’ll bring attention to this outdated law that needs to be re-evaluated.”

The Facebook group, called “Justice for Roethel in Chevron Oil Cleanup,” gained almost 100 “likes” between its creation Sunday and Wednesday afternoon.

Elsewhere, Mr. Meashaw started an online petition on the social activism site Change.org.

The petition, directed toward Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Chevron USA and the state Legislature, received 196 signatures from Tuesday to Wednesday afternoon.

Social media Internet activism, sometimes referred to as “slacktivism,” has grown as an organizational tool over the past two decades as social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the way people connect. It has been used to organize the ongoing “Arab Spring” protest movements in the Middle East, but on a smaller scale, it is being used in the north country to bring together support on local issues, too.

“A similar situation was the Facebook campaign I was involved with to save the Queen Anne Victorian home at 18 Elm St. in Potsdam,” Mr. Meashaw said. “Although I didn’t create the page, I soon took over its administration and was pleased to see it grow to over 7,000 supporters. The town of Potsdam still went ahead with their plans, but we at least were able to create some awareness and discussion of the situation.”

Though he acted independently, Mr. Meashaw said, he brought the Roethel family into his online advocacy efforts.

“I informed Laurel Lee Roethel, Mrs. Roethel’s daughter, the evening I created the page,” Mr. Meashaw said. “She responded very favorably and has been using it to her advantage to spread the word. I also made her an administrator on the page so she is free to post and use it as she wishes.”

Laurel L. Roethel voiced her gratitude over the outpouring of support.

“We’re overwhelmed that perfect strangers would step up and want to help,” she said. “I had a lovely lady stop in today and show me a couple of letters that she wrote on my mother’s behalf. I had a friend who was coming back from Vermont who heard the story on Plattsburgh radio.”

Ms. Roethel said the story also has caught the attention of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who both have contacted her.

“Patty is supposed to have a meeting this week with the (state) attorney general. I don’t know what time or what is to be discussed,” she said. “I got a Facebook message today from Bill Owens. He wanted my phone number.”

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