Wednesday, September 22, I attended a meeting at Hampshire College of Western Massachusetts environmental organizers hosted by the Center for New Community of Chicago. Rebecca Poswolsky of CNC presented to the group about the rising trend of anti-immigration rhetoric being pushed into the environmental movement. Videos and advertisements portrayed the messaging of anti-immigration groups vying for an environmental audience.
In one, a line of men in sweatshirts and jeans, baseball caps pulled down, snakes through desert brush in the hidden camera footage. The voice-over in this Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) film describes the actions of the “illegal aliens,” “They walk, but some get tired. A few sit and snack. Likely the snack packages will become litter… … more people, more paths, more trash.”
No one likes litter, especially those espousing to be environmentalists. The narrative of this film is easy to follow. Immigrants = trash = ruined wildlife = environmental disaster.
It’s a simple argument to pull apart; consumption levels of people in America are astronomically higher than those of our southern neighbors and historically the U.S. accounts for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. Upon entering the U.S. one doesn’t immediately increase their consumption; factors of class and wealth are much better indicators of consumption. Since the Environmental Justice movement took off in the early 1980s, more and more immigrants and people of color have contributed their voices and values to the fight for the environment and climate. In short, immigrants aren’t the problem.
While easy to write-off as conservative propaganda, this film unfortunately represents a resurging trend: racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric posing as values of the environmental movement. Let’s trace the connections from this film to the environmental movement. CIS is funded by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which John Tanton, the originator of what the Center for New Community (CNC) calls the “John Tanton Network,” founded. The Network is a web of inter-connected anti-immigration, pro-English, and nationalist groups that share funding and leadership. Tanton works directly with the Weeden Foundation, a major environmental funder, has sat on Sierra Club committees, and calls himself, “a strong conservationist and leading advocate for the environment”. Is this the leadership we want?
The good news is groups such as CNC are calling out this trend and asserting what it really means to be an environmentalist. In a nation of immigrants, our generation is more open-minded than any to come before us on the issues of race, and immigration. We will be alive in the year 2050, when it is projected there will be no clear ethnic or racial majority in the United States. It’s up to us as young activists to call out this ruse when we see it and stand with our allies for immigration reform and environmental justice.
The voices of immigrants and people of color are absolutely essential if our generation is to achieve environmental and climate justice. Messages of hate and racism have no place in our movement. Communities are already fighting back against the false messages of Tanton and his cronies. Check out this video that CNC put together, highlighting youth in the Bronx who took the fight right to the offices of the Weeden Foundation:
What can you do?
Sign the pledge created by CNC to end “the greening of hate” and embrace diversity in the environmental movement.
If you’re in DC, the first national conference on “Immigration, Conservation and the Environment,” is being hosted by a number of groups in the Tanton Network on Oct 5 at the National Press Club. If you’re interested in promoting a counter message contact Rebecca Poswolsky of CNC.
Get the conversation started in your groups! We need to take a stance of inclusivity and diversity to build and expand the movement we urgently need.