By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Such suggestions typically elicit a shrug from anti-immigration advocates, who argue that immigration is the number-one culprit, and that without deep cuts, the environment will suffer. By way of explanation, Ben Zuckerman, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy who is on the anti-immigration slate running for the Sierra Club board, quotes the American Heritage Dictionary in defining an environmentalist as "a person who seeks to protect the natural environment, as from air and water pollution, wasteful use of resources, and excessive human encroachments."
In recent days, Zuckerman's zest for debating the issue has been tempered by his concern that the Sierra Club administration is not giving the anti-immigration platform a fair shake. Club leaders have been campaigning openly against the initiative, and after Zuckerman and other supporters pounded the pavement to gather enough signatures to qualify the measure for the club ballot, club leadership automatically slapped back with a counterinitiative, known as "Alternative B." Zuckerman claims that B landed on the ballot without so much as a phone call to anybody outside club headquarters.
But Beezley, who is coordinating the counterinitiative to definitively eliminate immigration from the club's agenda, says that even before the anti-immigration effort began in earnest, she had been working for years to get club chapters across the nation to agree to stay away from the isssue. Of the club's 60 chapters nationwide, 26 have signed on to her initiative. None have publicly agreed to back the anti-immigration stance.
Despite this apparent lack of support, there seem to be plenty of Sierra Club members who agree with Zuckerman's position. Unlike tightly controlled, top-down groups like Greenpeace, the Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society, where appointed board members run the show, the Sierra Club operates on a many-layered democratic model in which any member can seek office at any level of club management. To qualify for the ballot at the very highest level (the board of directors), an aspiring candidate needs simply to gain the support of one-twentieth of 1 percent of the members, or fewer than 300 signatures. An initiative, such as the anti-immigration one, lands on the ballot with 1,300 member signatures.
Along with Zuckerman, the anti-immigration slate includes another California academic - San Jose State mathematics professor John Mitchem - as well as an Episcopal priest from New Hampshire, an "asset adviser" from Minneapolis, an "ecosystem modeler" from Maryland, a Florida-based solar-energy research scientist, and a women's clinic president, also from Florida.
The initiative has been endorsed by several former Sierra Club directors, including Martin Litton, Brock Evans and EarthFirst! co-founder Dave Foreman. Current board members who support immigration control, such as Anne Ehrlich and David Brower, have agreed to remain silent on the initiative in order to present a united front, but Alan Weeden, chairman of the Sierra Club Foundation's board of trustees, is apparently not beholden to that agreement. He and his brothers have donated, in his words, a "substantial amount" of the estimated $118,000 cost of a mailer to all club members backing the anti-immigration initiative. In addition, his D.C.-based Weeden Foundation has funneled $25,000 to the seven anti-immigration candidates by way of another population-control organization.
Club president Adam Werbach, who has characterized the campaign as "the battle for the soul of the environmental movement" and even threatened to resign if the initiative wins, is now more circumspect. "If the initiative passes, it doesn't mean the Sierra Club works on immigration," he says. "It just means we have to take a position on it. If it passes, then the battle would begin within the Sierra Club."
Michael Fischer, a former Sierra Club executive director, believes it is a battle the club cannot afford to fight. In an e-mail message sent to club members in January, he said: "There is no way for institutions dominated by white upper- and middle-class members and staff to address this issue without appearing to be inequitably exclusionary, protective of their own status and self-interests, and, the worst case, racist." Indeed, in a club that has never in its 100-plus-year history elected a Latino board member, perhaps it's not so much of a leap to imagine the initiative finding a receptive audience.
In any case, those who would end immigration, take note: Among the "vast hordes" threatening the well-being of America a century ago was a personage of some import - Sierra Club founder and native Scotsman John Muir.
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