On Wednesday, October 22, PopDev welcomed Rebecca Poswolsky, a field organizer on Race, Migration and Environment from Chicago’s Center for New Community, to Hampshire College to speak with 45 students, staff, faculty and other community members about recent developments in the “greening of bigotry.”
The greening of bigotry refers to the distortion of environmental degradation by so-called environmentalist groups who blame immigrants and population growth as the main causes of the destruction of the ecosystems. To illustrate the topic, Poswolsky showed an ad published in mainstream magazines and newspapers picturing a liking water faucet and a legend below that read, “Americans may eventually find a way to live without oil. Water is another story.” At the end of the page, the ad concludes with “America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration Resource Planning. 300 million people today, 400 million in just 30 years. Think about it.”
While water scarcity is without a doubt an attention grabber and a valid public concern, the intention of the ad goes beyond pollution of environment. Nativist and white supremacist organizations are behind this campaign. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA are two of the sponsors of this ad, and others similar to it. Far from being your average political organization, FAIR is categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and has accepted millions of dollars from racist eugenics theory foundation, the Pioneer Fund. FAIR also co-authored the controversial Arizona law, S.B. 1070, which racially profiles Latinos. NumbersUSA is an organization founded by John Tanton, the same white nationalist activist who founded FAIR. NumbersUSA’s president has also written for the white nationalist journal The Social Contract.
It should be of public concern that these groups are using immigrants as scapegoats for environmental degradation, and distorting environmental activism into hatred. Their campaign does not address the real causes of pollution. For example, the water ad does not say anything about the privatization of water, or campaigns advocating the end of water bottles, or how water companies extract water from rivers and leave local farmers without a steady supply of water. Neither does it analyze how industry processes consume and waste great quantities of water, including in the production of fossil fuels, and release health endangering toxic wastewater into rivers and oceans. Finally, this campaign subtly but clearly blames immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, for a global problem, and uses racist associations to connect immigrants themselves with the idea of pollution and trash.
Anti-immigrant groups with environmentalist facades are using appeals to ecological problems to attract actual environmentalist constituencies to their anti-immigrant politics. FAIR, NumbersUSA and many other nativist groups are planning a conference on October, 5th at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., which they’re billing as the first national conference on Immigration, Conservation and the Environment. Holding this conference at the Press Club gives it the appearance of legitimacy and authority, as well as the possibility of being televised by C-Span and thereby getting national attention. This, like the misleading advertisements these groups place in mainstream newspapers and magazines, has the potential to influence uniformed concerned citizens, and might further enflame anti-immigrant sentiment.
As progressives we must stand against bigotry and hate and share this critical information with other activists, so that their environmentalist efforts aren’t distorted by association with organizations whose true mission is to spread bigotry, racism, and a population control ideology in the country.
Susana Sánchez, an international student from Costa Rica, works with PopDev as a Research Assistant. She came to the United States to complete her medical degree, and in the process became interested in the social problems that affect Latinos in the United States, particularly undocumented immigrants. She is a fourth-year student at Hampshire College, where she majors in immigration and gender studies. She loves to spend time with her family in New Jersey and dreams of the day she will return to her native Costa Rica to work on public policy and enjoy the country’s beautiful seashore.