Voting Deadline : Noon - April 21, 2004

Questions and Answers About the Sierra Club Elections
An Interview with Sierra Club Director Paul Watson
Interviewer: Pedro Monteiro - Florida Chapter ExecComm Director

1. Are you leading a hostile take-over of the Sierra Club, as some have accused?

The answer is no. The pro-establishment Sierra group Groundswell funded by unknown sources is implying that I am leading some sort of conspiracy to take over the Sierra Club. This conspiracy theory has been embellished to the point that now some people are accusing me of leading some sort of sinister animal rights and anti-immigration group of right-wingers.

Now aside from the fact that I have never met a right wing animal rights advocate, there is nothing but fabricated implications propping up these allegations.

The situation is this. There is a majority group of directors 9-10 and a minority group of directors 5-6 (depending on the issue). The only remotely right wing director that I know of is Chuck McGrady, a registered Republican and the Republican candidate for the office of County Commissioner of Harrison County, North Carolina. McGrady is one of the majority directors.

I am one of the minority directors. The difference is that the minority directors tend to buck the status quo on the Board. None of these minority directors answers to me and I am not by any stretch of the imagination - their leader.

As for the candidates running in the current election - I recruited none of them and I certainly do not lead them. I have met and endorsed two of them. The first is Kim McCoy, a Chicago Sierra Club chapter leader and the second is Robert Roy Van de Hoek, a naturalist and wetlands conservationist. Both are long time Sierra Club members and both are conservation activists. Kim is an animal rights advocate and neither Kim nor Roy are anti-immigrant. In fact Roy, like myself is an immigrant (from the Netherlands) and Kim is engaged to an immigrant from Canada.

The election of directors is democratic. The membership votes for and chooses the directors. Therefore it is not possible for anyone to lead a hostile takeover of the Sierra Club. This would be like accusing the Democrats of attempting a hostile takeover of the White House.

2. What about the accusations that you are supporting an anti-immigrant and anti-immigration position?

I am not anti-immigrant and I am not anti-immigration. I am in fact an immigrant. My position is that I support the policies of the Sierra Club that were in effect from 1965 until 1995 which called for the Club to support population reduction and to address the factors contributing to population increase. Immigration is one of those factors. In 1996, the Club adopted a cowardly-head-in-the-sand policy of neutrality on immigration for fear that the issue was politically incorrect.

There are already limits on immigration. My position is that these limits should be lowered to achieve stabilization. The population of the United States is increasing at a rate of 1.1% per year and at this rate of growth, the population of the United States will reach one billion by the year 2100.

At what point do we address this growth? At 400 million, at 700 million, or a billion? Why not now as we are approaching 300 million?

As population increases in the United States so will urban sprawl, which will lead to escalating diminishment of habitat like wetlands and forests. It is rapidly causing diminishment of species and resources, especially water.

It would be irresponsible of me as an ecologist and as a Sierra Club director to ignore the impact of continued growth on natural resources and carrying capacity.

3. A few of your critics say you just want to keep Mexicans out of the United States. Is that claim true?

My concern is for numbers and not for the origins of the numbers. Yes I know our critics are accusing us of racism but should we back down on an important ecological issue because we are being called names that have no substantiation in fact?

I personally would not care if California was 100% Mexican as it once was. My concern is that the population of California overall must not grow to 300 million as it will within the next 95 years unless the population is stabilized. A Spanish speaking California is not a threat to me, but a California of 50 million, 100 million or 300 million human beings is indeed a threat to the environment of California.

4. Your critics also say you are opposed to illegal immigration?

I am opposed to illegal bank robbery and illegal operation of a motor vehicle also. Honestly I find it remarkable that people believe that illegal immigration is a crime that should be ignored. As an immigrant, I had to jump through all the hoops and cross all the T's and dot all the i's to live in the United States. It seems to me unfair to ask people to go through the process legally and then to exonerate those who do not bother. It is interesting that this accusation usually comes from citizens who have not had to suffer the indignity and tediousness of the process.

But let me tell you what I really oppose. I oppose the acceptance of neo-indentured servitude in the United States. What we have are people working illegally in the hot, dusty, pesticide-polluted fields of California or Arizona. They are working for pathetically meager wages and without benefits to enrich citizen landowners. It is a modern form of slavery and very few speak up in opposition to it, especially from those who benefit from cheap nannies and cheap gardeners.

My proposed solution to illegal immigration is simple. We need to legislate that farm and factory workers be given a decent wage with full benefits and we need to enforce the present immigration laws against employers who are benefiting from cheap illegal labor.

This would attract citizens to the jobs and remove the temptation to entice illegal immigrants from over the border. And if more workers are needed, they can legally apply and be legally processed for the jobs. Every immigrant should be legal so that they cannot be taken advantage of. The only way to ensure that is to prosecute those hiring illegal immigrants.

The present policy hurts new immigrants more than any other sector of the population. There are Hispanic women and men working in hotels and restaurants in New Mexico, California, Texas, and Arizona who have never received a raise in wages after years of being employed by the same employer. One woman who works in an Albuquerque hotel wrote to the newspaper and said that when she asked for a raise she was told there were plenty of people willing to work for what they were paying if she was not.

The present immigration policies of the United States benefit the employers and not the employees.

A cheap influx of labor keeps competition up and wages low. It's the worst of good old-style capitalism alive and well.

And yet my concerns for the conditions of workers in the polluted fields of California are dismissed as racist because I want to see their wages increased and benefits provided. Our critics say that this would entice citizens to take the jobs away from illegal immigrants. I swear that I have been following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole when I hear these arguments.

5. What would you advocate be done to stop illegal immigration?

First and foremost, we should enforce the present immigration laws against illegal immigrants and against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. We also need to increase the penalties for employers who employ illegal immigrants.

Secondly we need to legislate the raising of wages and the guarantee of benefits in those sectors of the labor force that attract illegal immigrants. The farms, the sweat shops, the Wal-Marts. We need to raise the standards of living of these workers who presently work under appalling conditions for little pay and no benefits.

This measure alone would tempt citizens to take the jobs and thus would remove the vacuum that attracts illegal immigrants into the country. We should not be fighting this problem with walls on the border and para-military patrols and vigilante groups. We need only enforce the present laws and remove the carrot.

We also need to address the conditions in Mexico and other nations that responsible for taking jobs away from citizens. That is why the Sierra Club needs to continue to oppose WTO and NAFTA. Instead of spending money to keep Mexicans from crossing the border, we would be better off spending money to help the Mexican government address conditions in Mexico. Imported products should be required to meet minimum labor and environmental standards.

6. What do you advocate for reducing or stabilizing the population of the United States?

We need to address all the factors contributing to population increase in the United States.
We must allow for abortion on demand. Women should not be forced to give birth to a child when there are no guarantees that the child will be properly cared for, loved, nurtured and educated. We have lots of concern for pre-natal abortion in this country and very little concern for post-natal abortions i.e. all the unwanted children.

We need to address the epidemic of teen pregnancies in this country through education and counseling and through free and universal availability of birth control methods.

We need to give tax breaks to people who do not have children and we need to eliminate the school tax on the elderly. We should also impose tax penalties on people who have more than two children. This tax should be a progressive tax so as not to discriminate against lower income families.
And we need to reduce immigration to achieve stabilization. Immigration remains the most significant contributing factor to population increase.

7. What about addressing population issues in other countries?

I don't believe in imperialistic missionary work. The best thing to do is to lead by example. I don't support Americans going to the under-developed nations and telling them how to control birth rates. Carl Pope for example spent two years in India handing out condoms. I don't know what that achieved but I do know that it is hypocritical to be an American handing out condoms in India when the population of the United States is increasing by about three million per year.

I would support sending money to organizations in such countries to help them address the problems themselves. It is hypocritical for us to be urging other nations to lower their populations when the population of the United States is growing at a rate of 1.2% to 1.3% per year.

Immigration is a concern for other nations. Most nations are highly restrictive of immigration. Presently we are working on protecting species in the Galapagos and the primary threat to species and habitats in the Galapagos National Park is a 300% increase in migration to the islands from the mainland over the last decade.

8. Your critics have tried to link you with racists, reactionaries and right-wingers. Is there any validity to their claims?

Absolutely not. It's plain and simply dirty politics. Groundswell, the group of Old Guard Sierra Club members who are distributing this nonsense are simply trying to discredit me and others who oppose them by fabricating bogus links to right wing and racist groups. There is not a shred of credibility for these bogus implications and to illustrate how ludicrous these accusations are - consider the candidates that I am supporting.

The first is Frank Morris, an African American, the former leader of the Black Caucus and the recipient of numerous awards from the NAACP. Why would any racist group or any racist support Frank Morris? It's a ridiculous accusation. Consider candidate Richard Lamm, the three times elected former liberal Democratic governor of Colorado - hardly a right winger. Professor David Pimentel is an ecologist. Kim McCoy is an animal rights advocate, not a philosophy linked with the right. Robert Roy Van de Hoek is a naturalist and opponent of the development of the Ballona wetlands, again hardly a right winger.

To illustrate how indirect associations become damaging accusations consider this story from the last week on March 2004.

Utah Republican Chris Cannon was pushing his bill for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Fox News reported the following:

"The attempt, however to cast immigration reductionists as white supremacists did provide one humorous, if embarrassing moment in last Wednesday's House hearing. Rep. Cannon was deep into a rambling monologue in which he was attempting to draw links between alleged white supremacists plotting a take-over of the Sierra Club and the alleged white supremacists driving the immigration reduction movement.

At one point, Rep. Cannon, following the Southern Poverty Law Center line, asserted that five current candidates for the Sierra Club's Board of Directors are all members of this white supremacist conspiracy. Unbeknownst to him, however, one of those Sierra Club candidates was sitting in front of him at the witness table - Frank Morris, a black man who formally headed the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation."

So, we have an African American NAACP award winning population activist being accused of being a part of a white supremacist hostile takeover of the Sierra Club by a white Utah Republican trying to bring in more cheap labor for his corporate friends. There goes the white rabbit again.

Ironically, the accusations are coming from Groundswell, one of whose leaders is Sierra Club director Chuck McGrady, who is a registered Republican and is presently running on the Republican ticket for County Commissioner of Harrison County, North Carolina. McGrady has openly stated that he cannot sign onto any Sierra Club criticism of President George Bush. Chuck is also the owner operator of a Christian boys camp.

I happen to like Chuck McGrady as a person and I respect him as a fellow Sierra Club director but I do not share his right wing political points of view.

It really is bizarre that we have a Republican Christian right-winger accusing us of being linked with racists for supporting an African American candidate and calling us right wing for supporting a former liberal Democratic Governor.

The bottom line is that our opposition i.e. the Old Guard in the Sierra Club are plain and simply lying and running a smear campaign of disinformation.

And this campaign apparently has no scruples about spreading lies without even the hint of evidence to prove their accusations. For example, Michael Dorsey, a nominated candidate stated the following in the Los Angeles Weekly:

"Dick Lamm is the David Duke of the environmental movement," Dorsey said. "This is not about immigration. This is about a threat to democracy, to humanity. These are proto-fascists. We know for a fact that they have ties to neo-Nazis. We know the neo-Nazis in this country are talking to neo-Nazis in Europe. The minute you start having conversations with fascists, you are completely outside the realm of political credibility."

Dorsey is saying this about a man who actually founded a chapter of the NAACP and was a liberal Democratic Governor of Colorado.

Dorsey also wrote, "I will be damned if some two-bit anti-immigrant yahoos are going to take the Club - and note this, if they win, I will then work to personally help to put an end to the Club - - since if this new slate takes over, the Club will need to come to an end. You've been warned."

The Sierra Club's nominating committee actually nominated a candidate who has threatened to destroy the Club if he loses.

9. What are your political affiliations?

In Canada I ran three times for Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre for the Green Party. In 1996, I ran on behalf of the Green Party for Mayor of Vancouver. I am one of the founding members of the Canadian Green Party. I was a personal friend of the late Petra Kelly, the founder of the German Green Party. In 2000 I supported Ralph Nader, as did David Brower. In short, I am an unapologetic supporter of the Green Party.

My politics are not right, nor left, but exclusively green. I am an ecologist first and foremost and an advocate for living in accordance with the natural laws of ecology.

10. What about the accusation that right wing and racist groups are watching the Sierra Club elections and joining the Club to support anti-immigration candidates?

They have every right to join the Sierra Club. Anyone can join the Club. But if they have come to support anti-immigration candidates, they won't find any because there are no anti-immigrant candidates running. They may vote for candidates who advocate population stabilization but they cannot influence any of these candidates to take racist positions.

Can you imagine that Frank Morris, an African American taking advice from a White Supremacist? I don't think so.

Carl Pope says that these racist groups are watching the Sierra Club elections very closely. I'm sure that Al Qaida is watching the American Presidential race closely but this does not translate into Al Quaida supporting the Democratic Party

11. Your critics also say that you want the Sierra Club to become an animal rights organization?

Our critics say many things but for the most part they fire media releases from the hip at any flicker of movement that might disrupt the status quo.

Do I want the Sierra Club to become an animal rights organization? The answer is absolutely not.

Do I want the Sierra Club to address the negative ecological impact of the meat industry? I absolutely do.

The Sierra Club has a responsibility to defend groundwater in North Carolina from the filth of pig feces and decaying carcasses that are steadily polluting water sources in the State.

The Sierra Club should be concerned about the pollution from salmon farms and about the diminishment of fish in the oceans caused by over-fishing.

E-coli poisoning, mad cow disease, ground-water pollution, antibiotics, growth hormones and steroids in meat are environmental issues. The incredible waste in fecal materials and offal are environmental problems. Genetic manipulation of livestock is an environmental issues. The grazing of cattle and sheep are environmental issues.

12. What would you change if you become a majority director on the Sierra Club Board?

The first thing I would do is work to fire Executive Director Carl Pope. He is responsible for spreading most of the lies and he should not be the Executive Director of an environmental organization. He is more concerned with social issues than environmental issues. We need a régime change at the Sierra Club and we need a conservationist at the helm, not a social worker.

Secondly, I think we should trim the fat from a bureaucracy that seems to forget its raison d'etre.

As for the Sierra Club approach, I would not change the traditional strategies of utilizing education, legislation and litigation to tackle threats to the environment.

I did not join the Sierra Club Board to damage the Club, I joined to help further the Club effort to protect the Environment. And if I lose, unlike Michael Dorsey, I will not work to destroy the Club. The very idea of destroying the Sierra Club is abhorrent to me and would be a betrayal of David Brower and John Muir.

13. What would you change about the immigration and population policy?

Very little except to overturn the policy of neutrality and to return to the traditional Sierra Club policy of working towards human population reduction through education. The Sierra Club is not a legislative body and can do nothing to directly affect immigration policy.

What I would promote is the idea that to achieve population stabilization we need to reduce birth rates and we need to lower immigration numbers into the United States to levels that will achieve stabilization. One way to work towards that end is to require that immigration quotas fall under the NEPA's requirements of filing environmental impact statements.

14. Many in the Sierra Club contend that if the Sierra Club takes an anti-immigration policy, they will lose many of their allies in the labor movement. It will marginalize us, harming our political effectiveness and losing clout in Washington DC. How would you address this concern?

I would not advocate for the Sierra Club to take an anti-immigration policy. We need to stress that we support reductions in immigration numbers to achieve population stabilization. We need to have the courage to address the very important problem of the effect of rapidly growing population on the environment and in order to do so we need to address all of the factors contributing to this problem.

We cannot define environmental priorities by the threat that non-environmental organizations will disagree with us. The labor movement has disagreed in the past with many Sierra Club policies like our opposition to logging, to nuclear power, and to dam construction. Why should this be different? It is in fact a more dire threat to the environment than those issues.

15. Is it true that, as some allege, you are an "eco-terrorist?" Are you planning to turn the Sierra Club into an extreme group?

Activists get called many names because we have many enemies. The more active and successful you are, the more strident becomes the accusations and the attacks. Am I an eco-terrorist? The answer is no, I am not, and if I were I would be in jail or underground, perhaps even literally. The problem is that in our corporate controlled media culture, when you call for a boycott of tuna fish to protect dolphins, you are labeled an eco-terrorist.

I have never been investigated, arrested or charged with any crime of eco-terrorism. I have never been convicted of a felony crime. In fact as a non-U.S. citizen, I would be deported if there were any connections to any criminal activities connected with so called eco-terrorism.

Those who oppose me think that by screaming accusations of "eco-terrorism" that someone will believe them. And sometimes they do. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published an editorial stating that I was a "convicted eco-terrorist" based on interviews with Sierra Club members who are opposed to me. They apologized and published a retraction.

I am a strong supporter of diversity and this includes diversity in the movement. The Sierra Club occupies a very important niche in the environmental movement. I would not propose changing the Sierra Club approach.

16. Why are you a member of the Sierra Club and why are you a Sierra Club Board member?

I was a member of the Sierra Club in 1969 when we formed the Don't Make a Wave Committee as a joint Sierra Club and Quaker project. In 1972, the Don't Make a Wave Committee was re-registered as the Greenpeace Foundation of which I was a co-founder.

I continue to be a member of the Sierra Club because it is the oldest and most prestigious conservation organization in the United States.

I ran for the Board initially in 1999 because David Brower suggested that I do so. I was not elected in 1999 but I ran again in 2003 and I was elected.

I try to keep my views in line with David Brower's approach and often ask myself what David would do in the same situation.

It gives me comfort knowing that David Brower had to endure the same slings and arrows, the same character assassination by the old guard of conservative Club members as I and some of my minority colleagues are now enduring.

We need to stand on principle in the face of bogus accusations, lies, rumors and dirty tricks. To do otherwise would be cowardly and I would rather be loathed by the many than to grovel for the few.