The Climate Immigration Intersection: Co-Creating a Broad Movement (and Standing Up to Mark Zuckerberg)

The Climate Immigration Intersection: Co-Creating a Broad Movement (and Standing Up to Mark Zuckerberg)

It’s not possible to do it alone. There have been many calls for environmental and climate leaders to expand and diversity the base of citizen support for action.  While some efforts have been successful, most have failed because the emphasis has been on selling the environmental agenda to “new constituencies” versus coming together across progressive sectors to determine common values and concerns and co-create an agenda together.

Our own work with the Social Capital Project on the Ecological Roadmap illustrates why co-creation is so important – most Americans care about the environment and climate disruption, but action is often stalled because environmental approaches and identities do not reflect the majority of American values and worldviews.

Some organizations are coming to understand that working across sectors and embracing common concerns are the key to success. Case in point: the Sierra Club’s recent involvement in immigration reform and immigration reform groups standing by the climate community in the kerfuffle over pro-drilling ads from Mark Zuckerberg’s political action group.

I spoke to Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club’s director of strategic partnerships, about this earlier this week.

“It’s a credit to the leadership of the organizations that are working on immigration reform and who are fighting for justice in our country broadly that they see that in the effort to shape the political debate, has really lost sight of the fundamental goal of the fight for reform which is to make a better future for all of us,” Duvall says in reference to the ads funded by that tout the pro-pipeline policies of two Republican senators — Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) —sympathetic toward immigration reform.

On Tuesday, in response to the ads from—created with a stated goal of overhauling immigration law—a coalition of nine groups, including the Sierra Club and, announced that they were pulling paid ads on Facebook for the next two weeks.

“It’s exciting that voices like Mark Zuckerberg and Joe Green and are joining the push to get what we need to have happen on immigration. What’s disappointing is that they’re doing it in a way that’s politics as usual,” Duvall says. She adds: “We’re not trying to run a campaign against Facebook; we’re trying to say that the tactics they’re using are not acceptable.”

Such tactics, according to Duvall, run counter to efforts to build a broad progressive movement that can achieve immigration reform as well as tackle other problems such as climate change.

“The reform community recognizes that they’re not going to do it alone so it’s not helpful to have people weighing in who are trying to pit one issue against another or claim that one issue is more important than another.”

For one thing, these issues tend to be very intertwined. Duvall explains why groups working on climate should be concerned with immigration issues.

“You have 11 million people who are living in some of the hardest-hit environmental communities who actually can’t participate in the conversation about what we need to do to solve climate change and what we need to do to create a clean energy future,” she says. “The Sierra Club announced our support for the path to citizenship both because we think it is a just and important thing to do as it relates to the 11 million people, and because we know that Latinos want a healthy future and healthy economy. We need to engage these people in the transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.” 

The unanimous decision earlier this year by the Sierra Club board to embrace immigration reform is significant in part because it was less than a decade ago that some Sierra Club members and others made an unsuccessful push to have the organization take an anti-immigration stance, and this generated some negative publicity

Duvall notes that Sierra Club has had an environmental justice program for the past decade, and is constantly in conversation with organizations focused on other issues. She points to cross-movement relationship building that led to a number of Latino groups participating in the Forward on Climate Rally back in February.

“We’re not trying to say these issues are more important than immigration; what we’re saying is that together we are stronger and anyone new to the game who thinks they can come in and pit one of the issues against the other or sell one of them out in an effort to promote another is just not acceptable.”

It’s quite likely, Duvall says, that Zuckerberg and his cohorts likely did not fully understand how “far across the line” they had gone with the ads, but she suspects that they have gotten the message by now that “the way to achieving reform in this country, whether it’s immigration or environmental issues, is to figure out how we can pile on and help each other and talk about how this impacts all of us.”

Photo via Sierra Club Facebook