Photo credit: Theresa Thompson/Creative Commons
With the recent fight over the debt ceiling in Congress, Wisconsin's upcoming recall elections have not been national news much like the state's heated politics were earlier this year. Yet many Wisconsin residents are working hundreds of volunteer hours knocking on doors and calling their fellow voters to make sure people vote in the next two weeks' elections for the candidates who will stand by state environmental and worker protections.
Volunteers and members of the Sierra Club John Muir Chapter have logged well over 500 hours so far doing just that, said chapter political committee member Spencer Black. He said their volunteers are working hand-in-hand with many other progressive groups such as the state workers' rights movement because of the threats from current politicians in the State House.
"We have seen an unprecedented attack on our state's proud legacy of environmental protection," said Black. "People are outraged by it. We're ready to send a message that weakening environmental protections is a very dangerous thing to do. And nothing sends that message better than a vote on Election Day."
Black knows this first-hand - he retired last year after a 26-year term in the state legislature.
Letting voters know that clean air and water protections are at risk is critical to the voter education the chapter is doing. Working in coalition with workers' rights groups in Wisconsin is also critical to Black and the John Muir Chapter because the two are so intertwined.
"We feel like Wisconsin is on the front lines of the effort to roll back environmental and workers rights protections," explained Black. "When unions are attacked, it hurts environmental protections. The people we depend on to enforce environmental laws are public workers. When they don't have union protection, they don't have the ability to speak out if political appointees try to undermine our environmental laws, as is happening here in our state. Unions protect their rights to do their job.
"And, the politicians in the State House who are rolling back environmental rights are also rolling back workers rights."
Working together is also about the economy, he added. "A good economy and a good environment go hand-in-hand. If we undermine the environmental protections, we undermine the jobs of working people."
The Sierra Club's John Muir Chapter has been working to stop an unprecedented wave of attacks on recycling, renewable energy, transit, water resources, mining protections, and more. But as Black pointed out, while this is happening in Wisconsin - it's also happening across the country.
The twin priorities of good jobs and a healthy, clean environment are coming under unprecedented attack from corporate polluters and their political friends. We are seeing a dangerous pattern develop: corporate polluters like Big Oil and King Coal are hurting people's health, dumping toxic pollution into our air and water, putting workers lives at risk, and reaping massive profits. They are using their profits to influence their friends in Congress and state legislatures to undermine fundamental health, environmental, and workers rights protections.
The movement continues nationwide to counter the anti-union legislation being proposed in many states. Sierra Club chapters in every state continue to work with unions on these issues.
Want an example of workers' rights relating to environmental threats? Look at BP's Deepwater Horizon oil explosion that occurred last year. It began as a workplace health and safety incident in a nonunion work setting. It turned into the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history. If the 11 workers who were killed had been members of a strong union, their lives might have been saved - and the oil spill itself might have been prevented. Unionized workers are more likely to sound the alarm about workplace hazards -- and the companies they work for know this.
This is not a new issue for Sierra Club. We were a founding member with the United Steelworkers in 2006 of the BlueGreen Alliance and as Carl Pope said: "This uncommon partnership is driven by our common goal to realize that creating good jobs and protecting the environment are inextricably linked."
Hard hats and tree huggers share fundamental goals and values, including the right to safe and healthy working conditions and the creation of good clean-tech jobs in America and abroad. The BlueGreen Alliance is based on the recognition that those jobs are the key to both a prosperous middle class and a healthy environment. Since its inception, BlueGreen Alliance has grown to include nine other unions and three other environmental groups, representing over 14 million people.
As environmentalists, we know that real solutions to our energy and environmental challenges have to include American workers. Building a robust clean-energy economy will mean protecting and creating millions of jobs, right here in the U.S. Together, we can move America beyond reliance on dirty, dangerous coal and oil, to a clean energy economy that creates good jobs, protects working families' health and safety, and safeguards our environment.
Union members and environmentalists share a common vision of creating healthy, safe, prosperous communities across America. We need policies that ensure clean air, water and lands, as well as good jobs, decent wages, health care, and a secure retirement for working families. Together, our movement fights for those policies.
If you're a Wisconsin resident, we encourage you to volunteer before and during the elections on Aug. 9th and 16th.
Read more on anti-environment government choices:
Where's the Green Jobs Revolution Obama Promised?
Congress now Considering the "Most Anti-environment Legislation Ever"
Democratic Leaders Excoriate Congressional Republicans, Say This is "The Most Anti-environment House in the History of Congress"