Trails of Trash, a photocollage by 11-year-old Wassim Elmetni, depicts a world adrift in garbage.
In Houston's predominantly African-American Fifth Ward, children live and play next to one of Texas's largest Superfund sites. When Many Diversified Interests (MDI) Incorporated went bankrupt in 1992, it abandoned more than 5,000 barrels of toxic waste, leaving them exposed to heat and rain for almost a decade. The rusted drums leaked lead and other pollutants into ponds where neighborhood kids sometimes swim.
But when Rhonda Adams looks out her window, she sees opportunity amid the contamination. Earlier this year, Adams, a local artist and Sierra Club volunteer, gathered a group of Fifth Ward children and armed them with cameras to let them tell their own stories of living in a community plagued by pollution. "These kids have all learned the simple rule that if they make a mess, they have to clean it up," she says. "And here they are, asking me why grown-ups are allowed to put poison in the earth. I wanted to help them find their voice."
Adams launched the photography project through the Museum of Cultural Arts Houston, which she cofounded with her husband, a Club organizer. The project was cosponsored by the Club's Building Environmental Community Campaign, which is working in Houston to clean up the MDI Superfund site. Adams created an interactive curriculum that combined art lessons--teaching the children about photography, collage, and composition--with neighborhood cleanups and discussions on pollution and lead poisoning. The kids then spent a month documenting the Fifth Ward. Their powerful images were displayed in March at an environmentally themed exhibit for Houston's FotoFest, the largest photography show in the world.
"The kids realize now that the pollution they've been living with is not normal and that they deserve a safe and healthy community," says Adams. "I hope others are moved to action by their stories."
In April, Sierra Club members reelected one incumbent and voted in four new representatives to the Club's volunteer board of directors. The 15-person board sets conservation priorities, approves the annual budget, and oversees staff and volunteer activities. The winners of this year's election are:
Bernie Zaleha, a current director and an environmental attorney from Boise, Idaho (57,904 votes)
Marilyn Wall, co-chair of Rivers Unlimited, the oldest river-restoration group in the country, from Cincinnati (56,287)
Rafael Reyes, associate director of As You Sow, a corporate-accountability organization, from San Mateo, California (54,973)
Robin Mann, a wetlands and clean-water activist from Rosemont, Pennsylvania (50,149)
Ellen Pillard, a former professor of social work at the University of Nevada at Reno and a community activist from Reno, Nevada (48,415)
"The Sierra Club prides itself on its dedicated and talented grassroots leadership, and the five candidates elected are the cream of the crop," says board member Sanjay Ranchod. To recommend a nominee next year, e-mail Nominating Committee chair Tom Libby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE WEB
To learn more about the Sierra Club Board of Directors, visit sierraclub.org/bod.
Track That Bill
Want the scoop on key environmental bills without having to camp out on Capitol Hill? Good news: The Sierra Club is doing the legwork for you. The online National Legislative Tracker lists pending environmental bills with background information, current status, the Club's position, and tips for taking action. Start lobbying at sierraclub.org/legislativetracker.
Fed up with federal inaction on global warming, the Sierra Student Coalition wants to "Re-Energize America." The coalition is working with 29 other environmental and social justice groups on the Campus Climate Challenge, an effort to get U.S. and Canadian high schools and colleges to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by adopting car-share programs, incorporating green-building features, and installing wind turbines. So far, 185 schools have taken the pledge; the goal is to get 500 on board by 2008. For more, go to campusclimatechallenge.org.
To make your voice count on environmental issues, the Sierra Club recommends that you write or call (rather than e-mail) your national elected officials at:
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
U.S. Capitol Switchboard
CALIFORNIA: Cross-Border Powwow
Globalization undermines environmental regulations, but it can also unite diverse groups fighting international polluters. Sierra Club activists, Guatemalan Mayans, and Quechan tribe members met in March at the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation near San Diego to discuss their campaigns against Canadian mining company Glamis Gold.
In San Pedro, Guatemala, Mayans are protesting a Glamis mining facility that threatens their limited water supplies, while Quechans are trying to protect sacred lands in Southern California from proposed "heap leach" mining that would result in massive open pits. The three-day event, cosponsored by the Club's Angeles and San Diego Chapters and the Responsible Trade Program, included a globalization teach-in and a regional powwow (above).
"It was more than mingling around a campfire," says organizer Joan Holtz of the Angeles Chapter. "We came as three separate groups but left as one." Learn about the program at sierraclub.org/trade. --Karina Kinik
ARIZONA: Protecting Ponderosas
Arizona activists extinguished a controversial Bush administration plan to log a remote old-growth forest near Grand Canyon National Park. In February, two years after the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity sued to block the project, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew its proposal to remove some 8 million board feet from Kaibab National Forest.
The agency claimed the timber sale would decrease fire risk, but the sites were almost 50 miles from the nearest community and included thousands of large, fire-resistant trees that harbor the threatened Mexican spotted owl. "There's no justification for logging old growth in Arizona when we only have about 5 percent of it left," says Sandy Bahr of the Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. --Erin Pursell
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Trouble With Youall
Allendale County, South Carolina, is home to moss-laden oaks, peach trees--and a contaminated old landfill. "When corporations have waste to get rid of, they target poor areas," says Dell Isham of the Sierra Club's South Carolina Chapter, which is working with the largely low-income black residents to protect their community from further pollution.
The chapter helped draft a 2002 ordinance that requires landfill proposals to study contamination issues and provide financial assurance for cleanup. But when Youall Incorporated applied last fall for a new landfill without meeting those requirements, the county council approved the proposal for public hearings. The chapter is suing to force the county to abide by the ordinance. --Kristen Pakonis
Illustration by Debbie Drechsler
Photos, from top: Wassim Elmetni, Jesse Swanhuyser