From the Field

Environmentalists Protest Two West Coast Growthbusters Film Premieres

Rebecca Poswolsky • Jan 05, 2012

“I went to the UC Berkeley screening of ‘GrowthBusters,’ the new tongue-in-cheek film that links to the anti-immigrant movement on issues of population. I showed up with fliers that read “Growth Busted! New Film that promotes fear and bigotry,” Minnie McMahon, a concerned Bay area environmental activist, explained to me.

The film she and others were protesting is GrowthBusters, which premiered this fall in both California and in Oregon. In both locations film screenings were directly challenged by folks just like McMahon. Progressive environmentalists and social justice advocates who are actively questioning the link between necessary dialogue on limits to growth and the real interests behind films like GrowthBusters have been passing out fliers at film screenings to raise awareness about the film’s vast and extensive links to the anti-immigrant movement at large.

The film focuses on notions of limits to growth, water shortages, hunger, peak oil resources, and species extinction, but it also focuses on overpopulation as an environmental concern. This angle is where the links to groups—like the Federation for American Immigration Reform—that are a part of the John Tanton Network emerge.

White nationalist John Tanton is the architect of the modern day anti-immigrant movement and founder of the bigoted FAIR. FAIR is one of many groups found listed under “population growth” on the GrowthBusters website. Other anti-immigrant groups similar to FAIR that appear there include Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), and NumbersUSA—all of which to varying degrees are active members of the Tanton Network.

In response to the GrowthBusters film screening at UC Berkeley, flyers were passed out that read, “Is this film really about population growth, or is it about immigration?” In addition to this action, a concerned social justice activist wrote an open letter to a small environmental group in the Berkeley area that was intending on endorsing the screening. The group ultimately took a stand against bigotry, and decided not to sponsor the film via a discussion that resulted from that open letter addressing the film’s controversial bedfellows. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

“It is my understanding that FAIR, CAPS, Numbers USA, and PFIR are all groups that are being watched closely by multiple social justice and civil rights organizations. FAIR’s Media Director was quoted in August 24, 2011 Los Angeles Times, ‘The Legislature is slashing programs and at the same time planning new ways to give benefits to illegal aliens,’ said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. ‘It ought to outrage any law-abiding citizen in California.’  This article was on the home page of the CAPS website.

The positioning of ‘illegal aliens’ versus ‘law-abiding citizens’ is highly problematic. And, more simply, anyone calling human beings ‘illegal’ and or ‘aliens’ is not someone that I would think we would want to align itself [sic] with. These people are working to gain legitimacy not just to promote their ideas but to also change policy and ultimately [to] legislate hate. The GrowthBusters trailer ends with the statement, ‘The good news is that there’s still a wonderful life that we can leave our children.’ After watching the trailer and exploring the ideas, individuals and organizations associated with the film I am left with the idea that ‘our children’ does not include MY children nor the children of my friends and family who are not U.S. citizens.”

As noted, this open letter resulted in a small environmental group refusing to sponsor the film and to remove the interview they had previously given concerning the film’s premiere. In addition to this response in California, activists in Portland, Oregon also took a stand, and as a result of environmentalists and others advocating for Portland State University’s Women Resource Center not to host the film screening of GrowthBusters, there was a response from the WRC. According to Rose City Antifa:

“Rose City Antifascists believes that screening a film that places the burden of environmental degradation on the poorest, most marginalized communities is in direct contradiction with the PSU Women’s Resource Center’s mission of ‘advancing social justice’ and demonstrates an appalling lack of analysis around the intersectionality of oppression.

The WRC was made aware of the information in this article and asked to cancel the event, but they have chosen to move forward with it despite their knowledge of GrowthBusters’ ties to racist groups and promotion of anti-immigrant and neo-Malthusian narratives. As of Wednesday, December 7, the WRC, [sic] has indicated that they have withdrawn their support from the “Earth at 7 Billion” event and will issue a position statement shortly. A brief explanation of their decision can be found in the comments section of this article and on the WRC events page.”

Environmentalists and other social justice advocates are taking a stand against groups like FAIR, CAPS, PFIR, and others in the Tanton Network. Individuals are speaking out and directly challenging works like GrowthBusters, the creators of which insist on buttressing their arguments with those of the anti-immigrant movement. We must continue to delegitimize the implicit bigotry that links anti-immigrant sentiments to notions and actions of environmental protection.

There are still a few more screenings of the film, which means there are just more opportunities for us environmentalists to speak out against linking questions of growth to a gambit that runs on immigration numbers. In Salem, Oregon on January 12 GrowthBusters will be screened at the Grand Theater on 191 High Street NE at 7PM. We will see if yet again people stand up in order to have discussions about resources, consumption, and population while also refusing to associate with the anti-immigrant movement in order to do so.

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