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Has the Islamic Movement been co-opted like the enviromental movement?

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  • Islamic News and Information Network
    Assalamu alaikum dear readers, Here is an example of how a movement, in this case Enivronmentalism, with radical energies has been channeled into safe,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 8, 2000
      Assalamu'alaikum dear readers,

      Here is an example of how a movement, in this case Enivronmentalism, with
      radical energies has been channeled into safe, legalistic, bureaucratic
      and occasionally profit-making activities." In short, the movement has
      become co-opted into the mainstream corporate culture and even gets
      support from the leading violaters of the environment.

      My question is, has the Islamic movement in this country taken the same
      course? Have we too been co-opted and sold our souls so as to become part
      of the mainstream? Read on and just replace the word "environment" with
      "Islam" and you be the judge. I have already made my assesment.

      I know that this is long but I think that we Muslims need to take a look
      at some of the issues this article addresses and apply them to our vision
      we have for our future activities. May Allah help us.


      Questioning Official Environmentalism
      By Brian Tokar

      (source: http://www.zmag.org/zmag/articles/apr97tokar.html)

      Seven years ago in these pages, we launched an in-depth investigation of
      the mainstream environmental movement. The occasion was the widely
      publicized 20th anniversary of the original Earth Day, an event which in
      many ways helped institutionalize the widespread corporate co-optation of
      environmental themes.

      The year 1990 was an auspicious one for environmental activists in the
      United States. The widespread popularity of environmental concerns was
      reflected in the rapid growth of environmental organizations, the
      appearance of new publications, and some of the first glossy catalogs of
      environmental products. Expressions of concern for the environment adorned
      politicians stump speeches, both in the U.S. and overseas. Environmental
      scientists and activists widely agreed that the 1990s were a critical
      decade to stem the course of environmental degradation, and political and
      cultural trends offered many people a renewed hope that this was possible.

      Still, the coming Earth Day celebrations aroused a curious mixture of hope
      and cynicism on the part of long-time activists. The cynicism was fueled
      by much of the literature emanating from the official Earth Day
      organizations that had been established throughout the country. They had
      apparently decided that Earth Day was going to be a politically safe
      event, with almost no attention toward the institutions or the economic
      system responsible for ecocide, nothing about confronting corporate
      polluters, nothing about changing the structures of society. The
      overriding message was simply, "change your lifestyle": recycle, drive
      less, stop wasting energy, buy better appliances, etc. Celebrations in
      several major U.S. cities were supported by some of the most notorious
      corporate polluterscompanies like Monsanto, Peabody Coal, and Georgia
      Power, to name a few. Everyone from the nuclear power industry to the
      Chemical Manufacturers Association took out full-page advertisements in
      newspapers and magazines proclaiming that, for them, "Every day is Earth
      Day." The now-familiar greenwashing of Earth Day had clearly begun.

      Activists across the country began exploring the origins of Earth Day and
      also mainstream environmental groups that were making the most hay of this
      anniversary. What they found was a mixed message: while Earth Day had for
      many come to symbolize the emergence of environmentalism as a social
      movement in its own right, it was dominated from the very beginning by
      those who hoped to dilute the movements political focus. In 1970, Ramparts
      magazine, one of the New Lefts leading journals of opinion, called Earth
      Day, "the first step in a con game that will do little more than abuse the
      environment even further." Journalist I.F. Stone, in his investigative
      weekly, took a significantly harsher view: "...just as the Caesers once
      used bread and circuses so ours were at last learning to use rock-and-roll
      idealism and non-inflammatory social issues to turn the youth off from
      more urgent concerns which might really threaten the power structure."

      Many activists responded by organizing more politicized local Earth Days
      of their own. These events focused on local environmental struggles, inner
      city issues, the nature of corporate power and other concerns that had
      been largely excluded from the official Earth Day events. The most
      ambitious was a demonstration in New York City called by members of the
      Youth Greens and Left Greens, with the aid of environmental justice
      activists, Earth First!ers, ecofeminists, urban squatters, and many
      others. Early Monday morning, April 23, 1990, the day after millions had
      participated in feel-good Earth Day commemorations, several hundred people
      converged on the nerve center of U.S. capitalism, the New York Stock
      Exchange, with the goal of obstructing the opening of trading on that day.
      New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez told his 1.2 million readers,
      "Certainly, those who sought to co-opt Earth Day into a media and
      marketing extravaganza, to make the public feel good while obscuring the
      corporate root of the Earths pollution almost succeeded. It took angry
      Americans from places like Maine and Vermont to come to Wall Street on a
      workday and point the blame where it belongs."

      Challenging the Mainstream

      The events around Earth Day 1990 helped provoke an unprecedented scrutiny
      of the habits and institutions of environmental politics in the United
      States. Growing numbers of activists began to see the best-known national
      environmental organizations, which had long dominated media coverage,
      fundraising and public visibilitythe voices of "official
      environmentalism"as hopelessly out of step with the thousands of
      volunteers who largely define the leading edge of locally based ecological

      Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, representatives of environmental groups,
      from the National Wildlife Federation to the Sierra Club, had become an
      increasingly visible and entrenched part of the Washington political
      scene. As the appearance of success within the system grew, organizations
      restructured and altered their personnel so as to enhance their ability to
      play the insider game. The environmental movement became a stepping stone
      in the careers of a new generation of Washington lawyers and lobbyists,
      and official environmentalism came to accept the role long established for
      other public regulatory advocates: that of helping to sustain the smooth
      functioning of the existing political system. Environmentalism was
      redefined, in the words of author and historian Robert Gottlieb, as "a
      kind of interest group politics tied to the maintenance of the
      environmental policy system."

      The mainstream groups grew especially rapidly during the late 1980s. The
      Sierra Club grew from 80,000 to 630,000 members, and the conservative
      National Wildlife Federation reported membership gains of up to 8,000 a
      month, totaling nearly one million. The World Wildlife Fund, best known
      for its efforts to establish national parks on the U.S. model in Third
      World countries, grew almost tenfold, while the Natural Resources Defense
      Council (NRDC) had doubled its membership since 1985. The total budget of
      the ten largest environmental groups grew from less than $10 million in
      1965, to $218 million in 1985 and $514 million in 1990. Journalist Mark
      Dowie discovered that of the approximately $3 billion contributed to
      environmental advocates each year, the 25 largest organizations get 70
      percent, while the remaining share is divided among some 10,000 smaller,
      more local groups. Many groups have become extremely dependent on direct
      mail, using each new environmental disaster to gain members for their
      organization, whether the organization was meaningfully addressing the
      issue or not.

      In light of these developments, activists began to investigate
      environmental movement using the tools of corporate research. An
      examination of the Annual Reports of the major environmental organizations
      revealed an extent of overt corporate influence upon the leading national
      environmental groups that surprised all but the most jaded activists.
      Almost all of the leading groups were receiving substantial contributions
      from the most polluting corporations. Many had restructured their
      operations so as to become more attractive to such donors, and the
      National Wildlife Federation, in particular, saw "dialogue" with "key
      industrial leaders" as a central part of its mission. Few were surprised
      when NWF later became the first U.S. environmental group to support the
      North American Free Trade Agreement.

      Others began examining the boards of directors of the leading
      environmental groups. The Multinational Monitor found that 23 directors
      and council members from Audubon, NRDC, the Wilderness Society, the World
      Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund were associated with 19
      corporations cited in a recent survey of the 500 worst industrial
      polluters. These companies included such recognized environmental
      offenders as Union Carbide, Exxon, Monsanto, Weyerhaeuser, DuPont, and
      Waste Management, Inc. Furthermore, some 67 individuals associated with
      just 7 environmental groups served as CEOs, chairpersons, presidents,
      consultants or directors for 92 major corporations.

      Feminist environmentalist Joni Seager surveyed 30 leading environmental
      groups and found that only three (the National Audubon Society, Earth
      Island Institute, and WorldWatch Institute) had even 30 percent female
      members on their boards. Women, in most mainstream groups, remain
      relegated to traditionally female administrative roles, and none of 30
      groups she surveyed had more than 5 staff members from any racial
      minority. Seager described the widening schism in the environmental
      movement as "increasingly between a mostly male-led professional elite and
      a mostly female-led grassroots movement." A widely quoted 1990 letter,
      initiated by Richard Moore of New Mexicos Southwest Organizing Project and
      signed by 100 leading community activists, criticized the dearth of people
      of color on the boards and staff of the major environmental groups, as
      well as these groups growing reliance on corporate funding.

      The Saga Continues

      Today, analyses of the political and financial ties that have corrupted
      mainstream environmentalism have become almost commonplace. Mainstream
      journalists, business schools, and even anti-environmental "wise use"
      organizations have published their own studies of environmental groups
      finances, and have used the data to support their own often questionable
      political agendas. As the largest environmental groups came to resemble
      the corporations they opposed, this kind of research found uses well
      across the political spectrum. While grassroots activists view corporate
      contributions as a symbol of co-optation, and of the dangers inherent in a
      strategy of working entirely within the existing political system, those
      seeking to discredit environmental protection see these contributions as
      evidence for simple corruption, greed, and a cynical response to changing
      public opinion. Anti-environmental advocates have articulated a rather
      distorted theory of the decline of mainstream environmentalism, asserting
      despite all evidence to the contrary that the mainstream groups are bound
      to an "extremist" agenda which is at odds with the views of a majority of
      the public.

      For example, the Washington-based Environmental Working Group reported in
      July of last year on the annual lobbying week of the virulently
      anti-environmental Alliance for America. Amidst presentations by oil
      industry lobbyists, property rights agitators, and House Speaker Newt
      Gingrich, was a talk by Jonathan Adler of the well-endowed
      anti-environmental think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Adler
      described his own version of a split between "Big Green" and the
      "grassroots," in which dependence on direct mail, foundation support, and
      government grants are signs of dwindling "grassroots" support for an
      environmental agenda.

      In 1994, the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington
      University in St. Louis examined the established environmental groups
      stock portfolios, ostensibly developed as a hedge against fluctuating
      memberships, and found that the Wilderness Society, for example, held
      stock in Dow Chemical, Kerr McGee, and General Motors, and the NRDC in
      Dow, Westinghouse, and General Electric. For organizations committed to
      protecting the environment and combating pollution to become financially
      dependent on the stock values of major polluters may represent the
      ultimate corruption of ecological values. The same study confirmed that
      membership dues represented an ever declining share of the income of
      groups like the Wilderness Society and National Audubon. But while the
      political influence wielded by these groups has fallen considerably since
      the early 1900s, income and membership levels have in most cases only
      leveled off, or continued to rise at a slower rate.

      Though corporate contributions rarely represent a very large overall share
      of the budgets of the best known environmental groups, they have conferred
      influence and political results well beyond their statistical measure. As
      Brian Lipsett, a leading researcher and editor for the environmental
      justice movement has written, "The corporations get a good return from
      their contributions to environmental causes... Beyond public relations
      dividends and tax deductions, and even increased business opportunities,
      corporate sponsorship fractures internal consensus within recipient
      groups, divides grantees from other environmental groups, blunts criticism
      from grantee groups, and creates openings for future influence by securing
      corporate representation on the groups boards of directors." This helps
      explain why corporations give to environmental organizations at nearly two
      and a half times the rate of overall public charitable donations to the
      environmental movement. Environmental giving amounts to 6 percent of
      corporate philanthropy, while it only accounts for 2.5 percent of all
      charitable donations.

      My review of the 1993 and 1994 Annual Reports of some of the best known
      environmental groups revealed a generally higher level of corporate
      influence than existed five years earlier. For example, the National
      Audubon Society, with similar budget totals and share of member
      contributions as in 1988, had expanded its list of corporate donors to
      include large gifts from Bechtel, AT&T, Citibank, Honda, Martin Marietta,
      Wheelabrator, Ciba-Geigy, Dow, and Scott Paper, with smaller donations
      (less than $5,000) from Monsanto, Mobil, and Shell Oil. The Audubon
      Societys major capital project, the conversion of an historic building in
      New Yorks Greenwich Village to a new Society headquartersand a showcase of
      energy efficiency and recycled materials usewas supported by grants of
      over $100,000 each from WMX (formerly Waste Management, Inc.) and
      Wheelabrator. The former is the worlds largest processor of toxic chemical
      waste, and has been the subject of numerous bribery and anti-trust
      convictions, as well as countless environmental violations. The latter is
      a leading supplier of incinerator technologies that have been widely
      opposed by activists across the country due to serious environmental and
      public health concerns.

      The World Wildlife Funds corporate contributors are now led by the likes
      of the Bank of America, Kodak, and J.P. Morgan (over $250,000), with the
      Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris, WMX, DuPont, and numerous others playing
      supporting roles. Its budget grew from $17 million in 1985 to $62 million
      in 1993, with roughly half of its revenues coming from individual
      contributions. The National Wildlife Federations budget had increased by
      more than 50 percent since 1988, to $96 million in 1994. Major corporate
      donors included Bristol Myers Squibb, Ciba-Geigy, DuPont, and Pennzoil,
      and an additional 161 companies participated in the Federations matching
      gift program, in which individuals gifts to the organization are matched
      by their employer. Other organizations, such as the Sierra Club, have made
      contributor information more difficult to obtain, but it is noteworthy
      that their annual budget had leveled off at $39 million, after peaking at
      $52 million in 1991. Membership dues had fallen to 32 percent of the
      Sierra Clubs annual budget, half of the 1988 figure.

      The Money Chase

      One consistent factor in the institutionalization of official
      environmentalism has been the role of influential foundations in helping
      to frame the agendas of the leading organizations. Large foundations like
      the Ford Foundation and the various Rockefeller funds played a forceful
      role in the development of environmental organizations since the 1940s,
      leading some 1960s activists to dismiss environmental concerns as a mere
      creation of corporate philanthropists.

      Foundations often play a controversial role in movements for social
      change. Organizations that wish to sustain themselves over time, initiate
      new projects, and offer salaries to staff members invariably need to
      attract large donations, and the established foundations have long been
      the most available source of these. Political scientist Joan Roelofs has
      demonstrated the role of foundations in the decline of 1960s-era activism,
      arguing that grants were systematically allocated to assure "that radical
      energies were being channeled into safe, legalistic, bureaucratic and
      occasionally profit-making activities." This pattern has been repeated in
      anti-poverty groups, womens groups, and in the African American, Latino,
      and Native American communities, as well as in the environmental movement.

      In the 1990s, large donors have begun to intervene more directly to set
      the course of environmental activism. For example, a $275,000 grant to the
      Sierra Club in 1990 to support work on population issues made population
      advocacy the highest-funded program in the Clubs budget. This raised
      concern among activists who feared the effort would inadvertently support
      the rising wave of anti-immigration sentiment that was just beginning to
      sweep the country. In 1993, officers of the Pew Charitable Trusts brought
      together representatives from some of the leading regional and national
      forest protection groups in an effort to create a unified nationwide
      forest campaign. While the participants initially seized the opportunity
      to help develop such a unified effort, they soon learned that Pew had a
      very particular agenda in mind.

      "Pew was only interested in funding a campaign focused on legislation that
      would be passed by a Democratic Congress and that Clinton would sign,"
      explains Andy Mahler of the Indiana-based Heartwood organization, who
      served as an interim chair of the effort. Pew expressed little interest in
      aiding ongoing efforts at grassroots organizing, public education, or
      legal intervention by the member groups, suggesting to many that the
      potential effectiveness of the campaign was merely a secondary concern.

      Ultimately, Pew put its resources into a series of regional, rather than
      national efforts. One of these was in the Northeastern states, where a
      two-year Congressional study had failed to raise sufficient political
      momentum for the protection of the endangered Northern Forest region.
      Representatives of mainstream environmental groups and leading foundations
      created the Northern Forest Alliance, with a stated mission of protecting
      the forests of northern New England and New York, while promoting economic
      diversification. Groups in the region that depend on foundation grants
      were subsequently pressured to join the Alliance, and mute their
      criticisms of its rather bland, non-controversial, and rather piecemeal
      approach to the environmental health of a region that is threatened with
      significant, short-term increases in destructive logging and commercial

      The 1994 Annual Report of the Pew Charitable Trusts, describes the
      strategy behind these efforts. A "team of professionals," the report
      declares, stands behind the Trusts environmental programs. This team,
      consisting of lawyers, scientists, and outside consultants, will "play a
      key role in generating many of the ideas behind the programs we support,
      participating with colleagues from the environmental community in defining
      the goals and objectives of these programs, designing their operating
      structures, hiring key staff and, in some cases, being directly involved
      in program execution."

      Investigative journalist Stephan Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer
      described the strategy of a growing sector of leading environmental
      funders when he described Pews having "created and funded dozens of
      programs and independent organizations to carry out agendas determined by
      the foundation and its consultants. It has promoted its own causes,
      pursued its own initiatives, bankrolled its own research and imposed its
      own order." Salisbury, writing in Pews home city of Philadelphia, examined
      the Trusts increasingly controversial activities in areas from journalism
      and school reform to tourism marketing and restructuring local arts
      organizations, as well as in the environmental movement. He described Pews
      overall philosophy as "professionalized, self-promoting corporate

      In 1995, Northwest forest activist and journalist Jeffrey St. Clair joined
      with Alexander Cockburn to investigate the stock holdings of the three
      foundations that play the largest institutional role in supporting
      mainstream environmentalism. The three foundations, each the product of
      leading transnational oil fortunes, are the Pew Charitable Trusts (Sun Oil
      Co.), W. Alton Jones Foundation (Cities Service/CITGO), and the
      Rockefeller Family Fund. St. Clair and Cockburn found that the Pew
      endowment, with a total of $3.8 billion in holdings, is heavily invested
      in timber firms, mining companies, arms manufacturers, and chemical
      companies, as well as oil exploration. Alton Jones timber investments
      include a subsidiary of the notorious Maxxam conglomerate, which is
      attempting to liquidate the largest single expanse of old growth redwood
      forest that remains in private hands, along with Louisiana Pacific, the
      largest purchaser of timber from the National Forests. The foundation also
      holds a $1 million share in the controversial gold mining giant, the FMC
      Corporation. The Rockefeller fund holds investments in no less than 28 oil
      and gas development companies, as well as timber giants Weyerhaeuser and
      Boise Cascade. St. Clair and Cockburn traced a number of instances in
      which environmental compromises engineered by the Clinton administration,
      and by groups such as the Wilderness Society, directly benefited these
      foundations holdings.

      The Nationals Respond

      The mid-1990s saw the beginnings of a shakeup at the top among some of the
      largest Washington-based environmental groups. In some cases it was a
      response to persistent grassroots criticism; more often it was a
      reflection of the persistent decline in the influence of the environmental
      movement in Washington. This loss of influence began well before the
      Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, and has been exacerbated by the
      Clinton administrations often duplicitous approach to environmental
      policy. Some of the mainstream groups have made concerted efforts to cast
      their efforts in more grassroots terms. For example, when environmental
      lawyer Mark van Putten assumed the position of CEO of the National
      Wildlife Federation in 1996, he described his mission as one to
      "reinvigorate the real roots of the conservation movement."

      The Wilderness Society also chose a new top officer in 1996, and the
      Sierra Club elected a 23-year-old activist and founder of the Sierra
      Student Coalition as its new president. The Sierra Club has gradually,
      though often reluctantly, strengthened its positions on some issues of
      primary concern to grassroots Club members. A five-year campaign by Sierra
      Club members to press the Club to take a stand against all commercial
      logging in the National Forests culminated in a 1996 membership referendum
      that passed by a margin of 2 to 1 in favor of the proposal. This despite
      the opposition of some notable Sierra Club board members, including Earth
      First! co-founder Dave Foreman, who condemned the Clubs "true believers
      who hold onto some idealistic notion of no compromise," apparently with
      little intended irony. Spurred in part by widespread outrage at the
      devastating effects of expanded "salvage" logging during the past two
      years, the referendum may have added some much needed teeth to the Clubs
      efforts to recast itself in more grassroots terms.

      The mainstream environmental movement also played a more visible role in
      the 1996 congressional elections than ever before. The League of
      Conservation Voters targeted a dozen members of Congress for defeat,
      highlighting their role in promoting a virulently anti-environmental
      agenda. Of these, six were defeated in their re-election bids, most
      significantly Larry Pressler of South Dakota, who was the only incumbent
      U.S. Senator to be defeated in 1996. A seventh, Rep. Steve Stockman of
      Texas, was defeated in a December runoff. The Sierra Club spent ten times
      as much as ever before in support of pro-environment candidates, a total
      of $7.5 million. However, such efforts have proved far from sufficient to
      alter the terms of environmental debate in official Washington circles.
      The most noticeable result may have been to encourage candidates on both
      sides of the issues to drape their campaigns in green cloth, advancing the
      corporate greenwash by promoting environmental images over substance.

      Bill Clintons various high-profile environmental proclamations during the
      campaign seasonfrom Yellowstone Park to Utah to the California redwoodsnot
      only affirmed the trend toward image over substance, but each featured
      measures to handsomely compensate corporations for not fully exercising
      their "property rights" to expand mining and timber cutting on
      corporate-owned lands. Last year, the federal government offered trades of
      federal land with a combined value of several hundred million dollars to
      mining companies in Arizona, timber companies in the Northwest, and the
      Houston-based conglomerate Maxxam, in exchange for the protection of a
      portion of their California redwood forest holdings. A subsidiary of the
      Canadian mining conglomerate Noranda was offered nearly $65 million in
      federal property to withdraw its proposal for a massive gold mining
      operation just north of Yellowstone National Park. The Environmental
      Defense Fund, which has been the leading proponent of an unabashedly
      "market-oriented" approach to environmentalism, described tradeoffs of
      federal land as the best "source of revenue on the horizon that is going
      to enable us to protect these sensitive areas as quickly as we have to,"
      according to the New York Times. This despite a large reserve of unspent
      federal funds designated specifically for conservation-related land

      To challenge the hegemony of the voices of official environmentalism on
      the national level will ultimately require more active and diverse
      networks of grassroots activists, organized and coordinated from the
      ground up. Such networks have begun to appear in the environmental justice
      movement, as well as among grassroots forest activists. Activists working
      on similar issues and facing an increasingly unified corporate agenda need
      to find ways to join forces across boundaries of geography, ethnicity,
      class, and specific-issue focus. Local groups may have ties to several
      regional and national networks, sometimes sharing legal and technical
      resources with larger, better-funded organizations. However, it is
      essential that they retain the prerogative to set their own agendas and
      speak to their own communities priorities, while steadfastly resisting the
      pressures of cooptation that the existing larger organizations so
      frequently succumb tosometimes unwittingly but often with unabashed

      In 1995, the long-awaited 25th anniversary of Earth Day came and went with
      considerably less fanfare than five years earlier. Controversies over
      corporate contributions largely derailed plans for the biggestand the most
      utterly compromisedEarth Day ever. Earth Day organizers hired a corporate
      public relations firm, Dorf & Stanton, to coordinate program development
      and communications, and established a short-lived "Earth Day Corporate
      Team" to actively solicit corporate participation. The organization was
      rocked with dissent and underwent two complete reorganizations before a
      revived Earth Day organization raised $6.5 million in corporate

      The official Earth Day 1995 petition, addressed with a puzzling
      forthrightness to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, began, "With major
      polluters such as Texaco and Monsanto attempting to sponsor Earth Day, and
      every politician in the nation claiming to be for the environment, it is
      getting hard to figure out who is really protecting the planet and who is
      poisoning it." The corporate co-optation of Earth Day, an idea that
      provoked intense controversy in 1990, and brought hundreds of people to
      demonstrate on Wall Street, had become conventional wisdom by mid-decade.
      Will activists in 1997 begin to chart a different path?

      Tokar is a faculty member at Goddard College, has been active in local
      environmental movements since the 1970s, and has written extensively on
      ecology issues. This article is adapted from Brian Tokars <W0>Earth for
      Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (South End

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