Becoming an Iceberg
By MARTHA MARKS
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors and Staff in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on February 21, 2004.
I’m really pleased to be here with you this afternoon, catching up with old friends like Chuck McGrady and just hanging out for a while in this marvelous old posada. La Posada de Albuquerque is the kind of place that wraps its lovely arms around you and just makes you feel good.
I hope you all enjoyed your visit yesterday to my newly adopted home town of Santa Fe, and your dinner at La Fonda. Even though my husband and I now live in Santa Fe, all it takes is an impromptu stroll around the Plaza, with maybe a sidestep into La Fonda for lunch, to make us feel like we’ve taken a mini-vacation to some exciting and exotic place. Which, of course, we have!
So please accept this relative newcomer’s warm welcome to spectacular New Mexico. Like a lot of folks who have chosen to live here because of the state’s natural beauty, history and charm, I’m committed to doing what one person can do to make sure it remains the Land of Enchantment forever. So I’m especially pleased that one of our nine Republicans for Environmental Protection chapters is here. Through the efforts of Chapter President Ken Whiton and his energetic flock of “Green Republicans” throughout the state, new voices are being raised in new-and-different ways to protect the things we all love about this very special place.
I’m sure that by now most of you know at least a few things about Republicans for Environmental Protection. We’ve been mentioned in Sierra magazine several times since REP began in 1995… most recently in an interview with me that was published a year ago. I got a real chuckle out of the headline of that particular article, which referred to REP as “the environmental conscience of a party that may not want one.”
Believe me… when I first read that, I didn’t know whether to say Ouch! or Bin-go!
Well anyway, I’m here today to tell you that it’s absolutely true. The Republican Party really does have an environmental conscience. It’s out there, bottled up all across the country, seething just beneath the surface, positively itching to be set free. You’ll find it in the outspoken, energetic, articulate, frustrated and sometimes-angry army of “Green Elephants” that REP is pulling together around the country.
I can’t tell you how often the very first thing that people write to me or my staff when they sign up with REP is: “I’m sooo glad to find your organization. I thought I was the only one!!!”
Think of it… every single day frustrated conservation-minded Republicans stumble into our web site, or happen upon one of our op-eds, or pick up a copy of The Green Elephant at a friend’s house. We’ve never had the funds to do any kind of mass mailing or mass-market advertising. Our growth mostly comes from word-of-mouth, so it’s been predictably slow and random. But it’s happening.
REP’s membership literally doubled in the first six months of George W. Bush’s term. Certain early actions of his administration—his appointments, his decisions on things like arsenic and global warming— flushed a tremendous number of “Green Republicans” out of the woodwork. For those few months, it looked as if all REP had to do was be here and our numbers would continue to swell. To some extent, that’s still true… but it was more true in the early days of this administration than in the last two years. As you know, since 9/11, Americans have been very distracted with other issues.
In January 2001, people all over the country read my quotes in their local newspapers after I participated in a Washington, DC, press conference opposing the nomination of Gale Norton as Interior Secretary. Your own Carl Pope was a major voice at that press conference, as were the leaders of virtually every other national environmental organization in the country. Carl and the others—Bill Meadows of The Wilderness Society, Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife, John Adams of Natural Resources Defense Council, Deb Callahan of the League of Conservation Voters, and a dozen other top-tier environmental leaders—all made powerful statements and were quoted far and wide. Every syndicated news service was there, as were NPR, CNN and a cross-section of the Washington DC press corps. The press conference itself was broadcast live on C-Span, and reports came back after the event that the television audience was huge.
But do you know what seemed to amaze most people that day? It was the fact that the leader of a young, tiny and at that point mostly-unknown Republican environmental organization had dared to stand up and oppose a nominee from her own party.
REP’s opposition to the Norton nomination was the “Man Bites Dog” story that day. Our upstart little organization was the mouse that roared in calling for a Republican-majority Senate to reject the Republican president’s choice to head the Interior Department.
And apparently, plenty of my fellow Republicans agreed with REP’s difficult decision to oppose that nomination. Conservation-minded Republicans all around the country and from as far away as Belgium and Italy either caught that press conference live on TV or read about it in the papers and came flocking to REP’s web site. We didn’t have e-commerce on our site at that point, but dues checks from brand-new members rolled in for weeks, apparently as a direct result of the increased visibility we gained from taking a stand against Gale Norton. Clearly, from a philosophical and strategic perspective, that was the right thing to do.
Time out for a quick little anecdote: I was a county commissioner in Illinois at the time of that press conference. Our county administrator—with whom I had a good working relationship—just happened to be on vacation that week in Cancun, Mexico. When he got back to the office the following week, he came up to my desk, dropped in front of me a copy of the Cancun edition of the Miami Herald, and said, with a big grin on his face:
“I can’t even go to Cancun and get away from you!”
At the top of the page was a banner headline about the press conference, with a large pull quote from me right in the center of the page. And that’s the kind of press attention that quickly brought hundreds and hundreds of new REP members into our fold in 2001.
Now, you may be wondering why I think it’s worth telling you that story. Well, it’s because I think it helps me make my point. I am absolutely certain that there are still thousands upon thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands, for all I know—of conservation-minded Republicans who have not yet found their way to REP.
Why do I feel so sure about that?
Well, it’s because… every single week, dozens of new members join REP. Somehow, they missed that flurry of media attention back in ’01 and all the op-eds we’ve published and the speeches we’ve given since then. Either they just now stumbled into our web site, or they caught one of our latest op-eds in the newspaper, or they heard me on the radio, or they read an article about us, or they saw a state REP leader speak at an event, or someone told them about us. And every single week that passes, at least one of those brand-new REP members tells us the same thing:
“I’m sooo glad to find your organization. I thought I was the only one!!!”
And it’s also because… the polls consistently tell us that a large majority of Republicans say they care very much about conservation of natural resources and protection of our environment. Those are not the only things they care about, of course—just as they’re not the only things that Democrats care about. But even the most trusted Republican pollsters report back to party leaders that the majority of Republican voters do care about natural resource conservation and environmental protection, and that they’re increasingly worried—or upset, or angry— about the GOP’s approach to those issues.
So we believe it’s just a matter of time before hundreds of thousands of worried, upset or angry conservation-minded Republicans find their way to REP. Our growth pattern is strong, and if that continues the odds are good that in time we will be able to turn the GOP’s ship around.
You know, that’s an image I like to use when I talk about the anti-environmentalism that has crept into the Republican Party in the last two decades. I see the GOP as an enormous ship, steaming along at full speed with a charismatic captain at the helm and a huge load of fuel in the hold. The ship is powerful and shows no sign of stopping or turning in a different direction. There’s absolutely no way it’s going to do that unless… unless… unless it hits an iceberg that’s clearly identified as The Environment. Then and only then will it be forced to veer off its current anti-environmental course.
And so, we Republicans who care about protecting our environment and conserving our resources for current and future generations…
We Republicans who want to change our party so that the environmental community we’re a part of doesn’t have to fight the same battles forever and ever and ever…
We conservation-minded Republicans have to become an iceberg.
Becoming an iceberg means a lot of things.
One thing it doesn’t mean is that we conservation-minded Republicans are trying to sink our party’s ship. Far from it! It simply means we’re trying to turn it around.
- Becoming an iceberg means that we conservation-minded Republicans have to speak up as Republicans, because ours are the only voices that Republican leaders will pay attention to. As long as GOP leaders are able to dismiss the environmental community as nothing more than a collection of wild-eyed “watermelons and wackos,” very little meaningful progress will ever again be made.
- Becoming an iceberg means that we conservation-minded Republicans have to be willing to publicly chastise our leaders when they do stupid things. And Lord knows, they have done plenty of environmentally-stupid things in the last few years.
- Becoming an iceberg means that we conservation-minded Republicans must make the point as loudly and as clearly as we possibly can that clean air and clean water and protected public lands and meaningful efforts to conserve energy and stave off global warming are not in any way partisan issues. Children of both parties suffer from asthma. Children of both parties enjoy swimming in clean lakes and fishing in clean rivers. Children of both parties will have to raise their own families in the world we leave them. Pollution and sickness and wasted energy and global warming are not family values.
- Becoming an iceberg means that we conservation-minded Republicans must vote against our party on occasion, to drive home the point that environmental issues are costing the GOP votes that it can’t afford to lose.
Well, I’m happy to tell you that conservation-minded Republicans are starting to stand up and speak loudly and clearly to our elected officials. And it’s not just us REP members, either—although many of those I’m going to tell you about are members of REP. The truth is… people of all political stripes care about the Earth and are becoming concerned about the administration’s anti-environmental policies. Republicans from a wide variety of backgrounds who care about wild places and wild creatures are becoming increasingly vocal in ways they haven’t been in the past. We environmentalists suddenly have a lot more allies than we had before. This is a very good development. The iceberg is growing.
You’ve probably seen recent news reports about how fishermen and hunters—those “hook and bullet” folks who up till now have been among George W. Bush’s most ardent supporters—are not happy campers. A couple of months back, a group of them wangled a private meeting with the president and managed to get him to back off his plans to further undo protections for wetlands. We “enviro-wackos” could never have gotten a private meeting like that, but the “hook and bullet” crowd did, and they came away with the results they wanted… which also, not coincidentally, happened to be the results we wanted.
So… bully for the hook and bullet crowd!
More recently, those same sportsmen have been rallying in Washington and getting press attention for their opposition to rollbacks in the Roadless Rule. The administration’s December 23 rule on the Tongass National Forest seems to have backfired. Now hunters and fishermen who love those backwoods areas are up in arms at what they rightly see as the impending destruction of one of their favorite areas.
When we “enviros” say “Don’t destroy the Tongass!” the Bush administration just yawns and goes right ahead with its plans. But when the leaders of dozens of large sportsmen’s organizations go to Washington to rally on the Capitol steps—and let it be known that their millions of members are unhappy, and get nationwide press for their efforts—the Bush administration sits up and pays attention. Especially in an election year.
But it’s not just the hunters and fishermen who are getting restive. Now we’ve got ranchers in Wyoming and Montana and Colorado and New Mexico raising their fists and shaking them at the administration.
To illustrate… I’d like to read to you parts of an op-ed written by a REP member named Tweeti Blancett, who lives in northwestern New Mexico and who just happens to be a rancher and a lifelong Republican. Yesterday, Tweeti sent her op-ed to the Albuquerque Journal. I have a hunch they will print it. Actually, I’m going to suggest that Tweeti send it to a lot of other papers as well, and I don’t think she’ll mind if I read part of it to you:
Why I fight: The coming gas explosion from the West
by Tweeti Blancett
Here’s what I once believed: that if the President knew about the damage done to our land by the energy industry, the damage would cease.
I once believed that if you could show that industry can extract gas without damaging land right near us—as it does on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and on Ted Turner’s Vermijo Ranch—that those examples would be followed by every company.
Believing that, I went to Washington, D.C., in August 2002, and met with Kathleen Clarke, who runs the Bureau of Land Management. I met with Rebecca Watson, a Montanan high in the Department of Interior. I met with V.A. Stephens, who is with the Council on Environmental Quality. And I met with the New Mexico congressional staffs. I told them all that gas drilling could be done right but that it was being done wrong. I begged them to enforce existing regulations.
I came home to the small town of Aztec, N.M., and waited for change. I’m still waiting.
I suppose not everyone can waltz into Washington and get that kind of entree. But I ran George Bush’s 2000 campaign in my part of New Mexico. I ran Sen. Pete Domenici’s campaign in my county in 1996. Our family has been on the land here for six generations and going on three centuries. We graze cattle on 17 square-miles of Bureau of Land Management, state and our private land.
We once ran 600 cows on those 35,000 acres. Today, we can barely keep 100 cows. Grass and shrubs are now roads, drill pads or scars left by pipeline paths. We have trouble keeping our few cows alive because they get run over by trucks servicing wells each day, or they get poisoned when they lap up the sweet anti-freeze leaking out of unfenced compressor engines.
I have not taken this quietly. I have been on a mission for 16 years. In the beginning, I wanted to save the 400-acre farm and the adjacent piece of wild land in northwest New Mexico that I care most about. That’s not much out of 35,000 acres. My family thought I was nuts. My son was a senior in high school, and resisted my attempts to enlist him. My husband said I was wasting my time.”
I’m sorry that I don’t have time to read all of Tweeti’s intense, extremely moving op-ed to you, but I do want to share her conclusion:
”At times it seems hopeless. Then I hear from people facing similar situations in Colorado, in Montana, in Wyoming, in Utah. Many are like us—conservative, Republican, pro-free enterprise people. Others are environmentalists, or just care about land and animals.
Shortly, there will be a huge natural gas explosion, but it won’t be pipelines or gas wells that blow. The explosion will come from the average Westerner, who is tired of being used by the oil and gas industry, with the help of state and federal officials.”
I’m absolutely sure that everybody in this room will join me in saying: Bully for Tweeti Blancett!
But it’s not just hunters and sportsmen and ranchers who are starting to voice their displeasure with Republican anti-environmentalism. I’m going to read to you portions of three letters that I’ve received recently… all of them from long-time REP members:
From a REP member named Maggie, who lives in St. Albans, Missouri:
“I am about ready to throw in the towel on the Republican Party. When you started REP, I joined right away, and I have been thrilled to see the number of congressmen and citizens who have also joined. You have gotten great press and your newsletter is inspiring. Unfortunately, George W isn’t listening. As long as he is the candidate for president in 2004, I can’t vote Republican. I can’t even vote Republican for my senators or representatives, because I feel a need to undermine GW’s power in the Congress. Besides, my congressmen have abysmal records on the environment.”
From a REP member named Carol in New York State:
“I voted for George W. Bush once. After seeing what he has done to the environment, I will never vote for him again.”
From a REP member named Rex in South Carolina:
“The Bush administration’s actions have driven me away from the Republican party. I must admit that, come primary day ‘04, I will be voting for the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Bush. Our environment will be a healthier place the moment Bush and Cheney are out of office.”
And please remember… the people who take the time to write to me are just the tip of the iceberg.
So, you ask… when will the great Republican ship start to turn around? When will top-tier GOP leaders begin to take a fundamentally different approach to issues like energy conservation and global warming, habitat loss and species extinction, and the myriad of other serious problems that we environmentalists are so genuinely worried about?
I wish I could promise you that the tide is going to turn in 2004. I wish I could swear that we conservation-minded Republicans have organized to such an extent that we’re at iceberg capacity right now. I wish I could guarantee that the next GOP candidate for President of the United States would be a member of REP—or at least somebody we think is just great. Unfortunately that’s not yet the case. It takes a long, long time to build a movement, not to mention an iceberg.
What I do believe I can tell you is that the long-term prognosis for change within my party looks better now than at any time in the recent past.
To switch metaphors on you for just a minute: The pendulum has swung so far to the extreme right that it can’t hang out there forever. It will start to swing back to the center. Gravity—meaning the sensible American voter— will pull it back to the center, which is exactly the point where we at REP want it to come to and remain.
I believe the pendulum will begin to swing this year, because many once-loyal Republican voters are reluctantly coming to the conclusion that they must vote against their own party to save the things they love… and to save the GOP from itself. If President Bush should lose in November, especially if his environmental record becomes an issue in the race, I think there will be a renewed concern for environmental issues within the GOP.
Another reason I believe the pendulum will begin to swing this year, is because the Republican Party does not have the majority of Americans on its side when it comes to conservation and environmental issues. And Republican leaders know it. Their own pollsters have been telling them that for years. They know—to return to my original metaphor—that the iceberg is out there.
Unfortunately, instead of responding to that reality by showing more concern for the growing iceberg, the administration focuses on timing: issuing anti-environmental rulings on Friday nights, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, when they think nobody’s watching. They focus on talking about issues in a less-threatening way and diverting people’s attention from those issues. Orwellian speech and red herrings abound in Washington, as you know. But that doesn’t mean that GOP leaders have succeeded in diminishing the American people’s fundamental desire for natural resource conservation and environmental protection. They have not. The iceberg has always been there, and I believe it’s starting to loom large in front of the ship.
So a big part of REP’s role in becoming an iceberg is to focus attention back onto those things that GOP honchos do not want attention focused on. It’s part of our role to call a spade a spade. Rather than letting political spin-meisters get away with covering up serious scientific concerns with soothing, confusing, non-scientific blather… we tell the truth. We praise Republican leaders every chance we get when they deserve it, but we don’t hesitate to call them on the carpet when they don’t. If you’ve ever gone to our web site and read through the many things we’ve said over the years in our Green Elephant newsletter, or our published op-eds, or the speeches we’ve given around the country… you’ll know we take our truth-telling role very seriously. And we’re working hard to build a strong pro-conservation GOP organization. Becoming an iceberg ain’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
I’d like to conclude with a few observations about the relationship between REP and other national environmental organizations… like the Sierra Club.
REP owes a huge debt of gratitude to organizations like the Sierra Club for overcoming what must originally have been considerable skepticism. But over the years, you and other groups have learned to trust our somewhat-different “take” on environmental issues. You and other groups have come to see us as an ally in an ongoing mutual battle. You and other groups have reached out to us and given us priceless platforms that have helped REP grow larger and stronger… and therefore, much better able to hold up our end of the fight.
Please know that REP wants to continue partnering with the Sierra Club and other national environmental groups. We do not seek to compete with you for members or dollars. Our goal is simply to add another regiment to the environmental army that finds itself having to fight harder and harder every year, just to stay even.
So, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you today. I look forward to building a stronger working relationship between the members, directors and staff of the Sierra Club and our growing environmental iceberg: the members, directors and staff of Republicans for Environmental Protection.