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This Brave Nation
Carl Pope
Carl Pope
Sierra Club

In November 1966 as the war in Vietnam was heating up, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was invited to Harvard University to speak to a small group of students. The local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society demanded McNamara participate in a public debate on the war. The University ignored them. So when the Secretary arrived, they were waiting. Nearly 1,000 demonstrators surrounded the building where McNamara was speaking in an attempt to compel him to discuss the war. When McNamara made a break for his car, Carl Pope was one of several students who lay down in front of it, blocking his escape.

The young student antiwar activist would go on to become perhaps the most important environmental leader of his generation. After graduating from Harvard in 1967, he joined the Peace Corps, and spent two years in Bihar, India promoting family-planning education in rural villages. When he returned to the US, the experience landed him a job as the Political Director of Zero Population Growth.

Amid the increasing fragmentation and sectarianism of the left, Carl saw the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 as a landmark victory, demonstrating the potential of the environmental movement to draw together people whose interests might not otherwise coincide. We all need clean air, after all. In a few years he began working with the Sierra Club. Pope became the Club's executive director in 1992, the one hundredth anniversary of the organization's founding.

The Sierra Club was founded by early conservationist John Muir. Like Teddy Roosevelt, Muir thought unspoiled nature should be preserved, but only for some ┬ş he thought the indigenous peoples of Yosemite had "no right place in the landscape." As the Sierra Club's executive director, Pope has worked to overcome and expand the narrowness of its founder's vision, repeatedly fending off anti-immigration measures from within the Club in recent years and reaching out to people who are often wary of environmentalism through efforts such as the Blue/Green Alliance, founded with the steelworkers union.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe," Muir wrote, and under Pope's leadership the Sierra Club┬╣s organizing has followed this principle. He has worked to build coalitions across the progressive spectrum, throwing the weight of the Sierra Club behind America Coming Together, the major progressive get-out-the-vote effort for the 2004 elections and the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, environmental, and community leaders working to catalyze a clean energy revolution in America to reduce our nation┬╣s dependence on foreign oil, cut the carbon emissions that are destabilizing our climate, and expand opportunities for American businesses and workers.

In his 16 years as executive director of the Sierra Club, the Club has helped preserve almost 10 million acres of wilderness and 150,000 new members (for a total of 700,000) have signed up to defend still more. Pope was one of the principal authors of California's pioneering Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, which allowed citizens to sue polluters if they failed to comply with the law. In its efforts to prevent roads from encroaching on the areas of our national forests which remain relatively untouched, the Sierra Club collected the most public comments in history on a single regulatory issue: more than a million.

As the Sierra Club confronts the catastrophic threat of global warming, Carl Pope no longer stands alone before those determined on destruction. He now speaks for 750,000 believers in another world and inspires many more than that with his innovative organizing, determined coalition-building and visionary dedication to saving the planet.

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Van Jones
Van Jones
Green for All

Van Jones, born in rural Tennessee in the tumult year of 1968, had always planned to be a journalist. He was working for a local paper in Louisiana one summer and was shocked to see the hysteria and fear in Shreveport because a rap group, NWA, was coming to town. As the concert approached the police braced for violence, turning out in force with helicopters circling the crowd. The show was peaceful, but the next morning the front page of Jones┬╣ newspaper led with a photo of a young black man prostrate on the ground, a cop standing over him, gun drawn, with the headline: "Rap concert peaceful, but"

The was it for journalism: Jones went straight to Yale Law School, trying to find an education rooted in justice. The year was 1991, and the videotape of Rodney King┬╣s beating at the hands of the LAPD had electrified the country. When an all white jury pronounced the police involved innocent, South Central LA erupted, and a state of emergency was imposed throughout the region. At the time Jones was working with a human rights organization in the Bay Area, and he signed on as a legal observer of the first large rally to be held in San Francisco. Before the rally was over he┬╣d been swept up in mass arrests conducted by the police.

It didn't take much time in jail alongside the mix of multi-racial activists for Jones to identify himself as a radical. He subsequently turned down a job in Washington DC and returned to the Bay Area immediately after receiving his JD from Yale in 1993.

As Jones later recalled of his early days in the Bay Area: "We would be in meetings and people would say, 'Are you guys lawyers?' And we'd say 'Yeah, we're lawyers.'" "Hey, well, can the police just come in my house and, like, just go through everything and throw all my clothes on the floor and dump everything out of the cabinets?" And, "Hey, if the police are going to do an anal cavity search on my child, they can't just pull his pants down in front of everybody, right? They have to like take him around the building or something, right?" We would hear these horrible stories from these parents trying to figure out how to navigate life with young black and Latino and Asian kids and the main problem they were having was with the police.

In 1994 Jones responded, founding a group called Bay Area PoliceWatch to monitor police conduct. The organization offered a legal helpline, referred victims of alleged police misconduct to lawyers, and maintained a groundbreaking database of misconduct complaints; a New York office was opened in 1998.

In 1996, at the age of 28, Van co-founded, with Diana Frappier, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Named after one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement, the Center embodies Ella Baker's commitment to non-violence and the power of mobilizing young people for change. "PoliceWatch was always reactive,"" Van has commented, "always responding to some police outrage." He wanted to build a more proactive organization.

Under Jones' leadership, the Ella Baker Center has blazed new paths with a number of cutting-edge campaigns for justice, opportunity and peace. In 2003 it's Books Not Bars campaign defeated a proposal to construct a "Super-Jail For Youth" near Oakland, arguing that those resources would be better invested in keeping young people out of jail in the first place, primarily through increased educational opportunities. Books Not Bars is credited with reducing the total population of young prisoners in California by more than 30 percent. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Van formed ColorOfChange.org. Called by some, "The black MoveOn" the organization currently numbers 100,000 members strong, it has quickly become the nation┬╣s largest e-advocacy organization working on issues like the case of the Jena 6.

Now Van is busily blazing new trails, uniting the concerns of the inner city with a broad environmental agenda. The Center has partnered with the Apollo Alliance and the City of Oakland to develop a 'Green Jobs Corps,' which will train young people for "green- collar jobs" (a proposal Van is promoting as a national initiative for our next president, on the scale of Kennedy's Peace Corps). The Center is also working with other groups to create the country┬╣s first-ever ┼ĺGreen Enterprise Zone', with the intention of cultivating environmentally sound industry in Oakland. Van is also the founding president of Green For All, a national campaign for green-collar jobs, and a founding board member of One Sky, a national coalition to confront the challenge of climate change.

His visionary leadership is charting the way forward for a new generation of environmental activist as he widens the ecological community by taking the issues of all communities into account.