Environmentalists from across the United States and Europe are surprised and outraged that John Stewart, voted the UK’s most effective environmentalist, was barred from entering the US. Stewart was invited to the US by a coalition of environmental organizations.
On September 29, Stewart, who does not have a criminal record and meets the requirements for the US Visa Waiver program, had his visa waiver rescinded mid-flight. He was questioned by the FBI, the Secret Service, and immigration for six hours at New York’s JFK Airport before being put back on a plane to London.
Aviation Justice, an American environmental coalition, had planned a month-long speaking tour for Stewart, set to begin on October 1. Stewart had been instrumental in the campaign to stop a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport. He had chaired the diverse coalition of neighbors, environmental activists, fiscal conservatives, and local politicians which persuaded the Conservative-led government to scrap plans for a new runway. In 2008 the Independent on Sunday voted Stewart “the UK’s most effective green activist.”
Environmentalist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, says that barring a community organizer from entering the U.S. is a dangerous statement. He continued, “We need more voices, not fewer, explaining the dangers of climate change and the rational responses we must make. And though it’s a backhanded testament to John Stewart’s effectiveness, this is sad news for all of us hoping to hear what he had to say.”
Stewart said, “What seemed to concern them was that I would be discussing, as part of my talk, the role that peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience played in the Heathrow campaign. I wouldn’t be able to explain the campaign without doing so. In any case, it is completely legitimate to discuss the role of an activity which has featured so heavily in so many historical campaigns, from the American Civil Rights Movement, to the Suffragettes’ fight for the right of women to vote in the UK.”
Stewart has also won support from across Europe and the UK. Earlier today, Conservative member of the British Parliament Zac Goldsmith tweeted: “Heathrow campaigner, John Stewart barred from US. A heroic campaigner, and a gent. Utterly scandalous.”
U.S. organizers have spent over a year planning the month-long national lecture tour on aviation and the environment, and are shocked and embarrassed at their government’s actions. Another invited speaker, award-winning Scottish climate activist Dan Glass, was effectively blocked from participating because his visa application was delayed indefinitely due to special “administrative processing.”
“John Stewart is a mainstream environmentalist who we invited because of his ability to work with everybody, and for his role in helping influence people like British Prime Minister David Cameron to choose bold green solutions,” says Barnali Ghosh, a San Francisco tour organizer. “Americans needs to hear from more centrists who can build left-right coalitions.” Seattle organizer Debi Wagner asks why Stewart’s visa was rescinded mid-flight. “Barring environmentalists won’t make us any safer or healthier.”
New York organizer Dr. Frans Verhagen is outraged, but affirms that the tour will go ahead. “We will use videoconferencing to ensure that John Stewart and Dan Glass can still address our meetings. Our lecture tour still begins in New York tomorrow, as planned.”
The Aviation Justice Express is a coalition of airport watchdog, climate action, and sustainable transportation groups and activists. Endorsers include 350.org, US Citizens Aviation Watch, Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution, Sane Aviation for Everyone, Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, All Aboard Washington, AirportWatch, So We Stand, and Left Field Films.