by John Byrne Barry
Taking a group of 50 kids from the South Bronx to see the Mets battle the
Chicago Cubs might not seem like much of a clean air outreach activity. But
these kids live in a neighborhood where the air is thick with particulates, due
in part to the coal-burning furnaces in the local schools, and where there is a
high incidence of asthma.
So the Sierra Club, which has been fighting for funding to replace the
coal furnaces, joined forces with the Hunts Point Environmental Awareness
Committee to bring a group of neighborhood kids to Shea Stadium the Sunday
before Earth Day. The idea was to show the kids a good time and to mobilize
support for the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new standards for
smog and soot.
Between games, the kids -- dressed in oversized T-shirts emblazoned with the
message "Clean Air For Our Kids" -- walked onto the field to get their pictures
taken with Mr. Met, the team's baseball-headed mascot.
"Not only were the kids thrilled to be at the game and allowed on the field,"
said Susan Holmes, a member of the national Sierra Club Board of Directors and
the New York City Group's executive committee, "the fans were extremely
receptive to the Club's clean air message. Hundreds signed postcards to
President Clinton urging adoption of strong air quality standards."
Holmes, who organized the event along with Environmental Public Education
Coordinator John Samatulski and Northeast Regional Representative Marion
Trieste, said sports fans are the kind of audience the Club needs to reach out
to. "We want to make clean air as American as baseball and apple pie."
Obviously, watching a Mets game is not going to cure a kid's asthma, but by
going out into baseball stadiums, malls, city parks and gardening stores this
spring, Club members mobilized support for stronger clean air standards. In
April and May, the Club distributed a quarter-million postcards in more than 50
cities calling for the new standards.
"Americans clearly care about clean air and children's health," said Club
President Adam Werbach, who spent part of Earth Day on CNN going head-to-head
with National Association of Manufacturers President Jerry Jasinowski over the
EPA's proposed standards. "Our job is to translate that concern into action --
to get postcards and calls to the president and members of Congress to make sure
that industry efforts to derail these much-needed new standards don't succeed."
Activists also focused on the connection between pollution and children's health
in dozens of other cities, including Salt Lake City, where 200 Utahns rallied
for clean air on the steps of the state capitol, making a point about the ill
effects of dirty air on asthmatic children. Nina Dougherty, Utah Chapter air
quality coordinator, was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune the next day. "We know
we have a problem," she said, "We know the air makes us sick. We have the data."
The week before Earth Day, the Club also aired a radio ad supporting strong
clean air standards that ran in 12 cities, including Denver, St. Louis and
Though clean air was the national focus, Club Earth Day volunteers also
organized around a variety of other issues, from clean beaches in San Diego to
factory hog farms in Oklahoma. In Bismarck, N.D., 50 volunteers, some in canoes
or waders, installed new signs at wetlands interpretive stations, renovated
bluebird houses and prepared a trail. South of Bismarck, in Aberdeen, S.D., a
town with nine Sierra Club members, organizers Holly Denning and Doug Kind
turned out 45 volunteers to deliver 8,000 postcards supporting strong clean air
and water protections. Denning said she hopes the strong spring showing will
lead to the formation of a new Sierra Club group in Aberdeen, the state's third
To take action:
Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and tell your
representative and senators to support the EPA's clean air proposal. Also call
President Clinton at (202) 456-1111.
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