On September 29th, 62-year-old John Stewart, a high-profile UK activist and author, traveled to New York's JFK airport expecting to embark on an invited speaking tour across six U.S. cities starting on October 1st.
Though he was allowed to take the flight, he made it no further than the JFK terminal. At the airport, the FBI, Secret Service and immigration officials detained him for six hours of questioning before sending him on a flight back to the U.K.
John Stewart, a respected environmental activist with no criminal record, had applied and been approved to enter the U.S under the U.S. Visa Waiver program for British citizens—this approval was rescinded mid-flight.
The reason may have been his willingness to acknowledge the fact that peaceful civil disobedience has played a part in British environmental movements.
Stewart was voted the most effective environmental activist in the UK for his role in helping convince the current Conservative-led government to scrap plans for an expensive and environmentally destructive expansion project at London's Heathrow airport, a campaign that brought climate activists and fiscal conservatives together as unlikely allies.
Aviation Justice, a U.S. coalition, wanted aviation and climate organizers in America to hear John tell the story of the Heathrow coalition, which can't be told without mentioning the role of peaceful civil disobedience protests. In addition, U.S. immigration officials have indefinitely delayed the visa for Dan Glass, the other speaker on the tour, for special “administrative processing.”
The U.S. has a historical legacy of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience leading to important social change. Think of the U.S. civil rights movement. Think of the Occupy Wall Street protest happening now.
Sign the urgent petition to demand that U.S. immigration officials immediately grant both visas and clear Stewart's now-tainted visa record. Help speak out against this truly outrageous situation.
Stewart and Glass were set to begin a month-long lecture tour of the United States starting October 1st. They were going to share the story of how ordinary neighbors teamed up with environmentalists and fiscal conservatives to convince the current British government to halt a planned expansion at London's Heathrow Airport that would have destroyed communities, increased public health impacts, and accelerated climate change.
Stewart's visa waiver approval was rescinded in mid-flight, and he was subjected to 6 hours of interrogation about his work and the tour, before being kicked out of the country. Because of this he is now ineligible to ever again receive a visa waiver, and his record has been unjustly tainted. Our other invited speaker, Dan Glass, was effectively blocked from participating because his visa application was delayed indefinitely due to special “administrative processing.”
We agree with British Conservative Party MP Zac Goldsmith, who called the embarrassing decision to refuse Stewart entry into the United States "utterly scandalous".
We demand that Stewart and Glass be granted visas in time to allow for them to participate in the remainder of the speaking tour, and that Stewart's unjust denial of entry be cleared from his record.
Stewart and Glass bring to the United States real stories of how very different constituencies, from elected Conservative Party officials to hard-core environmentalists, can come together to build bridges and create change. In a time of increased political polarization, Americans desperately need to learn about more models of cooperation across our national divides. As American environmentalist Bill McKibben said, “We need more voices, not fewer, explaining the dangers of climate change and the rational responses we must make." We call upon the State Department to grant John Stewart and Dan Glass a visa so that they can exercise their right to freedom of speech and share their stories with American audiences in person.