Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Club Voter Education Hits High Gear

by Marie Dolcini

It was a banner summer for the Sierra Club. Across the county, we encouraged citizens to take a closer look at the environmental voting record of their senators and representatives. And from voter scorecards that highlighted these votes to volunteer "bird dogs" who flushed out the truth, the media have eagerly followed our tracks - particularly when we form larger coalitions.

In Idaho, that's meant linking arms with senior citizens, laborers, Hispanics and youth to draw attention to Rep. Helen Chenoweth's (R) record. In late August, over 100 people converged on the Idaho statehouse to share their concerns over Chenoweth's actions. "We pointed out her League of Conservation Voters zero percentage rating, her vote against clean water 10 times out of 10, her stance on salmon issues and her suggestion to have timber companies manage some of our public lands," said Conservation Coordinator Roger Singer.

Elsewhere, the Washington Post singled out the Sierra Club in a front-page article as a major political player for forming bipartisan coalitions aimed at identifying legislative friends and foes and broadcasting their records. The article highlighted TV ads run by the Sierra Club and its partners in Andrea Seastrand's (R-Calif.) district exposing her votes against the environment.

In Utah, volunteers came up with eye-catching bus ads carrying the message: "Protect Utah's Wilderness - 5.7 Million Acres - For Our Families, For Our Future." The ads will travel Salt Lake's streets on four city buses throughout the fall. The natural-gas-powered vehicles began their maiden voyage with a mobile press conference urging all Utahns to "get on board" for Utah wilderness. They then toured downtown and made a stop at the federal building to draw attention to the lack of congressional ridership before picking up a crowd of supporters, who used buttons in support of Utah wilderness as tokens.

Merlin McColm, a businessman from Elko, Nev., is among Club volunteers traditionally identifying with Bob Dole's party, and pointing out the dangers in the GOP leadership's environmental platform. He's joining the voter education effort by offering testimony in a series of Club-sponsored TV ads running in Western media markets this fall. "I'm a conservative Republican," says McColm in one ad, "and I'm absolutely furious at what Congress is trying to do to the environment."

Thanks to the Sierra Student Coalition, voter education has also caught on on campus. After conducting two summer training programs, SSC activists returned to school energized with ideas for organizing support for environmental issues.

"We're narrowing our focus and highlighting the voting record of members of Congress in key college communities along with our regional conservation issues," said SSC Director Kim Mowery. These issues include raising awareness of toxics in the Southeast, cleaning up Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and protecting Utah wilderness.

"Our activists will be working to make sure students stay . informed through dorm-storming," said Mowery. That means student volunteers will be taking to their residence halls the night before an environmental vote with informational handouts to talk to people one-on-one. "We explain a bill, clarify legislators' voting records and ask students to make a call - and typically generate thousands of calls," said Mowery.

And thanks to the Club's canvass, coordinated with the Fund for Public Interest Research, another 250,000 voting charts will be distributed in 28 locations this summer and fall, from Manhattan to Santa Cruz. "The canvass is a very effective outreach tool," said canvass coordinator Emily McFarland. "Its strength is in its face-to-face approach to educating voters about the importance of protecting the environment."

Conservation Director Bruce Hamilton said the Club's success doing voter education is the result of tremendous teamwork between staff and volunteers - and our extensive media coverage during the Republican and Democratic conventions significantly furthered our efforts.

Later this month, Club activists will be distributing thousands of additional voter education materials to citizens. "We're keeping up the momentum," said Singer, "and are helping make the difference for a greener 105th."

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