In Chicago, Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin was shopping for
groceries after a tiring Saturday in which dozens of volunteers
distributed thousands of Sierra Club voter guides. At the cash
register, he noticed one on the counter, and he casually remarked on
it. Whereupon the clerk said, "You should read this. I gave up voting
years ago, but look here at what these f___ers are trying to do to us.
I can't just let that happen, so I guess I have to get out and vote
Such was the pervasive success of our voter education efforts this
summer and fall -- we didn't just inform and educate, we broadened the
Club's support base and in some cases even "created" voters by
encouraging non-voters to take their concerns to the polls.
All told, in its effort to head off anti-environmental legislation,
educate voters about the environmental positions of candidates and
elect pro-environment candidates to office, the Club spent $7.5
million. The voter education component -- where the Club raised and
spent $3 million -- took a variety of forms, from canoe excursions to
bus tours to a door-to-door canvass in 30 cities to street theater. The
Club distributed 1.3 million voter guides comparing congressional
candidates' positions in 27 states. In addition, the Club and its
allies distributed voter charts displaying the voting records of 49
state House delegations. Yard signs, doorhangers and bumperstickers to
direct mail and newspaper ads -- we were everywhere, and it showed.
Two weeks before Election Day, thousands of volunteers organized by the
Club in 29 cities walked their neighborhoods distributing over 500,000
voter guides. The other major outreach effort was a voter-guide
mailing. Through a telephone survey, the Club identified about 10,000
environmentally sympathetic swing voters in each of 23 targeted areas.
Each of these voters received three different voter guides. Through
this program, we sent out a total of 689,000 congressional voter
guides. We also mailed or passed out an additional 175,000 presidential
voter guides comparing the records of Clinton and Dole.
"Our goal was to change the politics on environmental issues in
communities across the country," said Conservation Director Bruce
Hamilton, "and through a remarkable combination of activities, we
Perhaps nowhere was that more true than in South Dakota, where
Club-endorsed Rep. Tim Johnson (D) defeated anti-environmental
incumbent Sen. Larry Pressler (R). The successful outreach and
education activities of the past year not only catapulted the
environment into a higher-profile issue there, said Club organizer
Karen Fogas, but they "changed forever the way Club members in the
state look at themselves and how the public perceives us."
Two years ago, the East River Group, which covers all of eastern South
Dakota, had only three routinely active leaders among its 180 members
and was on the verge of dissolution. "Sen. Pressler was able to paint
the Club as the blackest black," said Fogas. "People shied away from
us. We didn't even hold meetings."
This spring, however, the Club attracted more than 130 volunteers to
distribute doorhangers in Sioux Falls -- a community with just 87 Club
members. Then, over the summer, many of these newly recruited
volunteers staffed tables at county fairs, visited college campuses and
continued to educate the public about the importance of environmental
and public health protections. By fall, the group delivered -- on foot
and through the mail -- more than 50,000 voter guides comparing
Pressler's and Johnson's votes on the environment.
South Dakotans were hungry for this information, said Fogas, and the
outreach did more than expand the visibility of environmental issues.
It boosted the respectability of the Club, nearly doubled the East
River Group membership and is proving a catalyst for a new group in the
Elsewhere, voter education had an impact even where the Club-supported
candidate lost. In Oklahoma, staff and volunteers were disappointed
that incumbent freshman Rep. J.C. Watts (R) prevailed over Democratic
challenger Ed Crocker in the state's 4th District, but were heartened
by their success in elevating environmental awareness.
Chapter leader Mark Derichsweiler said that the education events
focused the public's attention on the sharp contrast between Watts'
votes to gut the Clean Water Act and lift restrictions on carcinogens
and Crocker's support for maintaining existing safeguards. The chapter
also gained new volunteers, strengthened the organization and forged
new ties with labor unions and student groups.
Conservation Director Hamilton emphasized that voter education will
continue to pay off when the new members of Congress open their
legislative session in January. "They'll know we're watching. They'll
know that the American people care about protecting the environment and
that if they want to represent their constituents, they had better vote
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