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The Planet

Doors CLose on Club Canvass Program

The Planet, March 1997, Volume 4, number 2

While the majority of American citizens strongly support environmental protection, most don't closely follow the progress of critical legislation in Congress. This was especially true during the early days of the 104th Congress, when, under cover of the Contract With America, House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the assault on 25 years of environmental protection.

That's why the Sierra Club's door-to-door canvass, which reached over 6 million citizens during the reign of the last Congress, was so integral to the Club's success in stopping the War on the Environment. "Having canvassers knocking on doors in dozens of cities helped us mobilize citizens who cared, but might not have otherwise acted to protect their environmental rights," said Canvass Coordinator Emily McFarland.

Despite its success as an outreach tool, in December the Club made the difficult decision to close the canvass program down for financial reasons. Through a contract with the Fund for Public Interest Research, the canvass had operated for more than three and a half years, recruiting over 300,000 new members and conveying to countless others our conservation message. The increasing costs of mobilizing hundreds of canvassers, however, made the program unsustainable. A brief sampling of some of the critical mobilizing efforts the canvass conducted for the Club includes:

  • Collecting over 75,000 signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights.

  • Distributing over 250,000 voter education charts in the 1996 election.

  • Dispensing over 50,000 eco-veto pens for people to mail to President Clinton to encourage him to veto anti-environmental legislation.
  • Educating hundreds of thousands of households about the critical role wetlands play in ecosystems throughout the country, and mobilizing people to lobby for increased wetlands protection.
  • Generating over 25,000 comments to the Clinton administration about its Northwest Forest Plan.
  • Encouraging individuals to write or call their senators and representatives and demand the protection of national treasures, such as the Mojave Desert and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Sierra Club would like to especially thank the entire staff at the Fund for Public Interest Research for their hard work and dedication to this program. Walking neighborhoods in all kinds of weather, encountering the full spectrum of political views and inspiring people to financially support the organization takes grit. We have an unquantifiable appreciation for their work.

The late United Farm Worker organizer Fred Ross defined community organizing as "converting one person at a time, time after time, until victory is achieved." Although financial circumstances required closing this program, its success demonstrated the power of communicating face-to-face with people who otherwise may never have heard our story.

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