Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Planet Main
Back Issues
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
In This Section
Table of Contents

The Planet

The Sierra Club Retools, Reinvigorates Organizing Culture

The Planet, May 1997, Volume 4, number 4

So Congress has turned increasingly hostile toward green legislation in recent years, you say? So what? There's one law that's having a singularly positive impact on the environmental movement, and it's a lot bigger than Congress: the law of unintended consequences. The less Congress has tried to do for the environment, the more the Sierra Club has gone from lobbying politicians in Washington to mobilizing citizens in communities across America -- and the more, in the end, Congress may wind up having to do for the environment.

This shift in the Club's focus, and the revitalization of its grassroots culture, was seen most dramatically in the last Congress. But it began even before the Republican leadership launched its misbegotten War on the Environment in January 1995. As Club veterans will recall, it was during the Democrat-controlled 103rd Congress -- dubbed, at the time, "the worst environmental Congress in 25 years" -- that the Club kicked off Project Renewal. Partly a response to budget needs, the grassroots-oriented restructuring was also an effort, thenPresident Robbie Cox explained, "to coordinate the Club's conservation work" at all levels of the organization. Project Renewal later gave way to Project ACT, a broad volunteer initiative aimed, in Cox's words, at "reaffirming John Muir's vision of an empowered and organized citizenry that can speak for the Earth."

Even Muir, of course, could not foresee the anti-environmental hysteria that permeated the 104th Congress. But the steps taken by the Club to reaffirm his vision were vital to our readiness to stop the Gingrich-Dole juggernaut. Indeed, Congress' insistence on putting special interests before the public interest -- and on shutting citizen-advocacy groups out of the process -- contributed to the Club's renewed emphasis on its grassroots. Faced with the greatest threat to the environment in a generation, we scrambled to find creative new ways to get our message out, to mobilize public opinion, and to stop polluters' allies in Congress from dismantling a quarter-century of environmental protections. Invention born of necessity, certainly, but also of a century-long tradition of grassroots activism.

Denied access to Washington, we took the case for environmental protection to the general public instead. The strategy worked. It also strengthened the Club, and showed us how incredibly effective we can be when we work together -- and in coalition with like-minded groups, from the "usual suspects" to less conventional allies -- toward common goals.

In the last issue of The Planet, we described the outlines of our grassroots-based, message-driven strategy for 1997-98. In this special section, we hope to flesh out the big picture and to offer some insights into how chapters and groups can not only advance their local and regional agendas but also advance the broad mission of the Club -- to create a political climate nationwide in which even the most environmentally hostile Congress is forced to respond to the needs of the American people.

The real drama of 1997-98 is playing out in Sierra Club chapters and groups across the continent, as Club activists at the local, state and national levels merge their efforts in an unprecedented synergy. For corporate polluters -- and for those in Congress who never banked on the law of unintended consequences -- the ending is likely to be unhappy. For the Sierra Club, though, the return to our grassroots strength augurs a true success story, both for this session of Congress and long into the future.

Check out the following pages for more details on the Club's new public education campaign and a guide to available resources.

Up to Top