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
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
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
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.
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