by John Byrne Barry
The Sierra Club is not a verb. Yet.
FedEx is. So is Xerox. They're brand names that have become synonymous with a
particular product or service, even though they aren't its only provider.
There are lots of environmental groups. The Sierra Club is not the biggest or the
oldest or the wealthiest. But because of our effectiveness, our media savvy and our
presence at the local, state and national levels, we are closer to becoming, if not a
verb, then at least the brand name for environmentalist.
Here's an example. In the Feb. 21 issue of Time, there was a story about Gov. George
Bush, Jr., which addressed his poor record on policing polluters in Texas. He touted his
voluntary industry compliance plan, but when the Time interviewer pointed out that only 33
of the 160 biggest polluters in the state have participated, Bush got irritated.
"Well, maybe we need to increase the fines during the next legislative
session," Bush told Time. "I'm a practical person. I'm sorry you're skeptical,
or the Sierra Club is skeptical."
The story continued: "Sometimes skepticism is justified." (The magazine gave
Bush a "D" for his record on pollution.)
Indeed, the Club has been skeptical, but we're far from the only ones. We are, however,
the organization Bush mentioned by name.
Of course, the Sierra Club has run ads - in New Hampshire, Michigan and California -
critical of Bush's environmental record, and Ken Kramer, director of the Club's Lone Star
Chapter, has become the most frequently quoted source on Bush's environmental record as
Texas governor. That's helped make us a brand name. Visible activism gets noticed, if it's
done right - and the story is kept alive with letters to the editor and calls to talk
radio and the like.
Next step is becoming an actual verb, when a politician says something like, "I'd
better do that or I'll get Sierra Clubbed."
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