See You in September?
Largest Gathering Ever: Sierra Club Convention to Welcome Thousands to San Francisco, Build Vision for Future
by JOHN BYRNE BARRY
Sierra Summit 2005 was born at a Sierra Club Board of Directors meeting two years ago. Harvard sociologist and former United Farm Worker organizer Marshall Ganz gave a talk about successful social movements of the past century, and noted that they all held conventions where local leaders celebrated, told their stories, and returned home inspired and energized. Bob Perkowitz, a trustee of The Sierra Club Foundation, asked why the Sierra Club couldn't host a convention, then he offered to donate seed money to get the ball rolling. Former board member Nick Aumen offered a resolution accepting that challenge and charging a task force to pursue it.
Gallons of blood, sweat, and tears later, and voila, Sierra Summit 2005, the Sierra Club's first-ever large-scale convention, to be held September 8-11 in San Francisco's Moscone Center.
The Summit. which is open to members as well as the general public, will feature speakers and entertainment - comedian Bill Maher will headline Saturday night and pundit Arianna Huffington will speak Sunday at lunch, and an exposition by more than 150 green and outdoor businesses as well as a cooking stage, a climbing wall, and an on-site eco-house. And at the center of all this activity will be an unprecedented gathering of delegates from chapters, groups, committees, and task forces, who will work together to plot the direction of the Club for the coming years.
"This will be the most inclusive direction-setting process we've ever had," says board member Greg Casini, co-chair of the Summit Steering Committee.
For years, the Sierra Club has hosted an annual meeting that includes the board of directors and the Council of Club Leaders, where each chapter is represented by a Council delegate. But at most, several hundred members have gathered at one time. The Sierra Summit will bring 3,000 members together, 1,000 of whom will be Summit delegates.
"There is broad debate in the environmental community now that so much is at risk," says Summit Co-Chair Lisa Renstrom. "With the Summit, we have an extraordinary opportunity to give voice to our members, and draw upon their experience, passion, and wisdom to set our future."
Other speakers at the Summit include Poet Laureate Robert Hass, documentary filmmaker Ric Burns, "green" architect Bill McDonough, and Mississippi River cleanup champion Chad Pregracke. There will also be dozens of panels, such as "Women Who Rock," "Working to Build Progressive Media," and "The Impossible Will Take a Little While." Other workshops will focus on international tourism, technology and activism, leadership development, campus organization, and more. The Sierra Club Showcase will give participants a chance to share their activism success stories. The expo will include green lifestyle/organic food exhibits, outdoor equipment retailers, hybrid vehicles - there's even going to be a "green" dollhouse, with miniature (and functioning) solar panels. (For more, see "Sierra Summit 2005 At-a-Glance," at right.)
Before, during, and after the Summit, volunteers from the Loma Prieta, Mother Lode, and San Francisco Bay chapters will lead outings and explorations to local parks, trail restoration service trips in Golden Gate National Recreation Area (part of the Dr. Edgar Wayburn Legacy Project), and even, promises David Simon, a long-time leader who is coordinating the outings, a trip to the San Francisco Giants game on Friday night. (All outings will be accessible via public transportation.)
The Summit delegate-selection process, which is still being refined, is designed to reflect the broadest possible participation while honoring the Club's leadership structure. Here's how the delegates break down:
Each group will send one Summit delegate, and each chapter will send four - its Council of Club leaders delegate, a senior leader, someone under 30, and someone from outings. Another 163 at-large delegates will be selected, based on chapter membership size - one at-large delegate per 5,000 members. In addition, there will about 285 national delegates, including the board of directors, conservation govcom members, and other national leaders.
The direction-setting process will start far in advance of the Summit, says Casini, and in fact has started already in some chapters. In the Rocky Mountain Chapter, for example, chapter leaders held a pre-Summit discussion recently where they came to a consensus that the top priority for the Club was to develop more effective messages and framing about values.
Between now and the Summit, says Casini, the Club will be surveying activists about the goals we should set, the roles we should play, the strengths we should nurture, and how we can best build involvement and support for our work in local communities.
To register, go to sierrasummit2005.org and either complete the form online or mail or fax it in. You can also call (301) 694-5243 or e-mail email@example.com.
If you sign up by May 31, you save $75 off the regular Club member rate. (The registration fee varies depending on whether you are a member, leader, or delegate, as well as whether you attend the whole Summit or part of it.)
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