And certainly the Summit wouldn’t have been as compelling if Robert F. Kennedy, with his riveting, raspy delivery, hadn’t blasted the Bush administration for “treating the planet as if it were a business in liquidation.” And there was no denying Arianna Huffington, who said, in reference to Hurricane Katrina: “There are those who say this is not the time to point fingers. This is precisely the time to point fingers.”
Sierra Summit 2005, coming on the heels of Katrina, wasn’t just a success because it inspired and energized thousands of leaders and activists, but because it brought together 765 delegates—representatives from almost every chapter and group—to deliberate on the Club’s future and integrate local action with national purpose.
The two four-hour sessions where delegates voted on Club priorities may not have been as exciting as the headliners’ speeches—and Gore, Kennedy, and Huffington were only three of dozens of rousing speakers—but they were arguably more important to the Club as an organization and movement. As one delegate said of the deliberative sessions: “debate broke out, and wow, democracy happened.”
Washington, D.C., Club leader Bob Morris, who played a key role in organizing the delegates, says that the Summit was a success “even before anyone arrived in San Francisco.” Months before the actual Summit, 184 chapters and groups held deliberative sessions on national issues, he says. “People said, ‘We’ve never had conversations like this before.’ It opened up the membership to being involved at a new level.”
Lisa Renstrom and Greg Casini, the Summit Steering Committee co-chairs, and a team from the Council of Club Leaders, including Morris, Richard Miller, Roberta Brashear, Mary Grisco, Steve Baru, and Lane Boldman, organized the delegates from all the chapters and steered the pre-Summit deliberations. “It was a monumental task,” says Morris.
Morris says that the deliberation was absolutely critical because it built on what the Club does best—mobilizing grassroots locally in support of national priorities. “Only the Sierra Club can do this,” Morris says. “It’s our niche. We have people doing grassroots work on transit issues in D.C. to reduce the number of cars on the road. We’re working for clean cars in Pennsyvlania. Cleaning up power plants in Illinois. Only the Sierra Club can give you the full gamut of approaches using grassroots action. That’s the way to change the culture.”
At its November meeting, the board of directors adopted a set of new conservation initiatives and capacity-building plans based on the Summit deliberations. (See “Club Charts Direction for Next Five Year” for more on that.)
But how these results were reached was as important as the results themselves. When chapters discussed the future of the Club before the Summit, Morris says, they tended to do so from the perspective of how it affected their chapter. But when they came to San Francisco, they saw the bigger picture, how things look from a national standpoint.
As Marshall Ganz, former United Farm Workers organizer turned Harvard professor, who helped guide the Summit and led part of the direction setting, says, “When you’re a delegate, you own the thing. It’s being a citizen as opposed to being a consumer.”
Al Gore’s theme of the need for a vision couldn’t have been more prescient. The Summit was itself the culmination of a vision, first articulated by Ganz and Renstrom and others at a board meeting back in 2003. And out of the Summit came a new vision of where the Club wants to go in the next five years.
The next step is going there.
photo by David Wasserman
Up to Top