The Sierra Club may be best known for protecting wildlands and fighting pollution, but
getting the right people elected to public office is also a vital part of our job. When we
published our first congressional voting charts 20 years ago, some people advised,
"Stay out of politics. It's dirty." We replied that we were already in politics,
because we care about public policy. And good policy requires good politicians.
In the congressional campaigns of 1996 and 1998, our support helped remove two dozen
anti-environmental candidates from office and elect two dozen environmental champions. The
newcomers have already made a measurable difference. In 1998, for instance, when we tried
to increase the size of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, we lost in the House by ten
votes. When the issue came up again in 1999, we won by ten votes.
The 2000 election offers even more dramatic opportunities, according to Sierra Club
executive director Carl Pope and Sierra senior editor Paul Rauber. In their article "Why Vote?", Pope and Rauber explain that the anti-environmental
leadership of Congress does not have a firm hold on the future-the balance could easily
tip in our favor. We could also elect an environmentalist president to work with that
greener Congress and name up to four new justices to the Supreme Court. Dramatic change
wouldn't happen all at once, the authors say, "but at least we could finally see what
progress looked like."
Some good environmentalists may be planning to sit out this election, discouraged by
reports of imperfect candidates and corrosive campaign contributions. But that would be a
shame. Environmentalists in other parts of the world, including Russia's Aleksandr
Nikitin, Mexico's Rodolfo Montiel, and Nigeria's Ken Saro-Wiwa, have suffered imprisonment
and worse for voicing their environmental convictions. "We may think that our
political situation is frustrating and impossible," Pope says. "But Ken
Saro-Wiwa died fighting for the kinds of opportunities we take for granted."