Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Sierra Club, Grassroots and Democracy

Recently the Sierra Club has taken steps to stifle grassroots organization and democratic decision-making within the 700,000 members of the club.

The Sierra Club was founded by Jon Muir as a grassroots organization to work toward the preservation of wild lands, in particular the redwood forests of California. Over the years, the Sierra Club has grown from a small cadre of activists to a world-wide organization with an $80,000,000 annual budget. The Club consists of local groups, organized into local chapters, which until recently, were organized through a regional organization of conservation groups.

The Sierra Club also maintains several email discussion groups, which are run through the Sierra Club as official organs, moderated by Sierra Club members and overseen by a committee responsive to Sierra Club staff and Board of Directors. The discussion groups are used to share information and to organize activities within the cub.

The 2004 election for Sierra Club Board of Directors was marked by a call from the Board of Directors and staff to guard against a "hostile takeover" of the Sierra Club by "anti-immigration" groups. No proof was ver offered of this alleged takeover bid. A group known as "Groundswell Sierrans" was formed to funnel money and support to the candidates favored by the entrenched existing Board of Directors and professional staff.

This year, Sierra Club staff have again prepared Sierra Club members for a contentious election, on their web site and in their official house organ, and are promoting their hand-picked candidates for the Board, and opposing those candidates who have qualified by petition. In addition, the Board has proposed amendments to the Sierra Club By-laws to do away with write-in candidates and to further restrict opportunities for Sierra Club members to run for Board positions.

"Democracy works," says Club President Larry Fahn, "but only if everyone participates."

Literally translated, the President of the Sierra Club has stated that democracy doesn't work in the Club, since, obviously, everyone does not participate in the elections for club officers, nor is everyone allowed to participate in the process of democracy that transcends mere voting for officers.

Democracy is not voting. In fact, voting represents the failure of democracy, since democracy is rule by the people and any process that intervenes between the people and the functioning of their democratic government denies democracy.

The present rulers of the Sierra Club have, in effect, conducted a coup d'etats and transformed the Sierra Club from a grassroots environmental organization to a political party ruled by a hand-picked oligarchy responsive to the US central government and its corporate toadies. The purpose of the Sierra Club is to influence US politics, using millions of dollars, much donated in secret, to influence US domestic policy, meeting an agenda set by those who donate the most money.

The Sierra Club now opposes its own internal policies with regard to public lands grazing, public lands logging and immigration in response to donations of substantial funds from those who benefit from such activities. The Sierra Club has taken action based on liberal social issues rather than science-based environmental research, with the result that Sierra Club staff and Board of Directors have opposed sound science and environmental advocacy in their own local and chapter groups.

It is time to regain control of environmental advocacy and grassroots organization from those who have subverted the democratic process for political gain.

Michael Lewis
Leona Gulch
Pacific Plate

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