Q&A with a board candidate I wish I could vote for
Checking out the statements of candidates for the Sierra Club national board, I was disappointed to find no champions for vigorous climate action, so in an idle moment I drafted answers to the Candidate Questionnaire from the sort of candidate for whom I’d like to cast my vote.
Q. What leadership positions have you held in the Sierra Club, and what have you accomplished in those positions?
A. None. I stand for the vast majority of members who have a deep and abiding affection for the Club, but lack the time, interest or patience for Chapter politics.
Q. What needed skills or abilities will you bring to the Board of Directors: A team player? Conflict resolution experience? Financial expertise? Technology/communications? Other? Be specific.
A. I intend, to the best of my ability, to live up to the high standard of Board member participation set by David Brower. My skills and talents, I believe, are suited to the task.
Q. A lot has changed in the last six months — President-elect Barack Obama’s victory, the unprecedented economic crises, the number of people energized by the election. How should the Sierra Club view its role in this changed environment?
A. Averting cataclysm is a second tier problem for President Obama, which means that he doesn’t get it. Nothing now on the table is sufficient to address the problem and there is no solution waiting in the wings. The Sierra Club should articulate one, even though it will seem fantastic. Our role, in other words, is to speak the truth.
Q. Please comment on the question of the Club engaging in business partnerships, including the Club’s recent experience in cause-related marketing with Clorox Greenworks line of household cleaning products.
A. The Clorox agreement and heavy handed response to dissenters is a big black eye for the Club. We hooked up with Clorox because income is dropping like a stone and we’re looking to bail ourselves out by selling our name. All the other arguments are window dressing.
This is backwards thinking. What we need to do is deal head on with climate cataclysm – the only relevant question before humanity – and learn to communicate in a completely new technological and social environment.
In other words, let’s become relevant again instead of selling our soul.
Q. What is your experience with outings, and what do you see as their role in the Club?
A. The last time I went on an outing I was saddened to see how drab the fall foliage is in the White Mountains these days as the sugar maples migrate toward Canada. Frankly, I find it difficult to pull away, any hour not spent working on climate seems wasted.
Q. In the spirit of One Club, what do you see as the proper relationship of staff and volunteers to each other and to the mission of the Club in 2009 and beyond, and how would you improve the connection between National Sierra Club operations and grassroots leadership?
A. Staff and volunteers, as we presently understand those roles, are no longer meaningful (see following answer).
Q. What is your vision of ways to finance the Club’s Chapters, Groups, and volunteer structures in the next two, five, and 10 years? Would you support mechanisms such as national-chapter fundraising partnerships, new types of grants, allocation of funds based on non-demographic criteria, or general assistance in outside fund-raising? Suggest other ways. Please be specific.
A. We have less then four years to shift the nation and, through American leadership, put humanity on a new course. Given this reality, the Sierra Club should invest all resources and all reserves in a single-minded, joint effort with other U.S. environmentalists to rewrite American politics. By doing so, we will show that we accept the terrible calamities now bearing down upon our children unless humanity grabs for the brass ring. If we fail to do so, we will continue to demonstrate by our actions that we do not believe what we are saying in public.
Oh, if we do this, we solve our fundraising problems overnight.
Q. What is your experience with grassroots organizing? What do you see as the key differences between 20th century grassroots organizing and 21st century grassroots organizing?
A. I think the question might better be phrased “how does the Sierra Club move from the 19th to the 21st century?” The answer, I believe, is two-fold.
First, it seems clear that there are two fundamentally different forms of human reaction to global catastrophe. Most people try to ignore it, by denying reality or engaging in busy-work, and a tiny number — around 1 percent of the population – go into existential crisis.
I’m speculating here, but it seems probable that this ratio is an evolutionary adaptation. As social animals, we need most of our members to get along by going along, we’d never have survived if most people didn’t stick to the knitting, but it also helps to have a handful – maybe one in each small group — who’re thinking about the big picture and worrying about what’s over the next hill. These are the folks who feel sick to the pit of their stomachs when they watch an evening news program or read a daily paper and see no mention of climate. This cohort is desperate for climate action and leadership, now denied to them because environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, downplay climate in the interest of not offending the rest – that is, the ones who are perfectly happy when there’s nothing on the news about climate.
The Sierra Club, in my view, should transform itself into an organization by and for the 1% who are living in existential crisis.
Second, because this constituency is spread thinly throughout the population, old paradigms of organizing by place, affinity and demographics are obsolete. With internet communications we can find and engage this core at virtually no cost. If we acknowledge that fear, anger and anxiety are appropriate feelings in these last days, come to acceptance that the worst case is already happening, and move forward anyway with appropriately ambitious undertakings, then they will find us.
Q. The Club is undertaking work to bring more youth and diverse cultures into our membership and leadership. What specific strategies would you advocate to accomplish this?
A. As per the answer above, I suggest that these are irrelevant distinctions. Our constituency is those individuals who are genetically pre-disposed to ponder the bigger picture, one type of intelligence among 12 or so (per Howard Gardner), who are sprinkled evenly across all ages and cultures.
If that answer seems to be ducking the question, then I’ll add that youth will flock to the Sierra Club if and when we face up to the grim realities before them and start speaking honestly about it, rather than keeping up the pretense that somehow everything is going to work out.
As to “diverse cultures” it depends on which ones. They’re, well … diverse. If what is really meant is, “where are all the black people?”, I think it’s a pro forma question. If the Sierra Club seriously wishes to engage large numbers of African-Americans (or Latinos, or Laotians, or Canadians, etc.), then we should shut down half of th
e services which cater to white, upper-middle class, outdoor interests and invest them in promoting Sierra Club activities of interest within African-American communities (or Latinos or Laotians, etc.). If we do not want to do this, then we should neither be surprised nor feel particularly guilty when we tend to attract white, upper middle class people who like to go on outings or like to be associated with people who do.
Q. How effective are the Sierra Club’s publication and electronic communication tools and which ones do you read or use?
A. I like the calendar.
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