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Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Clorox bleaching the green Sierra Club white?

For over a decade, I was fairly active in the Sierra Club, but for multiple reasons over the past two years, I have had to let Sierra Club stuff slide. But now, something has happened that requires some comment. Carl Pope, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club has announced an exciting new “partnership” with Clorox to develop green products. The question to many is Clorox bleaching the green Sierra Club white.

What we are watching is perhaps the final chapter of the conversion of the Sierra Club ‑ on a national level ‑ from an activists driven organization to a corporate driven organization where the interest of the Sierra Club as a corporation invariably trumps the interest of the Sierra Club as an activists’ organization. I struggled against that mentality for about three years and then, as pressures from my practice, and my son Mike's illness, moved front and center had to cede the struggle to others. I would bring to your attention several hall marks of this struggle which have ramifications not only of Sierra Club members but for the nation at large.

(1) the decision to pull all criticism of Bush from the Club's web site taken in haste without due deliberation in aftermath of 9/11. According to the President of the Club, the was a no-brainer because of concerns about corporate contributors.

(2) the refusal of the BOD of directors in February 2002 to seriously implement the report of the Global Environmental and Security Task Force which I happened to chair. We recommended that the Club “message to security” and demonstrate that our environmental goals are intrinsically related to national security. Robert Kennedy, Jr. had earlier made the same point a few weeks after 9/11.

When we reported to the Club Board of Directors (“BOD”) the Executive Director ostentatiously read the newspaper and then said that "We have passed this by focus groups and they don’t think that this is something the Club should get involved with.” I subsequently coined a phrase "focus group morality" to express my disdain for those who would substitute the opinions of focus groups for the dictates of conscience. Incidentally, a number of people have pointed out that it was reliance on focus groups to dictate strategy that was key element of Kerry’s 2004 loss.

(3) I believe it was the same year that saw the creation of the Sierra Club Mutual Fund which was supposed to open the door to unlimited wealth for the Club. I thought at the time that proposal would create a rather run-of-the-mill fund which would not really be truly extraordinary and arguably not all that green.

(4) Then there was the struggle in the fall of 2002 to get the Club to oppose the Iraq war and nip it at the bud. The Club had an existing anti-war policy on environmental grounds but the insiders led by Pope struggled ruthlessly and disingenuously to squelch opposition to the war in the Sierra Club.

The Club’s Council of Conservation Leaders, (CCL) passed a resolution in September of 2002, that the Club opposed the looming invasion of Iraq. The BOD sidetracked the resolution to the Conservation Governance Committee (CGC) and then in a private E-Mail (somehow I acquired a copy), the President of the Club lobbied the CGC to defeat the resolution. In October, with the Sierra Club's voice having been silenced, many Democrats voted for the war resolution and that vote has come back to haunt many of them particularly Clinton, Kerry and Edwards.

The great “what if” of American politics is “what if” we had vigorously opposed the war resolution? Could we have budged Kerry or Edwards. I don't think Hillary was budgeable. How different our political history would have been had either Kerry or Edwards voted "no" and at least in Edward's case we now know it was a very close call (thanks to the venomous memoir of perpetual loser and focus group freak Bob Shrum).

The low-point of the affair was when the National Conservation Director threatened to discipline the San Francisco Chapter for proposing to thank Nancy Pelosi for her vote against the 2002 resolution.

It was only after an E-Mail proposal by Pope to expel the members of the Glen Canyon Group in Utah for publicly opposing Club policy was published by the LA Times that the Club - too late - changed its position and publicly opposed the war.

And then there was the 2003 BOD election where independent voices were purged from the BOD under guise of protecting us from the anti-immigration faction. I am told that the husband of one candidate invested $125,000 dollars in that effort. The main problem was that among those purged in the immigration struggle were independent voices that opposed the efforts of the anti immigration faction.

Perhaps, the final blow was the closing of the CCL E-Mail list that allowed a free flow of ideas among members nationwide.

But Sierra Club members at the local level should not lose heart. They still have enough autonomy to deal with local issues and your voice n what happens in our communities is vitally important. You are doing God's work. Whatever the penzavotte at the national level do: "Keep the faith, baby."

During the Vietnam War, the Sierra Club took the courageous position that the use of Agent Orange was wrong. History has proven it right. Now the Club squashes dissent about war and makes deals with corporations whose environmental record – like Clorox – is atrocious.

When I objected to the purging of Bush from the Club web site in 2001, the Club President defended that act by saying that they had a telephone conference that afternoon and that the purge was a "no-brainer" because of the impact of 9/11 on the corporate donors.

She was right. It was a no brainer. It was also a no guts. The struggle for a habitable environment demands both brains and guts.

Is Clorox bleaching the green Sierra Club white? Perhaps I am being unfair, maybe the Club has just changed interest from green trees to green papers.


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