The last time the Sierra Club was shaken into life, it was at the vigorous hands of the late David Brower. He took an insular, elite conservation group and made it grassroots, activist and environmentalist.
Club was transformed because Brower led it to act. The club first
saved Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado from a huge
dam at Echo Park, and then the Grand Canyon in Arizona from being
flooded by two dams. The club's success enraged the federal
government and the water buffaloes, and it lost the club both its
clubby nature and its federal tax deduction.
To this day,
you can’t deduct a gift to the Sierra Club from your federal
taxes. Because it is not under the thumb of the Internal Revenue
Service, the Sierra Club is one of the few environmental groups
that can endorse political candidates and back or oppose proposed
Now, once again, the Sierra Club is being shaken
into life. This time, the shaker isn’t a green giant like
David Brower, but a peculiar mix of "outsiders" — the Sierra
Club is still a club in many ways — concerned about an issue
the club’s mainstream desperately wants to avoid: illegal
immigration into the United States.
But the club’s
democratic form has thrust it into the discussion. All members get
to vote by mail ballot on elections to its 15-person governing
board, and you can join for $15 to $25 (the club has periodic
sales, and often throws in daypacks with a new membership). The
rebels, mainly newcomers to the club, claim to have elected five
members to the board in past elections, and need only three more
for a majority. At that point, the centrists say, the Club’s
$81 million budget will be in the hands of racists, vegetarians and
It is too late to join the club
for this election, but if you’re already one of the
club’s members, you have until April 21 to vote. (A small
percentage of Sierra Club members vote in these elections.)
Your mail ballot gives you the right to vote for five
candidates. The Club itself, through a nominating committee, has
put up eight establishment candidates, and nine candidates have
gotten on by petition. The best-known petition candidate is former
three-term Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, aka Gov. Gloom, for his
midnight-in-America views on population, sprawl and the bankrupting
expense of medical care. Unfortunately, Lamm seems farseeing today
rather than dyspeptic, as he did 30 years ago, when he began
expressing these ideas.
Issues, of course, are never
allowed to be about themselves: They are always spun into something
else. To the mainstream leaders of the Sierra Club, the immigration
debate is about racism. Swedes and Germans aren’t sneaking
into the United States; dark-skinned people are. So those who
oppose immigration really oppose the browning of America.
Some of those who oppose illegal immigration are racists. Others
are people who think our 3.5 million square-mile nation has enough
people, enough pollution, enough general activity. Without illegal
immigration, the nation’s population would be close to
stabilizing, instead of zooming upward.
illegal immigration because they are opposed to a world without
borders; a globalized world in which capital and jobs and people
flow from "nation" to "nation" without restraint. I put nation in
quotes because if a geographic area does not have borders that
control people and capital and jobs, it is not a nation, it is a
We are well down this road. President George Bush
may have embroiled himself in Iraq because he can’t govern
the United States. He can cut taxes, but he can’t direct jobs
to us or help us keep the jobs we have; he can’t force or
convince individuals or corporations to invest in the United States
rather than in China or Mexico; and while he can keep U.S.
residents from visiting Cuba, he can’t keep Cubans or anyone
else sufficiently determined from moving here.
porosity and slow-motion anarchy may be an excellent thing. Perhaps
we should welcome the ongoing collapse of nation states, and the
transformation of the U.S. government into an entity no longer
helpful or even loyal to its citizens. But it is the nature of our
democracy and traditions that before we complete the dissolution of
the United States, we discuss and then vote on it. Thankfully, we
still have institutions and media to allow us to do this.
The current Sierra Club election may not be the ideal vehicle for
holding this discussion and election, but it is a pretty good one.
Thank you, Sierra Club, for being helpful in our hour of national