Last year, over 750,000 people joined or renewed their membership in the Sierra Club, presumably because they believe in its historic mission to protect America's public lands and wilderness for future generations. John Muir and a small band of conservationists founded the Club in 1892, and it’s been working for more than a century to protect our nation's wild lands, wildlife, air and water.
But recent events now
threaten to divert the Sierra Club from its mission.
early January, 13 past presidents of the Sierra Club wrote to the
club’s current board of directors to express "extreme concern
for the continuing viability of the club." They warned of an
"organized effort" to take over the board of directors of the
Sierra Club in order to move personal agendas… "and to use
the funds and other resources of the club to those ends." Those
agendas are narrow, focusing on animal rights and anti-immigration
In a speech to the 2003 Animal Rights
Conference in Los Angeles, newly elected Sierra Club board member
Paul Watson boasted: "We're only three directors away from
controlling that board. We control one-third of it right now. And
once we get three more directors elected … we can use the
resources of the $95-million-a-year budget to address some of these
issues. … So, you know, a few hundred, or a few thousand
people from the animal-rights movement joining the Sierra Club --
and making it a point to vote -- will change the entire agenda of
Last fall, the respected Southern
Poverty Law Center wrote to the Sierra Club’s President Larry
Fahn to warn that "without a doubt, the Sierra Club is the subject
of a hostile takeover attempt" by forces allied with
The Sierra Club has chosen,
wisely I believe, to stay out of the controversy over immigration
and to focus on its mission of public-lands conservation. Sierra
Club members reaffirmed this decision in 1998, by a vote of 60
percent to 40 percent, choosing instead to address the root causes
of global population and migration through education and
women’s access to health care and family planning.
Unfortunately, a small group of directors is trying to overturn the
vote of the club’s membership at the national board level.
After failing in fall 2003, they recruited three highly visible
leaders of immigration reform groups in the U.S., including former
Gov. Richard Lamm of Colorado, to run for the club’s board in
its 2004 election.
Mr. Lamm and the others are respected
individuals who undoubtedly care about conservation. Unfortunately,
they are now lending their names to an attempted coup. Large
immigration reform groups are urging their members to join the
Sierra Club and vote for Mr. Lamm and other insurgents for the
board of directors. One member of the anti-immigration forces has
even posted similar calls on an unsavory website, VDARE.com, that
are being echoed now on racist and white supremacy websites.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks these hate
groups, warned Sierra Club leaders: "By taking advantage of the
welcoming grassroots democratic structure of the Sierra Club, they
hope to use the credibility of the club as a cover to advance their
own extremist views. We think members should be alert to this."
It is certainly legal for these forces to try to recruit
new members to join the club. Similarly, it was legal for the gun
lobby to encourage gun advocates to join the National Rifle
Association in the 1970s, and to use the support and funding of
ammunition and gun manufacturers to do so. They took over the
National Rifle Association and transformed it from a hunters’
group to a gun group. I suppose they did so "democratically." But,
was it right?
The Sierra Club is an environmental
organization. It is not an animal-rights organization, and although
some members belong to animal-rights organizations, others belong
to organizations promoting hunting and fishing. As for immigration,
the club’s membership has already voted to stay out of the
Leaders of the Sierra Club, including
virtually all of its living past presidents and former Executive
Director Mike McCloskey, believe a takeover is the wrong way to go
about changing the club. We have come together in
www.groundswellsierra.org to alert members to what is at stake. It
is sad that the nation’s oldest conservation group, by its
very openness and commitment to democracy, is vulnerable to the
machinations of narrow interests.