Dear Mr. Carl Pope:
by Nonpartisan, Sun Sep 10, 2006 at 09:00:45 AM EDT
[Cross-posted at ProgressiveHistorians.]
Dear Mr. Pope:
Today I received a letter from you asking me to renew my membership in the Sierra Club. I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the organization of which we are both a part, and to explain to you why I can no longer be a member of the Sierra Club -- a decision that profoundly saddens me, but that is unavoidable given the Club's recent course of action.
As a Westerner, I am a passionate environmentalist. The environment is so much more obviously present out West, where one can find many spots almost completely devoid of human habitation. The soul can truly expand to its fullness in such a circumstance, and one feels indescribably close to one's maker. On the other side of the coin, the invasiveness of logging, mining and drilling really hits home in the West, as do the destructive forces of desertification, species destruction, and, perhaps most importantly of all, global warming.
The past six years have not been good to the environment. The Bush administration has defiled our National Wilderness Areas by allowing them to be logged and mined. They have attempted, so far without success, to desecrate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with oil rigs. And they have put our global environment at risk by pulling out of the hard-won Kyoto accords.
The midterm elections of 2006 offer us environmentalists a real chance to halt the destruction of our natural surroundings by returning a Democratic majority to Congress for the first time in twelve years. Yet the Sierra Club has chosen to endanger this hope by endorsing and working in support of a man who supports, through his political affiliation, all of the Bush administration's detrimental policies: Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee.
It is true that Chafee is personally an environmentalist; but in today's political climate, where the balance of power may hang on Rhode Island's vote, Chafee's political affiliation should be the deciding factor. Chafee's consistent support of and identification with the Republican Party is a repudiation of everything you and I believe in. Supporting Chafee is the moral equivalent of being a black KKK member, or a Mexican national in the John Birch Society. Whatever Chafee personally believes is immaterial; his choice to support the Republicans, the enemies of environmentalism, negate his personal commitment to America's wildlands.
The Club's decision is particularly heinous in view of the fact that the Democratic candidate, Sheldon Whitehouse, is even more staunchly pro-environment than is Chafee. Nor can your choice be justified by the dynamics of the race; recent polls have shown Chafee and Whitehouse in a statistical dead heat, and the Democratic tide this election cycle indicates that Whitehouse quite likely has the upper hand in the campaign. Instead of providing Whitehouse with much-needed on-the-ground help, you have chosen to help return a Republican to the Senate, where he will only vote for more anti-environmentalist Republicans like Sen. Mitch McConnell, the likely next Republican Party leader in the Senate. Such a decision is unacceptable and unjustifiable.
I joined the Sierra Club because of its history. The club was founded by John Muir, a hermit and iconoclast who believed in defending every speck of earth no matter what the political cost. Muir would not have supported Lincoln Chafee for Senate. The Club's president during the 1960's was the inimitable David Brower, whose leadership preventing dam-building projects on the Colorado River saved the Grand Canyon National Park for generations to come. Brower would not have supported Lincoln Chafee for Senate.
And so, Mr. Pope, as much as I want to remain a member of the Sierra Club, my enthusiasm has turned into shame for the actions of the organizaton that bears my name. By supporting Lincoln Chafee for Senate, you have betrayed the ideals the Sierra Club was founded upon -- ideals, apparently, for which it no longer stands. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot support an organization that supports a Republican majority in the Senate.
Thank you for your time. I sincerely hope you will see reason and revoke your endorsement of Lincoln Chafee, and that we can work together in future. If not, good luck in all your future endeavors.
The Club's response to me:
Endorsing environmental champions - regardless of affiliation - is the best way we know to break the stranglehold party politics has on our democracy. Senator Lincoln Chafee earned our endorsement for his courage in standing up to the bullies in the Republican leadership, for transcending the polarizing sound and light show that passes for politics these days and hewing true to his core beliefs. Championing the protection of the legacy we leave our children is not and cannot be a partisan issue - we are all sweltering under the same sun this summer. Only endorsing Democrats will render the Sierra Club's support meaningless. Our job is to reward conviction, applaud leadership, and promote progress made cleaning up the air and water, and preserving our wild lands and wildlife - no matter what side of the aisle we find it.
And to set the record straight - because of the committee seats he holds and the influence he wields as a member of the Republican majority - Senator Chafee has been extremely effective in stopping President Bush's polluting "Clear Skies" plan and blocking efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
At the Sierra Club, we value performance above party affiliation. We stand up for the people who have stood up for us and the environment. And we are proud to stand with and behind, Senator Chafee.
[Update] The Club sent a second response to me, from a different office:
The Sierra Club takes its endorsements very seriously. In order to ensure
that we have a fair process that results in a mutually beneficial
endorsement, we often consider several candidates for endorsement. While
Senator Chafee clearly is an environmental leader, we believe our
endorsement carries more weight and credibility when we can say that we
have carefully looked at the candidates before making our decision. Senator
Chafee has an excellent environmental record. He has voted to protect
clean air-he was the deciding vote to stop Bush's Clear Skies plan which
would have gutted the Clean Air Act. He is a leader on protecting the
Endangered Species act. He protected Clean Air laws again by being the
deciding vote to stop a plan to build more oil refineries without
environmental protections. He is a leader on global warming on energy
issues. Senator Chafee has been there for the environment when the
environment needed him the most. We cannot take party affiliation into
account when someone who has been a loyal friend to the environment needs
Even with a great record on environmental issues, any endorsement requires
a 2/3 vote by two volunteer committees - one at the local level and one at
the national level. Sierra Club volunteers at several levels of the Club
were engaged in this endorsement. The Rhode Island political committee and
the Rhode Island Executive Committee both voted unanimously in favor of
endorsing, and the volunteer national Political Committee voted unanimously
The Board of Directors' appointed Task Force that reviewed the goals and
the underlying strategies of the political program concluded that there
should continue to a focus on conducting our work and making our
endorsements in a manor that works to protect our reputation and
credibility. The underlying reason for this recommendation was:
"The strength of our endorsements and our reputation is in our ability to
declare in a nonpartisan/bipartisan manner which candidate is the best
choice for the environment. Our opponents seek to diminish our power in
this arena by labeling us as a special interest, so we need to constantly
strive to maintain our reputation."
The Sierra Club's decision to endorse and draw attention to our support of
Senator Lincoln Chafee fits solidly with the mission of the political
committee to use the political and electoral process to advance our
Hopefully this will help answer some of your questions and clarify why the
Sierra Club has chosen to support Senator Chafee. Additional questions
regarding Sierra Club political endorsements can be sent to
Please check http://www.sierraclu... where a full list of 2006
federal endorsements are now available.
"Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet."
Sierra Club Member Services