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Carl Pope

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Field Notes Archive

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Carl Pope's Field Notes

Some Final Convention Thoughts
2, 2004

My first national political convention was the Democratic convention of 1980. I've been to five since then -- four Democratic and one Republican. (The 24/7 all-tobacco extravaganza in San Diego.) I enjoyed San Diego because we were doing to a pretty good job of getting in the Wise Use Movement's face under the leadership of Adam Werbach. And I was very busy in San Francisco in 1984 when there was a full slate of environmental caucus activities.

But this was by far the most engaging and energetic convention I've attended. It was far more focused on the November election and far less focused on the "who's got credentials and invitations and whose phrase ended up in the platform" inside game that makes most conventions exercises in navel gazing.

In fact, while after each of the preceding conventions I've imagined lots of things I could have improved, I really thought this one was close to flawless in the way it handled our issues and values. John Kerry is the first Presidential candidate I've heard talk about environmental protection as it really is -- as an integral part of how we should live and govern -- rather than setting it off in a little box of its own. The way Kerry used the Cheney energy task force secrecy issue to highlight what's wrong with having chosen Cheney as Vice-President was stunning -- and it made me very proud of the Sierra Club's role in bringing that issue to the public fore.

It's been interesting to watch the history of the phrase "we can do better." The Sierra Club began using it at the end of January 2003, at the suggestion of our media maven, Kim Haddow, as a means of combating the Bush administration's efforts to eradicate public optimism about the possibility of environmental progress and to hold them accountable. By November of that year it was showing up in Howard Dean speeches, not as an environmental message, but as a broader one. And now at the very end of the Convention, as I sat on the floor and the various signs were handed out, one of the banners carried that same slogan.

The same thing happened to an earlier Club tag-line, "For our families, for our future," which showed up in the 2000 Convention as the backdrop for Senator Barbara Boxer's environmental speech.

Are we being copied? I suspect not. But in each case the values and emotions and aspirations that Americans bring to their environmental concerns reflect those they have for the rest of public life -- so it's not surprising that the themes that resonate for the Sierra Club also resonate for politicians like Kerry, Dean, or Boxer.