Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
What Kind of Sierra Club?

"What kind of Sierra Club?" That's the question the Board of Directors is asking itself - and other Club leaders - this summer in preparation for a dialogue at the annual meeting in September.

The Club regularly asks its leaders what conservation issues they want to work on. But we haven't asked some basic questions: What do we mean when we say we are a democratic organization? Do we want to encourage every chapter to offer its members a consistent menu of basic programs? How do we make sure that each chapter has the resources to offer those programs?

The Board has organized this dialogue around five themes, each one addressing a choice that faces the Club as it moves forward into its second century.

Below is an abbreviated version of a longer document that will go out to all chapters and groups this summer.

1. Vision vs. Pragmatism

To what extent should the Club articulate a vision of the environmental future that is driven by our ultimate values and scientific evidence, even if this vision is clearly outside the current social and political realm of the possible?

Should we support leadership and proposals that move our society step-by-step in the right direction, accepting the incremental style that seems to characterize the history of environmental progress? Or should we reject that paradigm and only lend our name to enterprises that take us all the way, or almost all the way, to our ultimate objectives?

2. The Meaning of Democracy

According to our by-laws, the Sierra Club is a representative democracy. Members elect directors, group executive committees, and, indirectly, chapter executive committees. Do we wish to modify this fundamental aspect of our operations?

These elected bodies set broad policy and delegate to appointed groups of volunteer leaders broad discretion in implementing such policies. Should we shift our emphasis away from delegating this flexibility and move toward a more formal decision-making process with more frequent consultation with elected leaders on issues of strategy and tactics?

3. Internal vs. Community Focus

To what extent do we believe that we can implement our vision through the actions of our members alone? How much should we concentrate our energies on reaching broader communities and organizing campaigns around our goals? Do we wish to reaffirm our historic emphasis on public policy, and on influencing corporations and other large institutions. O r do we wish to move in the direction of an organization that educates, but does not seek to organize or mobilize the public?

4. Federation or Confederation?

Are we a confederation of chapters and groups, with the level of funding for each overwhelmingly driven by the number of members and funds raised locally? Or are we a national federation providing relatively comparable levels of service and program opportunity to each member through our chapters and groups?

Should we define a set of program opportunities that every chapter or group should strive to offer members? Or should we allow each chapter and group to define the meaning of Sierra Club membership on a location-by-location basis? Should we define the program we want each chapter and group to be able to offer, and provide the resources necessary to deliver those programs? Or should we allocate funds to chapters and groups based largely on their membership levels, so that each member has access to an equal dollar value in local program services?

5. 'Big Tent' or Political Party?

Is the Sierra Club a broad organization that is open, friendly and supportive of members who share our broad values and vision? A "big tent" approach requires that we establish strong internal norms of civility and respect. Or are we more like a political party, a quasi-public institution in which factions contend for control and a relatively hard-edged style of debate is tolerated?


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