The Sierra Club and the Jemez Principles

As part of the Sierra Club’s journey to becoming a more just, equitable, and inclusive organization internally and externally, the Sierra Club board of directors adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing in 2014. These principles were created in 1996 during a meeting hosted by the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice:

On December 6-8, 1996, forty people of color and European-American representatives met in Jemez, New Mexico, for the “Working Group Meeting on Globalization and Trade.” The Jemez meeting was hosted by the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice with the intention of hammering out common understandings between participants from different cultures, politics and organizations.

The principles adopted are:

The Jemez Principles

(Each principle includes an important explanation as well, see the full document here)

“The Jemez Principles were offered as a set to guidance to mainstream (mostly white) environmental organizations who wanted to work in low income and people of color communities,” said Bob Bingaman, (pictured below with Allison Chin) the Sierra Club’s national organizing director. Bingman was staff co-lead of the Diversity Steering Committee (created to advise the Sierra Club’s board on equity and justice issues) when the board adopted the principles. “It is critical we embrace these principles if we are going to have community partnerships that have integrity. The principles will help guide and direct our work in those communities.”

Allison Chin, former Sierra Club board president and current board member, was the volunteer co-lead of the Diversity Steering Committee in 2014. “We asked the directors to endorse the Building Equity and Alignment for Impact Statement of Intent, which included a reaffirmation of our commitment to the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.”

Chin said the principles relate directly to the Sierra Club’s mission statement and echoed Bingaman’s statement on genuine partnerships with communities.

Allison Chin and Bob Bingaman

“Whether it's the Sierra Club's mission statement (‘...enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment’) or the inspiration we drew from the People's Climate March in 2014 (‘To change everything, we need everyone’), we need to engage and empower a movement of the size and power required to bring about the changes needed to tackle climate disruption,” said Chin. “The Principles provide guidance to building community with integrity across difference -- culturally, politically, organizationally.”

Bingaman said since the adoption, training Sierra Club staff and volunteers in the principles has been ongoing, and that the principles guide the Sierra Club’s grassroots campaign planning and implementation.

“For the organizing department, there have been several impacts of adopting the Jemez Principles,” he explained. “Before we launch a campaign in a community we will spend time ‘entering the community’ - learning the top concerns, issues, opinion leaders, and power dynamics. This data collection helps inform our work in that community. We seek to build transformational relationships with community partners, which means there are times when we show up for our partners' priorities, even if it's not a central Sierra Club priority.”

Chin added that “democratic organizing” applies both internally and externally. “The primary shift is from operating as an individual to community perspective,” she said. “The latter stimulates a cascade of considerations: Who needs to be engaged in the decision or action? Who's most impacted by the issue or decision?  How is our work (product) informed and shaped by those most impacted? How do we lift up and center those most impacted?  What does it look like to work in solidarity and mutuality?”

Both Bingaman and Chin noted that the Sierra Club still has a ways to go on full implementing the Jemez Principles, and that the process has been humbling.

“We don’t have all the answers, and the principles have also set us up for transformational instead of transactional relationships with community partners,” said Bingman. “There are many, many more examples over the past several years where the Sierra Club is not ‘in the driver’s seat’ for local campaigns. We take ‘back seat’ roles and make sure those in the community most impacted by our work are the spokespeople.”

Above all, however, the adoption of Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing has been a critical step for the Sierra Club in becoming a more equitable, just, and inclusion organization.


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