Powerful Together

The pandemic reminds us that our fates are intertwined

By Michael Brune

June 28, 2020


Photo by Josh Deware 

If there's one thing the Sierra Club has learned during its 128-year history, it's that we win when we bring people together. Building strong bonds among our members, supporters, and partners has been key to every victory we've been part of—from protecting public lands to getting cities to commit to 100 percent clean energy.

It's a lesson that's on my mind as our community is forced to stay physically apart during the COVID-19 pandemic. I'm proud and heartened to see the many innovative ways we're managing to come together during this difficult time. We're reimagining how to be good coworkers, good neighbors and friends, and good allies to those hit hardest by the virus.

Part of that coming together is happening person-to-person. We're sending texts and scheduling video calls to check in on one another. We're sharing pictures of our kids and pets—it's cute, and also a reminder that many of us are caretakers and might need a little extra caretaking ourselves.

Tell Congress that any response to COVID-19 must protect public health, the environment, and democracy

Our national staff and chapter leaders are also reimagining the Sierra Club's role in this moment. They're drawing connections between the COVID-19 crisis and what we traditionally think of as the Sierra Club's issues. There are the obvious parallels between the pandemic and the climate crisis: Both are foreseeable disasters that our leaders failed to prevent by not acting quickly enough, and both reveal the structural inequalities in our society. Those are just a few of the takeaways from this crisis.

Take access to the outdoors. While sheltering in place, people everywhere are rediscovering just how important getting outside is for our mental health. But not everyone has access to nearby nature: More than half the people in this country don't live within walking distance of a park, and many people of color experience hostility in the outdoors. I hope we'll emerge from the pandemic more committed to enjoying and protecting the outdoors—and ensuring that everyone has safe access to it.


Similarly, the spread of this respiratory virus makes the fight for clean air even more urgent, especially in the communities of color and low-income neighborhoods where polluting facilities are often located. A Harvard University study found that those who breathe polluted air every day are more likely to die from COVID-19—which is one reason why African American and Latino people are dying from the virus at disproportionate rates.

In the midst of this crisis, the Sierra Club is continuing its work to build a bigger "we" that encompasses an ecosystem of organizations that share our vision for a better, more sustainable future. As the pandemic took hold, we raised money for groups providing food and emergency assistance to those hit hardest. We advocated for an end to utility shutoffs, so everyone has water to wash their hands. We joined over a thousand organizations to demand a "People's Bailout"—COVID-19 relief legislation centered on protecting public health and rebuilding our economy in a fair and environmentally smart way.

We are building a bigger "we" with organizations that share our vision for a more sustainable future.

This is a crucial moment for us to show up for one another. For instance, voters in more than a dozen states were already contending with voter-suppression tactics like closed polling places and new voter ID laws. This crisis has raised the stakes even higher. During the Wisconsin primary, voters were asked to wait at crowded polling places, sometimes for hours—endangering their lives and those of everyone in their community. We need a functioning democracy in which people can make their voices heard without putting themselves at risk.

We're building this bigger "we" not just because it's the right thing to do, but also because—as the pandemic reminds us daily—our fates are intertwined. We can only stay healthy if others in our communities have what they need to keep from falling ill and spreading the virus—things like paid sick leave, mail-in ballots, and access to running water.

That means investing in mutual aid and community care. Most of all, it means working to change the systems that devalue certain lives so a wealthy, connected few can profit. The Sierra Club isn't leading all this work. We're engaging in these struggles alongside our partners every day, becoming more powerful together.

This article appeared in the July/August 2020 edition with the headline "Powerful Together."

Illustration by Jenn Liv