Resistance Is Growing

We must sustain our advocacy for a sustainable world—no matter who's in the White House

By Michael Brune

November 3, 2020

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.Photo by Josh Deware Please, God, let this be the last column I ever write about Donald Trump. It's been a long four years since the failed real estate developer and reality TV personality rode the loss of the popular vote into office. Our country has changed profoundly since then, in many ways for the worse. We have become more polarized, more militarized, less equal, and less kind, and the environment is a lot less protected.

But I've also seen our Sierra Club community rise to the challenge and fight at every level of government for clean air, clean water, public lands, human rights, and a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy. Sierra Club members have taken to the streets to demand a better world, even during a pandemic. You've worked to deepen your understanding of oppressive systems like racism and sexism as well as anti-immigrant bigotry and how they're interrelated. We're emerging from four years of relentlessly racist, reactionary governance with a commitment to justice that's broader and fiercer than ever.

I can't predict the outcome of the election. I can say that we must not let this incredible energy dissipate.

So much good has been accomplished during the past four years, despite the Trump administration's open hostility to environmental protections. When the administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement, Sierra Club activists worked to persuade governors, mayors, and other local leaders to stay committed to the goal of preventing the worst effects of climate change. Despite Trump's determination to keep dirty fuels on life support, 100 million people now live in towns, cities, and states committed to 100 percent clean energy. Nearly 60 percent of the coal plants in this country are either retired or scheduled for retirement by 2030. We are changing this country's course, town by town, city by city, state by state.

Illustration shows six miniature people of various stripes holding signs (one is of a heart). They're climbing on a vine.Illustration by Eric M. Ramos We have to continue this local work, no matter who ends up in the Oval Office. A Biden administration would have a mandate to carry out the most ambitious environmental agenda of any modern presidency. But it can't single-handedly transform our nation on the scale required to solve its crises. How could it, in a country where fossil fuel billionaires and the politicians they've captured still hold so much sway? Biden would need a powerful grassroots movement pushing the administration to act boldly and to stay committed to campaign promises—a powerful movement made up of people like you and me.

Local organizing can achieve so much more than swaying national politicians. The reality is that so much of what we care about is decided at the local level: whether your city or town bans fracked gas in new construction; whether it expands public transit and electric-vehicle charging infrastructure; whether it directs more money to creating healthy communities than to policing. None of these decisions require presidential intervention—just organizing and investment by committed community members.

So if you're not already active in a Sierra Club chapter, I encourage you to take that step. Or join one of our distributed volunteer groups, like a Ready for 100 campaign. Let yourself be drawn into a network of concerned citizens who are focused on making their home a more equitable and sustainable place—and trust that in communities around the country, other people are doing the same.

And I hope you'll continue the work of self-transformation so many of us have begun over these past four years—the most local work of all. In every corner of our Sierra Club community, I've watched folks learn what it means to commit themselves to transforming the institutions they're part of as well as how to act in solidarity with other movements for change. I know that our education in race, class, power, and privilege is far from over. This is work that will likely take a lifetime.

The past four years have shown us that this work of political and personal transformation can be done even under the rule of those who would like to see the spirit of resistance extinguished. So, please, keep doing it—no matter who ends up in the White House.

This article appeared in the November/December 2020 edition with the headline "The Spirit of Resistance."

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