Toward Just and Transformative Outings

The Sierra Club’s 130-year history is a complex one, filled with victories, losses, certainly many mistakes, and change.

One way that we continue to change is by moving toward fully embracing the power of diverse coalition building. In 2014, the Sierra Club Board of Directors adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, which can guide us in building communities with integrity across lines of difference—cultural, political, organizational. The Jemez Principles are: Be Inclusive, Emphasis on Bottom-Up Organizing, Let People Speak for Themselves, Work Together In Solidarity and Mutuality, Build Just Relationships Among Ourselves, and Commitment to Self-Transformation. By applying them in our work and decisions, we can better ensure that those most impacted by climate change and environmental decay will benefit deeply from a transition to clean energy.

Another step in our transformative journey came last December when the board formally adopted Sierra Club’s core values: anti-racism, balance, collaboration, justice and transformation. For our organization to plainly codify these aspirational and achievable values that guide our approach was momentous.

Earlier this year, some Palestinian, Indigenous and Jewish partners expressed deep concern about an upcoming National Outing to Israel. They asserted that the itinerary was not reflective of the Jemez Principles nor our values since it promoted the erasure of Palestinian people. In our long history, we have made many mistakes, several of which were the result of failing to build relationships with marginalized communities of color.

Our community gave us the opportunity to identify where we are not in alignment, leading us to pause and postpone the National Outing to Israel until we could engage with our various partners and address the issues presented in the itinerary. The decision to postpone was met with confusion, disappointment and frustration from many members of our community: our volunteer leaders who had been planning this trip for over a year, the trip participants who had already committed resources and time to the trip, and some of our Jewish community members who perceived our decision as a political statement, leading us to reinstate for March 2023 and commit to a reevaluation of future itineraries.

Understandably, these decisions were perceived as conflicting, were made in quick succession, and ultimately perpetuated harm and confusion throughout our entire community, especially our our Palestinian, Indigenous, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Jewish staff, volunteers, members and partners. While we intended to satisfy our various and valued partners, our execution caused an adverse reaction that lead us on a path of repairing and rebuilding with key members of our community - including our volunteers, our staff, our partners, our members, and our donors - who were deeply harmed and frustrated by not only the original trip, but by the non-consultative process that ensued. This situation was a critical inflection point in our journey to becoming an organization that fully illustrates anti-racism, balance, collaboration, justice and transformation.

During our journey, the Sierra Club has realized that protecting the planet requires intersectionality. This means that our community must acknowledge how race, class and other identities contribute to how some communities are more impacted by environmental decay than others. We have begun reimagining this trip in consultation with the trip leader, and in partnership with our Middle Eastern, Arab, and Palestinian as well as Jewish partners to illustrate our commitment to the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing; to our decision-making process around how we choose our Outings; to collaborating with current and new partners that will help expand our vision of exploring, enjoying and protecting the planet; and to safety and security concerns that may impact our travel destinations.

What became obvious after this situation is that many of the Sierra Club’s current systems do not reflect who we want to be as an organization. There is a long-overdue need to be reflective about how the National Outings Program embodies the Jemez Principles and our values more fully. Our organization has a lot of work to do to fix the prior mistakes and shortfalls in our systems, but we remain committed to doing the work and intentionally creating safe, inclusive, transformational experiences outdoors for all - united under the mission of protecting the planet. This moment highlights the critical need for staff and volunteer leaders to establish a values-based framework that ensures our National Outings Program advances our conservation goals and core values. We have taken that call to action seriously and we will be shifting the National Outings framework to align with both our organizing principles and our core values, set to launch in 2024.

While we commit to working more intentionally, thoroughly, and thoughtfully with our community, we cannot promise that this won’t happen again. Transforming is anything but linear and clean, and the only thing that is certain is that we will fumble again as we learn how to embed the Jemez Principles and core values into everything we do. We value the transformational over the transactional and strive to build meaningful, long-term partnerships that share decision-making, resources, and power. We want to forcefully end harm and engage in generative conflict, which requires principled dialogue and giving each other the benefit of the doubt. None of our principles can be operationalized overnight, but our hope is that the entire Sierra Club community becomes even stronger on this journey to change the world and save the planet.

We invite you to work with us in partnership during these times of transformation and ask that you submit any feedback or questions you may have using this form.