Sierra Club Board of Directors Meeting

February 24 – 25, 2017

Atlanta, GA


This was a significant meeting.  My perspective is that there were two principle topics that required special attention beyond the normal and routine work of guiding and managing the Club’s affairs.  While both items are closely  tied together and related, I consider them to be separate.  The first is how to respond to the Trump Administration.  The second, should Sierra Club officially change our Standing Rules to eliminate the prohibition of participating in non violent civil disobedience?

One piece of good news is that since the election the number of our members and supporters has grown from 2.4 million to over 2.7 million.  And that figure is growing daily. This growth has provided the Club with many millions of additional funding, both C3 and C4, that we will need to up our game substantially and not only resist and thwart the efforts of the Trump Administration to roll back our environmental protections but actually continue to make progress on all of our ambitious initiatives.  We are quickly reacting to our new reality.  The staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly and effectively to develop plans and a financial recommendation to support work at all levels of the Club to accomplish this.  We are hopeful that we are in a “slingshot” moment such that we are feeling like we are being pulled way back against our will.  But once the slingshot is released, we will shoot forward at rapid speed that will actually push our agenda forward in unexpected ways.  As the Japanese Admiral who lead the attack on Pearl Harbor said after it had been accomplished, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant”.  That is my hope too.  That regardless of whatever reason many people voted for Trump, it wasn’t to destroy our environment and planet for the financial gain of a few.  We are seeing that people recognize that they cannot simply take for granted their environment and its protection.  And we as an organization must react quickly to be able to take full advantage our our new recruits and financial support.  We are working hard to accomplish this objective.

Coincidently, coming to the Board for a decision at this meeting was whether to have the Club engage in non violent civil disability.  This process was actually NOT initiated due to Trump’s election.  We have been flirting with this issue for over 4 years and the formal process was started when a Trump presidency was not even in the cards.  And I don’t know to what degree Trump’s election actually  influenced the outcome of the vote.  Below, I discuss this issue more fully.  But here I’d like to ponder the question as to whether this is a decision that, like in the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, “that has made all the difference.”   Maybe yes and maybe no…


First on the agenda was a  joint session with the Sierra Club Foundation to engage in a dialog about the strategy of how to maximize our effectiveness in our core themes of Resist, Recruit, Train and Sustain. There was very productive conversation and observations about how we expand our audience without alienating broad constituencies to whom we need to reach and engage in our endeavors. Together, the staff and volunteers are honing the messaging, tools, activities and priorities to create the highest level of impact that will not only protect what we’ve been able to achieve over our 125 Siera Club history but also to move forward to achieve continuous success in all our endeavors and priorities. The results of these discussions will become obvious as we roll out initiatives based on a radically different political world than we had ever anticipated or thought possible.  We are modifying our functionality and adopting through a process of experimentation and continuous improvement.  Stay alert for new ways to become personally engaged and how to help recruit, train and engage a rapidly growing membership and group of supporters.

Since the election, our membership and revenue inflow has increased substantially. Obviously, this is in reaction to the outcome of the election. Clearly, these new supporters want us to use the funds they are providing to resist the new Administration’s attempts to dismantle our environmental protections and continue to fight for progress in all our campaigns and other endeavors. Thus we began to review, discuss and approve the allocation of these new revenues. As these allocations are approved the work products will be rolled out locally and nationally.  I would like to assure everyone that on top of the millions of dollars that will, by prescribed formula, be allocated directly to the Chapters, the Board is fully committed to funneling millions more funding to support Chapters, Groups and Campaigns either directly or indirectly.  While it might not always be obvious, funds are being expended to provide additional support for local outings, local fundraising and training.  One issue that we clearly recognize is that the huge influx of new members and supporters are turning to us as a way to resist the horrible anti environmental policies and hostility of the new Administration.  We need to act quickly and decisively to engage them beyond simply accepting their financial support.  People are begging for ways to actively resist and we are already rolling out engagement tools.  I, in fact, have already attended two meetings here in Illinois.  One hosted by my Group and one by the Chapter. At both there were 25 to 50 people who were new to the Club or new to activism and were anxious to get directly involved.  It was heartwarming and uplifting.

Sierra Club Lobby Team Training 2-4-17

We received a continuing update on our Digital Strategy.  Years of investment and development are really now beginning to gain traction. The everyday usefulness is beginning to be felt around the Club in multiple and various ways. Much of the substantial additional revenue would not have occurred without the work we have already completed. As the rollouts continue accompanied with training, the results will be increasingly beneficial and clear. Buckle up. Exciting new tools are on the way!

We had a presentation about the new direction of Sierra Magazine since our new editor was hired about 18 months ago. The magazine is working hard to support our core campaigns and endeavors to become a more welcoming entity that represents all communities of our society and supports the efforts of other organizations that are striving for corresponding values.  I hope that like me, you too have been able to notice and appreciate the new editorial and content direction of the magazine over the last 18 months since the new editor came on board.

Over the past 5 years there has been an ongoing debate, conversation, discussion (call it what you will) as to whether the Sierra Club should officially engage in non violent civil disability despite it being officially prohibited in our by-laws and standing rules.  Before I joined the Board, in May of 2013 a one time exception of this prohibition was approved and the first ever act of CD was performed in February of 2013.  Then in 2016, another “one time exemption” was approved and performed.  Recognizing that we could not, and should not, continue this practice of making exceptions, it was decided to initiate a full process to make a formal determination as to whether to add CD to our tool box and if so, a specific process to do so.  Personally, I have been opposed to changing the policy for a myriad of reasons not the least of which is that if for any reason the Club or individual directors get sued directly for voting to break the law, the Club’s liability insurance and Director’s and Officers insurance will NOT be enforceable and not cover them.  I fully recognize that the chance of this liability is appears very unlikely, I felt that alone was enough of a reason to vote against this.  Nevertheless, the vote was 10 to 5 to approve a change the standing rules to authorize non-violent CD by individuals in the name of the Sierra Club on a case by case basis to be reviewed and approved by the Board and a application process and criteria are being developed.  Only time will tell how this will impact the Club and the planet.  While I disagree with the outcome, I fully recognize the right of the Board to make and implement this change and truly pray that it enhances our image, impact, membership, financial position and ability to protect the planet.  Time will tell.

We also engaged in other routine Board work which included reviewing and approving the responses to the Council of Club Leaders (CCL) Resolutions.  I think this may be the first time ever that the Board has fully completed this process on this timely a basis!  


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