Why We Oppose This War

Jennifer Ferenstein, Sierra Club President Carl Pope, SC Executive Director SC Board of Directors

Ladies and Gentlemen:

First, we would like to express our sincere appreciation for the Sierra Club’s decision to help launch the “Win Without War” coalition. This was a very important historical step for the Club, and a step in the right direction. More, however, is needed.

We remain unhappy both with the content of the 11/16 resolutions and with the process surrounding them. It appears that many Club members share our feelings.

In the statement that follows, we begin by analyzing the 11/16 resolutions and by describing the process that led up to and followed their adoption, as we experienced it. These two sections provide the context for the third and longest section, “What We Are Asking For.” This final section is the heart of our statement.

We realize that our statement is fairly long, but we found it impossible to do justice to the many issues raised by the controversy around the 11/16 resolutions in less space. We ask for the reader’s indulgence-serious matters require serious, and often lengthy, discussion.

1. The Resolutions

We felt and feel that the language of the first resolution gives credence to the Bush administration’s propaganda about the Iraqi regime and the administration’s rationale for invading Iraq.

The statement, “The Sierra Club supports disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction,” is ill-advised. First, it implies that the weapons in fact exist. Second, it implies that the statements of concern about these alleged weapons from the Bush administration are sincere, rather than a subterfuge hiding the administration’s real motives. Third, it leaves open the question of what the Club will do if the administration proclaims that Iraq has not been disarmed of weapons of mass destruction and that it must therefore invade. In fact, it sounds like a tacit endorsement of the use of “any means necessary” to disarm Iraq.

The allusion to “the global dangers presented by possible Iraqi aggression” is no less unfortunate. This phrase implicitly supports the Bush administration claim that Iraq intends and is able to attack other nations militarily. No credible evidence has been presented that this is the case-especially not on a “global” scale! In addition, and worse, this phrase gives comfort to the Bush administration view that pre-emptive wars, so long as the U.S. wages them, are justified. This is so because the administration has been using the supposed “global dangers presented by possible Iraqi aggression” to justify invading Iraq pre-emptively. This administration position violates international law. It is not one with which any law-abiding civic organization should associate itself, even by implication.

You may think we are merely picking nits. Our experience has been that friends and fellow activists to whom we have shown the resolutions share our criticisms of the terms in which the first resolution is couched, as well as our strong reaction against them. The same is true for the “Clarification” resolution.

The “Clarification” resolution purports to clarify the 1981 IUCN resolution. Its first paragraph informs all Club members and entities below the CGC and the BoD that they may not “take public positions on military conflicts as they arise” or on “legislation related to [them].”

Our objection to this section of the resolution is three-fold.

First, it departs from normal Club practice, in which members and entities are supposed to espouse and act upon Club policies. While members and entities are also permitted not to campaign actively for Club policies, what other policy are they explicitly enjoined from publicly supporting?

Second, it represents a significant retreat from the IUCN policy and from the Club’s pattern over several decades of taking clear and courageous positions on military issues that have major environmental implications. (The 1/83 “Freeze” resolution is perhaps the most striking case in point. Given the well-known possession of nuclear weapons by Israel and other countries in or near the Middle East, the possibility of a nuclear exchange exists, and the Club’s ten resolutions regarding “Nuclear Weapons” shows that it has been quite vocal on that issue.)

Third, the “Clarification” is aimed directly at the pressure from within the Club to speak out against the war and in favor of its opponents in Congress and elsewhere. Rather than supporting Club activists who wish to implement Club policies like the 1981 IUCN resolution or the 9/90 policy on environmental security (see especially paragraph 4 of that policy), it seeks to silence activists, even though a flagrantly unjustified, potentially disastrous war is imminent, and there is little prospect of stopping it and preventing the environmental havoc it will wreak unless American civil society mobilizes to a degree not seen since the latter years of the struggle to stop the Viet Nam war.

The intent of the second paragraph of the “Clarification” remains obscure to us. It reads, “No resolution may be used by any Club entity or leader to praise or criticize any public official for actions or statements which they made or took prior to its adoption by the Board of Directors.” The context (i.e., the title of the resolution and its first paragraph) would suggest that the words “its adoption” refer to the IUCN resolution, but that seems chronologically improbable. Since the first part of the resolution says that only the BoD or CGC may “adopt a formal position on a future armed conflict or legislation related to it,” most of the Club has already been barred from “prais[ing] or criticiz[ing] any public official” concerning their actions or position regarding war on Iraq. Presumably, we are permitted to “praise or criticize” public officials for their positions on oil dependency by this country-but didn’t existing Club policy, already adopted by the BoD, already allow us to do that? Perhaps this part of the “Clarification” needs some clarifying before we can discuss it further.

2. The Process Surrounding the Resolutions

The following represents our experience and perception of the process surrounding the 11/16 BoD Iraq resolutions.

During the fall, there was discussion of issues concerning the war on Iraq within the Club. The discussion overwhelmingly reflected a desire for the Club to take a clear anti-war, anti-administration position. Some people wanted permission to support publicly, in the name of their Club entity, various elected officials who were taking anti-war positions. This permission was denied, but it appeared that member sentiment was moving the Club toward a public statement of opposition to war on Iraq. We saw nothing in Sierra Magazine or “The Planet” or on the Club website about the debate or the opportunity to participate in it.

The resolutions passed by the BoD failed to reflect member sentiment.

After the BoD acted, it appears that Club management made no attempt to publicize the Iraq resolutions. Until we issued our first press release on 11/26, generating growing media coverage of the resolutions, the public, including the general Club membership, was unaware of them. President Ferenstein quoted part of the resolutions in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, dated 12/4; so far as we know, this letter has not yet appeared, and the Club has not yet issued a press release containing the full text of the resolutions.

3. What We Are Asking For

A. Improving the Club Position on War on Iraq

We commend the Club leadership for helping to launch the “Win Without War” coalition. As we said at the beginning of this statement, this is a step in the right direction, and it indicates a willingness on the part of the BoD to be flexible. The decision to engage with the anti-war movement needs to be formalized in a new policy statement.

Therefore, we call on the BoD a) to rescind its 11/16 resolutions on Iraq; b) to adopt a new resolution or resolutions stating unequivocally its opposition to war on Iraq, condemning pre-emptive strikes, declaring that Club members and entities are free to apply Club policy in favor of peace and against war to specific wars, and reaffirming the general opposition to war contained in its pre-11/16/02 policies; and c) to publicize fully its new resolution or resolutions.

Second, we call on the BoD to endorse and help publicize the 1/18/03 national mobilization against war on Iraq and to use Club channels, including Club publications, as well as non-Club media to encourage Club members to participate actively in legal anti-war activities, demonstrations, and rallies, including legal events in their communities associated with the 1/18/03 mobilization. The BoD ExCom, at its meeting next week, can and must take action to endorse and publicize the 1/18/03 mobilization and to encourage participation by Club members. We caution the Club against trying to “mainstream” the anti-war movement at the cost of marginalizing the many groups and individuals (including the much-reviled sectarians comprising WWP/ANSWER!) who have done the actual anti-war organizing over the past few months and will continue to be crucial to it in the future.

Third, we call on the BoD to open a channel to the anti-war movement so that the Club can communicate and coordinate with it, not only concerning the current mobilization regarding Iraq, but on a long-term, ongoing basis.

B. Improving Communications and Building a More Effective Club

The train wreck that has just occurred around Club Iraq policy shows that internal Club communications and process are inadequate for dealing with controversial issues of national importance. If we are to avoid similar “train wrecks” in the future, the Club needs to make some changes. We believe that these changes will not only improve conflict resolution within the Club, they will also make the Club a more effective advocate for environmental protection. Most of the changes that are needed would affect how the Club handles all issues, not just the issue of war and the environment.

We call on the Club to make the following changes that relate specifically to the issue of war and the environment

Act upon its existing policies concerning “Environmental Security,” “Biological and Chemical Weapons,” and “Nuclear Weapons” by scrutinizing government behavior, speaking out against behavior that violates Club policies, and actively campaigning for behavior that promotes those policies. (For instance, under the Club’s “Non-Proliferation,” “No-First-Use,” and several other “Nuclear Weapons” policies, the Club should be loudly opposing the administration’s failure to move toward nuclear disarmament, its talk of first-use of nuclear weapons, its continued development of nuclear weapons, and its plans to resume nuclear testing.)

Set up a Club committee on “War and the Environment” to maintain ties with the peace movement, to make certain that the Club is implementing its existing policies on war and the environment, to analyze issues, to make recommendations, and to write reports for Club publications on the generic impact of different sorts of war on the environment and the actual or potential impacts of specific wars that are occurring or threatening to occur. In short, make this set of issues part of Club culture, and support the creation of additional well-informed, proactive policies concerning them!

We also call on the Club to make the following changes that relate to how we handle any and all issues:

Create a booklet containing all national Club policies. Make the booklet (and the website) user-friendly by placing the most recently-adopted policies first and including an executive summary of the policies and an index. The booklet should also include a description of the process whereby policy is made and changed, so that grassroots Club leaders will know how to participate. It should be distributed to all officers and updated annually.

Implement a process through which the members can be informed in a timely manner of pending decisions and provide input to those decisions. For example, the Club could create lists of e-mail addresses of members who are interested in various topics proposed for discussion or decision. Publicize the availability of these lists in Sierra Magazine and “The Planet.” Report the main points raised in member discussions in Sierra Magazine and “The Planet” and on the Club website and listservs. Make certain that upper-level Club decisions are informed by these invigorated member discussions.

Encourage members to communicate with each other laterally within the Club–for example, the Club could ask all members if they want their phone numbers, addresses, and/or e-mails to be accessible for conservation purposes only to leaders in their group, chapter, and/or on a national basis. Lists that are created from this poll can be shared with relevant leaders. (Without this, the only way for a Club leader to communicate with the general membership is through the press.)

Devise methods to make the Board more accountable to the members. For example, the country could be divided up geographically, with each board member being assigned one portion of the country; members living there would become that board member’s constituency. Alternatively, board members could each take responsibility for specific topics and be responsible for receiving and integrating feedback from the members about those topics.

Appoint a Club ombudsman to field member grievances and cases of sharp member disagreement over controversial issues. The ombudsman will provide another channel for alerting the BoD to significant internal conflicts within the Club.

Add Group representatives to the Council of Club leaders.

In general, we feel that Club effectiveness is greatly impaired by our failure to do true grassroots organizing and mobilize the membership base. Too much staff-time goes to lobbying Congress and providing life-support to the Democratic Party; too little goes to supporting the on-the-ground work of Club activists and to encouraging community organizing. The efforts of the small percentage of Club members who are actively engaged in environmental work are too often thwarted, rather than supported, by the complex, hierarchical Club organizational structure and by some of those (both volunteers and staff) who hold power within it. Too few members participate in Chapter and Group ExCom elections, allowing small, self-perpetuating in-groups to control decision-making.

Therefore, we call on the Club to make the following changes in how the Club does organizing:

Hire experienced grassroots organizers for field positions who will energize Club members, build ties with other organizations, and obtain multiplier-effects by training and empowering members to become organizers in their own right.

Once the infrastructure is in place within the Club, call on the public to “get involved and get active.” Acknowledge the fact that the environment is in severe decline, and that a quantum leap in citizen involvement will be necessary if we are to arrest the decline. Publicize the significant lifestyle changes that are imperative if we are to avoid handing on a grossly degraded environment to our descendants. (In other words, it’s time to get real!)

Provide enthusiastic support for campaigns that have significant grassroots backing (e.g., ECL and restoring Glen Canyon). There is a disturbing pattern of unwillingness within the top echelons of the Club to implement policies that they perceive as controversial, even though the Club membership has shown it is behind them. Opposition by some Chapters on the grounds of narrow, local self-interest should not be allowed to block effective action on campaigns of national importance.

Require that Chapters and Groups mail out ballots for their ExCom elections. Including them in newsletters (as the Utah Chapter does) is not good enough. Only 1.5% of Utah members voted in the current Utah Chapter election; is the situation significantly better in other chapters? When so few people vote, there is no democracy. Members need to be given a reason to care about elections. If there is a genuine, properly supported effort to involve and energize them, then elections will matter to them.

Make committee membership more accessible to grassroots activists. Discontinue practices (such as appointment of committee members by committee chairs) that lead to the domination of committees by a clique or a narrow range of opinion. Require that committees reflect the full range of opinion within the Club, so that “conservative,” “moderate,” and “reformist” tendencies are all represented. Make committee proceedings transparent by reporting differences of opinion openly.

Replace the present Executive Director with someone who will focus on grassroots organizing and mobilization of the membership base. Like many other Club activists, we have lost all confidence in the leadership of the present Executive Director, who seems to have confused door-to-door fundraising with the real work of organizing. We have had our fill of backroom deals that compromise Club principles and harm the environment the Club is pledged to protect. The present Executive Director has entirely too much control over the Club’s money and its policy-making apparatus, including the BoD. The 11/16 debacle, which occurred on his watch and which he apparently supported, is only the latest example. We have not forgotten his role in the Headwaters Forest sell-out (big bucks for Hurwitz), his failure to repudiate the Quincy Library Group bill (which led to a serious public embarrassment for Senator Boxer), his strenuous opposition to the zero-cut initiative, or his central involvement in the Daschle timber rider this past summer. We need an Executive Director who will support the strong environmental positions that the planet and the Club grassroots are thirsty for.

Thank you for taking the time to read our statement. We look forward to hearing your response, and to working together for a stronger Club and a healthier world.

Sincerely yours,

Tori Woodard, John Weisheit, Dan Kent, and Patrick Diehl

The Glen Canyon Four can be reached at: toripat@scinternet.net