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The Sierra Club’s Inexplicable Treatment of Cynthia McKinney

by MARK DONHAM

The Georgia state chapter of the Sierra Club, in coordination with the Atlanta Metro Group of the Sierra Club, have failed to endorse former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a long time champion of Sierra Club causes, in her bid to win back the 4th Congressional District of Georgia’s congressional seat, as their primary candidate of choice in the Democratic primary next Tuesday. (The winner of the primary is the hands down favorite to get the seat.) Club officials instead did not officially endorse any of the three out of the five Democratic candidates they consider “environmentally friendly.” Besides McKinney, the Sierra Club identified Cathy Woolard, current City Council Chair of the Atlanta City Council, and African American state Senator Nadine Thomas. However, they did offer a lesser level of support, known as “support short of condition” for Thomas and Woolard, which allows them access to Club mailing lists and other less visible means of support, while ignoring McKinney.

A look at the publicly professed environmental positions of the three candidates does not support this action. While Woolard shows an informed, detailed and progressive position paper toward the environment, one worthy of mention and support, Thomas’ positions are lackluster, localized, and even questionable. In fact, Thomas lists what she calls her top three priorities on the environment if she gets into congress. Those are, according to her website:

(1) working to provide funding for implementation of an extensive rapid rail transit system in Georgia;

(2) working to provide funding for more green space and the creation of a network of bicycle and walking paths; and

(3) working to create a tax credit for companies that meet specific standards when it comes to protecting and improving the environment in their business practices.

As you can see, these show a very narrow view of the nation’s environmental problems. While rapid rail transit systems are important, as are green space and bike and walking paths, they do not address head on some of our nation’s most pressing problems. In addition, giving corporations tax credits for doing the right thing on the environment is questionable. Thomas also broadly calls for “public-private partnerships” in working toward protecting the environment, a concept that can sometimes lead to big problems for citizens concerned in environmental protection, depending on the details.

This failure to endorse McKinney can only be seen as a betrayal of the greatest kind. When McKinney was in Congress, she worked tirelessly for issues which the Sierra Club supports. Several examples of how McKinney benefitted the Sierra Club can easily be found by some basic internet searches. For example, Mother Jones magazine called McKinney’s introduction of the National Forest Protection Act in the House of Representatives as a “minor miracle.” In fact, the Sierra Club and McKinney’s name appeared in publications numerous times together in regard to this legislation’s introduction, and the Sierra Club used it at a time when the forest protection movement had been battered by the salvage rider, which McKinney opposed, as an shining example of the positive efforts that were being made on behalf of public forests. In addition, the Sierra Club and McKinney worked together on other issues, such as proportional representation and civil rights for environmental activists. Where is the record of this kind of commitment from the other candidates?

The Sierra Club owes the environmental movement an explanation, and a better one than they have provided up to this point. If the environment is suffering because some Sierra Club officials have not made an endorsement decision based upon the facts, that is a disservice to the entire movement. Ms. McKinney has been too loyal to not just the environmental movement, but to progressive causes across the board, to be treated like this. What the Sierra Club’s action may be contributing too is another situation where a well funded, less progressive female African American candidate is being set up to receive another large crossover Republican vote in the primary, combined with the environmentally aware white candidate, both ready to peel off some of the white progressive vote, will defeat McKinney again. It is no secret that McKinney has significant support in the African American community, and another such outcome would not go down well with this community.

At a time when the way-too-white environmental movement has a opportunity to build a bridge deep into the African American community, an alliance that any thinking, white, environmentalist knows is long overdue and needed, this action by the Sierra Club is a step in the wrong direction – a bad misstep in the wrong direction. It should be corrected and corrected now. In the long run, this kind of lack of loyalty and lack of appreciation of a long time ally will only hurt the Sierra Club worse than anyone else. But it is hurting us all some, and the Club needs to explain why it is doing this.

MARK DONHAM, a longtime environmental organizer, lives in Brookport, Illlinois. He can be reached at: markkris@earthlink.net.

 

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