The new head of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, intends to bring a more aggressive, anti-business activism to the nation’s largest environmental organization.
Yes, if there’s one thing America doesn’t have enough of, it’s radical environmental groups campaigning against economic activity and jobs.
Grist, an activist web/newsite, interviews Michael Brune in a report, “New Sierra Club chief brings confrontational style to the job.” Staff writer Jonathan Hiskes provides the context:
The Sierra Club’s new leader will come to the job with a record of “environmental agitation” against big industrial polluters. The group announced on Wednesday that Michael Brune, 38, currently head of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), will replace Carl Pope as executive director as of March 15. Brunehoned RAN’s strategy of negotiating politely with corporate heavyweights such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and General Motors—and then, if they don’t clean up their acts, campaigning mercilessly against them. The two-pronged approach earned results that belie RAN’s modest size—it helped convince Home Depot to stop selling wood from endangered forests, for example.
Brune spoke to me about his plans to bring similar ferocity to the comparatively mild Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental group, which claims 1.3 million members. With its self-governing regional chapters, its way-outside-the-beltway headquarters in San Francisco, and a smaller D.C. policy shop than other Big Green groups, the Sierra Club has always relied more on grassroots advocacy than direct work with Congress.
And from the subsequent Q&A:
Q: What habits and ways of thinking—perhaps acquired in the ‘60s—does the movement need to shed?
A: I’m reluctant to criticize folks on whose shoulders we’re standing. The work that was done in the ‘60s and ‘70s might be a little outdated, perhaps, but the results have improved the lives of millions of people.
That said, there is important work to be done in the near term, such as isolating the corporations and public institutions that are most resistant to change, that are most aggressively fighting to maintain a failing status quo.
The name Saul Alinsky has been thrown around a lot over the past few years, as left-wing activists like — and more recently, some conservative activists — draw inspiration from the dead labor/community organizer’s “Rules for Radicals.” And while there are many radical traditions, Brune’s comments and use of words like “isolating” smack of Alinsky’s strategy and tactics, such as his ’60s campaign against Eastman-Kodak in Rochester, N.Y.
We assert that most Americans aren’t radical, dislike the demonization of American employers, and reject the full-scale social transformation promoted by the more extreme environmental groups. The Sierra Club could find itself marginalized, or at least a smaller organization, under the new leadership. But no doubt the organization’s board of directors thought this through and made a choice.
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