What a Week -- MLK Day of Service, Inauguration, White House Visit
Thousands of Sierra Club Members Join Day of Service
What a week. There is so much to share with you that I hardly know where to begin. First, thanks to you -- Sierra Club members all across the country showed up big time for the National Day of Service, cleaning up parks and streams, planting trees, weatherizing homes, recycling, maintaining trails, distributing compact fluorescent bulbs, even hosting mercury hair testing events (link to Facebook?).
Of course we did -- this is who we are and what we do! Hats off to Natalie Foster and the Day of Service Task Force for spreading the word -- 102,000 folks opened our email invitation to participate and 13,000 clicked through to Obama’s National Day of Service site. Natalie estimates that more than 1,000 Sierra Club members participated in the day of service on behalf of the Sierra Club, as hosts or participants, and many more took part in other Day of Service events.
I joined Sierra Club and community activists for the 3rd Annual Martin Luther King Day of National Service to clean up Pope Branch Park and Creek near the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. There were snow flurries Monday morning and it was cold, but that did not thwart the determined -- the turnout was fantastic! I teamed up with two brothers -- Jelena and his younger brother Jeff -- for part of the day. Joli, Bob Morris' dog, was retrieving trash from the creek bed! By the end of morning there was a mountain of garbage in bright yellow bags ready to be hauled away. It was a special treat to run into Sierra Club friends and a bonus to meet some local members for the first time, like Russell Edwards, Lisa Swanson and Dennis Chestnut.
Many of us migrated over to a companion event in the afternoon, that involved clean up of Anacostia Park, tree-planting and a rally with Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, Steny Hoyer, John Sarbanes, Senator Ben Cardin, as well as National Park Service officials, other local environmental organizations, and a wonderful gospel choir. A very satisfying day, indeed.
[photo by Victoria Brandon]
[photo by Joyce Blumenshine]
[photos by Irv Sheffey]
Braving the Cold and Crowds on Inauguration Day
Even more memorable was inauguration weekend. Since I now live in northern Virginia, I was able to commute into Washington for events throughout the weekend. I braved the cold and crowds to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, starting with packed and hot metro ride into the city at 6 a.m. Despite the crushing crowd, when a fellow passenger had an anxiety attack, passengers gave her “space,” and strangers worked cooperatively to help cool her down. My training as an outings leader and wilderness first-responder came in handy to help calm her down.
I introduced myself and my training, and merely provided a steady, reassuring voice to help the young lady take deep, regular breaths. Another passenger yielded her seat, and then the train got crowded again. From a short distance and a few layers of people away, I could listen for her steady breathing.
Once off the train, more lines and more waiting in the southwest standing area meant more people to talk with about how and why this moment was so important to them, to me. Let’s be clear, we are all living history. Everyone I’ve spoken to who watched the inauguration on television said they could feel the emotion. Perhaps the only difference for those of us standing in the cold was experiencing the wave of emotions as the chanting swelled from some far distant place in the mall to where we joined in. What typified the weekend was an electrifying mood of excitement, optimism, and generosity that permeated the crowds.
Celebrating Progress on Clean Energy at the White House
Then, less than a week later, on Monday, January 26, the White House invited the Sierra Club to witness the first environment and energy actions taken by the president, helping our country move toward greater energy independence by directing the EPA to address the request by California and 13 other states to implement tougher emissions standards for cars than federal standards. Again, thanks to you. We sent more than 53,000 emails telling the new administration to start with a Clean Slate of energy and environmental issues -- we asked President Obama to take four actions immediately to cut global-warming pollution and spur a clean energy economy. He took the first step, so let’s thank him, and urge him to take action on the other three -- regulations on coal-fired power plants, tough interim goals for a climate plan, and an end to lawless dumping of coal-mining waste in rivers and streams.
I wasn’t able to be there, but Club Vice President Robin Mann came down from Philadelphia to join Legislative Director Debbie Sease, and Club staff members Melinda Pierce, Leslie Fields, and Tamara Evans.
Here’s Robin’s report:
“It was my first visit to the White House, and I was pinching myself to see if I was awake. About 150 environmental leaders were gathered in the East Room of the White House, sharing relief that we have emerged from a very dark period. In the back of the room was the biggest bank of cameras I’d ever seen. In the front row were Obama administration team members Carol Browner, Stephen Chu, and Ken Salazar. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood arrived with President Obama and stood beside him on the dais.
“The president started with some sober words on the state of the economy, then outlined three immediate priorities on the environment: first, his objectives for the stimulus package embracing the green energy economy and green jobs; second, the two actions he was taking immediately on the California Clean Car Waiver and issuing new fuel economy standards in the coming months; and third, resuming our leadership role to the world community on tackling global warming and climate change. There was a lighter moment when Obama offered Administrator Jackson the pen he used to sign the order on the California waiver, and she couldn’t hide her excitement. The president’s matter-of-factness about these steps as overdue and a down-payment on the problems we have magnified for ourselves somehow made the occasion seem all the more momentous.
Carl Pope to Step Down as Executive Director to Become Chairman
Last week, Carl Pope announced that after 16 years as as executive director, he planned to step down and transition to the role of chairman of the Club, once a successor is hired.
The transition of Club leadership, and specifically of the executive director position, has been an ongoing conversation between the board of directors and Carl for several years. Suffice it to say that there was not only unanimous, but enthusiastic support for Carl to take on the role of chairman, where he would devote his energy to the Club’s work on Climate Recovery, focusing on strategy, politics, and fund-raising.
The Board of Directors is committed to ensuring continuity of leadership and discussing with Carl how he can best serve the Club in his new role. The position of chairman of the Sierra Club (not to be confused with chairman of the Board) was filled once before, by Mike McCloskey when he stepped down as executive director in 1985. The Board will be taking the necessary time to fully define this role and, of course, share that information once it is available.
I look forward to continuing my conversation with you in the coming weeks. This report is just one part of our conversation. I hope, soon, to schedule some teleconferences so that I can also “listen” to your input on a variety of topics.
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