To: Sierra Club Leaders and Staff
From: David Scott, President
Following a 6-month review of the Club's civil disobedience policy, the Board of Directors decided on November 16 to make some changes to its standing rule on civil disobedience and to make it clear that future exemptions to the policy can be granted by the Board, as it did earlier this year.
The changes to the standing rule remove restrictions on reporting on civil disobedience in Club publications and allow for the Club to support rallies, protests and other events where a subset of participants may engage in civil disobedience.
What follows is a copy of the Board resolution and the Standing Rule amendment adopted 11/16/13. It is followed by a Frequently Asked Questions section. If you have any additional questions feel free to contact Bruce Hamilton at email@example.com.
The Board recognizes the importance of civil disobedience in promoting social change. As a result, it reserves the right to continue to entertain future requests for exemptions from the organizational prohibition on official Club participation in civil disobedience, as it did when it granted an exemption in February 2013. The Board agrees with the recommendation of the Civil Disobedience Review Task Force that Standing Rule 2.2.1 should be amended to not restrict freedom of speech about civil disobedience and to allow Club members to participate in and help organize marches, rallies, and protests where only a subset of the participants plan to engage in civil disobedience, as long as participants do not carry out civil disobedience in the name of the Sierra Club.
Amendment to Standing Rule: SR. 2.2.1: Civil Disobedience
(a) The Club will not encourage, request or direct any person to violate the law. No chapter, group, or other entity of the Club shall encourage, request, or direct any person to violate the law.
(b) The Club recognizes that it cannot control the private actions of its members, and in particular cannot prevent its members from engaging in acts of civil disobedience. However, no member of the Club is authorized to use, display, or invoke the Club's name or logo (including the name of any chapter, group, or other entity of the Club) in connection with committing, encouraging, requesting, or directing any other person to commit any violation of the law.
(c) The Club recognizes that some of its members have become closely identified with the Club in the minds of the public. The mere involvement of such members, either individually or collectively, in an act of civil disobedience or other violation of law, without any effort on their part to use, display, or invoke the Club's name or logo in connection with that act, shall not be deemed a violation of this Standing Rule. Members shall take all reasonable precautions to avoid confusion over whether the Club is involved in such acts.
Deleted section d:
(d) If an act or acts of civil disobedience or other violation of the law have taken place, the Club or any chapter, group, or other entity of the Club may publish a factually accurate report thereof,regardless of whether any member of the Club participated in such acts, so long as the report does not approve of such acts or advocate similar acts, and so long as the report does not refer to the Sierra Club affiliation of any person involved in such acts.
New replacement section d:
(d) If there is a coalition event such as a march, rally, protest, etc., that is peaceful and lawful, but where a subset of the participants plan to participate in an act of civil disobedience in association with the event; the Sierra Club may endorse, organize support for, and participate in the event, but it may not use Club resources to promote participation specifically in the civil disobedience activity.
Resolution of 11/15/92; amended and adopted as a SR. 05/2/93; amended 05/19-20/06, 02/24/07; amended 11/16/13
Frequently asked questions:
Q: May Club leaders and staff members engage in civil disobedience as individuals?
A: Yes, but unless the Board has authorized an exemption, they may not use Club resources to organize on behalf of civil disobedience, and they should not identify themselves as Sierra Club leaders or staff members so that it might give the impression that the Club was endorsing the action.
Q: How could a volunteer entity such as a chapter or a campaign committee request an exemption to allow officially sanctioned Club participation in civil disobedience?
A: While the board did not repeal SR 2.2.1, the adopted resolution states that the board "reserves the right to continue to entertain future requests for exemptions from the organizational prohibition on official Club participation in civil disobedience, as it did when it granted an exemption in February 2013." I believe that the intent was to consider future exemptions in rare but compelling circumstances. A volunteer entity such as a chapter or campaign committee can send a request for consideration of an exemption to the board at firstname.lastname@example.org. As of now, there is no formal process and no form or set of questions to be answered, but providing as much information as possible is advisable to speed action on any request.
Q: What is to prevent the Club from becoming associated with protests that turn violent or involve property destruction?
A: Throughout this 6-month review process, the Board, the Civil Disobedience Review Task Force, and Club leaders made it clear that the Club would only consider endorsement and participation in civil disobedience actions that were non-violent and did not involve property destruction. Those conditions are our definition of civil disobedience, so we would not entertain requests to participate in any action that did not meet these criteria.
Q: How does one judge if a coalition event is being organized primarily to promote civil disobedience or if civil disobedience is a side activity conducted by a subset of participants?
A: This will be a judgment call based on the nature of the event, how it is being promoted, and the nature of the invitation to the public and our members. If the event is billed as a civil disobedience action and all participants are being encouraged to come and get arrested, the Club could not participate without a Board-granted exemption. If it is a march or rally to protest a specific project, decision, etc. ,we can endorse the event and encourage participants to show up and peacefully and legally protest, but we should not endorse or publicize the optional civil disobedience action. If a partner organization chooses to advertise a particular event as an opportunity for civil disobedience, that would not exclude the Sierra Club from promoting the same coalition event with a different emphasis advertising the non-civil disobedience components. If you have any questions, contact email@example.com.
Q: Now that the standing rule prohibiting reporting on civil disobedience has been repealed, may Club publications report favorably on civil disobedience actions taken by other organizations and report on Club members who have participated?
A: Yes, there are no restrictions on reporting on civil disobedience events taken by others, but any reporting should be careful not to give the impression that the Sierra Club endorsed the event just because some of our leaders and staff chose to participate as individuals.