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Working with Religious Groups for Environmental Justice

September 14, 2011

Rev Bob UUC--96   

By Rev. Bob Murphy, Vice Chairman of the Cape Cod and Islands Group, Massachusetts Chapter

For the past ten years, the Cape Cod and Islands Group has worked with congregations on the coast of Massachusetts to promote environmental justice. Attention has focused on energy issues, water, wastewater, and food issues. The emphasis is on reaching low-income people, racial and ethnic minority groups, and the elderly.

Rev Bob UUC--84

What does the group do? For energy, it has co-sponsored three regional conferences about energy and organized religion, energy use, and the needs of low-income people. Support is provided for community programs that include fuel assistance and conservation services for renters. The Cape Cod and Islands Group supports organic community gardening and local food pantries.

Fishing is important in many religious traditions and it's especially important on Cape Cod.  Working with community and religious groups, local Sierra Club volunteers have developed saltwater fishing expeditions as fundraisers to help support community food pantries and community gardens. This was the fourth year for our fundraising expedition. Free tickets are distributed so that a variety of people can join the expedition.

Why fishing? Like community gardening, fishing is a popular outdoors activity for all sorts of people. On Cape Cod, it's part of our culture. When local Sierra Club people talk about environmental justice and local food production, we include fishing and shellfishing in the discussion because we're concerned about the ocean's future.

Working with religious groups, our Sierra Club group has been able to develop the environment justice concept and we've made it clear in our area that the Sierra Club supports environmental justice. Our resources are limited and we've never had more than four to six people active with this continuing work, although some projects -- like community gardening -- have had as many as 100 volunteers involved. This is a model for Sierra Club groups that want to work with religious organizations to promote environmental justice.

Rev Bob UUC--65
Rev. Bob Murphy.

Major factors in our success have been our commitment to environmental justice, the ability to work with a variety of religious groups, the willingness to try new strategies, and the continuing support of some hard-working volunteers.

Explaining environmental justice continues to be a challenge. Working with different religious organizations is also a challenge. It's important to put old prejudices aside and listen to local leaders. Keep in mind that "all politics is local." What's appropriate and helpful in one region may not be useful and appropriate in another region. What's appropriate and helpful in one region may not be useful and appropriate in another region. Fishing and gardening are part of our Cape Cod tradition, some environmentalists don't fish and some don't garden. If diversity is your goal, look around and note the outdoors activities that are popular in your community. Look for the places where you can find common ground with your neighbors.

Rev. Bob Murphy has been active with the Sierra Club for over forty years. He received a Special Service Award from the national Sierra Club on September 23rd. Bob is the Unitarian Universalist minister in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

Sierra Club Helps Get Military Kids Outside

September 13, 2011

Kids fly fishing
Kids learned a lesson on fly fishing at the Celebration of the Military Child Outside event.

Earlier this summer the Sierra Club partnered with UpaDowna on a Pikes Peak Community Foundation initiative called "Celebration of the Military Child Outside." More than 20 outdoor recreation and conservation organizations and nearly 400 military kids and their families as well as community members joined the Sierra Club at America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs to celebrate the fact that military kids serve, too, and that the outdoors are a great place to relax, deal with stress, and come together as a family.

The highlight of the day was when youth participants from National Military Family Association's Operation Purple Camps ® -- supported by the Sierra Club -- spoke about their experiences.

Kids looking for Fossils
Kids in search of fossils.

"For nearly 200 Colorado-based military kids and over 3,000 nationwide, summer camp helped get them outside. It's a life changing experience for both the kids and their families. It carries on the historic tradition of the Sierra Club supporting our military that stretches back to World War II," said Stacy Bare, the Sierra Club's National Military and Veterans Representative.

Recognizing that there are close to 39,000 military families in Colorado and that Operation Purple Camp ® alone can't reach everyone in getting outside and feeling the healing powers of our natural heritage, Celebration of the Military Child Outside brought together many of the great organizations represented by state, local, national, and federal organizations and agencies that are reaching out specifically to get military families outside. Activities included introduction to kayaking, rock climbing, Frisbee golf, and information about nearby state and national parks.

Slack line picture
On the slack line.

"Bringing military families together in the outdoors is a tremendously healing experience. It has been for me and my family. We are honored to be joining the Sierra Club in the support of this cause," said Josh Baruch, Owner and Senior Guide at Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides, which donated to the event a three-day, two-night guided backpacking trip for a family of four.

(Photos courtesy Stacy Bare.)

Get more indormation on Operation Purple Camps and the Sierra Club's support for military families by clicking here.

While Fighting the Wall, the Borderlands Team Makes Connections

September 12, 2011

Borderlands Wall

By Dan Millis, Borderlands Team and Conservation Program Coordinator, Grand Canyon Chapter.

In August 2010, members of the Borderlands Team converged in San Diego for several days of strategizing, lobbying, outreach, and border wall touring. We met with lawmakers, we saw the impacts of border walls on the Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, and we met with local groups and conducted a screening of our border film Wild Versus Wall.

We were able to raise the profile of the Borderlands Team within the San Diego Chapter, local NGOs, lawmakers, and the public. Eight team members, a half-dozen local community leaders, some members of the press, and several representatives of the local activism community attended the various events. We also had one or two dozen members of the public show for the film screening.

Lots of preliminary planning and outreach ensured that the events were well-attended and that key people from the local area would be there. At one point we had some trouble getting access to one of the meeting places we had arranged, so we instead met in a scenic outdoor park!

One key lesson learned is that outreach and coordination with other interested parties in key regions is essential to building legitimacy and rapport. Putting yourself out there, talking to others, listening to their ideas, and following up with them are all important.

If possible, we need to spend time getting more first-hand experiences at the point of impact. For example, we should've toured the Tijuana Estuary and adjacent impacted areas, but we only had time for Otay Mountain Wilderness Area. Check out the Borderlands Team on the Activist Network.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

Angeles Chapter Helps Navigate Outings

Angeles Outings 1

By Bob Myers, Angeles Chapter Navigation Chair

One success story for the Angeles Chapter has to do with our cross-country outings and the leaders who have to pass a navigation training course and become proficient in map and compass skills. To ensure that this requirement does not become a roadblock to potentially new leaders, we offer at least nine practice days a year. And these outings are open to already certified leaders to refresh their skills. We had a total of 122 participants in 2010. A total of 69 attempted the checkoff course with 62 percent passing.

Angeles Outings 3

The Angeles Chapter Outings program has always been strong. We've been doing navigation checkoffs for many decades, since the 1970s. Our Leader's Reference Book was first produced in 1973. We are now on the 17th edition, released in 2009. Each of my predecessors did an excellent job in teaching navigation to our leaders. Following in their footsteps, we modernized our materials and we are now offering expanded training opportunities. One reason for the success is that, by offering so many opportunities during the year, prospective leaders can attend events for practices and then checkoff at a later event. All participants receive the following materials: a 100-question exam to complete at home; a homework assignment to plant a route; and a 12-page guide of navigation hints.

We continue to refine our materials and offerings. We've begun to focus on micro-navigation skills and time management issues. We travel up some gullies, which are almost imperceptible on a map, teaching participants to look for very fine features on the map. In addition, along the way, all participants are belayed up a third-class chute to demonstrate what happens to trip time estimates when you use a rope.

This workshop is in the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park, a huge maze of rocks. In February, I led a trip in the Wonderland of Rocks where a one-mile segment took five hours.

Angeles Outings 2

Our outreach includes email, trip announcements in Chapter publications, and my regular column in the Hundred Peaks Section newsletter.

The leaders on our navigation team are very talented and, more importantly, are a fun group to be around. We all share a common interest in helping prospective leaders succeed so that the Chapter's vibrant outings program continues long into the future.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

A New Generation in Florida

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By Andy Quinn, Outings Chair for Ancient Islands Group serving Polk, Highlands, Hrdee, Desoto and Sumter Counties, Sierra Club Florida

In an effort to bring in new energy to the Sierra Club and pass the torch on to another generation, we're pushing to have more young people join the Sierra Club through youth engagement. We've done this by setting up trips, getting parents involved, and setting up a partnership with Lakeland Montessori School, a nearby charter school.

We have up to 14 kids join us for each trip. Ages range from six to 14-years of age. We've gone to Alexander Springs, Fisheating Creek, Wekiva Springs, Withlacoochee River, and Weeki Wachee Springs, to name a few. All of these trips comprise a goal of attracting young people into the Conservation Movement. Each trip includes nature lectures and conservation lessons on you name it....habitat, water, clean energy, pollution. One hot issue in Florida right now is fertilizer. The kids and adults are consistently engaged with the lectures and want to get involved.


Activities includes kayaking, camping, and swimming. We felt swimming with the kids would always be a winner. We consistently have trips that are full or close to full and we have now involved about 40 parents. These efforts have all been effective in bringing in a new generation and new members to the Sierra Club.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

Inner City Outings Leader Is "One of Those Kids"

September 08, 2011

Melaina at Grand Canyon

With her military background, Inner City Outings leader Melaina Sharpe was sometimes teased for bringing a "militant" component to outdoor trips. Her orderly ways made impressions when she first arrived at the Washington D.C. ICO program four years ago.

"I would say, 'I wouldn't call being a stickler for organized, safe trips and providing positive roll models and enforcing discipline as being militant,'" Melaina said while laughing.

"She was 'militant' and we were a bunch of lovey-dovey hippies," said Kris Unger, chair of ICO program in D.C. "The teasing was mutual."

Hints of Melaina's 15 years in active duty might creep out from time to time during ICO trips. But it's her connection with kids that makes her stand out as a leader. Melaina now co-chairs the Louisville ICO program -- one of ICO's 50 groups across the country that coordinate more than 800 outdoor trips for 12,000 kids every year.

"I like what ICO does with kids, taking them out of the urban environment and showing them something other than what they're used to," she said.

ICO targets at-risk youth who typically have no access to -- and are unaware of -- beautiful natural settings beyond the city limits. When kids first go on an ICO trip, they realize that there's another world out there.

Continue reading "Inner City Outings Leader Is "One of Those Kids"" »

Triple Victory for Clean Air in Virginia

September 06, 2011


Last week the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign celebrated two—really three—huge victories in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

On August 30, the City of Alexandria and GenOn Energy announced that they'd reached an agreement to permanently close GenOn's Potomac River Generating Station by October 1, 2012. The plant, which began operating in 1949, is a major source of air pollution for Alexandria and surrounding communities. The announcement of its closure is highly symbolic, as the plant is located smack across the river from the nation's capital.

Two days later, on September 1, Dominion Resources, Inc., Virginia's largest utility, announced that it will phase out or convert two of its oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. The Yorktown and Chesapeake plants will shut down in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The two announcements came less than six weeks after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood with Sierra Club leaders on a barge in front of the Potomac River plant and announced his $50 million gift to the Beyond Coal Campaign.


That's Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, Beyond Coal Director Mary Anne Hitt, Bloomberg, and Deputy Conservation Director Bruce Nilles, above. Below, U.S. Representative Jim Moran, who represents Alexandria in Congress, addresses the crowd on the barge, with the GenOn coal plant across the river.


The Beyond Coal Campaign has been actively engaged in Virginia since 2003, and the Club's work to retire these three plants stretches back even further. The Chesapeake and Yorktown plants are the 96th and 97th coal plants to accounce retirement since January 2010.

"This is another critical win for the residents of Virginia," says Brune. "The Chesapeake and Yorktown plants are a major source of pollution in coastal Virginia, and the decision by Dominion to responsibly phase them out means kids will have the opportunity to breathe cleaner air. Local activists and everyday Virginians have been working for years to ensure that plants like these get cleaned up or phased out; today they all celebrate this victory."

Continue reading "Triple Victory for Clean Air in Virginia" »

Newcomer/Member 'Welcome' Events Spur Activism, Help Retain Members

September 04, 2011

Donna Sprecht arriving at a newcomer event at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, near Pasadena.

By Donna Sprecht, Angeles Chapter Membership Chair

We've organized about seven Chapter-wide Newcomer/Member "Welcome to the Sierra Club" events every year for the past ten years. We plan these events to include all areas of the Angeles Chapter and Orange County. We invite Groups and Activity Sections, Committees, and Task Forces to come and table at the event. We send invitations out to members by mail, post the events on websites and advertise them in newsletters, in our chapter schedule of activities, in newspapers, e-mail invitations, and flyers.

In addition to bringing in new members and engaging those who are already members, the events also teach Groups/Sections and Committees how to recruit new members. The tabling entities make a huge impression on those attending, like the Political Committee, Mule Pack Section, Natural Science Section, Hundred Peaks Section, Wilderness Travel, Wilderness Adventure Section, Easy Hikers, Little Hikers, Singles Sections, Global Warming Committee, Water Committee, and many more.

About 50 percent of those who show up are already members. These people always say they have been longtime members but have never come to an event. The results? I think the Angeles Chapter recruits more new members than any other U.S. Chapter.

We believe the personal invitation helps us to retain our members. The presentations by the entities offer many opportunities to newcomers and members. We have had stunning results in engaging our membership and maintaining our membership above 40,000 members.

Donna Sprect in the Sierra Nevada, with the Minarets in the background.

Continue reading "Newcomer/Member 'Welcome' Events Spur Activism, Help Retain Members" »

LightsOut Ohio Sheds Light on Unnecessary Energy Use

September 03, 2011


By Rich Fein, Portage Trail Group Conservation Chair

[That's Fein, above at right, with (l to r) fellow Portage Group leaders Laurel Gress, Paul Feezel, Neal Broida, and Dan Nelson.]

LightsOut Ohio engages schools, workplaces, and religious institutions throughout all of Summit County, Ohio, to turn off non-essential lights during the day, relying on natural light, in order to become more aware of how we use energy unnecessarily and to change our behaviors.

Activists with the Portage Trail Group (Akron-Canton area) sent letters and follow-up phone calls to public school curriculum directors and private/parochial school directors, informing them of the program and asking for their participation.

We included summaries of the full package of services we offered, including tools for communicating the program throughout the school system, handouts, a website with grade-specific, energy-related lessons selected from key environmental educational organizations, and endorsements from political leaders and an advisory board of science educators. Fourteen of 17 public schools agreed to participate.

For businesses, we reached out through the use of viral emails, encouraging Sierra Club members and others to initiate the program at their places of work. The Mayor of Akron, Summit County's major city, and the County Executive both agreed to encourage workers to turn off lights in their offices. We also partnered with the major local newspaper to issue a multiple-run, full-page guide with energy conservation tips for both homes and workplaces.

Continue reading "LightsOut Ohio Sheds Light on Unnecessary Energy Use" »

Using Custom Comments to Deepen Activist Pool

September 01, 2011


By Flavia de la Fuente, Beyond Coal Campaign Organizer

[That's Flavia, above at left; at right, a Chicago Sierra Club phonebank.]

Last week, we sent out an email blast asking folks in the Austin area to sign a petition to Mayor Lee Leffingwell, asking him to work on retiring Austin's share of the Fayette coal plant. We also wanted to build a prospect pool of potential volunteers.

We got a huge response, so to cut through the list I decided to prioritize people who had added their own comments to the petition, a feature on these petitions that we generally include but of which we haven't really taken advantage.

My ask was a letter-to-the-editor (LTE), but the New Thing was the fact that I directly referenced their comments as my reason for calling them, and asked them to expand on the comments they made and turn it into a letter-to-the-editor.

The script went like this: "Hi, my name is Flavia and I work for your local Sierra Club in Austin. I'm calling because I read the comment you made on an online petition you signed to the Mayor asking him to retire the Fayette coal plant. I was wondering if you would be able to expand your thoughts on _________ and write a letter-to-the-editor." 

The comments ranged from personal health concerns, to concerns about small children, to pitches for geothermal energy investment. For each person, I adjusted the pitch.

I phone-banked the list myself, and the preliminary results were excellent. In just an hour, five people said yes, they would write an LTE, two said they were interested in having a one-on-one meeting with me, and one person who declined to write an LTE said they wanted to get involved in the future. Plus three people for whom I left messages called back saying yes, they'd write an LTE. So eight people total agreed to write a letter-to-the-editor—pretty good for an hour's work by one person.

Have a success story to share? We'd like to hear about it. Go to the Success Stories project on the Sierra Club's Activist Network and let others learn from your experience.

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