What We Could Learn From The Sierra Club’s Self-Reckoning

The Sierra Club did something very difficult: it admitted it had a problem. The long-standing conservation organization released a statement acknowledging the prejudices of its founder and environmental icon, John Muir, along with its problematic beginnings and harmful impacts to Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, there has been reenergized conversation around reckoning with the past in order to create a better future. The Sierra Club’s honest acknowledgment of its origins and its commitment to transparent improvement should be a model for how institutions can recognize their past without invalidating the positive work they have done. A problem can only be fixed once it is acknowledged and deemed worthy of action. Our country should take note.

The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental organizations. Since its founding in 1892, the club has worked to preserve and create new public parks, lobbied for the adoption of renewable energy and the protection of clean water, campaigned against the use of coal, and promoted youth environmental education. It’s co-founder and first president, John Muir, inspired many with his writings and assisted in creating the movement that would become the National Park System, earning him the moniker “Father of the National Parks.”

Despite his achievements, the organization recently issued a public apology for Muir’s harmful writings and beliefs. It noted his derogatory comments and characterizations of Black and Indigenous people that played on racist stereotypes, saying, “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color.”

The Sierra Club screened out potential members based on race, limiting the historical environmental engagement of people of color. Beyond the club’s membership, Muir’s views and statements were emblematic of many of the early conservation movement’s problems. The very lands that were being protected had been taken by white settlers who drove out its indigenous populations. Muir’s ideal state of conservation seemed to be “the lone white man at one with nature.” This exclusionary view has had lasting effects, including a disproportionately low number of people of color visiting national parks, with 25% of Black and Hispanic people seeing national parks as unsafe.

A founding father who inspired a movement spanning generations but begun on land only considered “free” once its indigenous populations were driven out. An icon whose prejudices ran counter to his overarching positive message, creating a vision he and his generation couldn’t, and frankly didn’t desire to, uphold. A monumental figure who moved the world in a positive direction, while not only excluding but damaging communities of color, creating systemic and generational harm. Sounds familiar.

With its statement, the Sierra Club has already taken a larger step than many in the United States. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while 59% of Americans believe Black people face discrimination, only 44% believe that it is systemic and perpetuated by policy and institutions – throwing the burden of racism from our largest institution, our country, to a few “bad apples.”

While there is a bit of optimism in this poll that shows 51% supporting the removal of confederate statues, an ABC/Washington Post poll finds that such support was not able to gain the majority. Their polling showed that only 43% of Americans supported removing statues honoring Confederate generals and 42% supported renaming military bases named after Confederate generals. Whichever poll one chooses to believe, the message is still that barely or less than half of Americans believe we should remove statues and names of the military leaders who fought to preserve the ownership and selling of humans.

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery. It is not saying that we are rotten to the core, have never done good, or are irredeemable, but it is acknowledging that we have done damage to ourselves and to those to whom we have a responsibility. Sometimes it takes an intervention, but it can go no further without self-acceptance. If we are to celebrate the glory of our beginnings, we must also recognize our horrors, and those horrors’ lasting effects. The Sierra Club has begun the work – we should too.

Walking The Walk is The New Activism

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

In times of change, challenge, and disillusionment, you might be feeling like you want to stand up, speak up, and protest. If you are a helping professional that urge might be so strong and very deeply rooted in the foundations of your vocational role.

You want to take people by the shoulders and knock some sense into them. Are you the only one who can see what is wrong with this picture? Someone has to do something.

When things happen in our society that we don’t understand or don’t agree with, the Internal Activist comes to the forefront. We must help educate people! We must stand up for what is right! We must speak out against the wrongness of the situation.

Protests and demonstrations have taken place throughout history and are occurring in our world right now. Many protests have resulted in more violence, more problems to solve and a greater degree of separation. Sometimes, it changes things and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, things get better and sometimes they get worse.

Embody A New Way

If we want to create change, open minds, or change the world, it is time to embody a new way.

When someone is doing something we find offensive, perhaps, they are acting out of ignorance or maybe, they just don’t care. One of the first things we try to do is make them understand. We are convinced if they just had all the facts and could see how this situation affects so many people in adverse ways, they would stop and would be on board with our mission and it would all be fine. And sometimes, this is all it takes.

I recall a conversation with a young man I worked with many years ago. He had sustained a traumatic brain injury and he was convinced that other people needed to understand how challenging life was for him. He just knew that if they understood brain injury and all that comes with it, they would behave differently, they would choose differently, and life would be easier for him.

Any of us who have a cause in life often feel this way. Other people need to understand ______ fill in the blank. The cold hard truth of the matter is that they don’t need to understand. They really don’t. Quite often, we are not motivated to understand the plight of others unless we are somehow personally impacted by it.

Well, unless you are someone who is guided to be of service.

Don’t judge the judger. If we meet someone else’s offensive remarks or lack of empathy with our own judgement and inability to understand, we are just adding more of the same energy to the situation. Nothing changes.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Ramming our beliefs and knowledge down other people’s throats does not open the doors to understanding ~ it creates defensiveness and shuts down communication.

Guidelines for A New Activism

So, stand up. Speak up. And consider the following suggestions:

  1. As Mother Teresa suggested, “Be for something instead of Against something.” Stay focused on what you wish to create instead of what you oppose. Put your energy into being the embodiment of whatever it is. If you want peace, be peaceful in your communication. Bring a peaceful presence. If you don’t bring what you wish to see, that energy may not be there at all. Result ~ Things stay the same and you remain frustrated.
  1. Be willing to be wrong. Things might look dismal now AND it is still possible that there is much in any situation that can be used for good ~ much that can happen to move towards a more positive outcome. You are being challenged to maintain the essence of Unconditional Positive Regard. Result ~ You feel powerful in your own actions by staying true to your personal values.
  1. Do not let someone else’s behaviour dictate your actions. Resist the urge to define them by it. No matter how challenging it can be, you are always responsible for what you choose to do ~ No. Matter. What. Separating the person from the behaviour is helpful in reaching a place of non-judgement and opens the door to understanding. Stay curious and maintain personal responsibility. Result ~ Your Freedom.
  1. In the face of fear and all the “what ifs”, remain hopeful. You can either add to the drama by hopping on the fear train to nowhere or you can stay centered in a place of hope inside of your heart. Expect a miracle. Hope for the best. Keep your eyes open so you can respond as you need to and keep yourself protected on all levels. If you have to think in terms of “what if” try following that statement with the outcome you wish to see. “What if this could all turn out well in the end?” What if? Result ~ Your peace.

Perhaps, this comes across as “pie-in-the-sky” to some, and I’m okay with that. Detaching from the outcome and the reactions of others is also a powerful practice. Remember, at the end of the day, you stand in front of your own mirror; you lie in bed with your own thoughts and feelings. This is where you have immense power to be the creator of your own experience.

As you step more fully into this place of power and commitment to your own sense of well being and peace, you demonstrate who you are in this world, and you walk the walk. It may be the most powerful statement you ever make.

Fueling the Political Machine: Kristie Holmes on Campaign Finance Reforms

There is something very special about a social worker in public office. As social workers, we are bound to an ethical code to uphold social justice, provide service to others, bolster the dignity and self-worth of all people, understand human relationships and communities, and act with competence and integrity in all our endeavors. When considering how these core values shape social workers’ singular objective to make the world a better place for everyone, I think most people can agree that these are the kinds of people we want representing us in government. That is exactly what Kristie Holmes is planning to do in her campaign for Congress representing California’s 33rd district.

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Kristie Holmes (right) at United Nations

Kristie Holmes is a breath of fresh air for Los Angeles County. Unlike her top opponents, Holmes has not been a participant in the troubled public administration in her region. Rather, Kristie has been fighting at the front lines as a case worker, community organizer, and social policy scholar. As a social work professor at the University of Southern California and small business owner in Los Angeles, Holmes is in touch with the people in her community and is raising quite a following among younger voters, who are sick of establishment politicians and nepotism.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t her name up in lights with the best of them?

Sadly, along with her virtuous political agenda and clean slate comes a major shortcoming: Money or as she refers to it in her blog, “Trial by Fundraising!” And while we all know campaigns always require money, Kristie Holmes has been exposing political financial requirements to that will make your stomach ache. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, the average congressional campaign costs over $1 million per candidate and the average senate campaign costs $4.3 million (while many go as high as $10 million and 15 million).

This leads many concerned citizens to ask, who has that kind of money? Certainly not the families and citizens politicians are supposedly “representing.”  These unprecedented financial requirements not only distract elected officials from their primary role as lawmakers, but paves a clear path for encouraging special interests in politics. As Kristie explains:

“When it is all over, what do we have to show for it?  How much have we collectively spent- on what exactly?  It certainly doesn’t go to those who need it.  In fact, it goes to funding things that voters clearly despise.”

As a determined, trail-blazing social worker, Kristie Holmes is standing up to the political establishment. She is running her campaign on policy, not politics and financial deal-making. With her hard earned, modest budget, Holmes is inspiring awe as she unwavering fights for a seat at the table. As fellow social workers, we are very proud. In her campaign blog, title “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West” Holmes documents the process of running an honest campaign amidst a corrupt landscape of Super-PACs and sneaky political loopholes:

Money & PoliticsTo begin the process, there is a $1,740 non-refundable fee to get your name on the ballot. Okay, steep but do-able.  But wait, it doesn’t stop there. In order the get your name and 250-word blurb printed in the voting guide (the sample ballot given to all voters before they cast their vote) candidates must pay an additional $8,600.

If you want this available in Spanish (which is spoken by about half of L.A. residents) it costs another $17,200! Further fees are required for each additional language. Just the fact that there is a language fee at all, from a social justice perspective, is ethically questionable considering the US Census reports 56.8% of L.A. residents do not speak English at home. So, all in all, it actually costs a whopping $18,940 just to have a meager presence at the ballot box.

Now, comes the campaign. There is the usual stuff: yard signs, door-hangers, TV commercials, etc. These are the kind of cost most people expect from campaigns and millions of dollars can also go into funding these. Luckily, there are low-costs alternatives to raising political awareness such as relying heavily of social media and people power in the community- the tactics Kristie Holmes is well versed in as a macro social worker.There are countless, nearly insurmountable hidden costs all along the way. Just last week, for example, Kristie was denied invitation to a candidate debate forum because the organizers required candidates to have raised over $100,000 in order to attend. 

Seriously? Television commercials are one thing; denying candidates a right to speak at political debates- that is another. Requirements such as these are normal; they are a part of a regime to perpetuate the political status quo, stifle real social progress, and represent the interests of the few over the many. According to the LA Times, the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club created the requirement (which was possibly as high as $200,000) to allow only “viable” candidates to participate, as not to “dilute the session… by including candidates with little or no chance of winning.” Yet, isn’t is also true that barring these candidates from the debate is directly contributing to their poor chances of winning?

Kristie also points out that candidates for California’s 33rd congressional district only found out about the current congressman’s retirement in late January. Established candidates with an existing FEC number had less than three months to acquire their current campaign funds. However, the time frame was much shorter for new candidates who needed to apply for a FEC number before fundraising could begin. As Holmes speculates, “Perhaps a candidate has a long line of wealthy, waiting funders ready to go when they announce (due to fame or personal fortune).” Whatever the funding sources or tactics are, one this is clear: our current political system is designed to pander to wealth and power.

When a real candidate “of the people, for the people” emerges, the powers that be quickly shut them down. In such a climate, it is not a surprise that our congress looks like a Hampton country club full of white men shaking hands. As social workers and citizens, we cannot sit quietly as the political machine attempts to push aside highly qualified candidates like Kristie Holmes. The system will not fix itself. It is up to us, as voters and social change leaders, to demand better and to put people in office with integrity. We must support Kristie Holmes and raise awareness for her campaign.

As a congresswoman, Kristie pledges to fight for open government and to put an end to fraud and corruption in her district. She will fight for gender equality, equal access to education, improved care for veterans, and to put an end to the war on drug through the decriminalization of marijuana. As a social worker, she will fight for all socioeconomic groups but most importantly, those who are most in need.

Why can’t we have a Congresswoman like Kristie Holmes? I believe we can.

Learn more about Kristie Holmes and how you can support her campaign. Follow Kristie’s blog, “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West

Follow Kristie on Twitter @DrKristie

Social Justice Seeker Nelson Mandela Dies at Age 95

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Nelson Mandela

On December 5, 2013, former South African President and social justice seeker, Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95. As a result of his political activism, Nelson Mandela endured several arrests and eventually served 27 years in prison for treason and governmental sabotage because of his opposition to apartheid.

During his trial in 1958, Nelson Mandela married social worker, Winnie Madikizela, and the union produced two daughters before they divorced in 1996. At his final trial, while facing the death penalty, he eloquently stated to the court, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

After being imprisoned for nearly three decades, Nelson Mandela become South Africa’s first black President in the government’s first democratic election where both blacks and whites were allowed to vote. In his acceptance speech, Nelson Mandela stated, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,”.

According to BBC News,

Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela – who is known affectionately by his clan name, Madiba – had died shortly before 21:00 local time (19:00 GMT). He said he would receive a full state funeral, and flags would be flown at half-mast.

Crowds have gathered outside the house where Mr Mandela died, some flying South African flags and wearing the shirts of the governing African National Congress, which Mr Mandela once led.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was one of the world’s most revered statesmen after preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.

He had rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004. He made his last public appearance in 2010, at the football World Cup in South Africa.  Read Full Article

The  Nelson Mandela Foundation was created in 1995 as a vehicle to continue his legacy and work as a social justice seeker for human rights and the fight against oppression. The foundation is a coalition of networks and partnerships working collectively towards social justice. In his retirement video below, Nelson Mandela outlines the mission and vision for the launch of his charity.

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