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Contact: Patrick Diehl, 435/826-4778
For immediate release
Shooting the Messenger? Tightening the Gag?
This week, the Sierra Club Board of Directors removed Club volunteer Patrick Diehl from his office as a member of the Glen Canyon Group [GCG] Executive Committee [ExCom] and barred him from all Club positions.
Other GCG ExCom members were not happy. “I can see removing embezzlers or rapists from office, but not activists whose only crime is to speak up for the environment,” said ExCom member Tori Woodard. “The GCG ExCom supports Patrick one hundred percent,” added John Weisheit, Chair of the GCG ExCom. “In fact, we awarded him our Edward Abbey Award for 2003 for his activism.”
Diehl, Woodard and Weisheit are three of the four GCG officers who publicly challenged the Club’s equivocation on the Iraq issue last November and its backsliding from its own standing policies on war and the environment. At the time, Club Executive Director Carl Pope raised the possibility of bringing “breach of leadership trust” actions against the GCG protestors or even dissolving the Group outright. After an outpouring of indignant messages from Club members and the general public in support of the GCG officers’ protest and their right to speak out in opposition to the impending invasion of Iraq, the Club leadership decided to join the “Win Without War Coalition,” and it appeared that the protest might have been quietly accepted as part of the contentious process of political change.
Then, in February 2003, seven members of the Utah Chapter ExCom, acting as hatchet men and women for the Club old guard, sent San Francisco a motion to remove Diehl from office. One of the chief grounds in their complaint was the 11/02-12/02 protest against Club inaction concerning Iraq in which Diehl was involved.
On May 16th, the Board voted to issue Diehl an ultimatum: pledge to stop taking criticisms of the Club public or be removed from office. They also passed a resolution about improving communications with “grassroots activists and chapter and group leaders.” While it was encouraging to see movement on this issue, the Board still has not grasped the political and ethical importance of involving the whole membership of the Club—not just a privileged inner circle—in Club policy debates. Therefore, Diehl declined to comply with the Board’s ultimatum. On June 9th, he received an e-mail from the Secretary of the Board, removing him from office.
“Until the Club makes serious room for internal dissent and debate,” says Diehl, “the only effective way to communicate with the membership is to go to the media. There are serious disagreements in the Club over fundamental issues like how strongly to oppose the Bush Administration’s wars of empire and whether to create some daylight between the Club and the Democratic Party. Unless these disagreements are brought out into the open in general Club publications like Sierra Magazine and ‘The Planet,’ the Club is likely to experience more train wrecks like the one last fall over the war on Iraq.
“It’s time for glasnost in the Sierra Club,” continues Diehl. “Along with other activists in the Club, I promise to keep up the pressure for making internal Club communications a two-way street, restoring power to the Club grassroots, replacing oligarchy with democracy in the Club, and transforming the Club into the powerful force for social change that it can and must be.”