By Wendi Taylor
Chair, Sierra Club PA Chapter
Chair, Sierra Club PA Chapter
It’s spring and many of us will be getting outside to do some gardening and yard work. We will be adding some compost to our gardens and turning the soil, planting our peas and spinach, cutting back our bushes, and pulling off the dead leaves and stocks from our iris and gladiolas. We know that Nature will supply the sunshine and the rain and in a few months, we will be enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Maybe we Sierra Club leaders can learn some lessons from nature about how to grow our club. The Sierra Club has an established garden. Maybe we need to loosen our soil and add some nutrients so that new ideas and new members can take root and thrive.
Structure is good but when it is too rigid, we expend a lot of energy meeting, rather than doing something. Ronald Chisom, a civil rights advocate and a co-founder of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans, taught me to analyze the effectiveness of a group by one simple measure: “Show me your work.” Meeting is not doing the work. Planning is not doing the work. We have to do something! And that takes volunteers.
Volunteers are our most important resource. They are the hands, the feet and the head of the club. The leadership should support the volunteers, not the other way around. We need to help volunteers find a place to take root and grow.
I had one group leader tell me that she waits a year before giving a volunteer a leadership role in the club. If someone gives you a strawberry plant, would you wait a year to plant it? No! You try to plant it as soon as possible because the longer you wait, the less likely the plant will survive. We need to have something for our volunteers to do right away. They need to feel like we have been waiting for them to join us! Otherwise, their interest will shrivel up and die or they will find some other group to plant them.
If we welcome our volunteers and nurture them, their enthusiasm and passion will grow into something strong and wonderful. If people feel they are doing important work with people they like, they will bloom where they are planted.
A good pruning can rejuvenate our trees and bushes, even our symbolic Sierra Club tree! Cutting back on some of our singleness of purpose can help us branch out and become fuller and growing in new directions. In a way, the Sierra Club is like a bush that has never been pruned. We have five sturdy branches that are growing but there are no smaller branches growing from them. The bush seems scrawny, compared to bushes with a lot of greenery and fullness.
There are other progressive groups in our communities, whose members have a lot in common with us. They may not be environmental groups, but they are groups that seeking to improve the lives of the people in the communities. We need to branch out and work with them on their issues and if we do it right, they may in turn work with us on our issues. No group has enough power to change things. But if all groups of goodwill could come together, we could wield a lot of power.
We know that dead leaves and branches sap the strength from a plant. We need to take a hard look at what they do and ask whether it is sapping the strength or adding vitality to the club?
Every time I put together the agenda for the Chapter Executive Committee, I struggle with this. What dead stuff can I get rid of and what can I add to make these meetings inspiring? Educational? Interactive? Worthwhile? Fun?
I am very aware that people travel hours to get to our meetings and I want them to feel like it was worth the trouble. These meetings are like an experiment. I try to throw in something new to the mix and see what happens. Some things don’t work. Yet, doing something differently does serve to throw people a little off balance, which we know is when people are the most creative.
Yes, we have to get through the business, but I feel like we should also be adding some compost, turning soil and pulling off the dead stuff so that we all can bloom where we are planted.