Thursday, January 15, 2015

When "Sierra Club" means "Silence the Critic"

Yesterday (1.14.15) was an interesting day.

It began with an email mailer announcing the joint Clean Water Action/Pennsylvanians Against Fracking rally at Governor Elect Tom Wolf's January 20th inauguration. This included an image of their frack-celebrity invitee, Josh Fox and their demand that fracking be "halted" in Pennsylvania.

I posted the following response on my Faceboook page:

So this morning I get donation soliciting email from Clean Water Action and--same post--Pennsylvanians Against Fracking. In it, they promote their "action" for Tom (the Gas) Wolf's inauguration--but they just can't bring themselves to use ANY language that actually takes the only position worth taking: BAN fracking. 
Instead, they resort to weasel words: HALT fracking.I guess they don't get the difference in meaning between the two words--and they hope YOU don't either. 
BAN: stop permanently, in all forms, without exception. 

While CWA and PAF may be finally getting it that the moratorium is DEAD, they continue to try to resurrect what amounts to the same thing in the language of "halt." 
Don't be fooled. 
This is the same "have your cake" (pretend to actually care about the air and water) and eat it too (promote the agenda of your PARTY).

And, of course, it's a lot  more than that. It's about creating the illusion of a resistance with no real stomach for it; it's about prioritizing your organization's access to government agencies  far ahead of actually putting an end to the harm.

Don't get me wrong--I don't doubt for a minute that lots of well-meaning good folks will participate in this rally thinking they'll generate the proverbial groundswell of resistance that will turn the tide on the industrial/government/private security firm complex that gets the gas our of the ground and to the export depots. 

But I am more and more convinced that these media events actually do people--and especially people who live in the shale fields--more harm than good.

As I argued with respect to the rise of agencies like the Marcellus Shale Operator's Crime Committee (MSOCC):

The Marcellus Shale Operators Crime Committee is just one among many in a growing network of government, quasi-governmental (such as FERC--the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), and private (or privatized) concerns who act on behalf of maintaining carbon despotism. Any exercise of free speech that threatens to disrupt or expose this status quo as anything other than good old American free enterprise is a potential "terrorist" according to the lazy logic of MSOCC. 
 The irony is that we are welcome--even encouraged to be "activists" "exercising" our first amendment rights by holding up protest signs on capitol steps, or signing petitions, or writing letters. Indeed, that kind of activism works to the advantage of the corporatized state because it 

exhausts all of our energy in actions that have no effect on the drilling and transport "activities" of the gas companies.  

keeps us away from the public roads commandeered by the likes of EXCO.
keeps us in plain site of the state police and the private security firms who feed them information. 
gives the state police and their counterparts in the private security firms an opportunity to intimidate us--just by being at our ineffectual "activist" events. 

Provides the state police a way to distinguish the "activists" from the "radicals," and thereby use the harassment of the "radicals" to control the "activists."
And--most importantly--allows the corporatized state to use "the movement" as advertising for free speech thereby assuring everyone else that things are awesome in America.   
But should we actually demand that gas industry "activities" be banned, the fury of a state already set to bulldoze us will crank into motion while the Officer Hutsons of the world smugly evince an "I told you so." It's irrelevant whether we do or don't commit any crimes--much less violent ones. 

It's thus richly ironic that organizations like Pennsylvanians Against Fracking and Clean Water Action (not to mention Food and Water Watch) do even more of MSOCC's dirty work for them by engaging in exactly the sort of self-censorship that MSOCC would happily impose.

All apparently that's required to get the PAF folks to run away squealing like toddlers from a bumble bee hive is the mere mention of the dreaded word "BAN" and MSOCC's work is done. 

Whisper the word "radical" and you may have to get out the smelling salts.  

That's because PAF, et. al. value the appearance of respectability well beyond ending the nightmare that is fracking--and MSOCC surely knows this. 

That MSOCC has to orchestrate their own set of appearances in order to justify their existence--calling the "activists"  "radicals," surveilling us, subjecting to denials of FOIA requests--is all just part of the game.

But the objective of the game is to get the gas out of the ground with as few obstacles as possible--and as long as we keep playing this game--all the rules of which are rigged to make sure we lose--we lose. 

We all lose.

It's no accident that even if you "like" the PAF Facebook page you can't post on it. That's how they control their carefully crafted "respectable" message and insure that they neither have to face their critics nor be identified with the radicals they're more than happy to disown in order maintain their "we're standing up for you" greenie appearance.

What we need to remember is that this is all appearance--not substance.

Yet on the all appearance/no substance scale, PAF has been outdone by their organizational patriarchs at the Sierra Club.

And that's where my day took an unexpected--and pretty damn hilarious--turn.

Below is the entire thread of comments originally posted at the Sierra Club Hydrofracking Facebook page. They paint a picture of an organization utterly dictatorial in its mission to preserve its image as an environmental group--more and more desperate as this image becomes tarnished via the exposure of the fact that, just like the little greenies who model themselves after Father Sierra Club, they're leaders are far more interested (indeed, hell bent) to maintain their donor base (their existence) and their political access than they are in doing anything about, well, anything

What's significant about these comments is several-fold:

1. Even from the first critical comment, David Meiser--Sierra Club, Bucks County, Pennsylvania--takes himself to have the authority to alter, delete, censor--or in my case BAN--comments he deems unflattering to the Sierra Club. This suggests an organization so brittle with respect to its membership support that it cannot brook criticism--and therefore must deploy SC-Soldier/Snipers like Meiser to pick-off the critics. 

2. In response to a Sierra Club member's expressed displeasure at the SC decision not to support the PAF rally at Governor Wolf's inauguration because it might alienate the governor, Meiser drapes himself in the flag insisting that a democratic vote was taken about whether to support the rally--and members declined "by a large margin." 

3. This is a richly ironic decision since (a) SC is the model after which PAF clearly aspires, (b) PAF wasn't about to engage in any action that alienates the governor, and (c) PAF had already indicated clearly in its weak "halt" language that SC members had nothing to worry their conservative white nervous nelly donors. 

4.  The same Sierra Club member also expresses significant displeasure that SC leadership directs its membership to not wear any Sierra Club items if they're planning on being a part of the PAF rally. Meiser then tries to downplay this--but ineffectively--claiming that "all that was said was that individuals cannot speak for the PA chapter." I don't claim to know where the truth is here--but we can certainly say this much: (a) if this is what "listening to the membership" means in the Sierra Club, I'd reconsider paying those dues, and (b) if this is represented correctly, it only adds to the picture of an organization dictatorial in its relationship to its membership. And if that is the case, why should we take seriously Meiser's claim that there was a democratic vote not to support the PAF rally? Doesn't it make more sense to assume voting members fall in line with what they know is expected of this environmental patriarch?
5. While it's possible to get the gist of what's at stake in this contentious dialogue--you can't read all of it because although I had the foresight to save it, I was BANNED by Mr. Meiser from the Facebook page. 

Honestly, it's hard to imagine an environmental organization more helpful to the Marcellus Shale Operator's Crime Committee. With adversaries like the Sierra Club, it's no wonder that agents like Michael Hutson of the Pennsylvania State Police Joint FBI Ecoterrorism Task Force have to go somewhere else to find speech to criminalize. SC-leader Michael Brune's "The Sierra Club Opposes Fracking. Period" means about as much as "The Sierra Club Loves Oatmeal" given the (old boy's) club's refusal to actually stand by their words. 

Then again, here's a guy who thinks that chaining himself to the fence around the White House for a ten minute photo-op in his Khakis and sport coat count as an act of civil disobedience.

Lastly, Meiser insists that the Sierra Club is following in the steps of conservationist John Muir in refusing to participate in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.

But this is false on two scores:

First, as I pointed out to Meiser (much I suspect to his embarrassment since it was right after this that he hit the BAN button), this is not Sierra Club policy. Here's Michael Brune himself, 1.22.13:

If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to walk from Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond to President Barack Obama's White House. For the Sierra Club, that journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have remained committed to using every "lawful means" to achieve our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we are prepared to go further.

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We'll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.
Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it's the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision.

For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the United States might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet's climate.

Second, John Muir was not obviously opposed to civil disobedience, and although this claim requires more development, I think no one can come away having read Muir and not believe that while he was certainly no partisan of violence, he absolutely did believe his precious Sierras were worth defending with our bodies as well as our minds.


So there you have it--another "environmental" organization who, although they sport the color green, are really just another white guy's fiefdom trying to retain its relevance in a world it allows to burn just as blithely as does the gas industry and its government subordinates.

This harms people. 

Why on earth would you give your money to these guys?

Here's the Facebook dialogue--or what I could salvage of it before Meiser banned me--unedited and uncensored--so you can make your own judgment.

Interesting, isn't it, that Sierra Clubbers have no trouble BANNING when its speech they don't like--but they can't even whisper that word when it requires they have the courage to forego their lunch invites to the Gas Wolf's table.


Paul Robert Roden Does Wolf's acceptance of $273,000 in political campaign contributions from the gas industry have anything to do with his wanting to "have his cake and eat it too?" It is "unfortunate" that he doesn't see the light from the science that Governor Cuomo did in New York. So now Wolf will have to feel the heat of us.
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David Meiser Edited post so it isn't so dictatorial
            I am THINKING OF BANNING ‪Wendy Lynne Lee! she is not a member and offers no real assistance and I see no reason she should be allowed to keep posting her inflamatory remarks. Her vitriol is unproductive and does nothing to further the cause. ...See More
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Wendy Lynne Lee And Mr. Meiser shows how devoted he is to free speech!
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee Here's the facts: From Sierra Club member, ‪Melody Susan: "Yesterday, PA Chapter of Sierra Club Executive Committee (15 people) voted not to support this rally, hoping to curry favor with Gov. Wolf by doing so, This action was taken despite the fact tha...See More
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‪David Meiser Free speech is one thing but as you contribute NOTHING to the club and only use this for your vitriol I see no reason to use our time or effort on allowing you to post!
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee My response: "And--just like the SC--PAF, et al., use these weasel words to get donations and sign-ons--so they LOOK like they're out there doing the hard work of ending fracking--but petitions, sign-ons, a protest here and there--these things haven't even slowed the industry down--let alone stopped it. AND these strategies just give MSOCC/State Police ways to surveil us.
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee That the SC thinks it can dictate to members what they can and cannot where at an event--WOW!!!!! Well--then again, aren't they a corporation just like the gas companies?
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee HAHAHAHAHA! That, my friend, is nothing but code for "Damn! I see you're telling the truth about Sierra Club hypocrisy, and we can't afford that!"
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‪David Meiser As I said I am awaiting others input for reasons NOT to do this, that is the democratic thing to do.
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee HAHAHA, Mr. ‪David Meiser--you have already put your foot in quite the unattractive pile of censorship poo.
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‪David Meiser So far the only comments I see are yours 
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‪Melody Susan I favor Democracy and free speech. This all began when Jenny Lsk's posts about the rally were removed from 2 Sierra Club facebook sites (Allegheny's and Central PA's). What do you think of the PA Chapter action, David?
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‪David Meiser ‪Melody Susan I did not see those posts or have admin privileges to those sites. But that is not the point of this posting the request I made was to give input on why ‪Wendy Lynne Lee should be allowed to continue to be a member of the hydrofracking team fb page.
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‪Gary Thornbloom I agree with the language Wendi has added to the Brune post - it makes a pointed, but valid point. If Brune's message means anything, Sierra Club belongs on the street with the protest against fracking, period.
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‪David Meiser ‪Gary Thornbloom aren't you a PA chapter executive committee member? or the Chair of one of the PA groups?
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‪Gary Thornbloom I am an alternate delegate for the Moshannon Group, and I was the Moshannon Group Chair but not for the past year. I am co-chair for the Public Lands Committee of the PA Chapter.
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‪Melody Susan Wendy's actually been pretty toned down on this page, David. You should read her posts on PAF's. When anyone is censored, it causes others to be stifled, which is not good at a time when more people should be speaking out. Many of us think that Wend...See More
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Wendy Lynne Lee ‪Wendy Lynne Lee has been a brutal public critic of the gas industry for YEARS--so there is no WHEN about it. All that's needed there is a quick Google search. it is NOT the case that I am currently under investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police/ ...See More
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee The PAF FB Page is a complete sham. Whether or not you "like " it, you can't post on it--and that is how they control their messaging--by systemic censorship all the while pretending to be democratic.
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee Just for your leisure reading: ‪

THE WRENCH: The Corporatization of American Democracy: Slickwater...

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‪Wendy Lynne Lee ‪

THE WRENCH: When Sunrise for the Global Gas Markets is Sunset for...

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‪Wendy Lynne Lee ‪

THE WRENCH: The Hilcorp Frack-Gas Stampede to the Utica is Ready to...

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‪Wendy Lynne Lee ‪

THE WRENCH: Sustainable Shale Development: The “Middle Ground”...

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‪Wendy Lynne Lee Every one of these essays spells out exactly why the only position to take is not "we oppose," not "moratorium," and not "halt." NONE of these has the resonance or the courage of the word BAN. And until we as a movement get clear about that fact, we will not be a MOVEMENT.
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‪David Meiser ‪Melody Susan this is what I have gathered, there was a vote as to support the event by the executive committee. That motion failed, by a large margin.
            These people who voted were elected by PA Sierra Club members to oversee the chapter. ...See More
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Wendy Lynne Lee Thank you for laying this out, ‪David Meiser. However democratic the vote, it speaks volumes about the SC--that it values its political access over preventing the very real harms perpetrated by the gas companies on Pennsylvanians. People have a right to know this so that they next time they see that MIchael Brune Poster about how the SC opposes fracking they can decide to take their money somewhere else.
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‪Melody Susan In true Democratic style, a poll of members should have been taken before PA Chapter took a stand on the rally especially since this issue has ever-increasing public support. It appears to me that PA Chapter has no clear understanding of the purpose of...See More
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee ‪Melody Susan--this is EASY. The Sierra Club just isn't about environmental issues if taking a position on them endangers their political access. And the PA chapter has no excuse whatsoever for not understanding the reason for the rally--even if PAF is ...See More
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Wendy Lynne Lee And of course you should be appalled at the SC's heavy handed and arrogant claim to the authority to tell their members what they can wear. What you should not be is surprised.
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‪David Meiser It is my understanding that all was said was that individuals can not state they speak for the PA chapter.
            The rest was not truthful regarding displaying of anything on their person regarding club banners buttons or such.) ...See More
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‪Melody Susan letter purportedly from Wendy Taylor:
            All -- There is a lot of buzz about a ban-fracking rally planned for January 20 in Harrisburg, when Tom Wolf will be inaugurated as governor. The Chapter Executive Committee had a long discussion on whether to su...See More
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‪David Meiser Membership breakdown is the Philly region has the most members but has the least active participants, I don't know why people in and around Philly are not involved but I know personally that philly about philly.
            The next largest area is Pittsburg ar...See More

Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter
The Club promotes conservation by influencing public policy through grassroots activism, public education,...

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‪David Meiser That I did not see! and they (the PA Chapter) can not say to members They can't carry signs, wear buttons or clothes that use the Sierra Club logo!
            The only thing the chapter should say is that they are not speaking as the sierra club (that has to be cleared by the national board of directors!)
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Wendy Lynne Lee REALLY? The SC has a POLICY of NEVER participating in civil disobedience? WOW! They chose their political expediency as a matter of policy--so they can't REALLY oppose anything!
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‪David Meiser Wendy I believe that was from John Muir and the club has kept the tradition since the 1800s
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee Of course--the ironies just grow richer by the minute since PAF was NEVER going to participate in any act of civil disobedience. So SC didn't even understand THAT.
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‪Wendy Lynne Lee HAHAHA! "If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to walk from Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond to President Barack Obama's White House. For the Sierra Club, that journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have remained committed t...See More
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‪David Meiser I cannot state what was stated at the PA chapter meeting as I was not there. and so far I have not heard anything from others.
            I did communicate this to the club's Board of directors regarding the what was sent as well as the current club president David Scott regarding the over reach on the wording of the above letter.
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           Wendy Lynne Lee You know whose words those are? MICHAEL BRUNES!
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Anonymous said...

I stopped all donations to SC after the turned down my invite to

Anonymous said...

If you happen to get hold of any of the bylaws of the organization it states specifically

"Conservation actions may not include civil disobedience. No chapter, group, nor other Club entity shall encourage, request or direct any person to violate the law."

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Anonymous: if that is the SC policy, then Michael Brune--however much it was more a photo-op than a real protest--is in violation of it.

Moreover, THAT is precisely a policy guaranteed to insure that the SC id entirely neutered with respect to actually effectuating change. but that's no surprise, is it? After all, over the existence of the SC, climate change has developed unabated.

The Sierra Club is in no way an environmental organization. It IS an Old Boys Club as invested in the continuation of the status quo that benefits its white affluent members as are its counterparts in government and the gas industry.

For more here see:

Anonymous said...

I love watching you wackos go after each other. Just proves the only thing you are for is hate!

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thanks for that loving and deeply thoughtful comment...anonymous. HAHAHA!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Lee,

We wanted to let you know the rest of the administrators of the Hydrofracking team feel your ban was inappropriate and we have removed this ban. We have discussed the issue with the one person who initially banned you and he agrees that his emotions got the better of him and will not be banning others in the future.

From our understanding, it seems as if your specific issue was with the Pennsylvania Chapter not agreeing to support an event, and we understand your distress. Chapters are semi-autonomous when it comes to state issues and your criticisms may have been better directed toward the Pennsylvania chapter and not this group, as this group is for the activists who are interested in sopping fracking for oil and gas around the country.

Numerous chapters and activists are pushing for a change to the club’s policy regarding Hydrofracking, and it looks as if these efforts have paid off as changes are coming to the policy soon. However, as this organization is one with its own bureaucracy it takes a little while for the changes to be made.

We wanted to let you know that all views are welcome on the Hydrofracking team site (within the context of energy production) and hope you consider making your contributions of knowledge for everyone to learn and keep up to date on this issue.

We thank you,
The Hydrofracking team administrators

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for this post. I appreciate that the ban has been removed--but I would certainly take you more seriously had you not posted anonymously. That suggests that although you recognize that this sort of censorship is wrong--you still don't want anyone by name to have to own that decision. To refer to David Meiser as "the person" also shields him from having to take responsibility for letting emotions get the better of him. What's clear here is that you want a certain cake to eat too--take responsibility for a very poor decision, AND deflect responsibility from anyone in particular at the SC.

My specific issue was with the support of the events concerning Governor Wolf's inauguration--and I understand that you also want to shield the Sierra Club from the criticism that this is a pattern of behavior by trying to isolate my "issue" to this event. But the facts are that the SC has a history of pretending to offer support to grassroots organizations--and then abandoning them all the while taking credit for the struggle to end an environmental harm. These are far bigger issues--and the governor's inauguration is simply a symptom of these.