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BROWER POWER AWAITS THE VERDICT
Harold Peterson
April 14, 1969
For more than a decade the Sierra Club, under Executive Director David Brower (right), has spearheaded conservation forces in many winning battles. Now Brower's job is on the line in an election fight between go-slow club members and his own go-for-broke adherents
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April 14, 1969

Brower Power Awaits The Verdict

For more than a decade the Sierra Club, under Executive Director David Brower (right), has spearheaded conservation forces in many winning battles. Now Brower's job is on the line in an election fight between go-slow club members and his own go-for-broke adherents

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"Some people who are more objective than I could ever be read envy into it," Brower says, frowning unhappily. "If that's true, I can understand it. I was getting all the publicity. Others were getting very little. I was getting paid, and others worked hard as volunteers.

"The accusation of arrogance very well could have validity. But, in my defense, we've been badly understaffed, and I have been busy. There was a communications gap. I didn't keep the board informed. I kept things too self-centered, didn't spend enough time giving them the feeling they were involved. That was a fault on my part.

"Did I enjoy publicity? I'd have to lie to say no. But I don't think allegations about power have any substance. I just don't want to have to wade around in glue all day. I'm not grabbing for power, I just want to have enough authority to be able to work. Maybe I do need a man who can smooth the waves I make," Brower muses, "someone who can spot my glaring errors in judgment when they're just pinholes. But we conservationists can't go all willowy in the spine. We have miles to go and many promises to keep. Action, commitment, brings support. My creed is that W. H. Murray quote, 'Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance.... I have learned deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.' "

Ansel Adams, one of the best black-and-white photographers in the world, author of some of the most striking pictures in the club's prizewinning books, is now Brower's bitterest critic and the spiritual leader of the opposition group (which calls itself CMC—Concerned Members for Conservation). "Brower is the Ziegfeld of conservation," Adams says. "Brower is the Zeckendorf of conservation."

Adams, a friendly, hearty gnome with a stubborn chin nearly concealed by a gray bush of a beard and a strong forehead concealed by no hair whatsoever, lives in a house looking down the magnificent, monochromatic Big Sur, south of Carmel. The patriarch still says splendid things: "Wilderness is to the great megalopolis what the commons was to the little village of bygone days. But if the wilderness is overused, it can no longer be a democratic commons. Take Yosemite as example."

Or, "The big enemy now is not the dam and highway builders. It's the damn unconcerned people. People want to take all their comforts, everything, into the wilderness. All they want is a different view out their trailer window."

Adams does not deny certain of Brower's qualities. "Brower is highly imaginative," he says. "He has elements of genius, if genius means ability to conceive and drive things through. I will concede the whole thing: he is a genius. He's a charmer. The Brower group is very passionate, almost inquisitorial. I think that may not be what we need now."

There is no doubt that Adams' concerns are now, rightly or wrongly, smaller than Brower's. "The central office of the club should only keep the fences together," Adams says. "Good Lord, the whole club was run on $9,000 or $10,000 when I began as a member. The Brower group has a tendency to resent every intrusion into the wilderness and to overlook the realities of life. They forget that utilities and highway people have their own obligations. Diablo, for example, is just another beautiful canyon. There are lots of those. If the Disney people put a resort in Mineral King, I don't see anything wrong with that. Brower is trying to set up an Eden. The Sierra Club has to roll with the punch, because the world is getting very tough."

Sierra Club President Dr. Edgar Wayburn, though he has hobbled Brower's white horse as much as anyone, has striven to maintain unity. "The controversy has been whipped out of proportion," Wayburn recently said. "There's not much real argument about our conservation objectives. I have long shared Dave Brower's ambitions for conservation. Dave has been extraordinarily valuable to the club. Our program has been big and bold, and that attracts people. Militance has been a strong factor in the growth of the club, and Brower has been a large part of that.

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