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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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"Though the oldtime conservationists may understand that there is a crisis," he says, "they still want to be gentlemen while the world is dissolving. We know what doesn't work: the quiet, gentle approach. If somebody told me there was a 50-50 chance Brower would destroy the Sierra Club, I'd say go ahead, it's a bargain. The world is going to tumble around its ears if the Sierra Club—or someone—doesn't do a job in the next five years. If the Sierra Club's main worry is the preservation of its own existence, there won't be any environment left for it to exist in."

If Brower is ahead of some of the board, he scarcely surpasses the zeal of much of the membership. A sample poll showed that 85% of the members wanted the Sierra Club to do more and do it faster. For example, in Colorado the club has done very little, and the list of depredations is alarming: Black Canyon, the Fryingpan Valley and Clear Creek, to name a few. Even Brower's campaign to prevent dams in Grand Canyon sacrificed five valleys in the most beautiful Alpine section of the state.

And Brower, too, must defer to the militance of some of the directors, such as Martin Litton, who has "had to give Brower a little backstage pushing sometimes. Militance does not come entirely naturally to Dave."

Litton, who resembles a very angry Walter Cronkite, is not one to compromise under the most personal pressure. He recently parted ways with his magazine, Sunset, because of a too passionate defense of the redwoods, "And," says an awed staffer, "Martin won't even stop at a filling station out in the middle of the country because he doesn't think it ought to be there."

Actually, neither the latter attitude nor Martin's militance is unique. But Litton does speak eloquently for the angry. "The old liners are all right on most issues," he says, "but not those that come in conflict with their personal lives, their friends, the people they see at cocktail parties. They argue, 'We must have pleasant and fruitful discussions with the people trying to wreck the landscape so they won't do it so bad.'

"We should appeal not to the lobbyist but to the public at large—on TV, in the press. Gentle persuasion does not work. The utilities have to be controlled, not reasoned with.

"We militants are the practical ones. If conservationists agree on total conservation, we are united. But if we decide to give up some things, we'll always be fighting over exactly which. Then, when we have given up all we can stomach, what will we have left to bargain with against still greater population pressure? Only the few treasures we have saved."

In essence, Litton contends, the CMC directorial faction is weak—not wise. "They rationalize and yield to expediency because deep down they think that the club is inherently weak," he says. "But the club is not weak. It is strong. In five more years it can be strong enough to shake the excavators' steel teeth."

Actually, the Sierra Club—even under Brower's leadership—is not the most militant force in the field. An organization called ACT (Active Conservation Tactics) advocates sterner resistance. People have tied themselves to trees or lain down in front of bulldozers. Some have sawed down billboards. Busloads of students—the other ones, with short hair and conventional clothes—have been organized to tear up highway stakes. The Sierra Club may soon be on the moderate side of the middle.

Even now, the California Highway Department virtually has to relocate the proposed road to Mineral King (through Sequoia National Park) every morning. "I was walking along the Kaweah River this summer and kept meeting an unusual number of fishermen," a pillar of San Francisco society says. "One group asked me, 'You getting any?' I said I wasn't fishing. 'We don't mean fish,' they said. 'Stakes, man, stakes.' I started pulling them up, too. It was fun."

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