Using Three Principles of Effective Organizing to Plan Action on an Issue

  • Posted on 1 February 2021
  • By Everette Phillips, Grassroots Team Lead, Chapter Communications Committee
Woman speaks into megaphone at protest outside LA City Hall, June '20

Woman speaks into megaphone during protest outside Los Angeles City Hall, June '20 - John Nilsson all rights reserved

As a Sierra Club member with an interest in your community, you might come across some issue that you feel is wrong and feel compelled to act. We all witness activities and situations that we recognize are simply wrong – whether a neighbor changing oil on the street without taking precautions or someone littering or a business with behavior that is discriminatory. We console ourselves with the idea that we cannot be our neighbor’s policeman or that the world’s problems are too big or that we donated money to a cause as a method of contribution. However, if you have a conscience, you will one day come across a situation where you feel compelled to take action in a more active way than donating money, when this happens you are compelled to become “an activist”….meaning you are compelled to take action related to your civic rights and responsibilities. If the issue that compels you is related to an environmental issue, then your Sierra Club membership is about to pay back many fold.
When this happens to you, simply reach out to the Chapter Conservation Chair by email or by attending the monthly LA Conservation Committee meeting or quarterly OC Conservation Committee meeting to discuss your issue or concern. Maybe there is a team already working on the issue and you can help them. If not you have the potential to create your own team and create your own “campaign”. A Successful action plan has elements that result in real improvement of the lives in a community, utilize the power of like-minded people working together in harmony, and empower those working together to engage in civic processes utilizing their rights and obligations of being community members.
There are three basic principles of organizing that all grassroots organizing campaigns should be guided by….
1)      Seek to win real, immediate, and concrete improvements in people's lives
We have many vehicles in the chapter and among chapter entities to “educate” and to “entertain”. These are important aspects of the first two tenants of the Sierra Club motto “to Explore” and “to Enjoy”. However, to achieve the third tenant, “to Protect”, one requires the ability to motivate people to act. To take meaningful action, we must be moving towards a concrete goal. We call these coordinated actions of members towards achieving a goal “a grassroots campaign”.
A Sierra Club grassroots campaign should be about more than just educating the public about environmental issues, although public education may be an important component of the campaign. It should not be the campaign's primary goal. We must focus on securing tangible victories. Visit the “Taking Action Now” page of our website to see some examples of campaigns with a focus on securing tangible victories. Identify how the problem that motivates you is impacting people in their lives and come up with practical solutions that are achievable.
2)      Re-align power relationships by building a strong and effective organization
The fact that the Sierra Club has been in existence well-funded, broadly supported, and well-respected for over 100 years has forever changed the power relationships in this country. When company and individuals discount the importance of environmental laws, when polluters think they can go unnoticed and when strong companies and unions use their political power to undercut environmental laws in a manner that disproportionately hurts the weak this is when members of the Sierra Club like yourself stand up and fight back using the tools and processes that our past campaigns have honed into effective tools. 
We need your help to ensure that decision-makers will continue to take heed, and this will only happen because of careful strategic planning and a commitment to integrating specific organizational development goals into each and every one of our grassroots campaigns. We should always come out of a campaign stronger than we went into it. Our tools and processes are designed to help you achieve the best environmental outcome possible, and if you are inclined, we also need help on the grassroots team to develop materials and training to help members organize an effective campaign with the greatest efficiency. Helping members use tools like AddUp and training them on the effective use of social media while using established Sierra Club relationships is a respectful way to achieve the goals of the Chapter Grassroots team, and we can use your help.
3)      Empower people to become active and effective in the political process and in their communities
The chapter grassroots team seeks to develop and nurture new leaders in the chapter and as a fundamental element of our work, we must work to maintain a respect for the values, talents, and skills of our volunteers. Our goal as Sierra Club grassroots organizers is for members to learn to use tools and processes that will help them use civic and social action to protect our environment and secure their desired outcome. Solid training is the foundation from which we build people skills, confidence, and ultimately our organization. Although the Sierra Club has many useful tools and our chapter has many successes to build on, our chapter is still developing a team within the Communications Committee to help people set up and execute an effective campaign and how to use communication to do more than educate, through storytelling that compels the reader or listener to act.
  1. Have an issue that concerns you enough to take action: contact the Chapter Office at (213) 387-4287 about an issue that you want to take action on.
  2. If you want to learn how to run a campaign and help to train other Sierra Club members on using our tools and process, just sign up through Club Volunteer or fill out this Volunteer Form.



Header photo: John Nilsson all rights reserved

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