Déjà Vu

"Regardless of how many battles we win or lose, both we and the movement that we’re a part of will emerge stronger in the end."
01/23/2017 06:55 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2017
Sierra Club

This May 28 will mark the 125th anniversary of the Sierra Club. I know, I know — we don’t look a day over 100.

Not everything about getting older is great — my basketball game is proof of that. But if you’re lucky and you pay attention, you do gain at least one thing: perspective. And with Donald Trump in the White House, a little perspective goes a long way. Because believe it or not, we’ve kind of been here before.

Way back in 1892, we had fewer than 200 charter members, many of whom had nothing in common beyond a desire to protect California’s Sierra Nevada range, which was being ravaged by mining, logging, and livestock grazing. Right away, we had some success. With the help of President Theodore Roosevelt, we gained permanent federal protection for and greatly expanded Yosemite National Park and successfully defended the new Sequoia National Park. And when San Francisco set its sights on flooding Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley for a reservoir, John Muir successfully lobbied both Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft, to keep it protected. We were on a roll.

Then came the divisive presidential election of 1912. Roosevelt decided to run as a Progressive against both the Republican incumbent (his one-time BFF Taft) and the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson. How weird was that? Imagine if presidents weren’t barred from third terms and, four years from now, Barack Obama decided to start a new political party just so he could run against Joe Biden and Donald Trump — that’s how weird it was. As a result, Wilson was elected with 41.8 percent of the popular vote. For his Secretary of the Interior, the new president chose the same lawyer who had been hired by San Francisco to argue its case for damming Hetch Hetchy. Sound familiar? Just like that, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was history. For John Muir, who had led the Sierra Club since its founding, the defeat was devastating. He died not long afterward, and more than one person said it was from a broken heart.

That would have been the logical time for the Sierra Club to vanish, too. Instead, we spent the next 100 years using every lesson we learned during the unsuccessful Hetch Hetchy campaign to build the modern conservation movement. Did we ever lose another important fight? Yes, of course, but we won many, many more than we lost. And here’s what we have to show for it: most of the protected wilderness, national parks, national monuments, and other public lands that are the legacy of every American today. That first defeat laid the foundation for today’s Sierra Club.

Now we find ourselves forced to deal with the outcome of an even more bizarre election. President Donald Trump and his administration represent the biggest imaginable challenge to our mission and to our values. Literally minutes into his presidency, he released an “America First” energy plan that reads like a polluter’s wish list. It will make our air and water dirtier, our climate and international relations more unstable, and our kids sicker.

Clearly, we have some tough fights ahead and, realistically, we aren’t going to win all of them. But we’ve been doing this for almost 125 years. We will survive President Trump and his reckless kakistocracy. In fact, we’ll do a lot more than survive. We will resist — in the courts, in the states, in Congress, and in the marketplace. And regardless of how many battles we win or lose, both we and the movement that we’re a part of will emerge stronger in the end.

He doesn’t realize it, but President Trump is already building a wall — and he’s the one who’s paying for it. It’s a wall of resistance the likes of which he, his supporters, and his political allies have never seen before (although they got a pretty good glimpse last Saturday!). What unites that resistance is not just our opposition to Trump, but our determination to build a positive, equitable, and inclusive society.

For the Sierra Club, the bridges and bonds we forge with our allies are an incredible opportunity. In the years to come, we have the chance to become both a more powerful and more equitable organization, an organization that’s part of a bigger movement and is more focused on justice. How ironic that the person we have to thank for this 125th birthday present is none other than Donald J. Trump.

But before we reach that ripe old age, we’ve got a lot to do. The first 100 days of Trump’s administration will be crucial. Help us resist! Visit our Resist Command Center to discover the latest and most effective ways you can take action.

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