Exactly 20 years ago, on December 8, 1996, 40 people at a meeting on globalization and trade agreed on a set of six principles for democratic organizing. The group was a combination of environmental justice and environmental health advocates that included many people of color and community organizers, and their intent was to help people coming from different cultures, politics, and organizations build a movement together. What they came up with are now known as the Jemez Principles, after the small Jemez pueblo in New Mexico where the meeting was held.
It’s not a lengthy document — just one page — but its influence has grown steadily over the past two decades. The Jemez Principles emphasize the importance of inclusion and equity in the organizing process. That includes specific rules such as letting people speak for themselves:
We must be sure that relevant voices of people directly affected are heard. Ways must be provided for spokespersons to represent and be responsible to the affected constituencies.
That one, frankly, has historically been a challenge for large organizations like the Sierra Club, but we continue to challenge ourselves to become better and more effective allies. That means not just letting people speak for themselves but striving to advance justice and make more opportunities available for that to happen.
The People’s Climate March in 2014 was deeply influenced by these concepts of bottom-up organizing and inclusion. You can also see the Jemez Principles reflected in the approach many mainstream environmental organizations have been taking while working to stop the Dakota Access pipeline and demonstrate solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and the water protectors in North Dakota. That exact circumstance was envisioned two decades ago in the Jemez Principles:
Groups working on similar issues with compatible visions should consciously act in solidarity, mutuality and support each other’s work. In the long run, a more significant step is to incorporate the goals and values of other groups with your own work, in order to build strong relationships.
Now, with the rise of Donald Trump, the importance of mutual support and solidarity is greater than ever. That’s why the Sierra Club and 26 environmental organizations signed a statement this week on “Civil and Human Rights, Social Justice and an Inclusive Economy” that calls on the president-elect to “protect all Americans equally”:
In doing so, we demand that all his nominees and appointees honor fundamental civil rights and embody civility befitting the offices for which they have been selected. Therefore, we call on the President-elect to rescind the appointment of Steven Bannon as Chief Strategic Advisor and withdraw the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General to signify his move to represent all equally and protect the rights of all people.
The Trump years will bring many tough fights on environmental policy and climate change, but if we succumb to tunnel vision and limit our resistance to just those issues, we will prevent ourselves from building the greater movement that we need. Women’s rights, labor rights, civil rights — all of these will be in jeopardy. Those most harmed by a Trump administration will include communities of color, low-income communities, and LGBTQ communities. It is our duty to take bold stances on these issues in order fulfill the Sierra Club’s mission to protect and restore the natural and human environments.
But just as the Trump administration will be targeting more than the environment, the Sierra Club is more than just 2.5 million people who care about the environment. To paraphrase Whitman, we contain multitudes. More than a million of us are women, Muslims, union members, immigrants, and others whose rights will be threatened. When activists converge on Washington, D.C., to protest racism on Inauguration Day or to defend women’s rights on the day after that, our activists and volunteers will be there, too. And when the next People’s Climate March takes place next April, we’ll be looking to follow the lead of those whose lives have been most at risk from pollution, climate disruption, xenophobia, and racism. Together, we can build the kind of movement envisioned by the drafters of the Jemez Principles — a movement that’s powerful enough to create safe and healthy communities for everyone.