Electing board members with a proven record of protecting our environment and democracy is essential to ensuring Sierra Club meets the challenge of protecting our planet and people.
I’m asking for your vote in the 2023 Sierra Club Board of Directors Election. Here’s why…
In the river of today’s environmental and political events, I hitched myself to two things that mattered: democracy and fighting to protect the Great Lakes and planet from fossil fuels and an oil pipeline failure.
If protecting democracy meant spending several tough months hanging out with some of Donald Trump’s biggest MAGA fans in Michigan, well, the results were worth it. In some measure, Michigan voters rejected extremist candidates in 2022 because researchers like me were able to document their anti-democracy agendas, often in the candidates’ own words.
What I’ve Worked to Protect
Saving the Great Lakes and our planet is proving harder. It’s a testament to why a strong, persistent, and politically powerful Sierra Club is indispensable.
For ten years, I have been part of, and sometimes helped lead, the most diverse citizens’ environmental movement ever assembled in Michigan, including Sierra Club and 12 Native American tribes. Our goal: shutting down a 70-year-old outdated, corroded, bent, and gouged Line 5 Canadian oil pipeline operating in the turbulent waters of Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. That’s where lakes Michigan and Huron meet, and tribes have fishing and other rights protected by an 1836 treaty. Creaky, old Line 5 pumps 23 million gallons of hazardous oil and natural gas liquids through the Straits daily. It is a ticking time bomb in the heart of the Great Lakes.
Michigan’s governor and attorney general–newly re-elected over extremist candidates–are on our side and have taken legal actions to end the Great Lakes oil pipeline threat. But the oil industry has spent upwards of $20 million promoting Line 5, hoping to keep it operating for the next 100 years despite scientific experts warning about the impacts on our warming planet. We are now at a stalemate while pushing for action by the Biden administration.
Working for nearly a decade in Florida to protect coral reefs first taught me that patience isn’t always rewarded, but perseverance is required to make environmental progress. Working as a senior congressional staffer before that, I learned first-hand the power of people at the grassroots who organize and mobilize. And in my first career as a journalist, I saw how storytelling connects and motivates people to take action.
I plan to continue bringing these experiences and tools to Sierra Club as a volunteer. As a member of the Board of Directors, I would be privileged to help lead us to empower more people to protect our planet and our democracy.
More About the Movement to Shut Down the Great Lakes Oil Pipeline
- Sierra Magazine: The Aging Oil Pipeline Under the Great Lakes
- David Holtz represents Sierra Club before Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board
- Please consider urging President Biden to take action to Shut Down the Great Lakes Oil Pipeline
Board Members, Chapter Volunteer Leaders, Chapter Staff
A Sierra Club Grassroots & National Leader
- Board Volunteer Leadership & Activism Committee (current)
- Southeast Michigan Group Executive Committee (current)
- Board Executive Director Search Committee (2022)
- Chair, Council of Club Leaders (2018-2020)
- Board Union-Management Contract Bargaining Team (2020)
- Board Bylaws, Standing Rules & Elections Committee (2018-2021)
- Chair, Michigan Chapter Executive Committee (2014-2018)
- Council of Club Leaders (2014-2021)
- Media Coordinator, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter (2001-2004)
Making Michigan Green & Progressive
- Executive Director Progress Michigan (2009-2013)
- Michigan Director, Clean Water Action (2003-2008)
- District Director, U.S. Congressman Dale Kildee (1986-1992)
Back in the day, an award-winning, legendary Sierra Club environmental justice organizer and I shared an office in Detroit and little else…at least at first. Eventually I wised up, got with the program and did some decent work putting a big media spotlight on a nasty neighborhood industrial plant that flooded Detroiters’ basements with toxins and made people sick.
I won’t say that’s where I Iearned everything I know about Sierra Club’s great superpower–empowering and mobilizing grassroots supporters. But I mastered enough in 20 years as a Sierra Club volunteer leader that I’m running for the Board of Directors with a goal of helping lead our commitment to strengthen grassroots people power.
We are making real headway in our climate work. More than 360 coal plants have been shuttered. New technologies are making clean energy more affordable. Major federal funding through last year’s Inflation Reduction Act is going to states for cleaner energy and climate justice, including $3 billion in environmental justice block grants.
But as glaciers melt, flood waters rise, fires rage, hurricanes get stronger, cities get hotter and species become more threatened, Sierra Club must do more in places where next-level progress is most likely: our states.
Being powerful together isn’t just a Sierra Club catch-phrase. It’s how we win. It’s why Sierra Club’s 2030 Strategic Framework prioritizes grassroots initiatives. It means engaging with diverse communities and organizations who may not traditionally be involved in climate activism but have a stake in addressing the issue. It requires Sierra Club to continue transforming to a more diverse, inclusive organization while strengthening chapters, outings and other local entities.
As a board task force recently concluded, Sierra Club must change its fundraising and finances to create more sustainable local chapters. We need to take care that we develop and implement national policies in collaboration with chapters and not solely rely on one-size-fits-all solutions in 50 states. As a volunteer leader at many levels, I’ve worked within Sierra Club to build bridges and move us forward together. It would be my privilege to continue doing that as a member of the Board of Directors. I am asking for your vote and support. Thank you.
Candidate Forum Q&A
How do you practice anti-racism?
Learning, self-reflection and taking action, particularly through allyship, is shaping my journey as a White man practicing anti-racism. How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi impacted my thinking and understanding of my role in perpetuating racism. As Kendi says, what we do about race determines what we are–a racist or antiracist.
In practice, as Chapter Chair, I initiated innovative policies and undertook practices in Michigan creating equity opportunities for recruiting volunteer leaders and prioritized nominating people of color to the chapter executive committee. That process led to the election of the Michigan chapter’s first Black woman chair.
While Chair, the Executive Committee adopted my proposed Standing Rule creating Emeritus non-voting Executive Committee positions as an incentive for established volunteer leaders to remain engaged and contributing while creating more space and leadership opportunities at the Executive Committee level for people of color. At the end of my third two-year term on the chapter executive committee, I declined to seek nomination for an additional elected term to encourage recruiting new leaders from communities of color.
During my time as Chair of the Council of Club Leaders I advocated for a multi-year Sierra Club equity plan that prioritized training and implementation at the grassroots volunteer leadership level.
How do you think we can better retain more staff and volunteers, and recruit and retain them into higher levels within the organization, who are from marginalized communities or who are otherwise underrepresented?
Provide more support and resources for staff and volunteers, foster a culture of equity, promote diversity and inclusion in recruitment, offer competitive compensation and benefits, and encourage employee and volunteer advancement and growth.
Particularly at the national staff level, in recent years, Sierra Club has made significant progress in each of these areas. Unfortunately, less support has been available to chapters and other local Sierra Club entities. This should change or we will not accomplish our equity goals, including recruitment and retention of staff and volunteers from marginalized communities.
Signifcantly, new comprehensive guidelines establishing recruitment and hiring criteria at all levels for underrepresented communities have been implemented. These new policies and their implementation need to be closely monitored for effectiveness by senior management and the Board. If required, they should be improved to reflect actual hiring experiences and outcomes.
Our policies and practices should strengthen national and local staff and volunteer capacity and align with our grassroots, democratic, volunteer-led governance structure while promoting accountability and the professionalization of management at all levels. More investment of training resources at the chapter and group level is needed, particularly with volunteer leaders who are responsible for managing staff or who frequently engage with staff.
Moreover, all volunteer leaders should be familiar with and acknowledge support for the Code of Conduct for volunteers and adhere to guidelines in relationships with staff. All staff should be trained on the role of volunteer leaders in Sierra Club governance
What environmental issues are pressing in your community, and how do they intersect with economic, environmental, and racial justice? What tensions at work make the problem so difficult to solve?
Michigan’s most toxic zip code–48217–has some of the most marginalized communities in the Detroit area struggling to breathe because of air pollution from sources that include a petroleum refinery served by North America’s largest oil transport company–the Canadian corporate conglomerate Enbridge.
Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline threatens tribal and treaty rights in Michigan and Wisconsin with a dirty fuels pipeline through Native reservation lands and in the heart of the Great Lakes. An Enbridge pipeline failure in 2010 spilled a million gallons of oil in Michigan, the largest oil pipeline failure in North American history.
For decades, Sierra Club volunteers and staff have been fighting for cleaner air and since 2013 to shut down Enbridge’s dirty Line 5 pipeline. At the same time, powerful special interests, including the corporate business community, have been fighting Sierra Club’s efforts to protect the Great Lakes from oil pipelines and the impact of fossil fuel pollution from Line 5.
At various times I led Sierra Club’s work to shut down Line 5, and helped coordinate the overall campaign that was led by a coalition of five tribes, environmental and civic groups. Enbridge has spent upwards of $20 million to defeat these efforts and has thus far used its vast financial resources with great success, even overcoming legal action by Michigan’s governor and attorney general.
What equity issues do you believe Sierra Club is overlooking and needs to engage on?
A critically important Sierra Club superpower is our grassroots. As our 2030 Strategic Framework declares, we are powerful when we are together. Shutting down 367 dirty power plants–so far–to reduce the impacts of climate change could not have happened without the collective organizing power of volunteers and staff working through local Chapters, groups and campaigns.
All around the country Sierra Club’s successes are driven by people mobilizing for change.
One way to build a bigger, broader climate movement is to engage with diverse communities and organizations. This includes working with environmental justice groups, labor unions, faith groups, and other organizations that may not traditionally be involved in climate activism but have a stake in addressing the issue. It can also involve reaching out to individuals and groups that may not have previously considered the issue of climate change to be a priority.
The unprecedented political and social challenge of mitigating the impacts of climate change means Sierra Club’s grassroots movement must be more inclusive, stronger and supported. Marginalized or underserved communities bear the brunt of environmental and public health failures and Sierra Club’s grassroots democracy allows individuals to take control of their own lives and advocate for their own needs and interests.
We have competing fundraising priorities between National and the Chapters. How do you recommend we address this tension?
Sierra Club is stronger when we cooperate and enhance national and chapter fundraising with much more collaboration than what currently exists. There is too much competition between national and chapters and too many silos. Too often this creates serious disadvantages for chapters. These are a few ideas I would like us to consider:
- multi-level fundraising which supports lobbying at the federal and state levels
- more equity between national and chapters in fundraising appeals
- the ability of Sierra Club donors to choose opting out of either national or chapter fundraising appeals
- more national staff fundraising resources dedicated to chapters, especially smaller ones
- enhanced collaboration between national and chapters on donor relations that is more equitable
The Sierra Club is a vast and complex organization by any standards, and it is unusual in that both staff and volunteers are central to the mission of the Club and its day-to-day operations. Tell a story about a time you navigated or attempted to reform a bureaucratic system, and what you learned from the experience.
While serving as Chair of the Council of Club Leaders I concluded Sierra Club’s national decison making would benefit from direct engagement with the most senior volunteer leaders at the grassroots, chapter level where the roots of many environmental successes are planted.
Too many national decisions impacting chapters were topdown. Chapters were already represented and had a voice at the national level through the Council of Club Leaders. But chapter chairs are the volunteers most responsible for leading each chapter’s overall operation, including conservation priorities. So in July 2019 Sierra Club’s Board of Directors approved my proposal to create the Chapter Chairs Representatives, whose principal mission is to advise the Board on chapter-related issues. Since 2020 this five-member group has been elected annually by all Sierra Club chapter chairs, with one of its former members recently being elected to the Sierra Club Board of Directors.
The Council of Club Leaders and the Chapter Chairs Representatives have elevated and advanced important issues and ideas and are part of a growing and effective mosaic of Sierra Club volunteer and staff stakeholders, including unions, the Chapter Director Representatives and staff groups representing bisexual, transgender and people of color. Sierra Club is better for this. It has, however, added more layers to Sierra Club’s bureaucracy and made decision making more challenging for senior managers, executives and the Board while too often falling short of transparency, partnerships and collaboration.
My goal is to continue to work to improve the current system of internal stakeholder engagement.
Tell us about a time you managed or navigated a conflict within Sierra Club?
Dealing with conflict is a part of all our lives and managing it is important, whether it’s a personal relationship or within a group or organization. We aren’t always successful, of course. For me, success in conflict resolution has almost always involved open and honest communications, staying respectful, focusing on the issue–not the person–and finding compromise.
It’s important to create the space and conditions–the opportunity–for this to take place. That isn’t always easy. This was true in 2020 when, in the midst of the pandemic, I was on the Sierra Club Board’s management bargaining team negotiating a first contract with the Progressive Workers Union, which represents chapter non-management staff. In that case, after just two in-person meetings, we were forced to bargain virtually for several months over Zoom, requiring hundreds of hours of dedication, patience, endurance and compromise from both sides.
In another Sierra Club setting, this one with the Council of Club Leaders, as Chair I worked with our Council Executive Committee to develop a new resolutions process that offered collaboration and conflict resolution opportunities both online and in-person and encouraged compromise ahead of actual voting at the Annual Meeting, which in past years had sometimes challenged delegates’ patience when the process took several hours, creating tensions and little opportunity for compromise and collaboration.
Please describe your successes and failures regarding your work within your community as an agent of social and political change -- specifically those supporting environmental justice goals. What did you learn from them and how has your philosophy about how to create change evolved because of your experiences?
Two experiences were especially important and shaped my view on environmental justice.
Several years ago one of Sierra Club’s first environmental justice organizers and I opened and shared Sierra Club’s first Detroit office. My job was providing media support for 13 environmental groups, including Sierra Club, involving a project unconnected to environmental justice. Meanwhile, Sierra Club’s great Detroit environmental justice organizer was fighting a heroic battle with the city to shut down a chemical plant that was discharging toxins into a local neighborhood, flooding homes and making people sick.
I was recruited to help put a big media spotlight on the problem, bringing me into homes where people were clearly suffering. I saw, for the first time, how poor, disenfranchised Black neighborhoods were environmental sacrifice zones and the real consequences for families.
Years later I was the Michigan Chapter Chair of Sierra Club when Flint was poisoned with lead contaminated drinking water. In the early stages of Flint’s drinking water crisis, there was skepticism within the local Flint White community about the problem. At the chapter, however, we led Sierra Club’s efforts at getting the state and federal government to act, partnering with national Sierra Club leaders like former President Aaron Mair and former Executive Director Michael Brune, both of whom came to Flint.
These two experiences taught me people power is indispensable to holding corporations and governments accountable and Sierra Club’s investment in making our local chapters, groups and other entities more inclusive is a strategic priority.
What is your experience with the political process, including campaigns, elections, and the legislative process? How do you think Sierra Club can build its political power?
Sierra Club’s political program in 2022 was seriously under-resourced, which limited its capacity and ability to impact critically important elections throughout the country. Our political program still punched above its weight, particularly in battleground states where we had strong chapters. We need a national strategy, however, that goes beyond Blue and battleground states and has a longer view than the next election cycle. More training of chapter political staff and leaders is also needed.
Politics and government have been at the center of my professional and personal life. My first career was journalism and as a reporter in Michigan I covered politics, courts and political campaigns. For six years after, I served as District Director in Michigan to a Member of Congress from Flint, Dale Kildee. I’ve also served in Democratic Party leadership roles at local and state levels and worked on a range of political campaigns.
During the 2022 election cycle in Michigan I worked professionally to research and document the right-wing, anti-democracy movement led by supporters of Donald Trump and conducted research on anti-environment candidates for the Michigan Legislature. Our work contributed to Sierra Club endorsed candidates winning for governor, attorney general and secretary of state as well as being elected to majorities in the state Legislature.
Tell us what you have learned about yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, and values – through your involvement in the Sierra Club?
As the largest and most effective grassroots environmental organization in America, Sierra Club attracts incredible staff and volunteer talent. Being a volunteer leader at the chapter and national levels opened the door to collaborating with extraordinary people–a gift that shaped my values, thinking and helped make continued volunteering irresistible. Volunteering with Sierra Club is a virtuous enterprise but the benefits for me have far surpassed whatever contributions I make. I became much more aware of how deeply I care about protecting the planet for future generations, and how important it is that we do that in a way that advances social justice.
Impatience with the pace of change that is important to me is a weakness, as is my lack of scientific knowledge–both of which have become more apparent to me because of my work with Sierra Club. What I have also found is that I’m skilled at working with people to solve problems and that my cumulative experiences as a communications professional, congressional and environmental non-profit manager and political background are a good fit for being a Sierra Club volunteer leader.