Seattle-area Sierra Club volunteers and staff had their work cut out for them: defeating a $4 million establishment-led campaign promoting a Roads and Transit tax that would have exacerbated global warming. Making the odds steeper was the fact that the Club was the only major environmental group opposing the regional ballot measure. But on Election Day, voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties solidly rejected Proposition 1.
"This is the first major public works proposal I know of to be defeated because it would worsen global warming," says Sierra Club organizer Kathleen Ridihalgh. "Without much cash, we flexed the good old Sierra Club muscle--be on the ground, everywhere, all the time--paired with new techniques: overwhelm the blogosphere with comments and fund strategic robocalls." The Club also set up its own campaign Web site.
Proposition 1 would have raised money for 50 miles of light-rail transit, but the Club opposed the measure because it earmarked billions for expanding highways that would lead to more traffic and global warming emissions. Cascade Chapter Chair Michael O'Brien, above, and fellow chapter leaders Michael McGinn and Tim Gould were among the volunteers spearheading the campaign to defeat Prop 1. In addition to organizing two late-October literature drops where campaign materials were hand-delivered to more than 17,000 homes, the Club put together a November 1 rally outside the U.S. Mayors Climate Summit in downtown Seattle, pictured above and below.
At the outset of the Club's campaign, the pro-Prop 1 forces were so much better funded that few people took the opposition seriously. But a year of planning, negotiating, and elevating the issue of global warming with the public, the media, and elected officials paid off. Ridihalgh says gaining the support of King County Executive Ron Sims and good newspaper endorsements were key in turning the tide. She lauds fellow Club staffers Jessica Eagle and Shannon Harps for "maximizing all our new clout in the suburbs," and gives kudos to Cascade Chapter Organizer James Irwin, "who made winning this campaign his unfettered ambition." Erwin is pictured below, speaking with Fayetteville, Arkansas, Mayor Dan Coody outside the Mayors Summit.
Ultimately, it was a trans-partisan coalition of business, neighborhood, environmental, and citizen groups that began to sway voters and elected officials alike. And the Sierra Club's opposition to the measure was critical to galvanizing this coalition and lending it heft and legitmacy across the political spectrum (note the final paragraph on the home page of the anti-Prop 1 group KilltheRatTax.org).
The Club earned more than 110 media hits about Prop 1 since August, and the issue hit the national news in papers like the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Dozens of letters-to-the-editor by Sierra Club members were published in local newspapers, and activists wrote hundreds of blog posts. In the run-up to Election Day the Club sent mailings to 75,000 targeted voters, hand-delivered 20,000 pieces of campaign literature to households or at events like farmer's markets, made 3,000 personal phone calls to undecided voters (plus 710,000 robocalls), and participated in debates at more than 30 community forums.
However, says Ridihalgh, numbers can't describe the "driving passion, creativity, and boundless energy of our volunteers who took an extraordinary leadership role in this campaign."
Read more about what the Sierra Club is doing to curb global warming.
Photos used with permission.