I'm writing this on Nov. 8. It's still sinking in.
The most votes cast in U.S. history.
The Sunrise Movement. Black Lives Matter. Sierra Club Independent Action. The Nevada Native Vote Project. Stacey Abrams, MVP.
Millions of letters, texts, and phone calls to voters in swing states to get out the vote. (Word to the Shredder and all fans of toxic cynicism: Activism works.)
The bulletins from the alternate reality/conspiracy universe, gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, "claimed" states, straight-up efforts to stop votes from being counted, groundless lawsuits, and all related attempts to delegitimize the election failed, and will keep failing. With democracy on the line, we pulled away from the fast track to authoritarian rule, and what could have happened if we hadn't pulled it off didn't happen.
On the morning of Nov. 7, at virtually the same moment when the networks announced that Joseph R. Biden had been elected president of the United States, Sierra Club California held its annual summit meeting virtually on Zoom. This year's theme was Beyond November: The Future of Green in the Golden State. Some of California's most influential movers and shakers in environmental policy and politics shared their thoughts about where we can and should go next in California. Interactive breakout sessions discussed big ideas related to energy and climate, water, and wildlands and parks.
The timing was a coincidence, but the headline news of the day lent a certain energy to the proceedings.
On the panel discussion for the day, Felicia Marcus, former chair of the California State Water Board, found hope in the water: Gov. Gavin Newsom has prioritized safe drinking water, and good legislation has happened to get clean water for everybody, over the objections of the major water agencies. There has also been progress in urban greening, the continued movement toward 100 percent recycled water statewide, the focus on equity, and coping with sea level rise via wetlands restoration instead of seawalls. Much of this work is being done by cities, which are way ahead of state and federal governments. She concluded: "At a local level, you can really make a difference."
Daniel Kammen, former U.S. science envoy for the State Department, noted pointedly that California had just rejected Proposition 16, which sought to prevent discrimination and provide equal opportunities and fair wages for women and people of color. The initiative lost by 2 million votes, showing that, when it comes to systemic racism, we are hypocrites, with a long history of saying one thing and doing another. He took heart in the fact that Kamala Harris gets it, which means there is likely going to be a federal task force focused on climate justice in the near future. He concluded that we need to find "places where we can make our actions match our words."
I can't parse the meaning of Nov. 7 better than Vote Save America did that day:
"What happened was that people poured into airports to protest the Muslim ban. Women marched in the streets with their daughters and sons. Crowds rushed to the border to show the world that immigrant children were being ripped from the arms of their parents. Organizers filled the halls of Congress to protect millions from losing their health care. Students launched a movement to save their friends from gun violence and another to save the planet from climate change. Americans of all ages joined Black and brown organizers in the largest demonstrations this country has ever seen to battle the forces of racism and injustice."
No one in my email inbox put it better than this: "The news coverage was striking in that I fully realized how debilitating the absence of seeing happiness has been to my psyche over the last four years. Make America Happy Again."
And no one anywhere will ever put it better than Van Jones, choking back tears on CNN, and concluding, "The character of the country matters. And being a good man matters. I just want my sons to look at this. It is easy to do it the cheap way and get away with stuff. But it comes back around. And that's a good thing for this country."
Congratulations to everyone who made it happen. Everything you did made a difference. So take some personal time. Breathe the free air. Then look for places where you can make your actions match your words, at the local level, where you can really make a difference. Let me suggest the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. We'll be meeting via Zoom with Rebecca August, director of advocacy for Los Padres ForestWatch, on Wednesday, Nov. 18, at 7 p.m. We'll get an update on the threats directed toward our public lands, including the Los Padres, Montaña de Oro, and Carrizo Plain, by President-elect Biden's predecessor—threats that will remain threatening for the next two months.
RSVP at sierraclub.org/santa-lucia. Δ
Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.