He successfully lobbied for new national parks and wilderness areas, from the North Cascades to the Redwood National Park. As executive director of the Club, he was present at the first Earth Day in , pushed Congress to enact more than environmental laws, and built Sierra Club membership from 70, to over half a million.
The large and very public Sierra Club was fraught with pitched battles and brutal politicking - both from within and without. He survived the ouster of his mentor, the charismatic but controversial David Brower, and advanced conservation in spite of hostile politicians, even helping to expel Ronald Reagan's virulently pro-development Interior Secretary James Watt from office. Request this item to view in the Library's reading rooms using your library card. To learn more about how to request items watch this short online video.
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He became a prime villain. I mean the editorial cartoonists in the newspapers of the country had a field day pillaring him. And he became kind of public enemy number one and very unpopular. We ran a big petition campaign, got over a million signatures to have him fired. And he once even wrote me he had a copy of one of his, one of our flyers that somehow had gotten into his hands. And he sent it back and said this is very interesting.
It looks like I'm your best membership promoter, signed, Jim Watt. Michael McCloskey: Yes. Though they viewed it all as just a cynical ploy on our part to promote membership and didn't credit us with any sincerity about actually opposing what he was doing.
Brian Stempeck: Under the first President Bush, you talked about that in the book as well, and you said it was the best treatment you ever received from any administration. That even though you didn't agree with all the policies they were putting in place, you had a lot of contact with that White House. What do you think makes the first President Bush so much different from the current administration? Michael McCloskey: Well, you recall that in the first President Bush actually said he wanted to be not only the education president, but the environment president.
And he did appoint a number of pretty good people to mid-level positions and agencies and a few Cabinet positions. I think they were trying to cultivate us and working through me to develop a new kind of relationship. What we however discovered in due course was that every time they put a decent environmental minded person in, they put in an anti environmentalist over him. So totally frustrating, those people, and ultimately blocking everything that they tried to do.
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Brian Stempeck: We hear a lot of kind of rhetoric from current environmental leaders talking about the current Bush administration being one of the worst track records on environmental issues of any administration in history. You've been around for a long time on these issues, at the Sierra Club for 30, 40 years. Was James Watt worse? I mean what's your opinion on how the current administration stacks up to its predecessors? And they were very overt about it, as well is putting very bad people in.
This administration, I think, has fundamentally similar aims. But for the most part it's been much more subtle in pursuing its aims by trying to do them in various, using various administrative devices that are often obscure and very hyper-technical to undo environmentalism. And I think that's just simply a process of learning from Watt's downfall that making a frontal attack on the environmental programs was not a good idea. That they should make a more sneaky attack frankly. Brian Stempeck: Right. You mentioned that the environmental community, for a long time now, has basically been on the defensive.
How do you off of that? I mean I know there's some criticism in the book where you talk about the current director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. Saying, well, you're not sure if he has enough kind of political experience going door-to-door really working these issues. We saw the environmental community do that in the elections. What do you think needs to be done differently to get off of the defensive position? Michael McCloskey: Well frankly, when I began 40 years ago we didn't have majority support.
We were operating in a fairly hostile environment where both parties were skeptical of us. We were treated as heretics. And there were fundamental things we did to claw our way forward.
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And I think we're basically in a similar position now. Many people today don't even know the three fundamental rules of lobbying, which are; you've got to know exactly what you want, you've got to know exactly who can give it to you and you've got to figure out how they make decisions in your favor. And tailor make your strategy to each case. You've got to pick goals very strategically in terms of whether they're achievable under the climate you're in. Whether they resonate with voters and real people you're working with and they really care about them.
In the Thick of It
You've got to try to change power relationships, set precedents. I don't think our goals are being picked strategically. And I think what's really so sad is that success was a great teacher. It taught us, back in the '60s and '70s and '80s, what worked, what was productive, what was not productive. And so by trial and error we learned how to do things. Now decades have passed with very little success. Sometimes on the negative, defensive side, we have beaten things back, bad things.
But on the affirmative side people are no longer learning very much about what is productive and what works and what you should do more of and what you should do less of. So a thousand flowers bloom with every nostrum out there about what might be a good thing to do and none of them are disciplined by reality.
Brian Stempeck: What do you think kind of the core of the problem is?