Looking A little Green

Taking the Sierra Club's helm, boy wonder Adam Werbach confronts more than his own inexperience

But when one of the initiative's prime supporters visited the board recently to ask for help bringing the idea to Capitol Hill, "they wouldn't give him the time of day," Brower says.

Brower would like to see Werbach change that. For example, Brower says, the Sierra Club's decision-making processes should be more accessible to club members. Right now, the board makes many important decisions in private executive sessions. Throw open the doors, he says. Ask questions and listen. Start gearing up for the future. Make the club more inclusive. "We've got to get people of all the colors, of all the sexes, working on this," Brower says.

"I'd like to see [Werbach] take a hand in restoring the Sierra Club," Brower says. "I think democracy would be very helpful."

It's not exactly the same goal that the still-powerful Cox seems to have in mind for the young president, though. Cox says Werbach's mission is to take the Sierra Club message, as it is right now, to young voters. Both these men are on the same board of directors that Werbach now ostensibly runs. If he wants to avoid being a Barbie doll, Werbach will have to steer his own course, when he figures out what it might be. In addition, there's the board member Werbach defeated in the race for president, Lafayette resident Michelle Perrault, who, along with her husband, Philip Berry, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the club. Werbach beat Perrault by 8-7. One vote is not a big mandate. And Executive Director Pope doesn't think the student organizing Werbach did was financially valuable to the club, Brower says, implying that Pope could be someone for Werbach to watch out for. In other words, for all the flowery words following Werbach's election, it's still a plantation of cacti behind the scenes.

"There's all kinds of ways they can bring you down," Brower warns.
But if the battle on the Sierra Club board seems pitched, the members -- and this is, after all, supposedly a grass-roots organization -- don't seem to care much one way or the other. There is, after all, work to do.

"We don't expect the president of the Sierra Club, whoever it may be, to be active in the work that we're doing at this level," says Jeff Golden, chair of the S.F. Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Here, locally, we pretty much keep our noses to the grindstone."

Locally, the Bay Chapter of the Club is organized into dozens of committees staffed with volunteers who donate time and energy to different projects. Among the top priorities, Golden says, are keeping development off the ridgeline in the East Bay, targeting specific politicians for replacement in November of this year, the forestry initiative movement, and, of course, battling privatization at the Presidio.

It's basic grass-roots stuff: keeping people informed and active. If the leaders at the national level provide overall guidance, great. But the shirtsleeves rolled up aren't theirs.

Case in point: the Presidio.
"There have been no directives issued from the president's office of the Sierra Club regarding the Presidio," says Michael Alexander, who is the Sierra Club's point person on all things concerning the ex-military base in San Francisco. "At least, I haven't seen any."

Does he expect input from the new president?
"Not in any way I can imagine," Alexander says. "I'm not sure that the president's job reaches down to ways that directly affects Sierra Club projects."

The two local leaders like what they hear about Werbach, of course.
"We care about the environment, for our families and for our future," Golden gushes. "Adam is symbolic of that."

"I just hear he's very sharp," says Alexander.

"Studying in the Ivy League is just mental dildonics, fucking yourself with all the knowledge you've learned," Adam Werbach is saying.

He's sitting in a chair in his room at the Phoenix Hotel, which is around the corner from the Sierra Club's old Polk Street digs. The club's newer, posher headquarters is opening up soon close to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, whose patrons, presumably, can afford to care about the air. But for the moment, the Tenderloin is Werbach's temporary home, and he's brought a college friend to his room for the evening to play some guitar. Isaac Peace Hazard, the Brown buddy who lives nearby, is sitting on the bed, cross-legged, smiling in a striped sweater and ratty bluejeans and sneakers.

"It is often much for its own sake," Hazard agrees.
It is early evening, and the two have been playing songs they performed last summer in a bar tour of Japan. "Polyester Esther," for one. They are surprisingly good. Or maybe it's not surprising. It depends, in a sense, on what you expect from the world.

For Werbach, it isn't so much that the problems are complicated. It's that the solutions are simple.

"The ability to explain everything you want to do in short sentences, that's what vision is," he is saying. "Politicians have gotten themselves wrapped up in details, in intellectual processes, haughty intellectualism. I don't know all the answers. I do know the questions."

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