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Chapter Chair Update

September 2020

Ann Gadwah

Rethinking the Past, Prepping for the Future


Greetings! I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. We are now on our way into the Fall of 2020. So many big things are happening on a national level, a state level, and a local level. Changes are happening on the macro and micro level all over this country. We have begun the process of moving our society towards justice and towards living up to the promises of our nation’s founding, of our constitution. And in this process, we’ve had to come to terms with not only society’s history, racism, and flaws, but those of ourselves and those we admire.


I love the natural world. I find peace and solace when I’m in nature. I love wildlife and landscapes and the flow of life itself. I am my best self in nature. So naturally, I was drawn to the writings and activism of John Muir. His writings encapsulate my feelings towards nature and wild places. I’ve often said, I fell in love with John Muir, learned of the Sierra Club, and decided to get involved. 

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Photo: John Muir, 1907 - the iconic figure of Sierra Club history is being rethought

Photo credit: Francis M. Fritz

John Muir was a flawed man. Many of his writings are beautiful, helped to create our National Parks and helped save many wild places from commercial and industrial interests. But some of his writings and views unfortunately also reflected racist ideas steeped in the eugenics thinking so prevalent in his time. Who was he saving wild places for? Who belonged in the National Parks? What about the Native populations that had inhabited those lands for hundreds of years before? Muir failed to be on the right side of history on these issues. 


Does this mean I can like and respect John Muir’s writings on the sacredness of nature and his activism? Of course. Does that mean I approve of his racist ideas? Of course not. In fact, I wholeheartedly denounce them. I believe it is truly important to acknowledge not only the good parts of people, but the problematic parts as well. Putting people on a pedestal, (both literal and figurative) never tells the whole story and often glosses over the unsavory parts of the story we’d rather not face. 


I firmly believe the path to healing is acknowledging the mistake, saying sorry, making amends, promising to do better in the future, and doing better in the future. We cannot change what happened in the past, but we can certainly do better in the future. And I promise to do my best to make this happen. So I’m asking you—our volunteers, members, and supporters, both new and old—to join us on this journey. Add your voice to ours in promising to do better in the future and doing better in the future. Lend Sierra Club Connecticut your insights, thoughts, ideas on how we can achieve this. If you would like to get involved, contact us. Talk to you next month.    


Ann Gadwah is Chapter Chair and Political Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.


Editor’s Note: Read more on Sierra Club’s stance on John Muir from Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in Pulling Down Our Monuments.

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