The following is a transcript of the video above, from our November 16, 2022, roundtable, “Building a Movement for the Common Good.”

Ramón Cruz: For Sierra Club, it was very transformative, if you will, when we adopted some years ago, what is called the Jemez principles for democratic organizing as our methodology for organizing. There was often criticism on how environmental organizations would parachute into a place whenever there was any issue and sort of take over the stage and call the shots.

And communities, especially environmental justice organizations, resented that for many years, because of course an organization with the relative size or power within the movement of Sierra Club coming into a community and [to] start calling the shots where these communities may have been working for a long time, there’s not that spiritual experience of mutuality or collaboration or partnership.

So, the Jemez principles for democratic organizing is something that came up at a meeting by the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice in the 90s—it basically developed this. It has very simple principles of being inclusive, an emphasis on bottom-up organizing, and letting people speak for themselves—working together in solidarity, and mutuality, and true partnership.

And then, in order to do that, you have to build just relationships. And there’s a commitment also on self-transformation. So, as we change society, we’re changing, transforming everything. And so, this is very important because, again, communities resent it when you come up, and it’s a top-to-bottom approach. And the labor movement has often done that as well in the past.

And so that’s why it’s important to have these methodologies as a guideline when you go into a community and establish those relationships—and have them be long lasting. So that when these issues come up, you already have a presence, and you already have a basis of respect….then you’re also more credible, and then you have a true partnership; you’re trusted. The fight against what is the common enemy, if you will, it’s easier. Because from our side, there’s already trust, and that’s very important.