Voices and Echoes for the Environment: Public Interest Representation in the 1990s and Beyond

By Ronald G. Shaiko | Go to book overview

6
The Heart of the Matter
Leadership-Membership Connections

If they [organization leaders] are sending out good communications, to some degree, they are going to wind up talking to themselves. There is a real danger, if you have an undifferentiated mass of members out there, where you have a one-on-one relationship—you to them. Who are you talking to? Or are you just hearing the echo of your own voice?

—JOEL THOMAS, GENERAL COUNSEL, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION

As we have discovered in the preceding chapter, the concept of membership in national environmental organizations has multiple meanings. While in some instances people who join environmental as well as consumer, senior citizens, single-issue, or other types of public interest organizations may attribute the same level of significance to this type of membership as to their memberships in churches, social and/or fraternal organizations, or in occupational groups, most do not. A growing number of citizens have little more than what Michael Hayes has identified as “checkbook affiliations” with public interest organizations. 1 With this in mind, however, we should not discount totally the link between the leaders of public interest organizations and their followers or adherents, for, as John Gardner argues, this connection is “the heart of the matter” for organizational leadership. 2

One aspect of membership that concerns leaders of organized interest groups is the ability of their members to act as advocates in the larger political arena, to echo their leadership's voices. This concern is not at all new to interest group leaders. Schlozman and Tierney have called grassroots lobbying, the mobilization of constituents for political purposes, “an ancient weapon in the pressure group arsenal.” 3 Indeed, since the founding of

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