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Bringing the toolbox home

Posted by Sean Stevens at May 05, 2008 12:00 AM |
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Patagonia's "Tools for Grassroots Activists" Conference ended with a pledge to bring home our newfound knowledge. What better way to open up the toolbox than to share a few stories with you.

Bringing the toolbox home

The only way to build a movement to protect wild places. Break out the toolbox.

One of the mantra's of the weekend was delivered by Brock Evans, current president of the Endangered Species Coalition, former Sierra Club activist, and veteran of the fight to protect Pacific Northwest old growth. In his keynote address on Thursday night, Brock delivered an inspirational speech that centered on the idea that "endless pressure, endlessly applied" held the secret to protecting our last wild places.

His message resonated with me because it spoke to the influence that everyday citizens can have on decisions made in D.C. One particular story stood out. In the 1970s, Brock and others were working to pass federal protections for hundreds of thousands of acres in Alaska. The coalition working on the bill had worked hard to nationalize the issue, knowing that a majority of Americans were in favor of keeping Alaska as wild as possible. On the eve of a big committee vote, a key representative from New Jersey told Brock that he wasn't going to be voting with them the next day. His vote was the difference between passing the bill out of committee and seeing it die on the vine. So, Brock went back to his office and worked with others to contact as many Sierra Club members in New Jersey as they could find. In the end, they got commitments from five members to call the decisive congressman and tell him they supported the additional protections. The next day, the representative voted to pass the bill out of committee and the conservation victory had been won because five people took the time to call and make their voices heard.

Other presenters at the conference had similar stories, some of them pertinent to current Oregon struggles. Owen Bailey from the Sierra Club in California spoke about the successful effort in Southern California to defeat an LNG project that had been on the fast track to approval. Owen organized a broad coalition of community members opposed to the project and packed a hearing with 2,000 grassroots supporters, effectively overwhelming the opposition. Owen's story of citizen involvement is being repeated here in Oregon as folks from across the political spectrum band together to oppose the damaging LNG projects proposed in Oregon.

Aside from inspirational stories of citizen involvement, the conference was chock full of workshops and advice on messaging, campaign strategy, effective fundraising, making meetings matter, lobbying and public speaking. One of the common threads in all of the presentations was that people who care about protecting our wild places already have the most essential tool for making change: passion.

If any of you out there who care about Oregon's special places think you can't make a difference in protecting them, you're wrong. Pick up the phone, call your elected representative and let them know what you hold dear. It makes a difference.

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