My Churchill trip is underway! I landed in LA airport two days ago. After clearing customs and re-checking my (very modestly packed, if I do say so myself) bag onto my connecting flight, I stepped out onto the sunny kerb and breathed in the sweet smoggy air of Los Angeles. It felt good to be back – if not so much for my lungs, for my soul and mind.
A few hours later I touched down in San Francisco and despite being temporarily deaf in one ear due to the flight, I shared a cab and had a great conversation with a young actor who strongly supported action on climate change. So far; so good.
After sleeping off my jetlag, I headed off the next morning to Oakland, where many NGOs have their offices. Several things broke on the way: my boots (will have to buy new ones in New York), my umbrella and a cable car. Still, I made it from Grace’s place to Oakland without too much trouble thanks to, as usual, the help of some friendly strangers who made sure I was on the right BART subway train.
First stop in Oakland: the 350.org offices and a reunion with my awesome friends May, Jon & Jamie. I first met these guys in 2007 when they had just done the Step It Up campaign – before they formed 350.org and before their first national day of action. Recently 350 and 1Sky (a domestic focused climate NGO) joined forces in a merger, so it was really interesting hearing about that, and about the Chamber of Commerce campaign they’re working on. This campaign is one of the most strategic things I’ve seen from the climate movement in any country for a while – such a clear theory of change and so supporter-focused.
After spending some time at the 350 offices I went a few doors down the road to meet Jocelyn from the Engage Network. We had a great conversation about movement building, hubs, different types of movements, and the intersection of online and offline organizing in campaigning. We talked about the dichotomy between control and growth (“In a movement, you can have control or you can have growth – you can’t have both”).
I also took a look at their office bookshelf, which had many similar books to the Make Believe office (yay us!) but also some new ones I hadn’t read before. My reading list is growing longer and I’m determined to read at least a book a week on this trip, as well as a lot of papers.
The Engage Network was founded by Marianne Manilov and Alissa Hauser, two very inspiring women. One of the other projects they are involved in is mobilizing the yoga community to make a difference in the world, with the one of the best campaign names I’ve ever heard: “Off the Mat and Into the World.” This project came about after they read research showing 75% of people doing yoga (I assume it was in a certain geographical area, like San Fran) were women, and 72% were registered democratic voters. A constituency ripe for the picking!! So they now do a project called the Saver Challenge, where yoga practitioners raise money for social benefit projects.
The Engage Network shares a kitchen with the Movement Strategy Centre, who I hadn’t organized a meeting with… but their name suggested they were doing work too important for me to just walk past, so I wandered in and got to meet Maryam Roberts who gave me a great overview of the work they do. I was right: since they founded 10 or 11 years ago they’ve been doing a variety of cool things including transformative movement work, alliance building, supporting movement leaders and providing infrastructural support including fiscal sponsorship.
They have a website with resources at http://movementstrategy.org/resources including “Out of the Spiritual Closet” (case studies of local organizers transforming the practice of social justice) that I recommend looking at. They are clearly a “hub” in various social movements, so definitely a useful case study for my research.
Next stop was the Climate Education Alliance on 22nd Street, where I re-connected with the wonderful Emily Adler, who I’d met in Copenhagen at the climate negotiations in 2009. They are doing incredible work educating high school students and supporting them to take action in their schools. I could barely believe it, but in the US, climate change isn’t part of the school curriculum! So the Climate Education Alliance steps in to fill the gap, offering free 45-minute presentations explaining basic climate science to high school students using charismatic full-time presenters and a kick-ass animation made by the fantastic Free Range Studios.
So far they’ve reached 850,000 students in over 1400 schools, and supported 800 action teams (like a high school environment group that undertakes a project on either energy efficiency or waste). Their testing shows that their presentation increases students’ knowledge of climate science by 58%. They are clearly also really important to the broader climate movement; and even though only one class they’ve worked with has graduated so far, it’s clear that many of the students they work with will go on to become leaders in the climate movement.
By this time it was getting late, so I went back to the 350 offices to meet my friend Taren, who lives in DC but was visiting San Francisco setting up her new project, name TBC but essentially the “Avaaz of corporate campaigning”. We all went out for a drink before Jamie, Taren and I made our way to the Rainforest Action Network fundraiser, which luckily happened to be on my last night in San Francisco! I caught up with a bunch of old friends including Scott Parkin & Matt Leonard from Rainforest Action Network, Brianna Cayo-Cotter from Avaaz, and Josh Kahn Russell. I also met some amazing new people and shared a ride back to San Francisco over the bridge with some of them curled up in the back of a ute.
This morning I had my last meeting, with my good friend Tom Dawkins. Tom was on the AYCC’s first ever board, and was integral to AYCC’s founding. He founded Vibewire, and his endorsement of, and involvement in, AYCC’s founding summit and early days, gave it a lot of credibility with the youth sector. He’s also generally just a great person and it was wonderful to hear about his new job at HopeLab and his new start-up project Start Some Good.
I spent the rest of the morning with Grace and Will, including gazing at the Golden Gate bridge from the top of their roof with a picnic of oranges, strawberries and blueberries. Grace and I had a great conversation about professional development for international advocates like her who are working to influence Chinese government policy. Will and I went to the ferry terminal for lunch and then I jumped in a cab to the airport. I left my passport and ticket on the counter of a café in the terminal but realized five minutes later and luckily no-one had taken it; so feeling very lucky, I boarded my flight to New York.
I’m so grateful to everyone I had the chance to connect and re-connect with in San Francisco, especially Grace and Will who left me stay at their place. I’m looking forward to the next leg of my journey!