Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Building doors instead of holding signs

For the past year the fossil fuels divestment campaigns started to spread across the country. Today there are over 100 cities and states, 300 colleges and 10 other institutions with campaigns that aim to freeze fossil fuels investments and divest from direct ownership that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.

The national organization behind the divestment campaign is 350.org. It was founded in 2008 by U.S author Bill McKibben, who wrote one of the firsts books about climate change to the general public. “350” stands for 350 parts per million (ppm) which according to scientists is the safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere to keep temperature rise below 2 °C and ease the effects of global warming. With thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries, 350 is building a global grassroots movement to solve climate change.

The popularity of the divestment movement inspired the organizers to partner up with several local organizations across the country during the summer to provide fellowships for 38 student divestment activists of over 30 different colleges and universities. The primary goals of this brand new program are to build bridges across the movement and increase the student’s organizing skills.

I got involved working on the divestment campaign at the University of Utah with several other students. When I heard about this fellowship opportunity, I applied right away. I thought it would be a great way to fill the gap between being an active student in the university and becoming a more active citizen in the community. I was so excited to be selected but also surprised to be the only student from the Northwest of the country to be in that group.

The fellowship kick-off was a week-long training early in June at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. It was over 60 hours of strategy, planning, organizing, action, media and non-violent direct action (NVDA) training. We were also taught thoroughly about the stages of social movement, SMART goals, recruitment and retention. The week was well structured and provided a good foundation for us to work during the summer. It gave us the valuable experience of meeting new people and making connections, and knowing that although we come from different places and backgrounds we have the same objectives and we’re not working by ourselves.

One of the parts that struck to me the most and was a good way to start the week was to getting to know the problems and how people reacted to them or the difference between truth and meaning. Instead of pushing the truth to people we have to meet them where they’re at and approach by what the truth means to them. I particularly appreciated the leadership training and getting to know your skills as a leader and the kinds of qualities that are essential to be successful in this role. Becoming a good leader includes being humble, a good listener and leading by example but also teaching. Let’s build doors, create opportunities, invite and empower people instead of simply holding signs and making noise.

I’m excited to work this summer as the Volunteer Coordinator for Peaceful Uprising. They do a wonderful job in Utah advocating for climate and social justice and their main campaign starting right now is to stop tar sands mining in the U.S. I’m grateful to be able to extend the experience and skills I developed working as a student leader at the Bennion Center for the past 4 and a half years and I know that I wouldn't be as involved in the community or even selected for this fellowship if it weren't for the opportunities I had here.

- Tammy Reque, Social Justice Coordinator