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Building Bridges

President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement will have many detrimental effects, but it is also true that it catalyzed forward-looking action at the local and state level. On climate and many other issues, we can make progress at the local level. Changes at the local level are community-based, immediate, and long-lasting.

To make change at the local level, we need to build strong relationships in our communities. For those of us working on public lands issues in Western North America, that means work with rural communities. Under the current political context, especially in the U.S., it is expedient to organize conservative and sportspeople groups. That’s important, but it’s not enough. To win at the longer game, we also need to build bridges to Latinx, First Nation and Tribal communities.

To build bridges we need to go beyond “using the voices” of these communities. We can’t just devise a power map, target constituencies, produce a grassroots activity, and then move on. That type of transactional organizing is not sustaining, and our fight is long term. The forces against us are too entrenched and well-funded; they are in it for the long term. If we want new members to stay involved, we need to give them an actual voice, and we need to show up for their causes too.

We need to be willing to expand our notion of what conservation means – to be more relevant to more people. We also need to connect to and capitalize on, the reform energy that exists beyond our specific issues. We must bring in and make room for the next generation of conservationists.

Highly-disciplined, structured and top-down approaches don’t work anymore. We had a sea change over the last decade or so with the coming of age of social media. Now more agile and dispersed communication and action is possible. We need to change our approach to organizing to take advantage of it.

We need new partners, new strategies and tactics, new messages and better storytelling, and importantly we need to look at the role of power and privilege, and how we deal with our unconscious bias. We need lasting relationships in our communities, along with strong and sustained organizations, and inspirational leaders.

An important strategy for deepening community relationships and expanding organizational effectiveness is to bring in more volunteers. Instead of bringing in new voices to use one time, actually bring them in to expand your team. Train volunteers to recruit and train more volunteers. Let these new voices speak loudly, in their own voice. Let newly engaged members truly expand us.

Katie Davis, TREC Associate, held a webinar on June 22 about how to recruit more volunteers, and move them up the Ladder of Engagement. By working with volunteers effectively, we can deepen our ties to our communities, strengthen and expand our organizations, and have a greater lasting impact.

Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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