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We need to organize

Here in the U.S., we are nearing the end of the first 100 days of the Trump Administration. It has been a rough ride, with lots of twists and turns. We have had some setbacks, but we’ve made a couple good stops too. And more is coming. I know our Canadian colleagues are watching closely too, and thinking about ramifications for them. It wasn’t long ago that Canadian groups faced a Federal Administration hostile to conservation. They had some successes by mobilizing the scientific community, First Nations and other allies. We have much to learn from their experience.

Over the last few months, I’ve heard lots of folks refer to our current situation in the U.S. as “the new political climate.” Let’s keep reminding ourselves that this election was not a moment in time when everything changed, where we slipped into some alternative reality. This political climate is not new. The underlying discontent and lack of unity are not new. For those who have faced hate and discrimination all along, what they are seeing and experiencing isn’t new.

Political climate doesn’t change based on a close election decided by the electoral college. Acting as if the election caused a new climate lets us off the hook. We are all responsible for the climate before, during, and after the election. And we all need to fix it now, not just wait for the next close election when if it goes the other way pretend that it is fixed.

If we want to change the political climate, we need to organize. We need to reach out and have hundreds, and then thousands of conversations. We need clear messages and a call to action, but we can’t just “talk at,” we need to listen too. Change requires an effort that is both sustained and inclusive.

The far right won their current position of power through organizing. They created a Tea Party movement and organized from the ground up. They organized civic actions; they ran for office; they formed alliances with businesses and churches. They had a hard job—to convince folks to vote against their own economic interests, and they won even though demographic trends were against them.

Now we need to get to work organizing, and I think our job, while still difficult, is easier. We can point to numerous immediate threats to things folks care about protecting. Conservation is in alignment with the actual values and interests of people. This means we can win the hearts and minds of people so that, even when the threat is gone, we’ll have their alliance long term. The far-right has gone to the extreme which leaves the massive middle up for grabs—by us!

Many of you have been organizing for decades. Others of you have just begun this work, creating new programs around engagement. Either way, these times are calling us to work in new ways. More than ever before, we need to listen and engage more people. We need to stretch to build bridges to communities that we haven’t worked with much in the past. And doing this outreach, engagement, and organizing is going to require us to change and grow as individuals and organizations.

I encourage all of you to participate in two of our upcoming webinars about organizing and engagement. The first on April 27 is Effective Community and Stakeholder Engagement which will cover how to effectively engage traditionally under-engaged communities in conservation decision-making. The second webinar on May 4; it is titled Staying True to Your Values While Reaching Across the Divide. In this webinar, we’ll talk about how to pursue relationship with people whose values don’t always align with your own.  Both webinars will be presented by Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin and Ava Holliday of the Avarna Group.

Thanks for all the work that you are doing to organize and to build bridges to new communities. Working together now, we can stop some of the current onslaught of attacks to conservation, and, at the same time, build a strong power base that will make us successful for years to come.

Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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