A week ago, responding to a comment on my "environmental church" post, I argued that the environmental movement needs to change its focus, emphasize the positive, and skip the negative. I wrote: "People just don't care. Scaring them hasn't worked. They either don't believe it, assume it will be fixed without their aid or, as Break Through and Michelle Verges suggest, feel scared and therefore less likely to make political changes." I later admitted that my statement was, in fact, a misstatement.
I do believe that people care. While I do not think the majority of the population would rank global warming ahead of most other issues, progress is being made. I see more and more bikers on the road (though certainly some are motivated by gas prices). My neighbor fired her gardener and purchased a push mower. A close friend switched to reusable containers for lunch and snack, leaving Ziplocks in the dust. One of my sisters just adopted chickens and the other is ditching bottled water.
All this progress, however, is occurring primarily on the lifestyle front. The environment is still a wall flower when it comes to politics. The media rarely questions presidential candidates about global warming and voters' top issues remain the economy and the war. How, then, can we channel the urge to lighten our personal footstep into footsteps toward Capitol Hill? Why is it that people storm the farmers' market but don't show up to city council meetings?
In "Building Our Church," I opined that green groups need to focus on making what meetings they have more uplifting and less frightening. They need to set up engagements to get folks engaged, switch from petitions to potlucks and thereby build a community of members who are connected with one another. All of those things do need to be done. But there is more. Environmental organizations also need to learn to ask for help, to open up meaningful opportunities for volunteership and allow members to become invested in the movement.
A year ago, when I first "woke up" and realized that I couldn't wish global warming away, I eagerly signed up with a local green group. Their web site promised social gatherings and opportunities for involvement. As the months went by, I awaited their response or an invitation to take action, to get out of my house and connect with like-minded people in a battle to save the world. Aside from requests to sign a petition and donate money, the invitation never came.
I stopped waiting and starting taking action where I could: in my own home. I switched to full loads in cold water, canvas bags and CFL bulbs, a bike, the farmers' market. I shrunk my energy use to about 30% of the average Americans'. Even so, I, and virtually every eco-blogger out there, acknowledged that, as meaningful and rewarding as my lifestyle changes were, they would not be enough. Saving the planet requires something more.
It requires community action.
So I tried, in my fumbling manner, to create a green community where none previously existed. I wanted to connect with those who thought similarly. If the green group I signed up with months back wouldn't offer connections, then dammit, I would make my own. I reached out to the virtual community through this blog. I set up a book club focusing on green books. I got to know the green moms group several cities over - if only by email and Yahoo groups. I hosted a buying club. Little by little, I got to know other people who also cared about the planet. I attended meetings, shared laughter and local wine and became part of a community. I became invested. I did what the green group would not.
Or so I thought.
Then, overwhelmed with commitments, I let an ecological website's request for detailed information about the green book club languish in my in box. I sent a couple of apologetic emails, laden with excuses but no real information. Finally, it hit me. I did not have the capacity to respond to this request. I was too busy. I had overcommitted myself in too many different ways (all involving "the green movement" or lifestyle changes). I debated pulling the plug on the project and, then, decided to seek help. I sent an email to my book club, asking if any one could gather the requested information. A regular attendee of the meetings immediately, and joyfully, responded. She would be happy to handle it. She was looking forward to getting more involved.
Buoyed by my success and still drowning under commitments, I next sent an email to my buying club members. I could no longer host. Could anyone else? I hoped for one response. I got eight. Those eight then set up a system where each volunteer hosts in increments before turning the responsibilities and coolers over to the next host. The new hosts were happy to share the load, to take action in procuring locally grown, sustainably produced food. All will benefit, too, from getting to know other members while coordinating hosting duties, and likely will feel satisfied that they making a difference.
Because I asked for help, shared opportunities for involvement, I offered these people a chance for fulfillment, connection with others, a sense of purpose, and a spur to take further action. I let these people become invested, not just in the buying or book club, but in the green movement as a whole. Due to their investment, they will likely look for or create other opportunities for involvement, more actively promote their green lifestyle and be more willing to speak up for their beliefs.
If we, who found groups, attend meetings and live active green lives, do not ask for help, do not provide interested others with real and fulfilling opportunities for investment, we are the ones who are missing the opportunity. The "masses" we have been waiting for are here. They are clamoring to be let in, to be given a map and told how to make a difference. If we only open the door and ask them to lend a hand.