Two posts came to our attention today about the importance of local organizing. We can't get enough of that theme around here, so we're sharing both. Our friend Andy Hultgren, sent us the piece below, and then today, our friend Dave Roberts posted something with a similar conclusion on Grist.

Political Engagement at the Local Level

by Andy Hultgren

Let’s face it: the likelihood over the next few years of federal climate legislation in the U.S. does not look good right now.  And with the U.S. playing a key leadership role in international climate talks, this fact likely portends more delays and inaction at the international level. Yet, to maintain a reasonable chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, the world (and particularly the developed world) must reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, starting now.

With all these big needs for national and international policies and treaties, why talk about political engagement at the local (city) level? Three reasons. First, we simply don’t have time to wait any longer for our national governments to get their acts together. That, in and of itself, is an extremely important motivation. Second, state and national politicians are typically more comfortable advocating policies that they have seen “tested” on a smaller scale; and the people who elect them are more comfortable with those policies at a national or state level if they have already seen some of them on a local level (who knows, they might even start advocating for them). Third, while city-level policies are not as impactful as state and national policies, they are a whole lot easier to influence and change. And you have the potential to build a grassroots movement of an engaged and active electorate in the process.

This article is intended to help those who want to organize their community and change the way their local leaders view and respond to climate change, but who do not have a track record of engaging in their local politics. Part I provides a high-level overview of the process for engaging in your local politics (details like working with the media, community recruitment, etc. can be found at – focused on federal politics, but useful information) and is based on the advice and insight of seasoned veterans of community organizing and local political engagement. Part II provides a brief list of some sample policy actions to push for in your local community, just to get the creative juices flowing. And keep in mind, part of being an effective leader is leading by example. So, if you haven’t gotten started already, check this site out for some thoughts on how you can incorporate your advocacy into your personal life.

Please read on, and then get to work organizing for a cleaner, better future in your local community.
Part I: Local Political Engagement 101
This is a high-level overview of the process for engaging in your local politics, based on the experience of veteran community organizers , . Though it is brief, read this “step-by-step” guide carefully as it will help you think strategically about your efforts and avoid some common and damaging pitfalls.
1)    At all times, maintain a relationship of high standing and trust with the local community. The importance of this statement cannot be overrated.
a.    If you and your organization lose the trust of the community, community leaders and local politicians will not work with you and your efforts toward change will be frustrated. Period.
b.    Trust is built slowly, but will be gained through attraction to your conviction and integrity. Although your initial steps as an environmental activist and organizer may be modest, your vision must be extraordinary and powerful.  Motivate and inspire with your words and deeds. Practice the articulation of your environmental critique among fellow activists—does it encourage hope and strengthen resolve as well as call for immediate action?  Or does it sound more like an angry, relationally destructive tirade? You want to energize and mobilize others, especially the next generation, to follow your example. Teach them well.
c.    Astonish the public with skills of inclusion, especially regarding those who would not think of themselves as an “environmentalist” or “green.”  Remember, we live in times of deep division and mistrust. The more you prove yourself as a peacemaker, the more you will garner positive attention and volunteer support.
d.    Get a solid “win” as a team player (see point 2 below), however small it may seem, as soon as you can. Nothing breeds momentum and enthusiasm like an early success.
2)    Look for alliance opportunities with other non-profits.
a.    You are far more effective pooling resources and membership bases. And don’t just limit yourself to the traditionally “environmental” non-profits.  Invite to your planning meetings representatives of seemingly unrelated organizations—racial advocacy groups, churches, unions, immigration groups, etc.  Climate change is not simply an “environmental” issue; it has wide ranging social and economic implications. This, of course, presents an enormous problem, but it also presents a broad base of common ground upon which to build alliances. Forge agreements with alliance members on how different agendas can be advanced, respecting the fact that each different organization will come with its own valid agenda.  
b.    Example: Environmental racism (pollution and environmental degradation in minority communities – like the landfill on “the other side of the tracks”) is rarely an issue of concern, even for minorities who are most impacted! This is an opportunity to build a new alliance with local minority non-profits. Note how Van Jones, founder of Green for All in Oakland, brought together African American communities and activist environmental groups to create jobs and protect the earth.
3)    Build credibility, and the ability to ask for favors later.
a.    Approach the mayor’s office and find out what is on his/her environmental agenda, and what could use some volunteer “foot soldiers” to get it done.
i.    Don’t start with your agenda at this time. Right now you are focusing on building trust with the mayor and “earning a place at the table.”
ii.    “Foot soldier” work includes knocking on doors, handing out fliers, conducting surveys, getting the word out, building support.
b.    Help deliver a win for the mayor on that issue(s).
i.    When your alliance delivers a win, share the credit with other alliance members! Often, it is through these alliance relationships that financing and opportunities can begin to multiply, as your organization begins to be seen as a valuable team-player in the community.
c.    Work with the mayor to bring your alliance’s agenda and ideas to the table, in a way that maintains trust and credibility.
i.    Consider starting with a brief description of the climate crisis we are currently in [the basics, details, details with graphs].
ii.    Act according to the level of trust built. Don’t ask for too much too fast, but be clear about the ultimate needs of the community and planet.
iii.    Sample policy ideas are provided in Part II below.
d.    Repeat points (3a) through (3c), while keeping in mind point (1) above.
Part II: Policy Ideas for Local Politics
These are some climate change policy ideas relevant to the city/county level of government. They are roughly listed in increasing order of complexity and “reach” – and the last suggestions are really asking a lot from you local leadership! (Translation: as tempting as it may be, don’t start there.)
1)    Sign the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, likely reduced energy expenses, air pollution, and reliance on foreign oil
ii.    Likely improved energy independence, local health and wellbeing, and job creation
b.    For more information:
2)    Improved bicycle infrastructure, such as dedicated bike paths, bike lanes on roadways, signage reminding drivers to “share the road”
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduces vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT), thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, gasoline expenditures, and reliance on foreign oil;
ii.    Improves health of community members as they cycle more often, can create jobs
b.    For more information: economic, environmental, and health benefits (scroll down), barriers to cycling in communities
3)    Building code reformation requiring energy efficient residential and commercial buildings; can be phased in to be increasingly more stringent over time
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduces energy usage, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, and energy expenses
ii.    Increases energy independence
b.    For more information: Energy codes information for advocates and policymakers, Top Ten Reasons for Building Energy Codes, Everything you want to know about energy codes in your state, Introduction to ASHRAE Code Recommendations
4)    Code and zoning reformation encouraging high-density housing and mixed use (commercial and residential) development
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduces vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT), thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, gasoline expenditures, and reliance on foreign oil;
ii.    Improves health and wellbeing of community members as they walk more often and develop increasingly local networks of relationships
b.    For more information: Sustainable Urban Development Resource Guide (especially the “Sustainable Zoning” section), Commercial and Mixed-Use Development Code Handbook, Healthy Zoning Regulations, EPA Making Smart Growth Happen , example: Sustainable Code Revision Project in Salt Lake City, Utah
5)    Code and zoning reformation encouraging residential renewable energy, residential water conservation, residential gray water applications, residential gardens and livestock (chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs)
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduces greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution (as furnaces are replaced), water infrastructure investments by the city (at water treatment facilities), and energy, water, and food expenditures
ii.    Increases clean energy and energy independence, health and wellbeing of the community (healthy food)
b.    For more information: Gray Water Policy Center, The Greywater Alliance, Examples of Chicken Laws, Urban Agriculture Basics, Sustainable Food in Portland, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Codes (plus see references for Point 3 above for more on codes and renewables)
6)    Energy efficiency/renewable energy revolving loan fund, offering low/no interest rate loans
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduces greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, and energy expenditures
ii.    Increases energy independence, renewable energy generation, and job creation; funds are “recycled” so each dollar allocated to the fund is multiplied many times over the lifetime of the fund (as loans are repaid the money can be loaned out again)
b.    For more information: State and Municipal Revolving Loan Funds
7)    Renewable energy feed-in tariff, paying owners of renewable energy installations a “bonus” per kWh of electricity generated; decisively demonstrated to increase installations of renewable energy (in Germany)
a.    Benefits:
i.    Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution, reduced energy expenditures
ii.    Improved air quality, increased energy independence, job creation
b.    For more information: Everything you want to know about Feed-In Tariffs, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Policymaker’s Guide to Feed-In Tariffs,
c.    Note: this would be asking a lot from your mayor/city council!!
8)    Carbon tax (the city of San Francisco and others have pulled this off)
a.    Some notes on this one:
i.    If proposing this at all, expect to start at something like $0.10 per metric ton CO2; but make your initial proposal higher, say $1 to $10 per metric ton CO2
ii.    Start only with CO2 emissions and not other GHGs, and only for large sources within city/county limits (consider using the new EPA GHG Mandatory Reporting Rule to initially define a “large source”)
iii.    Propose that funds raised be put into a renewable energy and energy efficiency revolving loan as described in point (6) above
iv.    You are asking for nothing short of a revolution by pushing for this and are asking for a mammoth commitment from your mayor and city council!
b.    Benefits:
i.    Your mayor will be seen as one of the greenest city/county mayors in the nation. Period. (Lots of publicity and great political cred. in a very liberal/green city, county, and/or state).
ii.    Reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution, reduced energy expenses (as organizations respond to the tax by increasing efficiency, and as funds are used to deploy renewable energy and energy efficiency)
iii.    Funds generated can be used to increase renewable energy deployment and energy efficiency, increase energy independence, and create jobs (note, this means I do not believe a carbon tax should be completely revenue-neutral with funds returned to the public. Rather these funds should be used to reduce GHG emissions, especially at the municipal level where smaller amounts of funds will be collected);
iv.    Funds are “recycled” multiple times over the lifetime of the fund (see point (6) above) and the overall fund grows annually from carbon tax collections
c.    For more information: Carbon Tax Center, British Columbia (Canada) Carbon Tax, San Francisco Carbon Tax, City of Boulder Carbon Tax, Montgomery County Carbon Tax
Andy Hultgren is a project manager specializing in greenhouse gas and sustainability consulting services. He has served as the Climate Change Specialist for numerous Federal NEPA decision-making processes and has helped dozens of local governments and private businesses assess and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. He can be reached at [email protected].  

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