Highlights – Organizing Cools the World

Many of the ideas, frameworks, and tools in this booklet come from organizations we have learned from in our journeys. This includes but is not limited to: Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project, Training for Change, the Ruckus Society, Beyond the Choir, Climate Justice Now!, Mobilization for Climate Justice West, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Rising Tide. We encourage all who find these tools useful to check out the work of these outstanding groups.  Others who directly helped with this are: Maryam Adrangi, Mel Bazil, May Boeve, Patrick Bond, Doyle Canning, Gopal Dayeneni, Michael Dorsey, Carol Duong, Madeline Gard- ner, Jihan Gearon, Tom Goldtooth, Jamie Henn, Ben Holtzman, Cathy Kunkel, Sharon Lungo, Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, Tadzio Muller, Ana Orozco, Payal Parekh, Scott Parkin, Diana Pei Wu, Carla Pérez, Anne Petermann, Ben Powless, Patrick Reinsbor- ough, Rafter Sass, Levana Saxon, Emily Simons, Matt Smucker, David Solnit, Brian Tokar, Jessica Tovar, Kevin Van Meter, Dave Vasey, and Ian Vitteri.

This booklet is:

  • A starting We hope these ideas will be quickly deepened or replaced by our peers as we expand and extend this conversation.
  • An articulation of a political framework (Climate Justice) to understand some of the challenges we face and respond to them. It isn’t static. It isn’t the only useful framework in addressing climate change, But while the parameters and definitions of Climate Justice are in flux, we are articulating the current framework we’ve been operating with at the moment.
  • An organizing tool that groups and individuals can use to navigate the North American Climate Justice movement led by impacted communities (primarily low income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous peoples).
  • An honest reflection on the political frameworks, ideas, and practices climate activists have used, and how they have fared in making change around How do our models look in real life? Are they working?
  • A set of tools and insights that are reflective of our personal journeys, limited by our own experience and
  • Intended for organizers who are having similar challenges to We’re writing for people like us.

This booklet is NOT:

  • Trying to tell anyone else how to organize their community or create some new standard of ethical purity or unachievable set of ideals that don’t play out in the nitty-gritty real world we live
  • A 101 breakdown of climate science or how climate change
  • A comprehensive international policy
  • A deep engagement of the active debates around “what is climate justice?”: its evolving definition, “who owns it,” its misuses,
  • A set of universally applicable formulas, rules, or dogmas that can be applied in any context, handed down from “experts.”

The World as We See It

The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.

—Antonio Gramsci

Two days before the manuscript for this booklet was due, Japan had the largest earthquake in its history, pushing tsunami waves across the entire Pacific Ocean.4 The earthquake shifted Japan’s coastline eight feet and tilted the whole Earth’s axis.5 This year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded the highest land temperatures in human history, yet again. Immediate effects include fifteen thousand heat deaths in Russia, accompanied by record wildfires devastating crops and skyrocketing prices of corn and wheat.6 Record droughts have ravaged Pakistan. In Latin America, record rain- falls washed away entire mountainsides. While the two of us refuse to be paralyzed by the end-of-the-world-mongers, it is undeniable that we’re living in exponential times.

But digging up all the carbon Mother Nature sequestered underground and burning it for energy didn’t just happen. It was the result of (many intentional choices, both in governmental and private sectors) and an ever-expanding global economy. Turns out, it’s impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet. The basic logic in our economic system is bursting.

Just as the climate crisis is one symptom of our current economic system, we’re facing other ecological crises too: fisheries are collapsing, species are disappearing faster than the last great extinction, drinkable water is vanishing… The climate crisis is just one expansive element of many overlapping crises associated with the collapse of the ecological systems that support life on this planet. In fact, we’re living during a period of the most rapid transformation in human history on all facets of life: technological7, political, cultural, ecological, economic…

Okay. That’s a bit overwhelming. But it’s clear that stoking our cultural fear of some “doomsday” in the future is not useful for building organizations, community, and mobilizing people to create a livable future; or for preventing the worst impacts of runaway climate chaos.  While there are studies that connect global warming with increased seismic activity, we include it here not because the Japanese earthquake was necessarily the direct result of climate change, but because it reminds us of the power of Mother Nature. As the death toll rises, it underscores the need for resilient communities in the face of increased disasters. As Japan now faces the threat of nuclear crisis, Naomi Klein reminds us that no energy that can poison entire populations during disasters is “clean.” A turbulent future needs nontoxic energy.

People often talk of climate change as a single apocalyptic event that may happen in the future; either humanity averts it, or we do not. The reality is that the impacts of climate change have been happening for quite a while to peoples across the planet and are now increasing in their number, severity, and location. In fact, climate destabilization accelerates and amplifies the other crises that marginalized people have been dealing with for generations.8

Therefore, we see our main challenge as finding ways to navigate the multiple crises that are already changing our lives. What we do next will determine the scale and the scope of our transition. When we think about it that way, having hope at the center of our work makes sense in the face of such overwhelming odds.

So if collapses are already here, and we see more and more coming, our question isn’t whether we can “solve the climate crisis,” but how do we navigate change? Will there be justice on the other side? That is our work together. That is where we find vi- sion and inspiration.

Liberation struggles throughout history have always been urgent. They have al- ways been life-or-death, but each have had their own timeline.9 For example, if you are working to decolonize your country from a European occupier, you fight until you win. The ecological crisis we face has that dimension, plus a science-based timeline that we can’t negotiate with. What we do in the next two years will determine the landscape for the next ten years, which will determine the landscape for the next one hundred years.10

No pressure.

Because of this timeline imposed on us by Nature (and revealed by science), so- cial movements must ask new questions that we wouldn’t be asking if we had all the time we wanted. Because ecological collapse is embedded in all aspects of life on this planet, we need to think about scale in new ways. Social movements need to make unlikely alliances that we wouldn’t otherwise make. We therefore need a political compass with which to navigate these choices in a strategic and principled way.

This booklet is an effort to tune that compass for the task ahead of all of us. We hope it will be useful to you too, in locating yourself and your work in relation to the expanding North American Climate Justice movement.

The least likely future is one in which things stay the same. One way or another, the existing culture and economy will need to shift to meet the ecological disruptions it is causing.


We may face a scorched and lifeless earth. But they’re accountable to their shareholders first. That’s how the world works.


  • Such as access to food, clothing, housing, and education; freedom of migration and mobility; and freedom from war, racial profiling, or police
  • We can learn from recent global mass struggles that had political For example, in the 1980s under Reagan, the threat of nuclear war was perceived as likely and imminent. Successful mass movements for nuclear disarmament brought about deep and long-ranging human and ecological impacts.
  • Unfortunately, some groups have mistaken the urgency of our crisis as a reason to abandon a commitment to the long-haul effort of transformative social For more on the “Emergency- Mode Trojan Horse” see page 21.




Some of those in power are squinting over these turbulent, unpredictable waters along with us, wondering how to make it across. Corporations are finding ways to fleece our crises, proposing schemes to make money from our disasters and calling them “climate solutions.” Pentagon projections focus on new kinds of warfare in a resource-depleted landscape driven by climate chaos.11 It’s clear that the business- as-usual crowd is thinking about scale in this transition. Their main motivation is to keep the big “status quo” ship sailing through the storm, maintaining their own wealth and power as much as they can. The “status quo” is dynamic and adaptive.

Unlike the power-holders, when we gaze across the rough sea, our motivation is to create the most equitable and just lifeboats possible, so we can all live well through what will be a bumpy ride. Our task is to navigate change differently than those in power.










Find your frontline12 — Align it with others’

Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk.

—Dolores Huerta

We’re still wrestling with our own particular roles inside movements for social change in general, and understanding the framework of “climate justice” in particu- lar. Unsatisfied with the notions of “solidarity” (though we also do solidarity work) or the identity of “ally” (though we also consider ourselves allies13) that used to offer us clarity, we searched for a way to think of our work that can holistically capture the nuance of our moment.

We are part of a community of practice that has been thinking through use- ful ways to understand these concepts, and we owe a lot to the ideas of our peers and mentors. The thinking in this section is drawn heavily from contributions from grassroots organizers involved in the 2010 U.S. Social Forum EcoJustice People’s Movement Assembly14 process, the “CJ in the USA: Root-Cause Remedies, Rights, Reparations, and Representation statement,”15 the “Grassroots Organizing Cools the Planet” open letter16 (inspired by La Via Campesina’s slogan “Small Farmers Cool the Planet’), the work of Movement Generation,17 Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and others who have been making thoughtful contributions to how we articulate our challenge.

The fact is that climate change does affect everybody. We believe that in order to build a popular movement, we need to reach out to everyone we can to help them understand the ways that their own lives are impacted by the crisis, and that there are real ways to take action. Therefore we need to start by helping people name their own impact. But as organizers, we need to take a step back first, and understand the context we’re operating in. The slogan “We’re all in this together” is true but mislead- ing: climate change certainly doesn’t affect everybody equally.

Environmental Justice

Our framework starts by honoring the roots of the U.S. Environmental Justice (EJ)

movement18 and how it has contributed to Climate Justice. While we all have a stake in a livable planet, the insight that EJ offers the world is understanding disproportionate



impact.19 The Environmental Justice sense of “impact,” is how racism and poverty determine which communities choke on exhaust from incinerators, refineries,  or which communities have their land razed and resources taken to power U.S. cities. Those of us who have the luxury of turning on our lights and not thinking about where that power came from have a lot of privilege at the expense of others. That privilege determines which communities don’t suffer from skyrocketing rates of asthma or leukemia, rare cancers, and other manifestations of toxic dumping, spewing, and pumping.


When we move from Environmental Justice to Climate Justice, the ways we think

about impact become much broader. We’re not just focusing on root causes of point- source pollution or heavy metals in the water supply; we’re taking a step back and looking at other parts of the broader climate crisis, too. From that vantage point, frontlines are all around us, and the “win” is transformation of the economy and our relationships.

Ways you are impacted might be…

  • Your sister or brother is stationed in the ongoing occupation of Iraq or another war to secure fossil fuel
  • You live in California where two nuclear power plants are sited on fault lines, just like
  • You are a U.S.-born child of undocumented immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona, facing deportation. You find there are some out-of-touch environmentalists using “resource consumption” and population growth as an argument in support of inhumane anti-immigration
  • Your family has worked in the Michigan auto industry for generations, but no one in your town can find those jobs since they’ve been outsourced to the global
  • You live on the coast of Maine and the fisheries that have sustained your family for generations are no longer
  • You are a union teacher in Wisconsin who just lost your collective bargaining rights under the pretence of “balancing the budget” in a recession driven by chronic
  • You live in a place like Las Vegas, which will have a watershed that is incapable of supporting its population in the foreseeable
  • You live in the Gulf Coast and the oil spills have destroyed your family’s ability to fish for a

As we can see, not all “impact” is equal or the same, but when we look at the economic and political roots of the climate crisis, we can all find ways we’re affected.


For now, let’s define “community” loosely as a group of people. We’ll zoom in to

some of the different kinds of communities and the ways organizers relate to them on page 27.

  • Common examples of “EJ communities” are those suffering near coal mines, oil refineries, or uranium mines, and communities in areas prone to the droughts, famines, floods, and hurricanes that come with climate change who additionally face institutional neglect (like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina).




The  reason  we differentiate

between “frontline” communities and “impacted” communities is an added layer of action. Frontline communities are directly impacted communities

who have been able to collectively name the ways they are burdened and are

organizing for action together.

Frontline Solutions

Organizing for action doesn’t just mean stopping the bad stuff. We  believe in build-

ing a movement that lifts up, and leads with, climate solutions from the frontlines. The communities most directly impacted on the frontlines are not only dealing with the brunt of the problem, but are also best equipped with the knowledge   and skills to chart the way forward. For example, the cycle of globalized industrial extraction, production, consumption and waste, also produces chronic food inse- curity. Over one billion people struggling to afford more than one meal a day are mostly small farming communities that know best how to feed people, in their own context. Such traditional farming techniques remain sustainable and viable when freed from the stranglehold of the global economy. This doesn’t mean that front- line communities “have all the answers” or can offer a one-size-fits-all solution to a global crisis, but it does mean that when building viable solutions, we don’t need to start from scratch. Humans have known how to live in balance with their environ- ment for the majority of our history, and many still do today. Furthermore, because frontline communities are by definition organized, they are in a position to apply their knowledge to the problem.20

Tuning Our Political Compass:

  • How can taking inspiration from frontline solutions inform your

own solutions where you live?

  • How do we think about the scale of our solutions to make a credible case in closing the door to geoengineering21 and other

proposals that make our problem worse?

  • There are lots of community solutions everywhere you look, but often people don’t see How can we connect them into a broader popular narrative that is accessible and compelling?

Learning from these communities helps all of us envision what genuine solutions look like in our own communities and gives us inspiration to build them. That’s why there’s room for everybody in this movement. We need everybody in this movement if we’re going to navigate the transition. But it does mean that our roles are different

  • For example, forest-dwelling Indigenous communities that are negatively impacted by false so- lutions like offsetting schemes have been attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to advocate real solutions based on their unique knowledge inherited from genera- tions of forest
  • The Group recently put out an excellent primer on geoengineering that you can download at http://  www.etcgroup.org/en/issues/geoengineering



depending on our impact. So what happens if I am not from an “EJ community” or a place that fits traditional notions of what a “frontline community” is? What’s my role in this work?

Find Your Frontline

My role becomes clearer if I find my frontline. Figure out the material and systemic

impact that climate change has on me and my community, name it, and get organized around it.

Maybe that’s where I should take action—and maybe not. Everyone has a front- line, but not all frontlines are equally strategic.

Here’s an example. Both of us writing this booklet have been relatively insu- lated from skyrocketing food prices or toxic emissions from the polluting industries that are screwing up our planet, and we can see that that very insulation has shifted burden further on the poor. But we also know that eventually water insecurity will hit us. In that case, that particular frontline may not feel so urgent that it’s con- straining our immediate choices today. Maybe the best way to serve our own com- munities—to intervene on our frontlines—is to throw down directly with other folks on their frontline.

The mantra “think globally, act locally” works for individual action but quickly breaks down when we’re thinking about systematic change, since not all localities are equally relevant to the global economy. Instead, Climate Justice calls on us to “think structurally, act strategically” (though it may not be as catchy on a bumper sticker).22 Therefore, if your frontline doesn’t offer immediate action opportunities (or if they are not impactful at this moment), you need to align it with  other frontlines.

Taking Action: Aligning Your Frontline with Others’

If “finding your frontline” is about your relation to impact, “aligning your front-

line” is about the relationship to our political moment. It is fundamentally about


We can assess that some frontline fights are critical to all other struggles, and can help us all change the game. For example, coal is a key piece of the fossil fuel puzzle. Right now there is a critical fight happening in Appalachia around ending mountaintop removal coal mining. If it’s won, many other struggles become a little bit easier.23 The same can be said for the current union fights for collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Ask yourself or your group:

  • What does our frontline have in common with another frontline that we want to align ourselves with?
  • What is different about our relation to impact?
  • What is our common ground politically? Where can we collaborate?
  • How do our differences build barriers? How can we navigate and overcome these barriers?


  • Slogan inspired by Patrick
  • Of course this is a simplification: the impact on other sectors or fossil fuel struggles also depends on how this fight is



A key piece of this strategic assessment is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to do alone. That’s why “finding your frontline” starts with naming your impact and work- ing in a group. With a group, you can assess your capacity and priorities much more effectively than an individual drifting in the stormy sea. Our political landscape is shifting, offering us different pressure points, where we have unique opportunities, or where our opponents are particularly vulnerable. Even though many local com- munities each have their own priorities and urgent fights they must focus on,24 we all need common strategic frameworks to move together or collectively assess critical moments25 that need national or international solidarity. That is why interlocking action is grounded in community organizing, but certainly not limited to it. There are many large-scale flashpoints which require other complimentary avenues for action.26

Solidarity Organizing

If you have come to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

—Lila Watson

When you align your organizing with someone else’s frontline, you’re practicing a form of “solidarity.” Solidarity organizing isn’t one-directional. We don’t practice solidarity just because we’re ideologically committed to it; we practice solidarity because it’s strategic. Instead of trying to motivate our peers through altruism, we help them understand that this is the way we can win. This helps us move beyond patterns of paternalism—i.e. those with resources “helping” those who do not. It’s when the solidarity activist is unrooted, disconnected from their own history or impact, that the worst patterns of appropriation, arrogance, or savior complexes rear their ugly heads. You need to know who you are in order to work well with those dif- ferent from you. You will be effective to the degree that you understand how your frontline relates to others. The process of “alignment” is the painstaking work of organizing—taking into account strategy, power, privilege, access, impact, difference, similarity, trust—but it produces a movement in which we’re not acting on behalf of one another; we can take meaningful action in an interlocking way.






  • Many directly impacted frontline communities do not have the luxury of choosing their Their battlefields are chosen for them by circumstance and injustice.
  • In addition to the mobilizations in Wisconsin and Indiana around collective bargaining occur- ring at the time of this writing, other recent critical movement flashpoints have included fighting anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona in the summer of 2009, or internationally at the Copenhagen COP15 UN Climate These moments often forecast the future or set the tone for the country as a whole.
  • This could include going after various points in the fossil fuel chain of destruction, corporate ac- countability, federal policy work, local institution building, national media spectacle, local policy,


Here are some examples of what we mean:

In my work at the U.N. Climate Negotiations I’ve been working    from the frontline of Youth. Most of the “adult” negotiators (from the  Northern  countries)  at  these  conferences  are  debating policy that they will frankly not live long enough to suffer  the impacts from (and are otherwise insulated from anyway). But young people will still be around to deal with the consequences   of bad policy. Young people have been engaging these spaces to say “our future is not negotiable.” And after finding that frontline, my work has been to help align youth in working in solidarity with frontline communities. This means communities in the North and the South who are going to be impacted much more than many of the “International Youth Delegates” and who have clarity about the policies they’re advocating for. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the youth organizers to act from  their position as a moral voice,  to support the demands and priorities of the frontline groups who are attending and speaking out at these conferences: the peoples’ movements from the Global South, the Indigenous networks and organizations from the North, the Environmental Justice community reps, etc. “Finding the frontline” of youth does not mean pretending that simply being young means you should be in the leadership of the movement, it means you understand your common cause with others and serve the needs of organized frontline groups. This is often a painstaking and difficult process, as many youth voices are not advocating a Climate Justice agenda. Therefore my role is to

help amplify and align youth around this agenda.

To be honest, I stumbled into my frontline somewhat unintentionally.Ididn’tplanitout,butIstuckwithitbecauseitmade sense  given  my  commitments.  My  work  with  the  Mobilization for Climate Justice West helped clarify my political analysis, particularly around the  importance  of  community  resilience.  I grew up in California where punk rock subcultures gave my life foundational meaning. Through punk rock,  my  relationship  to place became politicized, particularly  around  gentrification  and how the subcultural spaces that I find so meaningful in my life can pose serious threats to the viability of communities to be stable through change. Thinking about how I perpetuate gentrification, as well as fight against it, is a central piece of my role in my community. It’s one of my frontlines. I’ve stayed with MCJW because it gives me the opportunity to support similar struggles across the Bay  Area (i.e. the Latino/a community fighting gentrification in the Mission District of San Francisco). MCJW has also shown me that gentrification is a housing and human rights crisis that resonates with climate refugees across the world. Living in the Bay Area is a considerable privilege, in that I am able to draw my frontline and

align it with community-based organizations already taking up this work with an ecological, systemic lens.



If our task is to navigate change, then what we’re really doing is assessing a shifting political moment to turn the increasing fractures in business-as-usual into interlock- ing frontlines.

We’ve begun this booklet by saying that we’re writing for people like us, who are trying to align our frontlines and find smarter ways to organize and help build a Climate Justice movement. So far we hope we’ve clarified who “we” are, and what it means for us to be thinking about our “roles.” Next, we need to define what we mean by “Climate Justice.”


What an intense writing process this is becoming.



We’ve been sort of doing it backwards, by writing a booklet’s worth of reflections and ideas and then figuring out what connects it all. initially “find your frontline” was a brief paragraph, and now it’s clear that it is the central idea that holds

everything together!


Thankfully we’ve had people  like  Gopal from Movement Generation to talk with us and help clarify and develop the concept.



Totally. Movement Generation coined it, after all. It was really useful to have Gopal clarify that “finding your frontline” is an aspirational idea. Not all of our work fits inside it. It’s not even fully laid out here, but we’re glad we can open up space for others to build

on it and try it on.


We need to jump a little more into the climate justice political framework for it to fully make sense.



Lets go!










These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that, despite the powers and principalities bent on com- modifying all our human relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs

People are taking action on climate change in all sorts of ways, from federal green jobs bills to international debates around ecological debt to reparations. Since “climate” has become a banner for a wide variety of intersecting issues and problems, “Climate Justice” has emerged as a particular way of understanding problems, solutions, and pathways for change. While Climate Justice is not the only useful framework to engage the ecological crisis, it is especially meaningful when it is used as a specific framework, not as a vague marriage of the concepts of “justice” and “climate action.”


Climate Justice is not a static concept. It’s still evolving as we write this.27 Climate Justice is a fluid framework developed by social movements around the world, with identifiable roots from the movements whose shoulders we stand on. Instead of writ- ing our own definition of Climate Justice, we’d like to offer a few definitions that others have posed that have contributed to our understanding and the national conversation:

From Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative:

Roots in Environmental Justice: “Climate Justice is a vision to dissolve and alleviate the unequal burdens created by climate change. As a form of environmental justice, climate justice is the fair treatment of all people and freedom from discrimination with the creation of policies and projects that address climate change and the systems that create climate change and perpetuate  discrimination.”

From Demanding Climate Justicesectionof Hoodwinkedinthe Hothouse, publishedby Rising Tide North America:28

Climate Justice as Evaluative Model: “Climate Justice is a struggle over land, forest, water, culture, food sovereignty, collective and social rights; it is a struggle that considers “justice” at the basis of any solution; a struggle that supports climate solutions found in the practices and knowledge of those already fighting to protect and defend their livelihoods and the environment; a struggle that insists on a genuine systematic transformation in order to

  • For some of the most recent peoples’ statements on Climate Justice, see the Final Declaration of the Social Movements Assembly at the World Social Forum 2011, February 10, Dakar, Senegal, http://grassrootsclimatesolutions.net/node/955
  • The authors of the piece cited are Movement Generation, Carbon Trade Watch, and Rising



tackle the real causes of climate change… Climate Justice addresses four key themes: root causes, rights, reparations and participatory democracy.”

From Global Justice Ecology Project:

Climate Justice as Global Justice: “The historical responsibility for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions lies with the industrialized countries of the Global North. Even though the primary responsibility of the North to reduce emissions has been recognized in the UN Climate Convention, the production and consumption habits of industrialized countries like the United States continue to threaten the survival of humanity and biodiver- sity globally. It is imperative that the North urgently shifts to a low carbon economy. At the same time, in order to avoid the damaging carbon intensive model of industrialization, countries of the Global South are entitled to re- sources and technology to make a transition to a low-carbon economy that does not continue to subject them to crushing poverty. Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisherfolk, and especially women in these communi- ties, have been able to live harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are now not only the most affected by climate change, but also the most affected by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon offset schemes.”

From Indigenous Environmental Network:

Four Principles for Climate Justice:29 “Industrialized society must redefine its relationship with the sacredness of Mother Earth”

  1. Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground
  2. Demand Real and Effective Solutions
  3. Industrialized – Developed Countries Take Responsibility
  4. Living in a Good Way on Mother Earth

We encourage you to read the full descriptions of these principles, and we want to high- light the fourth one, “Living in a Good Way on Mother Earth.” Indigenous peoples have offered an analysis around our human disconnection from Nature as a key element of ecological collapse. This approach has been recently advocated inside the United Nations by Bolivia’s concept of “buen vivir,”30 an Indigenous principle of living in dynamic balance with each other and the Earth.31 As part of the feedback process in writing this booklet, Tom Goldtooth from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) shared with us the Dakota Indigenous concept of “Mitakuye Owasin,” which means, “We are all related.” He elaborates, “It is about humanity restructuring its relationships to the sacredness of Mother Earth, to community and to nature. The industrialized world has removed humanity from nature that requires a need for organizers to be intentional on restorative justice strategies on reframing our relationship to the Circle of Life, Mother Earth and our cosmovision.”



A few assumptions across all of these definitions are:

  • Rights-based framework: using a rights-based framework in organizing means advocating not just for individual liberties, but for collective rights of groups such as Indigenous In the United States in particular, we are accustomed to thinking that individual rights are protected by the government or enshrined in international human rights laws.32 But Tom Goldtooth explains that this framework has been part of “colonial mindset that has disregarded the self-determination and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including our right to own and control our lands, territories and resources, our right to free, prior and informed consent, our cultural identity, and other issues.” He tells us, “the big push for the last twenty years for Indigenous peoples in the U.S. and globally in our organizing is pushing for our collective rights as peoples (with the ‘s’), as a fundamental way to have self determination.”33

Tom gives us this example: The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights state that all peoples have the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” But because the term “peoples” is nonspecific, its application has been in dispute. National governments op- pose use of the term “peoples” in regards to Indigenous peoples because they fear its association with the right of secession and independent statehood. To this day, govern- ment policies threaten the basic existence of Indigenous peoples. In international dis- cussions, organized Indigenous groups have consistently argued for the development of new international documents addressing the specific needs of the world’s Indigenous peoples. This is why IEN and other climate justice activists support the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).34 The Declara- tion sets the minimum international standards for the protection and promotion of the rights of Indigenous peoples. It is a declaration and therefore not legally binding unless organizers can support campaigns for the full implementation of UNDRIP within their national governments. Tom warns us that “if the Declaration is not implemented, Indig- enous peoples will continue to be oppressed, marginalized and exploited within mitiga- tion and adaptation measures of domestic and international climate change polices.”

Gopal Dayeneni from Movement Generation described to us further how a rights-based framework is leveraged in our day-to-day political organizing: “When we do local or regional organizing, we can advance collective rights and unenumer- ated rights, such as the Rights of Nature or the Rights of Mother Earth, as frameworks for policy and action. Rights do not have to be recognized or ratified by the U.S. gov- ernment for us to know, intuitively, that they are rights—or to build consciousness, policy, and action in our communities that protect and advance those rights.”

  • Justice as central: In this context, justice means that communities who have suffered at the expense of our planet-trashing economy do not suffer in order for
  • Such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human December 10, 1948.
  • This was made quite plain to Joshua when speaking to Jonathan Pershing, the lead S. negotiator at the UN Climate talks in 2008 in Poland, who said that the U.S. would not sign onto any climate treaty that recognizes Indigenous peoples (plural) instead of people (singular), because the implications for U.S. domestic policy when addressing Native American land rights and treaties would shift dramatically.
  • After taking more than twenty years to draft and agree, on June 29, 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the



carbon-reductions to occur. Climate Justice is compelling because we do not simply hold up “justice” as a moral obligation, but as a pragmatic pathway forward. Many of the communities who have been left out of “development” have maintained eco- logical stewardship and lived in balance for centuries. Climate solutions that are not populist and serving the needs of disenfranchised peoples will fail. Conversely, climate solutions that serve the needs of those most affected will benefit everyone.

  • “Emergency Mode” Trojan Horse: Climate Justice looks at the scale of the crisis with open We have no illusions about how urgent and massive our challenges are. Yet, it is also underpinned by the long-view approach to social transformation. The mentality of “urgency and crisis” is often misused as an excuse to ignore justice concerns and make unprincipled compromises that affect the most marginalized communities. In this sense, it was used to justify a Kerry-Boxer climate bill in 2009 that actually made the problem worse with huge giveaways to the oil and gas industry, or the Copenhagen Accord that the United States used to hijack the democratic pro- cess in the United Nations Conference of Parties in 2009. In both of these cases, pieces of legislation that actually took us backwards, were pitched as “better than nothing.” These arguments fall flat, of course, when you evaluate the destructive impacts of these false solutions. While it’s true that “we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Climate Justice clarifies just what “the good” actually means through clear principles that look at real impacts on vulnerable communities on the ground.

“Emergency Mode” organizing informs what is often called “political realism.” But fighting for changes that actually hurt us, simply because they seem more po- litically viable, is a losing strategy. Let’s look below at a strategic approach to climate justice that unpacks what it really means to be “politically realistic.”




A strategy of three circles35

Below is one way of thinking aboutclimate justice strategy. The three-circles approach isn’t so much “a strategy” as a framework to develop different complimentary social movement strategies.36 One way we like to think about it relates to the relationship between different frontlines acting in different arenas (examples we gave earlier included local policy, corporate accountability, international policy, and local institution building) using different methods: grassroots organizing, corporate and finance campaigning, base building, media spectacle, political advocacy, etc.

Given the current state of ecological crises, this framework can be used to help our organizations, alliances, and movements identify what we believe is materially and culturally necessary (top circle), assess what is currently politically realistic (middle circle), and identify the false solutions that are being put forth by forces with an

interest in maintaining the current system (bottom circle). The arrows indicate strategies for making change: winning space to advance our agenda, pushing false solutions off the table, etc.

The first circle:

We must identify what is materially and cul-

turally necessary to ensure climate justice. If social movements don’t define our visions, we will be stuck in a defensive/reactive posture. Our vision should not be limited by what is politically realistic even if we can’t yet win the totality of that vision. Still, some components of what is materially and culturally necessary do overlap with what is politically realistic.

The second circle:

The location of the politically realistic circle is

fluid. It is influenced by the balance of forces in whatever arena of struggle you’re using the circle to define, which are influenced by social movements, the power of corporations, the current state of the world, etc. It is the role of social movements to move more of what is materially and culturally necessary down into the politically realistic circle.37 And to push the false solutions out of what is politically realistic.

  • This tool was developed by Gopal Dayaneni, Dave Henson, Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, Jason Negrón-Gonzales, Mateo Nube, and Carla Pérez for the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology
  • See page 48 for more on Social Movement
  • “Politically realistic” does not exclusively refer to policy, it can also refer to the viability of any objective, like community resource-sharing, winning concessions from corporations, local governance,



The first overlap:

Just because there is overlap between “politically realistic” and “what we really

need” doesn’t mean that we will get it. And if we only focus on that narrow space, we don’t inherently extend our influence to bring in more of our agenda into that space. We have to engage in a variety of spaces to advance that agenda. If we don’t say what we really want, we will never get it. So, for example, a total ban on all new fossil fuels exploration and exploitation is not at all politically realistic in 2012, but we don’t want to wait until material conditions become so bad that it becomes viable (because at that point, the false solutions will have colonized all the space for what is politically realistic). We have to find ways to advance that agenda now, so that it can become politically realistic. For example, employing strategies that target tar sands as a vulnerable link in the fossil fuels chain, or fighting for protection of pristine ecosys- tems from new exploration.

The second overlap:

What we really need and false solutions never overlap. What goes in each circle

depends on your worldview, what you believe, and the groups you are aligned with.

The circles are not drawn to scale:

The top and bottom circles do not occupy the same amount of space and do not

employ the same strategies. Aligning the circles is an important part of the exercise. It allows for a snapshot of the state of play. Then we can talk about what we might move from the top circle into the overlapping space.

Understanding the interlocking frontlines:

Some of our organizations may locate their work (i.e. their organizational mission) in

the “what we really need” circle, and not yet in the “politically realistic” overlap. They are working from a place of building out the viability of our solutions, making them compelling and useful, and trying to push them down into political realism. Others may be working from the “politically realistic” circle, working on policy, and trying to infuse justice principles in it, thereby pulling the first circle down. Others yet might be working on confronting the polluters and false solutions, pushing them out of the national con- versation, or out of their community. Each of these different locations map to different arenas we work in and approaches we use. Navigating your location is an element of understanding your role as an organizer and depends on where your frontline is.



Originally we wanted to go even deeper with this section. There are so many more questions to answer.


The different definitions we offered above are  all related, but different. It’s a patchwork. We were hoping to engage the ongoing international conversation that is shaping the contours of Climate Justice, including an extensive timeline about the historical roots of it,

but realized we were a bit in over our heads with that.


There is no “definitive history of Climate Justice,” and we’re not the appropriate ones to write it. We’re excited to be in conversation with others who are taking this on, though.


Maybe in the next edition of this conversation we can go even deeper. The best way to go deeper is to see how these ideas play out in real life, on the ground.



So lets talk about organizing! That’s what aligning your frontline is all about.




Organize! Here’s the rest of our lives!



One useful wayto think about aligning frontlines to make a distinction between “activism” and “organizing.” While different political traditions understand  these  concepts  in different ways, we’d like to offer some that have been useful to us in clarifying our work.

Activism is about using your power and voice to make a change in the world.

Organizing includes that, but in addition is about getting lots of other people to build their power and make a change. Organizing is therefore about collective action and working with organized groups. Organizers identify where groups of people are at, meet them there, and work with them in a way that compels them to action.

In our experience, some activist groups who haven’t found their frontline all too often inadvertently find themselves unable to communicate their vision, values, and solutions to others outside themselves because they have not prioritized building a base. While we of course want to get our “choir to sing on key,” an organizer mindset



requires one to reach out to wider and wider circles of people who are not already within the “choir.”

Climate Justice organizers working to sup- port someone else’s frontline have a number of useful roles we might play, but we must play them with intention and clarity. They include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Direct support people work directly for or with community-based organizations in support
  • Movement servicers offer a particular skill set to different groups, networks, and institutions such as trainers, educators, facilitators, analysts, researchers,
  • Amplifiers spend   time   engaging political

networksormediatohighlightmovementworkandputpressureontargets. There are lots of traps people fall into playing this role, including taking up political or media space that should be going to frontline communities themselves; that’s not what we mean here. Instead, this role may include engaging networks, new audiences, or opportunities that are useful but community groups may not have capacity or prioritize engaging.

  • Bridges work at the intersections of different sectors or This is most clear in our context for those who bridge work with environmental nonprofits and community-based racial or environmental justice groups. Some “bridge” organizers choose coalitions as their political vehicle.
  • Mobilizers can mobilize large numbers of people in a short-term way in support of community-led fights or concerns, or leverage broader networks to flex their muscles when One example is the new generation of online organizers. Another is community organizers who serve abase in another sector, such as getting labor to turn out in support of an environmental justice fight for a single event.
  • Cultural workers include artists, musicians, actors, poets, and other creative people who help create cultural shifts necessary for political This work, too, is often about amplifying stories and requires careful navigation on how it’s done accountably.
  • Community organizers embed themselves in communities directly and even though they are not from the community, they are committed to it for the long

Many of us have overlapping roles within our movement work. Just like using the three circles to help recognize our niche and build our strategy, the arenas we work in determine the most useful roles to play. While there are some challenges that all organizers within the emerging Climate Justice movement have in common, there are also unique predicaments that arise in direct relation to a specific role.

Tuning our Political Compass:

  • Many of us play different roles at different How do we shift

roles gracefully and transparently?

  • How do we assess which roles to play and which niche is best for the organizations we build?




That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve under- stood all your life, but in a new way.

—Doris Lessing

A critical part of organizing is about creating onramps to collective action. Organizers who have found their frontline have an opportunity to offer these kinds of doorways to millions of others like us: ready to take action but in need of some direction to do it in a productive, empowered way.

We do not believe that the central “problem” our generation faces is apathy or ignorance. We think most people in our generation do believe society is broken. They may not agree with us about why it’s broken, but activists lamenting people’s apathy is often a path to our own despair. Yet this idea drives many activists, who then focus on just screaming as loud as possible about the reality of our problems. This approach assumes that because what we say is true, it will automatically be compelling. As the smartMeme Strategy & Training project38 says, “Activists assume that because some- thing is true, it will be meaningful to the people we’re trying to reach. But In fact, the opposite is often the case: if something is meaningful, people believe it to be true.”

Our job, then—regardless of our organizer role—is to help build events, mo- ments, actions, organizations, and groups that make meaning in people’s lives, and connects that meaning to taking action. This requires creating stories that help peo- ple understand and name the pain they are experiencing.

Older models of organizing assume that if ignorance is the “main problem” then the task of organizers is just to fill people with knowledge. Hence some organizations release endless manifestos, abstract slogans, and try to hammer people with facts. But smartMeme offers us the insight that the problem isn’t “what people don’t know” but “what they do ‘know.’

Our main barrier isn’t that people don’t know there is a crisis. It’s that they do “know” (believe to be true) that “the climate crisis is a debated theory that may or may not be human-made, that really only affects polar bears, that is mostly rhetoric from Al Gore trying to tax us.” People therefore interpret the “facts” they see through that story. Instead of convincing them that there are problems, it is our job to change the story that people use to interpret is the problems going on around them.

We’re not just trying to add new facts; we’re trying to change the narratives that people use to understand and make meaning from those facts. That’s what we mean when we say, “Meet people where they are at.”


While the building blocks of our work are local, “meeting people where they’re at” also means assessing where our country is at as a whole. With a national or global view, we are able to ask movement strategy questions that we don’t necessarily see in a local context. Here’s an example: many of us lament the massive disinformation climate-denial campaigns mounted by the fearmongers, and the fact that the per- centage of the U.S. public who believes climate change “is a major threat and that



we can do something about it” has rapidly decreased in recent years. While some environmentalists blame the movement’s failure to effectively debate climate science in the marketplace of ideas, we think the answer relates to the above idea of making meaning. The United States is currently experiencing a highly visible faux-populist right-wing backlash against the Obama administration, fueled by a failing economy. This social movement has a broad platform, led by top-of-mind issues like the econ- omy (lowering taxes) and healthcare (privatization). Climate denialism also happens to be a secondary component of that program, and people get pulled into its orbit. The polls are more useful as indicators that a compelling right-wing social movement is offering meaning in some people’s lives by providing a narrative through which they can interpret the pain they are experiencing.

The Right isn’t fighting single-issue D.C. beltway battles, and neither should we. On a national scale, we likely will not see legislative change on climate (as opposed to community-based resiliency projects or local victories) unless it is connected to a larger progressive agenda led by similar issues that feel pertinent to people’s lives.

This is another reason why social justice isn’t just a political conviction we hold, but a pragmatic orientation to be relevant and win.

Tuning Our Political Compass:

  • How do we relate our organizer roles to national and international

networks39 of frontline communities and connect their work to broader groups of people?

  • How do we engage communities we come from and leverage their power in service of tipping this balance of forces?
  • What frameworks do we have to distinguish between our ideological opposition (those who are organizing against us because they want a different world than we do—example: the Tea Party) and our structural opposition (companies or other institutions working against us because they are pursuing the status quo, regardless of their personal political convictions—example: Coca-Cola). How does this shift the options of places where we can intervene?


When we asked Mel Bazil, spokesperson for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and grass- roots advocate for his people, to comment on our section about community, he said, “I see that all peoples face a form of colonization, and that is the struggle, that we all must decolonize. We all must configure our knowledge, our patience, our under- standing of each other’s struggles, and realize that we are all related and that if some of us are impacted as a human family, than we are all impacted. This means ‘not in anyone’s backyard.’ Decolonize the box, don’t just work out of that box.”

We began this booklet by talking about “finding your frontline” in terms of com- munity. The word “community” is often a vague but loaded word that activists love to use at every opportunity. But what does it really mean? Oftentimes, activists imply value judgments in how they speak—that some communities are real, and others are not. This isn’t helpful to encouraging people to engage those around them, which all of us need to do. Our intention with this section isn’t to place a hierarchy of value on

  • Grassroots Global Justice and Rightto the City Alliance are examples of national networks thatplay this



different forms of community. Instead, we hope to offer specific and differentiated way to understand the way humans relate to one another so that we can more clearly understand our frontlines.

Communities Are Not Monolithic

Community isn’t a romantic, abstract concept that is “good.” Instead, communities

are specific kinds of social relationships that are the result of social, economic, politi- cal, and ecological histories, dynamics, injustices, aspirations, and power relations. There is a lot of internal diversity to any community. Aligning your frontline with others’ means thinking critically about the intersections of different kinds of com- munities and how those relationships impact and play out in social movements. Many people who have found their frontline are part of multiple kinds of communi- ties that overlap.

Activist Communities

Sometimes people use the term to refer to networks of people working for collec-

tive liberation and justice, or a “community” of activists and organizers. It’s really important that we see ourselves as part of an activist community, especially if we do so in ways that are inclusive. In this regard, we think of communities as groupings of people with similar commitments and shared work. If done compassionately and consciously, the relationships we build with other activists and organizers helps us bring our politics from the fringe to the center. But this isn’t the kind of community we’re talking about when we refer to “impacted” or “frontline” communities.

Institutional  Communities

Many people build community with the people they share institutional membership

with. Perhaps this is a Church community, or a University community, or a work- place. Maybe it’s not a physical place, but a social institution, like a music-based sub- culture. We will explore institutional membership (physical and social) in the Social Movement Strategy section.

Place-based,  “Impacted Communities”

Usually, when people refer to “impacted communities” they’re talking about a form of

community that is place-based. That could mean a neighborhood, a section of a city, a rural county, a reservation, or a region, depending on what kinds of commonalities and relationships people have. Most place-based communities involve generational relationships: “Our grandparents knew each other, our parents do too, we know each other, our kids will know each other, and we’re all facing similar problems based on where we live.” For that reason, communities are a useful way to think of groups of people who face a common problem resulting from accumulated social, political, eco- nomic, and environmental injustice. They’re “impacted communities” because they are impacted by the problem as a community.

Other  Place-based Communities

Even though we are all impacted in some way by climate change, we don’t neces-

sarily share a common denominator of injustice with our community. Even within similar geographical locations, differences in culture, tradition, and social histories



mean that people experience “community” differently. For instance, Hilary grew up in the rural suburbs outside of Sacramento, California. While it was place-based, her upbringing was rooted in the myth of the nuclear and independent family, resulting in an experience that was rather insulated from surrounding ecological and social tensions. This doesn’t make her community less or more “legitimate” than others, but it does highlight the nuance we need to clearly name our frontline.

Tuning Our Political Compass:

  • What else might community look like that we didn’t list here? What’s a

constituency of people that you feel like you are best suited to organize?

  • How does the act of “taking leadership within our own communities” help us “support leadership from most directly impacted communities”? What does that look like on the ground

when you don’t live near a frontline community (in other words, one that is actively organizing)? What about when you do live near one?

  • How does our language of serving “frontline communities” and “directly impacted communities” useful or not useful in engaging your community? How can it avoid pigeonholing people, groups, organizations, and sectors of our movement?
  • What are equitable (which means fair, not equal) ways to participate in organizing?
  • Is “ally” work enough, needed, or always wanted?
  • How do people share and encourage the principles of Climate Justice in acommunity that is not their own while accounting for the privileges that come with that?

Social Networks: The New “Community”?

What about all the people in the

United States in the twenty-first century who do not live in place- based communities? Human relationships are changing. It’s all too common nowadays that people do not know their neigh- bors, let alone have peer groups that live in a specific location. How can we understand the new ways people connect to each other? How can we adapt our organizing models to meet our changing relationships?

Much of the new wave of social media attempts to meet people where they’re at with this new form of community. Organizations like Moveon.org, Avaaz, and 350. org harness the internet in a way that highlights both its strengths and weaknesses: it has tremendous power for wide breadth but usually has trouble with depth. Because people have social networks that are not exclusively limited by geography, these orga- nizing models lend themselves to a national or global view. They can therefore assess new ways of taking action and think about the more global conversation in clear ways.



Tuning our Political Compass:

  • If many solidarity organizers do not come from place-based

communities, how do we evolve our organizing models for the twenty-first century without losing the political insights in older community-organizing  frameworks?

  • What is the relationship between scale-based internet mobilization tools and deeply rooted work in local communities?
  • How do these different constituencies, forms of participation, and mobilization tools differently impact your work, depending on the organizer role you play?


Okay, so you’ve found your frontline and are trying to act in solidarity with a front- line community. But who in the community do you “take direction” from?

It’s tricky. Communities do not speak from one commanding voice. They’re messy and full of people who don’t always agree. One way to effectively navigate these tensions is to seek guidance from political leadership. Political leadership can take shape in a group of people, or perhaps a few organizations that are trusted by, (and most often from and accountable to) their community.

Political leadership doesn’t guarantee one “correct” answer though. For instance, a church can have just as much weight in a community that a social justice organiza- tion does, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to agree on a particular issue. We don’t have the answer to such a predicament, but questions worth asking are: “Do we agree with this one position simply because it’s an affirmation of what we already thought?” and “Is that relevant to what’s actually needed?” All too often activists simply seek out groups within a community that affirm what they previously wanted to do anyway.

The Capitol Climate Action was a mass direct action that happened  in Washington DC in 2009. It reached out “beyond the choir” to bring 4,000

people, many of whom had never been to a protest before, to sit-in at the coal-fired plant that powered the U.S. Congress. In an effort to take the wind  out of its sails, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the plant would be converted from coal to natural gas a week prior to the action. This was an immediate predicament for the organizers, because some in the local community that lived around the power plant wanted to declare victory, and initially thought the action could be transformed into a celebration. Yet other frontline communities across the country are suffering because of natural gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing (called “fracking”). Organizers knew that while we were doing our best to serve the priorities of the local community, we were also accountable to a larger politic and movement and had a responsibility to negotiate with the community around clarifying the demands of the symbolic national action. This particular challenge resolved itself through conversation. We put out a press release saying that our protest would continue, and Pelosi’s decision validated the efficacy of our methods…but the experience illustrates common complexities of what it means to follow “the” community, particularly for those of us who often help with national and international actions. What would have happened if we couldn’t resolve the issue through conversation? National and local priorities can be at odds with one another, and sometimes there aren’t easy answers. Sticking to agreed-upon process is sometimes

the best we can do to navigate tension.



There isn’t necessarily one right answer for challenges like this. In fact, the principles and process of working for Climate Justice have taught us that the best solutions come from collaborative, shared work. Solutions are conditional to a variety of factors in the local environment. The more you get to know and understand that environment, the powers at play, and the people on all sides, the more effective you’ll be. In the end, the exercise of taking direction from a community defaults to the degree to which you cultivate accountable organizing relationships.


Accountability means that individuals and groups are answerable to their deci- sions and actions. It also means that even as an individual, you are part of something larger than your own work. We usually only talk about accountability in the negative: when some- one is “being unaccount- able.”   That  conversation

can feel like a field of landmines. This is why we promote active accountability, the kind we want to take responsibility for. Our good intentions can complicate account- ability because, in a field of landmines, it’s intimidating to take risks and to innovate. In that way, we no longer need to look at it as black-and-white being “accountable” or “unaccountable” but instead as a path we are all constantly walking as best we can. Clayton Thomas-Muller from Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) shares what accountability means for them when aligning with environmental non-gov- ernmental organizations: “IEN has…always tried to be very principled about how we work with non-Native organizations. One of the ways that we do this is to insist that these organizations engage with Native communities in ways that are respectful of our unique needs as Native people. We need to be sure that they are not tokenizing our community leaders in campaigns and initiatives that build the profile and power of that particular NGO instead of helping to build the power and profile of the com- munity… We push them to develop mechanisms to make sure that the free and in- formed consent of Indigenous communities is respected, and to make sure to involve all community stakeholders (I hate this word but will use it for lack of a better one), including our traditional people, our hunters, our women, our youth, and not just the

council governments.”40

Building a practice of active accountability is a core component of aligning your frontline, because it can help:

  • to build trust between groups that the social, political, and economic powers want to keep divided;
  • to be consistent with stated and shared goals;



  • to ensure that our actions and decisions do not exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices; and
  • to build relationships that repair our social relations   across   So often  we’ve been  socialized with destructive behaviors or ideas that undermine our ability to build collaborative social and political power.

Principles  of Accountability

Sometimes people who think of them-

selves as “allies” misunderstand the idea of accountability and think it means just doing what you’re told. But accountability is reciprocal and cyclical, it’s not something

that flows at you. Below are four principles necessary to working for accountability.

  • Transparency means being clear about your politics, organizational structure, goals, desires, and even The point here is to be as open as possible about the perspectives and motivations we bring to begin working from the same understanding.
  • Participation is about actively and equitably contributing especially in regards to decisions that affect people Most often participation refers to the abilities to contribute to decision-making.
  • Reflection and Deliberation: the commitment to developing the process of accountability, as it will shift and change in time and with different people. Deliberation means that every part of the accountability process is open for discussion, which account for the practices and mechanisms put in place for accountability, but also the culture and knowledge that surround
  • Response: the ability to make amendments, adjustments to issues raised by the Reflection and Deliberation
  • This section is built around a model developed by Rafter Sass of Liberation Ecology Project, with the help of fabulous contributions from



direct relationship, or even a specific project. It’s more about identifying the sources of our inspiration, our ways of looking at the world, our motivations, and our strate- gies. If I am starting from a point of not knowing where to look, or who to look to, for leadership and accountability, then mapping out the people, projects, and com- munities that are influencing me is a way to begin the conversation. This may seem basic, but it is also fundamental. This part of the work deserves discussion, because it’s a necessary precondition for everything that comes after—and a perfectly legiti- mate place to begin! This mapping of influences can help identify missing links, as we ask ourselves: are we being influenced by the people on the frontlines? Are we being influenced by the people we’re hoping to be relevant to? If that answer is not really, then it’s time for some homework. What can we read, what can we listen to, who can we talk to? Starting from wherever we are at, we can begin to get familiar with the perspectives of the people on the frontlines, whether that’s in our home community or further afield, and use that influence to guide our next moves.

Developing the ideas generated in Influence, the Direction phase involves get- ting specific about how the perspectives of frontline communities are shaping our work. Like Influence, it doesn’t necessarily involve a direct relationship; it can be as simple as responding to a public call for action. By clarifying the relationship be- tween what frontline communities are asking for, and what we are actually doing in our frontline, we can identify a mandate for our work. Making the commitment to identifying a mandate, in the sense of democratic authorization for our actions, and letting that mandate shape our decision-making, creates the needed foundation for forging more direct relationships later on.

Jumping off from the mandate developed in the Direction phase, Leadership requires establishing a relationship, either interpersonally or organizationally. Com- munication can begin to shape and guide the development of complementary per- spectives and strategies. Relationships deepen that encourage participation across groups, producing work directly shaped by the identified group.

Building on the relationship formed in the Leadership phase, Accountability in- volves raising the stakes on that relationship, developing and deepening trust. Becoming answerable for our actions and getting feedback are the critical components of this phase. And through the trust we build, accountability means that the groups are beginning to share priorities, in work practices and political vision, as well as interpersonal values.

  • Collaboration means that the partnership has developed to actively and cooperatively create original

Points to take home:

  • Standard of Accountability: Notice that accountability isn’t the end goal; rather, the end goal is collaboration. This is because accountability should be a standard rather than distant objective. In this way, the pathway proposed displays the arc of collaboration among different
  • Practice: Takesometimetohonestlyconsiderwhereyourprojectororganization is located on the What necessary steps can you identify to help move toward collaboration?
  • Cumulative: Hopefully it’s obvious that working for accountability, toward collaboration focuses heavily on relationship-building. This also means that working for accountability is a cumulative process that can’t be done overnight, although there might be substantial, quick actions that can be taken



  • Collective: Do you know why you’d want to build relationships across different sectors of the movement? How does it move the work forward as a whole? What is the strategy in aligning frontlines? This question is useful to break away from the “everything is fixed by having relationships”

Obstacles we Face

Taking these ideas seriously means confronting a lot of assumptions, insecurities,

and sometimes lies we tell ourselves. We also believe that each phase is going to be harder than the one before. In fact, truly collaborative work is the work of cre- ating new sets of rules, new kinds of social relations—basically creating the world we know is possible. In our booklet feedback process, Rafter Sass from Liberation Ecology Project shared this:

Just because accountability is our watchword, and collaboration is our ultimate goal, doesn’t mean that influence, direction, and leadership are second rate. Each phase of the relationship includes, builds on, and deepens the foundation created in the phase before, while it creates the conditions for what is to come. We can start wherever we’re at, and feel good about our work, and at the same time keep the goals of accountability and col- laboration firmly in our sights. And we have to, because at this moment in history, influence, direction, and even leadership just aren’t enough. The inequality we face is so profound, and the wounds in the social fabric are so grave, that nothing less than a new way of making change is required of us. We all have to work together across the boundaries thrown up between our communities, between power-holders and those who have historically been disempowered. And before we can truly collaborate across the boundary, we’ve got to put in some work. Those who have been granted power by this system must become accountable to those who have not.

That’s not to say that accountability and collaboration aren’t possible right now. Quite the opposite! We’re building pockets of this work that exist in tension with the status quo, the bigger world. Navigating that tension is part and parcel to finding and aligning your frontline. What’s more, we have to find ways to translate these skills and ideas out to more people, empowering them to find what’s relevant, beyond our political circles.

With that said, some of the most common obstacles within this work, that we’ve faced, come from being uncertain and not having space to talk about this stuff can- didly. This is a goal of ours: to start talking more intentionally about what account- ability is rather than isn’t.

Inactive and Active Accountability

We began this section by writing about the need for “active” accountability that we

want to take responsibility for. Sometimes working for accountability can be a scary exercise in simply avoiding criticism, which inhibits risk-taking and stunts move- ment growth. In order to foster a culture of active accountability, we can build prac- tices that avoid some of the pitfalls groups commonly trip over:




“Tell us what A  meek  reaction to Take yourself seriously. “What  is our
to do” “taking leadership Likely you’ll feel conflict- strategic political
  from frontline com- ed as to what your role moment?”
  munities.” Possible or contribution is to this  
  sources: feeling de- work. This means having  
  feated or uncertain. confidence in your skills  
    while maintaining light-  
    ness to your seriousness.  
“Just trying not As long as my work Skill share!  If you’re “In our political
to step on any doesn’t make anyone working more or less landscape, this is
toes” mad, I can do what I independently from col- what we have to
  want. laborative  projects, try leverage”
    exploring how your skills,  
    if shared, could amplify  
    collective struggles.  
The dreaded This  happens when Pump the br ak es . “Now that we’re
check-box a  fair  amount of or- Understand that not ev- all here, let’s map
  ganizing takes place eryone is on the  same out our options!”
  without all necessary timeline and work col-  
  players,  and people laboratively to  meet in  
  then “check in” too the middle. It’s better to  
  late. Often, prioritizing have a project on hold  
  logistics over account- than a project that stunts  
  ability gets us here. existing work.  



So what would it look like if we took these ideas and practices seriously? In our expe- rience, that requires a considerable amount of experimentation, not just at the indi- vidual level, but at the organizational level, too. We’d like to offer Hilary’s experience with Mobilization for Climate Justice West (MCJW), written in the first person, as a case study that looks at our organization’s structure as a model for experimentation. MCJW is a regional alliance that involves a wide variety of groups working for climate jus-

tice in the Bay Area. We’d like to clarify that MCJW has since adapted a new model, but still want to use this example because it conveys a deep commitment to two contentious but critical concepts: accountability and capacity.

After one year of intensive action orga- nizing (seven large-scale actions in five months),  MCJW  decided  to reflect  on



the recent work to figure out our next steps. In February 2010, MCJW held its first orga- nizational retreat. A lot of time and energy was put into careful reflection on past events, future goals, and practical next steps. It was here that we decided to be more explicit in our priorities as an alliance, namely to further internalize our commitments to the practice of Climate Justice principles in our internal dynamics and decision-making.

Moreover, we needed a way to make sure our goals, principles, and alignment were at the forefront of the work. The biggest tension we faced was between account- ability and capacity. We acknowledged that people participated in different ways, and that this fact required a heightened, constant awareness and responsibility in our practices and organizing culture. For us, it seemed that people with the most time and energy to contribute weren’t connected to an organized community or a base of people. In fact, most of us were young, white college students with a lot of good intentions. Moreover, the people who worked for an organization that served a front- line community often had the least amount of time, as they are devoted to their own campaigns.42 There are other layers, too, that complicate this situation, like: should people that get paid to do organizing work take up more tasks? And how much should our organizational structure try to shape what accountability looks like?

And so, we created a unique organizational model, pulling from various other examples, to really try and meet our needs and goals.

The first mechanism for accountability was requiring membership be based on organization. Individuals were able to participate, but had no decision-making power in terms of setting big-picture organizational strategy. The intention here was to encourage individuals to organize themselves with groups that they are account- able to. Membership operates then, under two assumptions: 1) only organizations are members—there are no individuals with MCJW membership; and 2) the organiza- tion has agreed to our stated goals, principles, and alignment.

The second mechanism for accountability was the Coordinating Council, which included:

  • At least 50% representation from community-based member 43
  • Ensuring accountability and visibility to local campaigns by strategic planning process and general administrative
  • Proposals for campaigns or events either beginning with the Coordinating Council, or have to go through the Coordinating Council

Below was the general pathway of proposals. Working groups came up with an idea which was vetted by the Coordinating Council and, if approved, went onto the orga- nizational member spoke council for adoption.

During the February retreat, we agreed that we’d come together in six months to dis- cuss the viability of this structure. We learned some really important lessons. This level of experimentation distilled our strengths, weakness, and complex situations that we weren’t previously aware of. I think this level of experimentation was possible

  • For example, grassroots organizing against Chevron Corporation’s Richmond
  • Definition of Community-based Organizations (CBO), written by MCJW: Funded organizations, volunteer-run groups, or collectives and their networks: A) who engage in direct grassroots organiz- ing in a frontline community and takes direction from and is accountable to that base of members;
  1. whose primary mandate is to work with, provide services for, and empower local communities; C) that spend more than 80% of their time working on local community-based



for a variety of reasons (culture of political expectation in the Bay Area, long-term rela- tionships and work already built around campaigns against Chevron, concentration of skilled veteran organizers), but overall it illuminated the tensions that exist within the larger climate and environmental movement. Ideally, the process of this experiment is useful to reflect upon your own project and organization. How would taking issues of accountability and capacity seriously impact your project or organization?


A serious experiment in trying to equalize the in- equalities that exist in this work and in our society. Mechanized Fear. Admit- tedly our structure was created from a place of fear, trying to account for all possible ways people can be unaccountable. Building a culture for ac- countability is a must. You can’t necessarily structure accountability because it is ultimately about trust and relationships. Yet, there are practices that organizations can undertake to foster ac- countability.
A useful model to build from. The lessons learned from this experiment directly informed our amendments to MCJW’s organizational structure. One lingering tension was the role of “individuals.” Lack of capacity was a re- sidual challenge that cannot solely be addressed by an organization’s structure. Processes to work for ac- countability have to be accessible, but that isn’t a given. Accountability pro- cesses require commitment and direct communication.
This process strength- ened relationships among those involved, especially cultivating a culture of re- sponsibility and trust. Too many meetings! Add- ing layers of accountability mechanism, in this case, required more participa- tion for those with limited capacity, and split the ca- pacity even among those with more time, somewhat exacerbating an inequality we were trying to alleviate. A willingness and ability to take such a risk, organiza- tionally and interpersonally. It’s essential to continually ask “What is most relevant?”


Regardless of approach, framework, or role, all organizing is about building relation- ships. In our experience, the above questions become easier to navigate through the process of creating strong and meaningful relationships with fellow organizers and community members. Yet, this is also one of those things that need to be unpacked, because “building relationships” doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work! Below are a few essential tenets to building personal relationships in political projects, particu- larly across frontlines.



Respect Then Trust

Since the movement for Climate Justice isn’t trying to be insular, we have to finds

ways to build trust with people who might not always be easy to build with. We can’t simply hang out with our friends if we’re trying to build a movement. So, let’s break it down a bit:

  • Respect: The positive feelings and actions informed by positive esteem for
  • Trust: Having faith that someone will do what they say they are going to do; relying on another person, or believing in

Having respect and trust for people are challenging things, in general, let alone for strangers or people you disagree with. Human beings are often exasperating crea- tures. Sometimes it takes a lot to even be convinced that you should try to build those things with someone, let alone keep at it.

One of the simplest ways to begin building trust is demonstrating respect. One way to do this is to discover the art of active listening, that is, stop talking and start hearing people’s stories and ideas. A useful way to check if you’re practicing active lis- tening is asking yourself the question: Do I formulate my response while someone is still talking? You can also “WAIT” before opening your mouth (ask Why Am I Talking?).

Another way to build respect that moves toward trust is speaking truth to power dynamics, both real and perceived. This means getting real with the fact that we are not all treated equally, and pretty often people don’t feel like “we’re in this together.”

Tuning Our Political Compass:

  • How do we wield privilege without abusing it, particularly in

coalition work? How can we see that line before we’ve crossed it? What would that look like?

  • How can I become comfortable constructively disrupting the status quo, especially in a room of “like-minded” people?
  • What do I need from myself and others in order to take risks in speaking truth to power dynamics?

Taking the risk to speak truth to power dynamics is essential but is a double-edged sword. While there is considerable, unique knowledge gained from lived oppression, this can sometimes lead to activists (particularly solidarity organizers) competitively accru- ing “points” or badges of legitimacy by pointing out oppressive internal dynamics. This is not useful or healthy for group dynamics and can create a similar “field of landmines” dynamic illustrated in the previous “accountability” section. Feminist thinker bell hooks also reminds us that “oppression is the absence of choices.”44 Our job in speaking truth to power dynamics is to increase the choices we have as individuals and as a group together. In order to move from respect to trust with someone, it has to be reciprocal. It doesn’t work if only one person or group respects the other. But what if you don’t like somebody that you need to build with? Our answer: it’s important to remember that organizing isn’t about you. Frankly, there are plenty of people who do solid work and deserve our respect, even if we find them personally distasteful or obnoxious. Re- specting people is a choice. It’s important to check ourselves on why we make the

choices we make.

Plus, the fact that organizing isn’t about you:

  • bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 1984).



  • 1) Is a relief—whew!
  • 2) Puts an exciting spin on things: If I’m capable of offering my respect, when it’s hard, so that I am open to building trust with people, that means we’re building a different kind of relationship—an unconventional, even intentional relationship. On a regular basis, we hear people refer to each other as brother and sister within our organizing. These terms of endearment establish something really powerful: it means we can grow together, like a We don’t always have to agree, in fact, we grow the most when we have the space to challenge each other and it’s because of these relationships that we can innovate our work.


Organizing means taking the time to understand the landscape to which we live and

do our work: the history, the politics, the social dynamics, and the ecological terrain— all of it. Building real knowledge and experience around that stuff takes a consider- able amount of time, usually measured in years not months. Intentional relationship with a place means investing even when things aren’t buzzing with excitement.

Mistakes and Uncertainty

Most of us aren’t very graceful in our feelings and behaviors that involve mistakes and

uncertainty. In fact, we’re often taught that if you can fake it, you can make it. That makes it difficult to learn the skills needed to cultivate humility. Sometimes align- ing our frontlines across difference is intimidating, and we want to appear confident and competent. Or other times we’re pushing hard against forces that are destroying communities, that we can become self-righteous as if we had the correct answer and everyone else is wrong. Finger-pointing and criticizing other movement actors is often much easier than looking in the mirror.

Getting to know ourselves in the moments that push us to an edge is really im- portant in this work. It’s also connected to the whole “consistency” aspect—you stick it out—which is really hard if and when you mess up. We develop a lot of defense mechanisms (becoming aggressive, evasive, submissive, or suddenly acquire a case of amnesia) that stunt this process which is ultimately about trying to understand what’s going on under the surface of raw emotion, like:

Past trauma: The trauma experienced in our lives manifests in sometimes un- expected ways. Not to get super psychoanalytical, but looking to past events and in- teractions is helpful in understanding what comes up. This is the same for everyone, in that, it is important to remember that in difficult moments you’re often interacting with someone else’s trauma and coping mechanisms.

Social Histories: There is also trauma in our personal social and cultural his- tories enacted by legacies of domination. We often bring this stuff with us (both as survivors and perpetrators of domination) when we walk through that meeting door. It often manifests when collaborating across frontlines. Our sensitivity to these lega- cies is especially heightened when we feel like it is being compromised or devalued. Looking to past events and interactions are helpful in understanding what comes up.


Making mistakes and having uncertainty is best remedied with feedback. But not all

feedback is the hand-holding kind. Some kinds that haven’t been useful to us include:



  • On blast – Have you ever been, or seen someone “called out” in a meeting or a public setting? Situations like this can occasionally be necessary, but they also make it really difficult to receive an important message and often create a destructive internal
  • A.A.S. (Passive Aggressive Aggravating Statements) – Passive aggressive comments are aggravating because they can be so ambiguous in intent, delivery, implication, and assessing how to respond.
  • Shit Sandwich? – This is often taught as an organizing It happens when the more difficult feedback is sandwiched between two forced compliments. While it offers a thoughtful padding, it actually complicates our relationship to receiving positive encouragement. One similar alternative is the 80/20 principle: that you should give 80% positive feedback and 20% criticism. We don’t have a particular opinion on the ratio of feedback, and we do think affirming feedback is important to hear alongside criticism, but we’ve seen dishonest or forced compliments make things worse.

These forms of feedback are full of assumptions and awkwardness, which is all the more reason to take initiative in our mistakes and uncertainty by seeking out honest and constructive feedback.

  • Ask for it – Asking for feedback often may be a simple idea, but it’s also a tall Giving feedback can be just as hard as receiving it. We are not only tasked with taking the initiative to ask for it but should do it in a way that is accessible for people to respond thoughtfully and honestly.
  • Give it – Directly, clearly, Feedback is reciprocal. The more you give someone feedback, the more you strengthen relationships and make people comfortable giving you feedback in return.

It’s important to remember that all forms of feedback hold granules of useful infor- mation that sometimes you have to dig for. The task is developing skills necessary to distill the feedback, which usually depends on how it was transmitted. A useful analogy that I like is the owl pellet: digest what is useful and spit up the rest.



Intentional  relationships

One thing that makes it easier to get comfortable with our mistakes and uncertainty

is building intentional relationships with people. Intentional relationships are inte- gral to personal and political growth because it means that you have a support system in place to weather difficult situations.

Impact vs. Intention

How is it that good intentions can easily go bad? “Bad” happens when our intentions

take center stage while we distance ourselves from the impacts. In other words, using our intentions to skirt responsibility. Having communicative, supportive, intentional relationships with people helps us move away from taking action based on intention and moves us toward taking action based on shared knowledge and collective goals.

Reconstructing Our Social Relations

We all have that friend who is really smart, an expert in their field, a valuable asset

to this political work, but is rather awful at interacting with others. This isn’t a jab at socially awkward people; it’s a shot at those who put their politics above their social relationships. Intentional relationships are the opposite of that. It means that we put our relationships at the center of the work, and the integrity of the relationship between people is as much of a goal as the political objective.

Mentorship and Peership

I believe in the right of people to expect those who are older, those who claim to have had more experience, to help them grow.

—Ella Baker


Explicit mentorship often arises when I seek advice and support as a younger, less experienced organizer. For example, when MCJW was planning our February 2010 organizational retreat, it was clear that we needed to create a proposal for a new organizational structure. Carla Pérez, from Movement Generation, Sharon Lungo from the Ruckus Society, Ananda Lee Tan from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, and I held a meeting about the retreat; it was also decided that

I would begin drafting the structure proposal. At this point I had neither experience creating organizational structures, nor the awareness necessary to incorporate a multitude of factors, like the terms and agreement members employ, let alone identifying what concrete contributions “members” should make. In struggling with this task, I asked Carla Pérez and Sharon Lungo for help. They not only encouraged me in this process, but also offered tangible resources, like the internal frameworks of organizations they previously created, and many one-on-one brainstorming sessions where we were able to discuss and

create the organization’s structure proposal.



Through our feedback process, Carla Pérez from Movement Generation shared what intentional mentorship looks like:

It is important that we cultivate and nurture learning relationships where we not only share information with each other about the issues we are taking on, but that we also build relationships that lead to developing new leaders. This involves critical subtle skills such as how to respond to difficult group dynamics or problematic participants, how to frame things in a positive way towards resolution, and how to ask questions that don’t make others feel defensive but still hold people accountable. And I’ve seen this in MCJW with some of the challenging “structure” conversations regarding certain individuals’ participation. That can be something that those of us who are older in the movement explicitly talk about as part of what’s important in organizing, because it is. We can be conscious of it and remind each other about the various ways to handle disagreements.

Another intentional relationship experienced in MCJW is peership, or affinity based on similar organizing experience and sometimes age range.

Cathy Kunkel from Rising Tide Bay Area explains this idea further: “It has been really helpful to navigate challenging situations with peers who are, like me, still finding their place in the movement and figuring out what skills and talents they can contribute.”

Cathy raises the importance of having different kinds of intentional relation- ships. This is another crucial point in the processes of repairing social relations. Activists and organizers experience a plurality of relationships in political organiz- ing work, not all of which are sustaining “fuel.” In fact, many are not. Because “we experience our politics through our social experience,” as Carla Pérez says, we need to have relationships that provide a sense of trust, guidance, and intentional com- monality.

Tuning Our Political Compass:

  • What are our motives for relationship-building? Is it something

we just have to do to do the work? Are we cultivating meaningful interactions that support our everyday lives?

  • How do the relationships formed in our political lives intersect with our social, personal lives?
  • In what ways do these relationships frame what is needed to build more resilient communities to weather the crises we face?


We go to demonstrations, we build events, and this becomes the peak of our struggle. The analysis of how we reproduce these movements, how we reproduce ourselves is not at the center of movement organizing. It has to be.

—Silvia Federici, feminist scholar and activist45

  • Silvia Federici, “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint,” http://www.scribd.com/full/ 3108724?access_key=key-27agtedsy1ivn8j2ycc1



Our vision of climate justice is one of expanding and interlocking frontlines. But this framework only makes sense when it’s based in the nurturing and support that sustains movements themselves. This “invisible” work of taking care of ourselves and each other is often not recognized or valued. Yet its key to “reproducing our movements.” Interlocking frontlines means that we need to be building affinity with others, and that means supporting each other in a meaningful ways, especially when it’s hard. Therefore, we need to extend our care practices beyond our personal rela- tionships or even our immediate political networks, while understanding that if we cannot take care of each other, we cannot do this work. Care is the basis with which we can negotiate each other’s frontlines.

Revaluing Care and Daily work

Ingrassrootsorganizing, it’s  easy tomarkourmilesby large-scale  eventsandmessage-

boosting media opportunities. Take this story for instance: In 2009, Mobilization for Climate Justice West took on a project of generating “street heat” in the months lead- ing up to the Copenhagen UN Climate Negotiations. MCJW organized seven large- scale actions and events, including a three-day climate convergence in Richmond, California, where people from all over the West Coast came together to create local solutions to the climate crisis.

Thrilling, perhaps, but measuring success though these “crescendos” doesn’t paint a complete picture. The above snapshot doesn’t reveal much about the on-the- ground organizing—meeting coordination, material runs, art parties, outreach coor- dination, grant writing, etc.—that made those events possible. What’s more, it doesn’t even come close to understanding or cultivating the skills necessary to maintain, build, and repair the relationships that even allowed the unseen organizing to happen.


December 7, 2009. It was the night before our sixth action in the MCJW “Road to Copenhagen” project. I could barely keep my eyes open as we once more went through the plan to deploy at the front gates of Chevron’sheadquarters, lockboxes in hand. I remember the excitement stirring between the people around me. But we were absolutely exhausted. I was running on fumes and knotted nerves. We were burnt out. It wasn’t till a few months after this moment, after our sprint came to a close, that I was able to reflect with my peers and on our year of intensive actions and how it affected us. That moment, the night before the action, is important for me to remember because it was pivotal in changing how I understand what organizing means, what behavior and ideas I prioritize, and how I engage in political work.

All too often, I checked my “private life” at the door of my “public life.” Take for instance, some of my most basic everyday needs: food, health, and sleep. Regularly, I found myself so involved in “the work” that I would be up till four a.m., having forgotten to eat. One time, I even drafted a press release while sneezing and coughing up florescent phlegm from a horrendous flu. I put the political work before myself, and my needs. What’s

more, I didn’t think twice about doing otherwise.



We all know that “self-care” is crucial to stay in this work, but sometimes it’s easy to see care as just another item on the “to-do” list, which can easily be deprioritized. Jessica Tovar, an Oakland community organizer from Communities for a Better Environment, talks about the tension between care and political work: “I feel like [care] is something I need to sit and think about more… because every time we do take time off, it’s out of ‘my head is about toexplode!’ and that’s areally bad habit that we’ve gotten into.” Jessica raises a critical and common point in political spaces: taking care of ourselves usually means taking astep back from our work.

Tuning Our Political Compass

  • Why is the practice of removing ourselves from the work often

seen as care?

  • What about our organizations encourages this? What in particular about how we resource our work, our organization’s structures,

internal cultures contribute to it?

  • How do burnout cycles affect our ability to lifelong effective organizers? How do they affect our very ability to have a long-view of the work?

Ourself-carepracticescanalsoshapeourrelationshipsinsideandoutsidethework. Despite the burnout intensity of organizing that happened during the “Road to Copenhagen” cam- paign, the relationships we formed felt like a family. In our movements, we often navigate taking care of each other as a chosen family. Here, we learn conflict resolution, intentional communication, setting boundaries and expectations, and a practice of care. These skills strengthen all of our relationships, not just how we work on our frontlines.

Relational Practices

Inour“biologicalfamilies,”    ourday-to-dayexperiencesteachushowtobeintheworld.  Thesame

is true for our “chosen families.” The “Road to Copenhagen” project was a lesson in how to burn out.With an urgentfocus on short-termgoals, wehadan “all or nothing” approachtoorganizing.

On one hand, large numbers of people were coming together to offer their  time and energy, many young white college students who hadn’t done this before, myself included. The exposure served as a fantastic crash course in Bay Area politics and decentralized organizing. On the other, this approach limited participation from people of color–led, community-based organizations because their limited resources are often tied up in intensive organizing like base-building, service work, and civic engagement. It wasn’t in the interest of these organizations to run full throttle on these events, especially if the events weren’t bringing capacity to their work. These gaps became really problematic for a coalition whose goal was to work accountably and collaboratively, connecting international climate struggles with local ones, yet our practice invited burnout. Bummer.

This tension became the focus of an MCJW retreat at the end of that year. Yet, one thing many of us didn’t realize till much later was how much that crisis- mode* style of organizing encourages and thrives off individual personalities. For example, there were nine of us at the “core” of MCJW, each with a particular skill set (outreach, media, art, etc.) that created the scaffolding of each event. I don’t think this way of organizing people is inherently bad, but

without long-term strategy, it tends to be insular.

*Crisis-mode organizing is a concept borrowed from Chris Dixon’s “Against and Beyond: Radical Organizers Building Another Politics in the U.S. and Canada.”



Unfortunately, it seems we’re much less able to care for each other in the face of looming obligation. In this example, MCJW’s obligations were determined by a regi- mented series of actions that generated an emergency-based approach to organizing. Everything was a sprint. Everything was an emergency. As a coalition, we burned  out our member organizations. Our private lives suffered because of the urgency of our work lives, and when we couldn’t meet our everyday needs, our political lives suffered. After that intensive year, MCJW had to work hard to regain respect, trust, and reclarify priorities with the community-based organizations with which we first worked. That’s why a baseline of care is so key when aligning frontlines. We learned that our strategic planning and political priorities shaped whether we were uninten- tionally using an “emergency-based” approach.

Obviously, legitimizing some work as “real” and keeping other work unacknowl- edged isn’t useful to movement building. Feminist scholar Maria Mies discusses this idea in the context of our economy and its effects in gendering and devaluing la-  bor. Mies says the labor often valued as “smart” or “developed” always requires the labor of marginalized peoples to be hidden, devalued, or stolen. Here, she’s speak- ing directly to the “progress” of the “developed” Global North at the cost (resources, labor, culture, spirituality) of those in the “underdeveloped” Global South.46 Let us consider some of the most common and marginalized “hidden” labor in the United States: domestic work. Of the 1.8 million domestic workers in the U.S., 95% are fe- male, foreign born, or persons of color. Their labor allows for their employers to en- gage in “public” work.47

Political organizing isn’t immune to replicating this tendency that values par- ticular kinds of labor and activities over others.


The ability to “reproduce our movements” requires that we revalue hidden labor and develop useful, strategic ways to take care of ourselves and each other. The Rock Dove Collective, a community health exchange in New York City, explained to us: “We connect those practitioners, who we call ‘providers,’ with service seek- ers, ideally based on mutual aid… That means people clean peoples’ houses and get acupuncture in return. Or they pay a sliding scale that really does reflect their ability to pay not only including their income but also including how many kids they’re supporting, whether they’re supporting their elders, that sort of thing.”48 Experimentation in this way is useful because it strengthens and uplifts the ways we reproduce ourselves. Indeed, doing justice to our reproduction requires that we build our movements around it.


Reproducing our movements also means taking up roles that aim to move our communities through these large-scale crises happening all around us. Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, strategy initiatives director from Movement Generation, says that “The transition is going to take all kinds of people participating and playing key roles—counselors, healers, coaches, organizers, facilitators,  mediators—we

  • Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labor (London: Zed Books, 1998).
  • http://www.excludedworkersreport.org/report
  • Interview with Rock Dove Collective conducted by Ben Holtzman and Kevin Van Meter in Brooklyn, New York, August 15,



need to learn how to cultivate, support and recognize these roles as key tran- sitionary, green roles.” Here, Michelle raises the idea of transformative work, which is the work that helps us recover from dominant culture, learn new ways of relating to other people, and construct our agency to organize with others across frontlines.

Transformative Political work

An exceptional example of transformative work is captured by Mujeres Unidas y

Activas (MUA).49 MUA engages in healing work that helps members shift from “vic- tim” to “survivor” to “agent for change.” One way MUA does this is peer counseling workshops. Members receive training for crisis intervention and reconciliation, which they bring into their homes and community, creating social power. Other MUA offerings include: mutual support meetings, informational workshops, counseling, and job placement referrals.

MUA is based in San Francisco. They are a grassroots base-building organi- zation made up of Latina immigrant women. They’ve adapted their organization- al infrastructure to meet their needs and goals, which are to empower their base through personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice.

Care and Movement building

Taking cues from organizations like MUA, those of us who are finding our frontline in

the movement for Climate Justice must also draw that line around the work of caring for others.

The intersections of our politics and personal lives are intimate, and if we’re not intentional, we can reproduce the dominant patterns of devaluing care and making it invisible. Interlocking frontlines means taking care of each other especially through hard times. If we’re building across differences and frontlines, we must also extend these practices of care outside our political networks.

Climate Justice is about cultivating alternative economies, finding ways to or- ganize our communities equitably and democratically, and building people-power. Care is the thread that runs through this work with skills like attentiveness, responsi- bility, responsiveness, and ability to meet people’s needs over the long haul, through transition, and toward more resilient communities.50

Tuning Our Political Compass

  • How do the “care roles” outlined in this section relate to the

“organizer roles” in the beginning of this chapter? How do you move between them? Center them in political work?

  • How does self-care, when taken because it’s an emergency, impact you, the people around you, and your political work?
  • Does your political project prioritize personal transformation, through organizational infrastructure, or otherwise? If not, what might that look like?
  • http://www.mujeresunidas.net/
  • Characteristics of care found in Joan Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (London: Routledge, 1993).



  • What does the practice of collective, intentional care look like to you? How is that different than extraordinary care, like spas and vacations?
  • How can you strengthen and amplify care practices in your life, the life of your loved ones, and your community? How might this be a collective effort?


The whole “find your frontline” approach is  really

a case to make our organizing more focused and strategic. But it’s not just strategy coming from our heads; it comes from our gut and hearts too.



This helps us to remember that there are different kinds of strategy, which is why I’m excited about this section. How can we be strategic for the long haul?



I’m glad we took our time to dive into the section about care in our organizing practice.





Totally. Thinking about care and support practices within organizing demands that we ask questions like: What happens when our organizational funding runs out; how can we build an intergenerational movement that doesn’t push out organizers that have families; how can our organizations and community networks help us if we’re really sick; and what happens if we have to take care of our family on a “movement” salary? Asking how organizing work can not only support needs like these,

but also center around them is really critical.

Sure is. And now with the foundation from the organizing sections, it feels good to land the arc of our booklet with a

conversation about strategy and action.










Strategy asks the question, “What can we do today, so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?”

—Paulo Freire



What distinguishes Climate Justice organizing from the broader climate move- ment is its systemic analysis that we visited in earlier chapters. Climate Justice has an analysis of the “invisible” social, economic, and political institutions that bind us all together and shape our society. It is this systemic analysis that tells us that individual consumer-based action is good but not enough, and that we therefore need to build movements and organize collectively. Communities that have found their frontline often go through a process of being able to name these systems that structure our lives.

But while many activists can analyze our problems systemically, we often do not have the tools to map out our movement building process  systemically.

Social movement strategy moves beyond the narrow lens of a campaign and maps out human relationships to shift the balance of forces in a whole society.51 All people are connected through groups and associations. Some of these are physical

  • For a refresher on campaign strategy, see page 50



institutions (unions, churches, schools, etc.), sometimes they are invisible ones (like youth subcultures such as hip hop or punk rock).

Successful movement building often hinges on being able to see a society in terms of specific overlapping networks of relations between people. That’s why we did the work the previous chapter of defining a few different forms of community. When a constituency is engaged as a constituency, social movements have an oppor- tunity to shape people’s worldviews. Some of the movement leaders we know best were successful because of their ability to mobilize different constituencies. For ex- ample, Martin Luther King Jr. was able to build a base through engaging the Southern Baptist Church. He engaged that institution in such a way that if you were a Southern black Christian at that time, you were likely an agent of change. For many, it was part of their identity.

We are able to under- stand the specifics of inter- related networks that make up different social move- ment sectors once we have a movement strategy lens. We need this lens to see in- terlocking frontlines clearly and make a strategic assess- ment about how to move as a movement.

One tool to try to look

through that lens is called a                                     Spectrum of Allies.52 It can

be used either to map out a campaign or to strategize a whole social movement.

Here’s how it works: in each wedge you can place different people, groups, or institutions. On the left side are your active allies: people who agree with you and are fighting alongside you. Then your passive allies: folks who agree with you but aren’t doing anything about it. Next are neutrals: who are like fence sitters. Then passive opposition: people who disagree with you but aren’t trying to stop you. And then your active opposition.

Some activist groups who haven’t found their own frontline do one of two things. They hang out exclusively in the first wedge, building insular self-referential, mar- ginal subcultures that are incomprehensible to everyone else. Or they behave as if everyone is in the last wedge, playing out the “story of the righteous few”53 by acting like the whole world is against them. Acting from a place of interlocking frontlines means we have a broader view. When studying social movement history, we find that groups tend to win not by overpowering or beating their active opposition, but by out-organizing them by shifting the support out from under them.

In 1964 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) wanted to as- sess the balance of forces in the United States.54 SNCC was a major driver of the civil



rights movement, and at the time they were registering black voters in the South. They understood that they didn’t simply need to educate people, because the prob- lem wasn’t primarily ignorance or apathy. They found that they had a lot of passive allies who were students in the North: they were sympathetic but had no entryway into the movement. SNCC sent busses up North to bring folks down to participate in the struggle for the summer. Having a vehicle like SNCC gave the students an op- portunity to align with the frontline of civil rights and engage in this historic national flashpoint. It was called Freedom Summer. Students came down in droves and for the first time witnessed lynching, violent police abuse, and angry white mobs—all sim- ply for trying to vote. They wrote letters home to Mom and Dad, who suddenly had a personal connection to the struggle. So another shift happened: their parents became passive allies. And they brought their workplace and social networks with them. More frontlines began to intersect. Students went back to school in the fall and proceeded to organize their campuses. More shifts. The landscape in the U.S. had changed.

The cascading waterfall of support wasn’t spontaneous; it was part of a planned movement strategy.


If you don’t have strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy

—Alvin Toffler

Within a shared social movement strategy, our organizations can find useful places to intervene with campaigns to pres- sure power  holders  for a demand. A campaign is a specific fight where we try to win certain demands from a target. A campaign strategy is our plan to get from point A (where we’re  at now) to

our goal. Our goal is the thing we think we can achieve to solve the problem. The best goals are “SMART”—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound— and are strategic if they are stepping stones to manifesting our vision. If they’re not SMART, we don’t have a basis to evaluate our progress and therefore can’t make a plan. If our goals don’t help bring about our vision then we will always be trapped in the status quo. Our vision is the way we think the world should be. Visions are big- picture, transformative, compelling, and deep. Tactics are the stepping stones along that plan. Tactics can range from educational measures like teach-ins, to confronta- tional actions like a sit-in. Our tactics escalate, and most campaigns have short and mid-term goals that build up to larger goals.

There are lots of different kinds of tactics. The broadest categories are instru- mental and expressive tactics.



A tactic is instrumental to the degree that there is a specific quantifiable objec- tive you are trying to achieve with it. For example, maybe we want to blockade a port that is shipping out weapons to kill people in the Middle East. We have a specific eco- nomic impact on our target, and a way to evaluate success.

A tactic is expressive insomuch as it expresses one’s worldview, values, and identity. A mass march in response to an injustice can fall into this category. It may be useful for exciting our base, building networks and capacity, or creating a media spectacle, but usually do not have a concrete SMART goal that we can point to and say, “We achieved this specific change as a result of this tactic.”

A tactic can be both instrumental and expressive. Both can be important ele- ments. But if there is no instrumental quality to a tactic, then there are no criteria by which to evaluate our efforts.55

An important tactic and strategic approach of the Climate Justice movement has been building campaigns with direct action, which can be either instrumental or ex- pressive, depending on how you use it.

The Ruckus Society defines direct action like this: Direct Action is the strategic use of immediately effective acts to achieve a political or social end and challenge an unjust power dynamic.

Types of Direct Action:56

  • Protest: registering your dissent (rallies, marches, letter writing, petitions,

e-mails, postcards, street theatre)

  • Noncooperation: withdrawing something from the system that makes it difficult to function (boycotts, strikes, tax resistance)
  • Intervention: directly intervening in the functioning of the system (blockading roads or buildings, disrupting meetings or “business as usual”)
  • Creative Solutions: developing alternative, community-based systems that challenge an injustice (community gardens, Food Not Bombs, off-grid housing) While any direct action tactic requires thoughtful planning57 (in the Ruckus

Society we have about twenty-five steps that we usually use), there are several con- siderations in action strategy that can help with the process of aligning frontlines. If we’re engaging in solidarity actions, there are several steps to take to ensure proper consultation from the frontline community we’re supporting. Below is our adapta- tion of the Tactic Star tool originally developed by Beyond the Choir. This version of the tool offers us questions to pursue the principles of accountability outlined in the previous chapter.

The tactic star (following page) brings it all home for us, because it offers your group elicitive questions to think about the challenges around care and support, strategy, taking direction, accountability, solidarity, and trust that are discussed throughout the booklet. Often, actions are high-stress situations where the challenges of our day-to-day organizing blow up in our faces. They can be such crescendos that they highlight the need for care and intention. Use this star as a planning and preparation tool for your actions!








  • what were the action’s highlights? where was there room for improvement?
  • how did the action impact the base of people participating in the campaign? how did the planning deepen or strain relationships between organizers? Between groups or organizations? how did it pressure your target? what are your indicators of success?
  • don’t forget to figure out next steps for follow up!
  • celebrating victories (or successful                   deBrief

collaborations even if you haven’t “won”

yet) is a key piece of building relationships across      difference.         celebrate             now,


celebrate often. name the successes in your work, as small as they seem, it will keep the momentum going!

  • is this action worth the limited time,


energy, and resources of our group?

  • if we are working in coalition, where



does the action capacity come from? how do we distribute labor equitably?

  • can we leverage unfolding events or new developments as opportunities?
  • does the political moment hold potential for us or vulnerability for our opponents?




  • will the action be solemn, jubilant, angry, or calm? tOne
  • will the energy attract or repel people we want to



  • how do you make complicated issues understandable?
  • what will the tactic communicate to our audience, to our target, or to the community?
  • how will the tactic carry a persuasive story?






  • BefOre yOu start: how does this tactic fit into your broader strategy and campaign plan?
  • after yOu finish: how do the lessons learned from debriefing the action reshape your campaign plan or make visible assumptions you’ve had in your strategy?





  • what has your group or other groups done before to address the issue?
  • how have activist groups taking action in the past affected the communities living near your action location?
  • whathavetheorganizationalorcoalitionrelationships been like in the past?
    • what relationships need to be developed in order to create a collaborative direct action?



  • isthe imperativeforthe actioncoming from the directly affected community themselves? if not, how do you plan to propose it?
  • how will the affected constituency be involved in decision-making?



  • how will the tactic affect your allies (the ones not working on this particular action) or potential allies?
  • how does it affect community stakeholders? how will they receive it?
  • will it strengthen your relationship or jeopardize it?



  • who do we want to reach with our tactic?
  • what response do we want to inspire with them?


  • what message will the tactic send to the people who

have power to meet our demands?

  • will it pressure them to capitulate? Or enable them to dismiss us or retaliate?
  • how will you know if you have impacted your target?



Tuning Our Political Compass

  • What kinds of tactics does your organization use? Do you use

them because they’re the best tool for the job, or because they’re what you’ve always done?

  • How do we evaluate whether you’re letting your strategy drive our tactics, instead of your tactics driving your strategy?
  • How is direct action romanticized within justice movements? How might it lend itself to unaccountable or destructive behavior? How might you use it as a tool to increase accountability?
  • How does building out your toolbox of tactics offer you more choices in practicing the pathway of accountability?

For that reason, we’d like to close the section offering one way that the Ruckus Society has gone about institutionalizing these principles and tuning its own politi- cal compass. There is no single formula to follow, but these are excerpts of an in-pro- cess roadmap we’re developing at Ruckus. This, of course, is geared specifically for Ruckus’s niche, which is nonviolent direct action. These same principles applied to your organization’s niche may manifest differently. This Action Framework acts as a set of guiding principles that inform when and how we take action in mindful, ac- countable, and effective way.


who we Are

Ruckus supports frontline, mass-movement  and

people-power organizing committed to composting the current economy58 and growing local economies based on equity, justice, direct democracy, and ecological resiliency.

Our Theory of Change

Direct  Action  is  absolutely  necessary  for  deep social

transformation; however it must be vision-based, confrontational, honor frontline leadership, and be inclusive. We believe that bottom-up organizing and movement-building are central strategies.

Our organizing and movements must:

  • Pick a Fight: Directly confront
  • Break the Rules: Because the rules serve the rulers, and they keep changing the rules.
  • Build the New: We must build our own organizations, community institutions, and projects, and we must hold them up as experiments in a better way to live together.
  • Change the Game: Our organizing, campaigns, actions, and institutions must build power towards a transformation of our economy and an end to
  • In “the current economy,” we include war and empire, corporate rule, and corrupt political



We need direct action led by and accountable to frontline communities who are connecting the concrete improvements in their daily lives that they are fighting for with a larger transformative vision. This transformative vision is what “frames” our shared struggle and allows us to build a trans-local59 alliance of Peoples’ Movements. This movement is inclusive, inviting, inspiring, innovative, and, of course, invincible.

Our Role

To cultivate a humble and fierce Direct Action Community of Practice committed to

disobedience and noncooperation with the forces of injustice. We share and expand skills and experience, inspire innovation in the movement and provide strategic movement support.

How we work (Guiding Principles)

  • Frontline leadership: Ruckus supports action in which frontline communities

are the leader of the strategy, vision, and action.

  • Relationships for the long haul: Ruckus comes where we’re called, respecting local work and building long-term relationships of We believe that the first rule of accountability to communities is transparency about who we are and what we believe. We openly share our politics and vision, what we can and can- not offer, and are committed to finding the best way forward together.
  • Visionary and confrontational: Ruckus supports action that builds strength and holds space for a strong community We aspire to actions in which the vi- sions and solutions presented are deeper and more compelling than the injustice and are placed directly in the path of the injustice.
  • Action-reflection cycle: Ruckus is committed to ongoing organizational evolution to better repre- sent our values, serve the movement, and respond to changing conditions in the world. We believe that our organization can itself be a living model of our vision, based on frontline and diverse leadership, shared wis- dom, and the central ethic of caring and well- being for





  • Trans-local means locally autonomous groups share frames, common strategies, deep solidarity, and are mass-based.



We both hope that by sharing some of the ways our main political vehicles (MCJW for  Hilary; Ruckus for  Joshua) are grappling with these issues they can provide        a sense of how your organization, despite differences in mission, niche, tactical toolbox, arena of engagement, or strategic orientation, can begin to tune its political compass as well. We invite you into our community to practice and contribute to these ideas. Email us at organizingcoolstheplanet@gmail.com and keep up with us at www.praxismakesperfect.org and our author pages at www.pmpress.org.















This booklet emerged from a variety of intentions and processes. In an effort to model what an accountability process can look like in writing a booklet like this, we engaged in a deep and extensive feedback and consultation process with the people thanked in the beginning of this booklet. We feel so grateful for their time and contributions, and feel to some degree as if we were more cofacilitators than coauthors of this con- tent. Additionally, these ideas came from a much broader multisectoral community of practice and we couldn’t begin to list everyone who has helped shape our thinking. You know who you are. Thank you. Below we’ve outlined just a few ways this booklet came to be in our immediate processes.

  • Multiple and sporadic conversations between Joshua and Hilary about these topics and shared organizing
  • Previous writing each of them had done, including a zine Hilary wrote about accountability and relationship-based organizing, growing into this bigger project; and workshop curriculum from Joshua around strategy, organizing, and movement
  • We contacted over sixty people during the arc of the writing process for insights, direction, critiques, and feedback. This group was a mixture of frontline relationships we feel accountable to, peers, mentors, and people who fill a range of climate justice organizer roles and
  • We had several extensive one-on-one conversations with key leaders in this work to talk through the core
  • Our work was inspired by and building with key concepts innovated by Movement Generation, which is more than an organization—a political community we belong to and learn
  • Hilary completed a graduate thesis on related topics, and the interviews conducted during that project translated well, with permission, into direct quotes for this
  • This project is open-ended, meaning that we encourage people to engage and build from these ideas to contribute to another booklet, or


Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.

—Mother Jones


Organizing and Training Toolkits:




Statements, Declarations, and Frameworks:

Organizations Referenced in This booklet:






Joshua Kahn Russell is a strategy, organizing, and nonviolent direct action trainer with the Ruckus Society. He has worked internationally with the Climate Justice Now! network to  bring justice to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and has been  a leading voice within the International Youth Climate Movement. Joshua spent four years   as Rainforest Action Network’s grassroots actions manager, campaigning against banks and corporations to end  our  addiction  to  coal and oil. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco- Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is www.praxismakesperfect.org.


Hilary Moore has been organizing around social justice issues in the Bay Area for the past four years. She is a core organizer with Rising Tide Bay Area and a founding organizer of the Mobilization for Climate Justice West, a grassroots  alliance  of  organizations  in the Bay Area dedicated to keeping frontline communities at the forefront of the struggle while advancing community-led solutions. Hilary organizes around gentrification issues in West Oakland, as well as organizing allied support for the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. She sits on the board of the Institute for Social Ecology. Her interests and research focus on building collective practices of care within communities engaged in resistance and struggle.









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Re:Imagining Change How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World

Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning

978-1-60486-197-6 • $16.95


Re:Imagining Change provides resources, theory, hands-on tools and illuminating case studies for the next generation of innovative change makers. This unique book explores how culture, media, memes, and narrative intertwine with social change

strategies, and offers practical methods to amplify progressive causes in the popular culture.


Re:Imagining Change is an inspirational inside look at the trailblazing methodology developed by the non-profit strategy and training organization, smartMeme. Founded in 2002, smartMeme offers tools, training, and strategy support to organizations and movements working for justice, ecological sanity and transformative social change. Re:Imagining Change is a summary of their approach, and a call to innovate our strategies for collectively addressing the escalating social and ecological crisis of the twenty first century.


Re:Imagining Change is such an incredible resource! This is a book to consume, to go over meticulously, mark up, share with friends, and keep within arm’s reach on the shelf. The format is so accessible, the analysis and case studies show how important their groundbreaking story-based strategy is for all of the work we’re doing. Ruckus wants every group we work with to grab this book!”

—Adrienne Maree Brown, Executive Director, The Ruckus Society


Praise for

Organizing Cools the Planet


“As the climate crisis becomes increasingly unignorable, our move- ments must learn to navigate a rapidly changing and high-stakes political landscape. Our times demand we think bigger, push harder, and reimagine the possibilities for twenty-first-century movement building. This potent booklet is a great place to begin the conver- sation. Authored by two visionary young leaders who share their personal struggles and hard-earned lessons from organizing at the intersection of justice, ecology, and change, Organizing Cools the Planet is required reading for anyone who gives a damn about the future. Tune in for some indispensable analysis, provocative thinking and a healthy dose of people-powered optimism.”

—Patrick Reinsborough, cofounder, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project


“This is a rigorous and useful tool for teaching and learning the ar- chitecture of organizing, a valuable nourishment for climate justice activists and change agents.”

—Dorothy Guerrero,

Focus on the Global South


“It is an erudite manual, spirited and consistently engaging.”

—Andrej Grubačić, author, Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!

and Wobblies and Zapatistas


“Still young and developing, the climate justice movement has already shaken up politics with its holistic perspective and fresh energy. Organizing Cools the Planet offers a set of tools to help this dynamic new movement sharpen its strategies, promote frontline leadership, and realize its tremendous potential.”

—Max Elbaum, cofounder,

WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras; author













































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