Shaping the Movement

Mary Lou Finley

Perhaps a spark will ignite a massive uprising of popular will.

Ross Gelbspan, Boiling Point

Change is in the wind. As the United States recovers from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, as we face the reality of how climate change is changing so many of our sacred places, groups dedicated to fighting global warming have formed all around the country and we are starting to see the potential of this groundswell. In September 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the California Global Warming Solutions Act, a clean-energy bill that puts a cap on that state's greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2006, the change in congressional leadership in Washington, D.C., brought the promise of the consideration of such a bill to the national level.

The first sparks of this climate movement remind me of an earlier time, the fall of 1965 to be exact. Having just graduated from Stanford University, I joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s staff that autumn as he launched his campaign in Chicago. Congress had just passed the Voting Rights Act, and we were excited to tackle northern forms of segregation, injustice, and poverty.

It was a heady moment. Within a year, I had participated in my first nonviolent action campaign. In retrospect, what I find quite astonishing is what we were able to accomplish. We were no more than a small group from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, about twenty-five or so people: King, other well-known leaders and veterans of the southern campaigns, and young folks like me who mostly brought eagerness. When we joined up with a mature civil rights movement in Chicago, however, we managed within less than a year to force the City of Chicago to confront its own segregation. Soon, political, religious, and business leaders were at the conference table with King and other civil rights leaders, designing a plan for change. At the time, we achieved less than we had originally hoped. Nonetheless, it was a significant launching, both for long-term change efforts in Chicago and for King's work against poverty, the central focus of his precious few remaining years. It was during this time that I came to understand the power of a clear vision, the power that can be found in the courage to take bold public action against injustice, and the power of nonviolent action as a strategy.

During that time, I met Bill Moyer, a staff organizer on housing issues for the American Friends Service Committee. His earlier work on ending housing segregation was foundational for King's summer open-housing campaign, in which Moyer played a key role. For the next thirty-seven years he served as an organizer and trainer for activist groups, first in other civil rights efforts and the Poor Peoples Campaign, and later for peace and environmental movements. Were Moyer still alive, he would be very pleased to witness the growth of the climate movement because supporting activists in their work on environmental crises was close to the heart of his life's work.

In this chapter, the current state of the climate movement and its long-term potential are examined. To do so, I'll use Moyer's movement action plan (MAP) model of social movements, which he developed over many years of training activists and eventually summarized in Doing Democracy (a book he and I coauthored with two others).1 The MAP model includes principles describing the fundamental dynamics of social movements, the four key roles for social movement activists, and the eight stages of successful social movements. Specifically, I use the MAP model as a guide for thinking about two questions: If we are to successfully jump-start the climate movement, what is now called for? Can the strategies of past decades, including those I witnessed during my days in the civil rights movement, help us move forward?

The insights of the MAP approach, based on the experience of many activist groups and nonviolent movements over several decades, can provide important guideposts for this new groundswell. As I detail here, the model can help develop strategic thinking, build new initiatives, and maintain the morale of activist groups over the long haul.

The MAP model begins with eight principles. As I summarize here, these principles can guide the development of movement strategies and tactics that are detailed throughout this book.

1. Social movements have brought significant societal change, although even activists may be unaware of it. It's sometimes easy to lose sight of what can be achieved through citizen-based action. Victories of earlier movements have been monumental and include clean air and water laws, women's right to vote, the eight-hour workday, social security, unemployment compensation, civil rights for African Americans, disability rights, and rights for gays and lesbians.

2. The people hold ultimate power. The theory and practice of nonviolence, as embodied by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, are based on the fundamental insight that people hold ultimate power. It is also the foundation of democracy.

3. Movement goals should be framed in terms of widely held values. Movements should clearly articulate the connection between current issues and values such as democracy, the protection of children, preservation of life, love of nature, and social justice.

4. Powerholders may profess to honor widely held values, but their actions often conflict with those values. Revealing violations of widely held values by powerholders, such as recalcitrant oil companies and national politicians, is a key strategy for mobilizing the public in support of change.

5. Every movement needs analysis, vision, and strategy. A wide range of strategies is needed for reaching many different sectors of society and pressuring recalcitrant powerholders.

6. Movement activities must seek to awaken and mobilize the public. Movements can measure their progress by observing shifts in public opinion. An awakened and mobilized public can demand change and begin to implement change in its own communities.

7. Building coalitions across communities is critically important. Building bridges among social justice groups, business groups, a wide range of religious groups, and others in broad coalitions is critical. As a movement grows, it gains adherents from the societal mainstream, who in turn should be welcomed to the movement.

8. Change emerges from empowered people in motion, and they can become virtually unstoppable. As people win even small victories, they begin to feel more empowered. The movement builds momentum, drawing people to it as it gains strength and visibility. Training, education, and community building for movement participants can support the process of empowerment.

Building on these core principles, the work of activists and leaders in the civic, business, and public sectors will need to take many different forms as the climate movement grows. The MAP model outlines four roles for activists, all critical for movement success: the citizen, the rebel, the social change agent, and the reformer.

The Citizen

Activists in the citizen role show how the movement advocates for the common good and stands for widely accepted values such as justice for all and a livable future. In the civil rights movement, Dr. King was acting in the citizen role when he called on the United States to honor its commitments to democracy. Climate activists can articulate a vision for a renewable energy, postcarbon society that will serves the needs of all, preserving a livable world for our children and grandchildren as well as for others around the world.

The Rebel

Rebels protest injustice, often through nonviolent direct actions such as marches, rallies, petition campaigns, and civil disobedience or, more frequently, through simple efforts such as street-corner vigils, informational leafleting, and group visits to public officials. Rebel actions call public attention to the issue, stimulate public dialogue, and sometimes play a crucial role in confronting recalcitrant powerholders. Civil rights activists in the rebel role organized sit-ins and boycotts, rallies and marches, and myriad other public actions. Rebel actions among climate activists have included a hunger strike in the summer of 2005, led by members of Energy Action; a sit-in and organized arrest in the spring of 2006 in the home state office of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), led by members of GlobalWarm-ingSolution.org; and a protest and organized arrest in the fall of 2006 at the Maryland headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, led by members of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council.

The Social Change Agent

Social change agents are the movement's organizers. They focus on public education, organize new segments of the community in support of the movement's goals, and nurture new leaders. As they adapt the framing of movement issues to the needs of disparate constituencies, they build the movement's strength. They also continue to deepen their analysis, encouraging others to seek underlying causes and be open to a major paradigm shift. Civil rights field workers were the social change agents of that movement as they worked with different constituencies in towns and cities across the South; other social change agents organized support in the North. Social change agents in the climate movement include the leaders of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Air-Cool Planet, Climate Crisis Coalition, Energy Action, Evangelical Climate Initiative , Focus the Nation, Step It Up, and Massachusetts Climate Action Network.

The Reformer

Reformers work closely with mainstream institutions, negotiating for change by filing lawsuits, testifying at hearings, lobbying, participating in official meetings, and carrying out other such tactics. Reformers often play an important role near the beginning of a movement, trying to make the official channels work. In the later phases of a movement, they help craft the laws and agreements that codify the movement's success. Reformers also nurture and support other activists by providing educational materials, research, trainings, and consultation on both organizational and technical issues. In larger professional opposition organizations, paid staff often play this role. In the civil rights movement, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund played the reformer role very effectively when, for example, it filed school integration court cases. It also filed a court case on behalf of the Montgomery bus boycott, the success of which brought the boycott's victory. Reformers in the climate movement include James Hansen at NASA, who has forcefully testified about the perils of global warming; Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle, who has lead the Mayors' Climate Change Initiative; the public and nonprofit leaders of twelve states and thirteen environmental groups that sued the Environmental Protection Agency to classify greenhouse gasses as a pollutant that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act; and business leaders in groups such as Ceres, Businesses for Social Responsibility, and the Society for Organizational Learning, which are bringing the message of the need to transform our investment priorities into the corporate world.

Some movement activists and leaders may play all four roles; others may specialize. Both approaches can be successful. Nonetheless, tensions often arise in movements between people and groups playing different roles. Reformers and rebels are particularly prone to conflicts. A larger understanding of the importance of all four roles can help diminish these tensions and support the cooperation and collaboration essential for movement success.

As social change agents and rebels emerge to complement the long-term work of reformers and citizens, the climate movement appears to be in the midst of a major shift in relation to these four roles. This shift is an important signal of the movement's progress and strength. Reformers have done much of the work in the past, toiling through government and United Nations forums, seeking to bring international agreements to fruition. It has been, for all its limitations, powerful work. The scientific consensus building has been particularly critical in convincing the public that the global warming crisis is real. In addition, scientific research and analysis has helped make visible to the public the interrelationship between pine beetle infestations in northern forests, the melting tundra, and the growing strength of hurricanes, for example, as well as clarifying, at least for those who have been attentive, the potential for climate catastrophe. Climate change reformers, in collaboration with activists in the citizen role, have also worked at the state and local levels with government officials willing to initiate and support change, with growing success. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is an especially notable victory, building on the collaboration of Russell Long of the Blue-water Network, Representative Fran Pavley, and many forward-thinking leaders in the private, public, and civil sectors.

A base of grassroots activists doing social change agent and rebel work has only recently begun to develop. Since 2001, local climate change and global warming groups have formed and now do the organizing work of social change agents. The Massachusetts Climate Action Network and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network were early innovators, as was the Green House Network, with its training workshops for activists (modeled after the early civil rights movement nonviolent workshops), and Energy Action, with its inspiring campus-based mobilization of college students.

In the years ahead, more grassroots work will be needed. Activists need to take on a range of institutions, in the automobile industry and the electric utilities, for example. Then they need to take on many locally specific projects, such as improving agriculture and forestry in ways that can alleviate global warming; organizing businesses to change their fuel practices; strengthening public transportation, bicycling, and other car alternatives; building a biodiesel industry; and working with people in communities to make the changes that they personally can make, such as changing their driving habits. This work needs to pervade every institution in society as we seek to make the needed transformations. Social change agent activists can take the lead in these organizing efforts.

The climate movement also needs to strengthen its rebel contingent; at some point, it will be necessary to confront entrenched power that refuses to change. The movement will need to confront utility companies forging ahead with building new coal plants, governments that refuse to adopt emission reduction legislation, and automobile manufacturers who refuse to switch to low emission vehicles. As Ross Gelbspan, author of

Boiling Point and The Heat is On, has said, we "should be outraged" that our government leaders have refused this work, and, in many instances, actively attempted to undermine it.2 A contingent of climate activists needs to study nonviolent campaign building and prepare to bring the issue to public attention in dramatic ways. More and more people will be needed, in their everyday lives as citizens, to advocate for climate-stabilizing changes in their own communities.

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