Traveling to COP17, the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa did a number on me. After spending two weeks running around the convention center like a chicken with its head cut off – the days filled with meetings, actions and side events, not to mention the negotiations themselves – the climate talks left me weary of the bureaucratic road blocks to desperately-needed solutions. I crossed paths with people from all over the globe, many of whom represented communities affected by climate change: a young Samoan who had lost 14 family members in a flood, or the dozens of African youth whose countries faced severe droughts and food shortages. These people and their stories showed me how urgently we needed a strong climate treaty, but when the negotiations failed to deliver an ambitious text, I felt like we had doomed those people – and millions of others – to starvation, forced migration and even death. I felt like I hadn’t done enough, but wasn’t sure what else to do.
Months passed and I still couldn’t shake these feelings of guilt, despair and helplessness. I resigned from various organizing commitments and shied away from social gatherings. One day I received an email from a friend who’d been a trainer at Sprog, a grassroots organizing camp I’d attended the summer before. He wrote that this year’s Sprog was looking for trainers, and that I should apply to be one.
I thought about my Sprog experience and remembered how much it motivated me to be an agent of change. I’d grown so close to this group of people, and learned so much about myself, in just one week; it was the incident that inspired me to go to COP17 in the first place. I knew I wanted to help create that life-changing experience for others, so I came out of my organizing coma and joined the trainings team for Northwest Sprog 2012.
As a trainer my experience differed greatly than my experience as a participant: I was running around frantically, preparing trainings and then giving them, prepping activities and then debriefing them. The hard work paid off, though, and many attendees expressed the same gratitude and empowerment I’d felt when I was an attendee. When the time came to leave no one wanted to say goodbye, instead lingering around vehicles and exchanging phone numbers and hugs. Our team had succeeded in creating a safe, supportive environment for these young people, the latest wave of changemakers.
Having the opportunity to teach others and pass on lessons from my experiences made me feel confident in my capabilities as both an activist and an organizer, and reminded me that I am capable of achieving a lot. My confidence once again restored by Sprog, that summer I went on to participate in a Greenpeace training conference in Virginia and a coal mining/export campaign in Montana, and later to return to the climate negotiation battlegrounds at COP18 in Doha, Qatar.
Training at Sprog reminded me of how many historic movements depended on people passing their wisdom and encouragement on to the next generation of leaders. Grassroots organizing can be considered fundamental to our country’s heritage: women’s suffrage, civil rights and other social justice movements are all moments in history that we hold in high regard. These people – family, friends, teachers, students – were bound to ideals of justice and equality. They knew injustice could not be stopped by one person alone, but by many acting in harmony toward a common goal. Most importantly, the leaders of the past taught us that the major battles could not be won in a day, a month or even a year – but with enough time and persistence, our hard work pays off.
In his novel “A Sandy County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold described a scene in which he watched the life, the “fierce green fire,” die from a mother wolf’s eyes. In this moment, Leopold’s attitude toward the environment changed: he no longer saw himself as an individual, acting as supreme authority over the land, but instead realized his role as a caretaker for the Earth, developing a set of land ethics that have made him the renowned author and environmentalist we perceive him as today.
In a world that just hit a dangerous milestone for carbon levels in the atmosphere, every wildfire, every tornado, every extreme weather event should serve as our “green fire” moment. It’s a wake-up call to the reality we face in a warming world: even if we stopped emitting all carbon tomorrow, we would still have to live with today’s disastrous effects of climate change. And, let’s face it, we’re not going to stop polluting anytime soon – which is why we have to keep organizing.
Sprog is one of the many ways we can advance our social and environmental justice work, but it’s unique in that it offers participants a full week of immersion into the grassroots organizing world. We teach participants how to build strategic campaigns to achieve their goals for women’s rights, immigration reform or whatever issue inspires them. By bringing young people from all walks of life to Sprog, we hope to build the momentum and the new wave of leadership needed to overcome the challenges our generation will face in the near future.
Can you help ensure the success of Northwest Sprog 2013?
- Attend! If Sprog sounds interesting to you, register here and/or contact me with any questions. We can offer support on tuition and transportation
- Recruit others: Help spread the word about Sprog and ask your friends and colleagues to register. Tuition discounts available for pairs and groups – contact me for details
- Donate: Our team distributes scholarships to aid Sprog attendees with tuition and transportation. Please contact me about how to make a donation. Sprog is directed and facilitated by volunteers; our cooks and guest speakers also receive no compensation.
We’re at a unique moment in history, one riddled with economic, human rights and ecological disasters. But like every generation before us, we have an amazing opportunity to turn it all around. We could be the ones to finally make things right – but we have to start somewhere. Sprog could be that ‘somewhere’ for many young people this summer – I hope you’ll help launch the next wave of changemakers by supporting Northwest Sprog 2013.