At the end of June I returned home from Sprog, a summer camp for grassroots organizing that’s put on by the Sierra Student Coalition. I couldn’t wait to tell my roommates all about my week with college students from around the Northwest, teaching them how to win campaigns and build leaders for the environmental movement.
Unfortunately, my friends were preoccupied with one thing: the 15th season of Big Brother. I’d never been a fan of the show but still wanted to hang out so, reluctantly, I settled in for the second episode, which featured the creation of The Moving Company.
Within minutes I found myself delightfully surprised: the skills and lessons from Sprog were showing up in Big Brother! Houseguests had devised strategies, formed coalitions and lobbied for votes – everything I’d taught a bunch of college students in the middle of the woods just days ago. The correlation between my experience and the pop culture powerhouse blindsided me; I wish I’d watched the show sooner.
I realized so many people already knew how to play the game – to think like an organizer – but they just haven’t applied that knowledge to something other than Big Brother. Maybe they don’t want to be considered an “activist” or “environmentalist” – and who can blame them? As this season demonstrated, going against the majority can put a target on your back.
But at a certain point, someone has to make a power move. Someone has to be the first to strike – to risk losing it all – in order to change the game.
Outside of the BB house we live in systems of inequity that promote competition over cooperation. While we may not be competing for $500,000, our chances of attaining the American Dream – a decent job, safe home and healthy family – are getting slimmer and slimmer. Those with power want to make us feel isolated and ineffective; they may even bully us into submission.
But in the real world, we are the majority. Our online and in-person participation translates into product sales, viral trends and vote counts. Once we recognize the full weight of our power, we can harness it to change the game so that everyone benefits.
Grassroots organizing is a time-tested strategy for mobilizing people; examples from the last century include women’s rights, civil rights and environmental protection. What’s notable about the climate movement is that, even in just the last five years, we’ve won major campaigns battling coal, natural gas and tar sands projects in communities around the country.
And we’re just getting started. We’ll need all the support we can get to transition to renewable energy, revitalize the economy and stop climate change in its tracks.
Moving forward I plan on reaching out to people by way of pop culture and other interests not expressly linked to the environmental movement. Big Brother taught me that anyone can play the game, but one move can change the game entirely. It’s up to us to shift the power back to the people so that everyone has a shot at winning