On Thursday, March 26, Isabel Stern ’14 returned to the University to conduct an activist training workshop. The workshop detailed the organization of Green Corps, a group that trains college graduates in environmental organization and teaches these individuals how to run campaigns.
The workshop was organized by Green Corps’ On-Campus interns, Mitch Fehr ’16 and Aly Raboff ’16, both of whom are actively involved in environmental efforts on campus. Raboff is a member of Climate Ambassadors, an environmental awareness group on campus.
“I became involved [in environmental activism] because I knew that environmental issues are seldom discussed among college students even though it effects each and every one of us,” Raboff said. “Growing up in New Mexico, and for a short time in Maui, I was exposed to some of the direct consequences of detrimental energy practices.”
Most attendees of the workshop were interested in environmental activism. However, since the Green Corps method of activism is applicable to areas outside of environmentalism, some participants learned how to organize campaigns for non-environmental issues, such as abortion rights or equal pay.
The two-hour program consisted of two parts. During the first hour, Stern talked about how to establish targets (the people that you want to publicly represent your cause), strategies based on where the target stands on the issue you want to address, and specific tactics that each strategy entails. Stern gave some examples of past Green Corps campaigns to demonstrate each strategy.
Participants then split into three groups, led respectively by Stern, Fehr, and Raboff, to come up with concrete examples of causes and outline which strategy they would use for each cause. One group discussed a real-life campaign being run by a participant, one addressed divestment on campus, and a third explored options for increasing female representation in the economics department.
After the groups reconvened to share what they had discussed, Stern discussed the next phase of running a campaign: recruitment. Stern stressed the value of following up with potential supporters of the cause and then had attendees split into groups to write “recruitment raps,” which are ways of organizing messages that can then be read as speeches to large audiences.
Stern made it clear that some strategies that are not the most pleasant or friendly approaches can be the most effective, and sometimes, she admitted, the most fun. One such tactic was called bird-dogging, which entails following a target around to any public appearance and loudly rallying in order to put pressure on the target.
“I’ve always been interested in environmental advocacy and went to the meeting to learn more about ways to make change through organized groups,” Natasha Timmons ’18 said. “I felt the workshop was helpful in laying out a clear structure to best get things done in an activist campaign. It’s easy to say, ‘I want more people to take action to reduce their environmental footprint,’ but a campaign will succeed if specific goals are set.’”
A lot of the planning for the event consisted of the methods that Stern discussed during the recruitment session. Through a Facebook group, flyers, listservs, and Wesleying posts, Fehr and Raboff made sure that as many students as possible knew about the event.
Green Corps runs one-year training programs for recent college graduates, training them intensively in how to organize environmental campaigns and setting them up with jobs through previous members of the program at various environmental organizations. Stern, who is a member of the current Green Corps class, is currently working with a group called Energy Independent in Vermont as part of her training.
Stern’s first experience in environmentalism was during a summer trip she took to West Virginia to protest against mountaintop removal. After that, she became involved in Climate Ambassadors and the University’s Environmental Organizers Network (EON), co-leading the latter during her senior year and creating “Loam,” the University’s environmental arts magazine.
“I think there is always room for improvement in [the University’s environmental awareness], even though Wesleyan has made strides in past years,” Stern said. “They could start by divesting. Changing behaviors is also something that would make a huge impact on campus.”
Stern reminded members at the beginning of the workshop that the current political gridlock makes creating change extremely difficult, and the Green Corps’ method aims to garner the power of the people to affect change. She also mentioned that this political gridlock does not apply to Wesleyan and that students can bring about small changes within the community relatively easily.
“Wesleyan has such a unique community of engaged, educated, thoughtful people, and could make community-wide changes that would never work on a large level in our country at the moment,” Stern said. “Take advantage of this!”