Organizing is a democratic strategy used by social movements, labor unions, under-represented communities, and marginalized groups to gain rights, win collective political power, and create positive change. While there are many different types of online and offline organizing, the main job of an organizer is to create unity (and solidarity) within a group of people, then help their community work together to solve problems and reach shared goals. Here, we'll focus on organizing to create positive cultural, community, and political change to address climate change and climate injustice.
Done well, organizing is one of the most powerful strategies in the world for social change. Throughout history there are many examples of small communities who generated major media awareness, transformed culture, and overcome major, systemic oppression through smart, effective organizing (all with limited money, resources, and social support). Women's Rights, Civil Rights, LGBTQ Pride, and everyday employee benefits like weekends off, paid vacations, minimum wage, and sick days have all been won through organizing.
As we've already seen heading into 2020, the best climate organizers are people who build community and inspire people to act. You might think that's not you, but we've seen leaders of all ages emerge in the climate movement, often many who are introverts, have no previous organizing experience, or come from marginalized communites. Start small where you feel comfortable (Greta Thunberg started climate striking all by herself and look where we are now). Small beginnings can grow into big impact.
The key to successful climate organizing is you can start by yourself - but don't stay by yourself. You need to build a group. In movement organizing, this is often called an "affinity group," a group of people linked by a common interest or purpose. It is much easier to stay motivated and get things done when you aren't alone. If you have friends, family-members, or co-workers who you know are passionate about climate issues already, perfect. If not, ask around and try to convince a few people to help you.
Your responsibility as an organizer is to work with others to build this group, keep everyone educated, focused, productive, engaged, and included, then teach other people in the group how they can organize so your group becomes a group of groups (or chapters or teams). Climate movements like Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Sunrise Movement have all grown their size, membership, and impact following these principles.
The best way to start building an affinity group is by hosting an event. This can be a club at your school, a house party, an informal meeting with friends, a public meeting, or even an online meeting like a webinar or livestream. If the right meeting environment or structure doesn't exist, go ahead and create it. We've talked to dozens of young people this year who started new environmental clubs or climate chapters at their high school or university.
What matters most is that you've identified a problem, invited people impacted by it (or at the very least other people who also care), and clearly articulated the goal of the meeting - even if the goal itself is to have an open dialogue or conversation about the issue.
It's always easiest to start building community from your own relationships - neighbors, classmates, friends - people who trust and believe in you. Invite them first and ask them to share your event and bring friends. With the right message, meeting cadence, and recruiting strategy, you can turn inviting five friends into a 10-20 person event that can serve as your base for follow-on community-building.
Other tactics like putting up flyers, asking to speak at other, related events, coalition-building, and social media can also help get the word out. Cover all your bases.
Above all, make sure you collect signups at your kickoff meeting to get your RSVP's contact info so you can keep them informed and involved in your ongoing work. Any climate organizer is welcome to create a free organizer account on Brightest to list your event(s), grow and activate your supporters, and keep track of members (it's way easier than paper signup sheets, trust us).
As you grow your organizing beyond your close friends and relationships, you'll always be able grow faster and work more efficiently using organizing system
Recruitment - and keeping people engaged and coming back - is essential to success as a climate organizer.
Here's a very simple example to illustrate this point:
You host a kickoff meeting with your friends to talk about the climate crisis. 10 people come to the meeting and you collect their information. At the meeting, you decide your goals, organizing principles, and choose to go to a climate strike in your hometown. At the strike, you meet 10 more people and tell them about your climate organization or chapter. Then you hold a follow-up meeting and invite 20 people, and tell them to invite friends. People heard about your strike and are interested, so your second meeting attracts 25 people.
This momentum cycle of meet, plan, act, recruit and engage, then meet again will is very effective for growing your climate organization and improving your organizing skills.
By continuing to meet, email, communicate, take action, and collect referrals regularly, you can even help experienced or entrepreneurial members branch off to create working groups inside your organization, or even form their own new group or chapter. Maybe you started a city chapter and want to expand your movement into neighborhood chapters. There are many different possibilities, just make sure to keep a database and email list of members or things will start getting very complicated as you grow (💡 we can help make this easy for you).
While it's possible to get a community going online with the right message, platform, and social media skills - in our experience it's much more challenging. Start by building relationships in person, then incorporate digital and social second to spread your message.
While "Shut it Down" and "Climate Justice Now" are great action chants, and we firmly believe there's climate movement benefit from regularly and publicly going on climate strike with your friends and group-members (even if you don't do anything else), it can also be helpful to declare specific goals for your climate organizing.
Often, you may want to choose a legal, political, or project goal, like getting your City Council to declare climate emergency, passing a new climate-friendly law in your city, county, or state, electing a progressive climate candidate, and/or stopping a local fossil fuel project. It's fine to have multiple goals, and have different goals on different timelines.
For example, if your ultimate climate goal is to pass a Green New Deal into law, what steps need to happen in 2020 to elect politicians who will do that? Your group could register voters, canvass local neighborhoods, phone bank for a Green New Deal candidate, or host a grassroots fundraising party.
As always, there are many different options - and if you ever want help or feedback feel free to message us if you'd like our advice or feedback. If you'd like to read a longer version of our current thinking on climate strategy, please go here.
💡 Our Community Organizing 101 guide contains a run-down on organizing basics
📅 Hosting a first meeting with your friends or climate group? Use our meeting template
🎵 Boost your climate justice affinity and energy with these climate songs and chants at your next action, event, or strike
📈 Want to share a climate strike or event with our community? Submit it here