What is your current role?
I am currently a community organizer at Rogue Climate, an organization in Southern Oregon that is focusing on finding practical solutions to the large problem of climate change. We focus on the Jordan Cove Pacific Connector Pipeline that threatens Oregon, work in rural communities to develop climate and energy action plans, and work on statewide policy.
One of the projects I am currently working on is in Ashland, Oregon. I am working with a group of high school students and community leaders to pass a Climate Action Ordinance with the local City Council, a legally binding document to take concrete action on climate change by making Ashland’s climate goals the law of the land. If this passes, we would be one of the two cities in the country to have such an Ordinance. I also work with a statewide coalition to pass a Cap & Invest Bill in Oregon and on the No Pacific Connector Pipeline Campaign. The Pacific Connector Pipeline is a 232 mile proposed natural gas pipeline that would cross over 400 waterways in Oregon to ship natural gas to Asia. The proposed export terminal would be the largest source of climate pollution in the state.
How did you get to where you are now?
Like a lot of William & Mary grads, I grew up in Northern Virginia. After graduation I decided to take some time off to see new places and meet new people. Through the program World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), I worked on a farm in France along with another W&M grad for a month before backpacking across Europe and the Middle East. After that trip,I knew I did not want to move back to Northern Virginia, so I applied to serve as an Americorps service member in Southern Oregon. I worked for a small non-profit, called Rogue Valley Farm to School, where I taught cooking, gardening, and nutritional education.
Soon after moving to southern Oregon I met a friend who was an intern for Rogue Climate. She got me involved in a really phenomenal community art project related to the climate work they were doing in Ashland. At the time the area had been impacted by drought and wildlife - you could see that impact firsthand. One thing led to the next and I got involved in their policy campaign and then on their leadership team. After my Americorps service ended, Rogue Climate had a job opening come up, and I got it and have been working for them since June of 2016.
What would you say to current students who are seeking similar opportunities?
My senior year of college, I was very stressed out, applying for jobs i didn’t really want, and I was not sure where I wanted to be. I didn’t really know what I was currently doing was an option, didn’t know I could be a community organizer. At one point my friend Michael and I decided we were going to stop applying for jobs that we didn’t care about and instead backpack and farm in Europe after graduation. We did and we saw incredible, beautiful things. While traveling independently, I grew a lot and I came back knowing that there were certain things that I wanted to do in life. After traveling, I ended up applying to Americorps position where I could work with kids, be outside, and live on the West Coast .
Don’t stress out about where you are going to be. Do something that makes you happy, something that motivates you, and allows you to make a difference. Life will take you where you need to go.
What is it like in your role of community organizer? Who are the people you work with?
One of my favorite things I do as a community organizer is working with youth. Young people will see the greatest impacts of climate change, so it is especially important that they are involved with making decisions about climate action today. I work with students at Ashland high school, who have formed a group called Ashland Youth Climate Action. We are working together to get an ordinance passed through the city so Ashland is held accountable to its climate goals. Honestly the students are so inspiring. They testify in front of city council almost once a month and have been fighting really hard to see this Ordinance passed. Seeing high school students really push for this Ordinance has been really rewarding, and I am happy I get to work with them every week.
What are the greatest challenges of working as a community organizer?
I think one of the greatest challenges about my job is that it is life-consuming and a lot of hard work. When I first started working it was just me and the executive director at Rogue Climate. But as a result, I have been able to be exposed to so many things. I have I had amazing experiences not just doing organizing work, but non-profit administrative work, policy development, grant writing (soon), and much more.
For those of people who are interested in making an impact on climate change from their home communities, what advice would you give to them?
I think a lot of people are discouraged from current federal government - I think it is important now more than ever that we take action locally. We really need to think about what our local communities can do to impact this issue.
Talk to your city council, figure out what is already happening in your own town and state, how can we hold our legislators accountable, and look at what actions we can take locally and statewide. Then you can demand those legislators to take action on the issues you care about.
It is important to hold our legislators accountable and we cannot just simply assume that one legislator is going to vote one way or the other just because of their party affiliation. We need to break ideological barriers to win. It is important to stay involved and not take things for granted.
For William & Mary students, I would recommend getting involved with stopping the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountain Valley Pipeline, and Cove Point LNG Terminal in Virginia. To keep our planet at a livable temperature, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground. I bet SEAC is working on some of these campaigns, so you should check out their meetings!