- About the Sierra Club Community Organizing Training Program
- Group Training and Assistance
- Networking and Referrals
We all have the right to live in an environment free of toxic exposure. We should be able to live in communities where the air is safe to breathe and the water is clean to drink. Unfortunately, for more and more Albertans, this is not the reality. From concerned community members in Peace River and Whitecourt fighting dirty and dangerous Nuclear Energy, landowners in Central Alberta fighting transmission lines and EUB spying, folks on the eastern slopes concerned about proposed coalbed methane projects that threaten water and forests, community members in the industrial heartland with health concerns in light of proposed new upgraders, to residents living in a quarter of the province where tar sands deposits are threatening land, air, cultures and rivers - across the province, our communities are being threatened by destructive and polluting industries, and Albertans are stepping up and mobilizing and fighting. When it comes to holding governments accountable, getting corporations to clean up their toxic mess, and mobilizing public support to protect our communities, lands, air, and waters, the Sierra Club believes that one of the most effective, lasting, and empowering way to bring about change is through grassroots community organizing. The Sierra Club supports local communities in their struggles for a clean and healthy environment and for a just and democratic future. When invited into a community, our Community Organizing program provides grassroots organizing assistance, following the lead of the community members as they define the agenda and mobilize.
Through our group consultations and trainings, expert referrals, networking gatherings, and staff support, the Sierra Club can offer community groups, concerned citizens, and local leaders the organizing skills needed to wage effective campaigns, to take our struggles for a safe community and healthy environment to the next level. This usually starts with a phone call to a Sierra Club organizer and a brief interview where we find out as much information about your issue as we can. If you choose to proceed with enlisting our assistance or support, our next step is for a Sierra Club organizer to visit your community and meet with concerned citizens/group members to discuss the problem and to determine how we best can help and support your work. Based on our initial meeting and the needs and wishes of your group, we can offer informational resources, leader/group trainings, campaign development, as well as referrals and networking opportunities, and staff support where it makes sense. Each community, group, and issue is different, so different forms of support are considered based on the situation, your needs and our capacity.
Sierra Club Prairie Chapter offers six group consultation sessions and trainings for you to choose from to develop and implement strategies that enhance your ability to win your local struggle and campaign. A Sierra Club organizer can come to your community and meet with you and your group members on a weeknight or weekend to help you develop a plan specifically tailored for your community and your struggle, as well as give any of the below trainings. These trainings can be done separately, or mixed together in different ways to best suit the tools you feel that you, your community, and your issue needs. Staff members can also consult with your group and deliver mini-trainings on things such as group facilitation, navigating environmental rights and regulations, and fundraising. These trainings and consultations can also be done via conference call.
- Planning a Winning Campaign. The first and most essential step to addressing any problem is to develop a campaign plan. This training will allow your group to clarify goals, figure out a strategic process for solving your problem, learn about a variety of avenues to influence your decision makers, brainstorm specific steps to take, and develop a timeline for action and success. Different campaigns strategies will be described and discussed.
- Getting your Message out to the Media and Making the News. Getting your story out to the media is key to raising public awareness, increasing public support, and pressuring decision makers, and it can be very easy with the right training and skills. In this workshop, your group will develop a compelling story for your issue, as well as messaging and talking points. You will also develop media outreach skills and learn the tricks of media advisories, press releases, pitch calls, media events, and other citizen media tools. Your group will develop a plan to publicize your issue in the media through events and building relationships with reporters.
Grassroots Organizing and Building Your Group. Mobilizing support for your issue in your community is critical to strengthening your fight, building your base and leveraging the power of the grassroots to win. Your group will develop a plan to recruit new supporters and members to your cause, and an outreach strategy to engage different allies and coalition partners to join you in your fight. Tools and tactics for public outreach and grassroots mobilizing will be discussed.
SPECIAL ADDITIONAL SECTION/TRAINING: YOUTH ENGAGEMENT. Many community groups we have worked have a predominantly older membership and struggle with engaging younger folks to become active parts of the group. However, in grassroots organizing, youth have played a significant role in mobilizing and are a powerful force in fighting for progressive social change. In this workshop, we will discuss the many great ways to engage youth, as well as train and mentor them into taking active leadership roles in our campaigns, so that we have a dynamic, intergenerational movement. There are also many ways we can structure our group and meetings in such a way that allows for youth to feel empowered and active, and in doing so, we increase our ability to truly transform our community for generations to come.
- Lobbying 101 - Political Meetings and Lobbying Decision Makers. Getting to know and building strong relationships with the decision makers who have the power to give you the protection you need for your land or to stop a project from going forward is critical to your struggle. Your group will develop a plan to engage key decision makers on your issue, as well as determine the avenues of influence and the best pressure tactics to use in order to effectively sway them and get their support. You will also develop a lobby strategy, which includes mobilizing key grassroots constituencies, setting up lobby meetings and lobby days, and running effective and strategic meetings with the decision makers.
- Making the Most of Public Hearings and Government Process. Often it is important for our groups to engage in the government process or we are already involved in hearings. Unfortunately, these processes can be time intensive and exhausting for community groups. The key here is for groups to use these processes and events in a way that builds support in their community, mobilizes the grassroots, increases pressure on the decision makers and uses the media to the fullest extent to get their campaign messages out to the public. In this training, your group will develop a plan for the upcoming public hearing and government process through galvanizing public support, knowing and preparing compelling testimony, and also knowing the inÕs and outÕs of the process and your rights! This training will be done in conjunction with the Environmental Law Centre and their staff.
Non-Violent Direct Action. When groups have used all their tools within the system to effect change and they do not work, it is time to escalate and increase the urgency and intensity of our actions to increase the pressure on elected officials and to let the public know that we are not giving up.
Activists from all over the world and from different causes have used direct actions to spur significant social change such as the occupation of the all-white lunch counters during the sixties, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the anti-Vietnam and Gulf War protests, the Seabrook occupations, mass protests at the FTAA, WTO and G8, and the American Indian Movement occupation of Wounded Knee.
Many famous activists have participated in civil disobedience, including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Rosa Parks. These actions have brought attention to many injustices and led to the growth of progressive movements, as well as to victories in individual struggles. So what is "non-violent direct action"? Find out and learn some tactics in this interactive workshop.
Besides skill development and campaign support, the Sierra Club also believes strongly in the power of networking and connecting local community leaders who are fighting on similar issues to each other, as well as to other experts, scientists, and provincial and national organizations. The goal of our network is to both reinforce local campaigns and to help local groups see themselves as part of a larger movement for environmental health and democracy. Through listserves, conference calls and regional and provincial meetings and campaigns, we help connect community groups and leaders with other advocates fighting similar battles to build confidence and share lessons, ideas and information, and strengthen are chances of success and ability to open and truly transform our political landscape by building a larger and more powerful grassroots movement of active citizens. We also maintain an expert referral list with legal, public health and environmental professionals who can help local groups.