Building a Renewed Oregon: A Conversation with Thomas Wheatley
As the Climate Communications & Outreach Manager for Oregon Environmental Council, I work closely with the Renew Oregon team. The team is aflutter with activity–whether they’re live-tweeting hearings in Salem, meeting with businesses and individuals who support a new direction for the state, or interviewing Oregonians to learn why they care about climate action–Renew Oregon is busy building a movement. It’s an inspiring thing to see.
I want you to see first-hand the leadership behind this incredible campaign. While “doom and gloom” climate stories most often make the news, in reality movement towards a cleaner, more resilient Oregon is taking place all around us. And dynamic, capable people like Thomas are working to unite us and mobilize us to a healthier, more prosperous state.
Devon: What draws you to this campaign?
Thomas: Well, I’m a dad of two little boys, and I feel like I’ve got a responsibility to them. I want to make sure we leave them a planet that they can still enjoy and appreciate. I want them to be able to go to Glacier National Park, like I did, and I want for there to still be glaciers there.
I don’t like the fact that these big out of state oil and gas companies rule the roost. I don’t like that they control policy that affects regular folks and I think that we can beat them. But that will take an ambitious, creative, thoughtful and disciplined campaign to be able to do so. It feels like a real privilege to work on such an important issue at such a critical time.
D: Tell me about Renew.
T: Renew Oregon is a grassroots campaign working to transition our state away from dirty, polluting energy, to a clean energy economy – and to ensure that big polluters pay their fair share. Oregonians are doing our part; we’re recycling and composing, we’re being smart about the vehicles we drive and how much we drive; we pay for what we use. We pay for the garbage we put on the street. We pay to get our cars checked. Big polluters, on the other hand, are not paying for what they use and what they leave behind. They’re not doing their part.
We’re asking the public to join together to support policies, investments and actions that will tackle climate change by holding polluters accountable and creating investment in the clean energy economy. That, at its core, is what this campaign is about.
D: How did you first get involved in this wild world of campaigning?
T: I’ve been working on social change and political campaigns for about 15 years. I got my start in New York City working with low-wage immigrant workers. My job was to help make sure they were treated fairly.
When I moved to Oregon ten years ago, I joined the staff at Basic Rights Oregon and worked on LGBTQ equality campaigns. I was part of the team that passed the domestic partnership, anti-discrimination and the safe schools anti-bullying laws. We also began some really groundbreaking research here in Oregon about how to engage the public in a conversation about the freedom to marry. Three years ago I began working regionally, as part of the national marriage equality campaign; over I worked in nine western states on marriage campaigns. Today all those states are places where people have the freedom to marry the person they love. The common thread in all this work, for me, is building people-powered campaigns that create change.
D: What’s your hope for Renew Oregon?
T: My hope is that we build a people-powered campaign for climate action that provides everybody who wants to make a difference with a way to do so. We all come to the table with different skills, experiences and interests, and the campaign’s job is to make sure we unite people across the state in pursuit of an ambitious agenda for climate action.
Whether you want to donate your time, professional skills or write a check of support – we have avenues for you to join us and make a difference.
D: What’s the biggest lesson from your previous campaign experience that you bring in to Renew Oregon?
T: We need a campaign that engages real Oregonians in a conversation about a clean energy future, and brings new people into the work. We need to be highly accountable and clear about what our goals are. We need a campaign that’s built to a massive scale, engaging with thousands of volunteers and donors, and hundreds of organizations and businesses. When you consider the fierceness of the opposition – we need to be serious about winning.
D: The campaign world is notoriously high stress – how do you keep yourself centered amidst the swirl of activity?
T: For me, when I’m not working I’m pretty much always with my family. Today after work I’m going to go watch my seven year-old play basketball at the community center. It’s hard to be stressed about work when you watch your kid loving life.
D: How can people help with Renew Oregon? What do we need people to do right now?
T: We need people to be personal ambassadors, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We need them to share personal stories about why they care about climate change, how its affecting their businesses and livelihood, and how we, as Oregonians, can transition to a clean energy economy. It’s up to each of us to be an ambassador for the climate change movement and bring new people in to make the movement strong and diverse. Oh, and we need everyone to make a donation to the campaign!