Building advocacy with our Emerging Leaders

Guest blog by Kellen Klein, Emerging Leaders Board Member

2018 is a big year for Oregon Environmental Council – it’s the organization’s 50th year of advocating for the protection of our state’s people and places. In addition to numerous planned anniversary events throughout the year, Oregon Environmental Council will also be working to pass important legislative priorities like the Clean Energy Jobs bill. In an age of regulatory rollbacks and growing threats to our climate, water, and health, accelerating Oregon’s environmental leadership feels more important than ever.

With so much happening in 2018, our Emerging Leaders Board – a group of young professionals committed to advancing Oregon Environmental Council’s mission and cultivating the next generation of environmental leaders – felt the organization and its allies deserved a proper “kick-start” to the year. We set out to plan an event that would remind community members what we’re trying to achieve this year, inspire them to get involved, and equip them with the tools and resources to effectively support our mission.

In early January, we proudly brought this vision to life through “Advocacy 101: Oregon’s Environmental Policy.” Hosted at Airbnb’s Portland office, the event brought together more than 50 community members to connect and learn from state environmental leaders about how to successfully advocate for policy change in Oregon. Following some lively networking, we all sat for a thought-provoking panel featuring local elected officials, their staff, and non-profit directors.

Among the highlights I heard from the panelists:

  • Representative Diego Hernandez, District 47 (East Portland) – “The first step is showing up. When you’re able to meet your elected officials face-to-face, especially when there are a lot of you there saying an issue is important to you, it really sticks with us.”
  • Amira Streeter, Policy Director, Office of Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish – “Lobbying sounds scary, and I was terrified the first time I did it, but it’s actually really fun!”
  • Lindsey Scholten, Political Director, Oregon League of Conservation Voters – “You don’t have to have any experience to get involved in environmental policy work, all you need is energy and a passion for change. The first campaign I worked on, I just showed up willing to work and was hired the next day!”
  • Amy Lewin – Director of Communications, Oregon Environmental Council – “Policy makers really do listen to social media. When you sign a petition or tweet at a legislator, it has a tangible impact. And what resonates most is stories from ordinary citizens. Nonprofits can be the messengers, but it means more when policy makers hear the opinions of their actual constituents.”
  • Angela Crowley-Koch – Legislative Director, Oregon Environmental Council – “Taking a day off work to go down to Salem is not feasible for everyone. But don’t forget that there are lots of events in your own backyard where you can also get involved! Whether it’s a town hall with your local representative, a city hearing, or a downtown rally, your voice is powerful in many different settings.”

Inspired by the discussion, attendees then had an opportunity to dive even deeper into grassroots advocacy, communications, and lobbying tools and tactics during breakout sessions facilitated by the panelists. It was inspiring to see Oregonians young and old, rural and urban, and from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds quickly rolling up their sleeves to explore environmental policy challenges and opportunities posed to the breakout groups. The collective knowledge and experience of our state advocacy community is an under-appreciated resource, and one that Oregon Environmental Council and the Emerging Leaders Board will be working to better deploy in 2018.

You know it’s a successful event when the host kicks you out 30 minutes after the official end time (sorry Airbnb!). If the energy and enthusiasm we observed at Advocacy 101 is any indication, OEC and its allies are well positioned to secure some big wins for Oregon’s environment and communities in 2018.

In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be giving you many more opportunities to “show up” and be a part of Oregon Environmental Council’s efforts to protect the places we live, work and play. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, Eastern Oregon farmer, environmental justice organizer, corporate executive, Willamette Valley vintner, night-shift nurse, or Trailblazer point guard, there’s a role for you in our work in 2018. Here’s to an epic 50th anniversary!

Kellen Klein is a member of OEC’s Emerging Leaders Board and a Senior Manager of Stakeholder Engagement at Future 500, a nonprofit consultancy working to build bridges between diverse stakeholders to address environmental and social challenges.

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