query: today's organizer training

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Fri Jul 12 08:43:26 CDT 2002

[Steve is picking up on James' comments, with more discussion of 
the Antioch New England Environmental Advocacy and Organizing 
program.  It's a bit long, but I hope won't bother your inboxes too 

From:	"Steve Chase" <schase at igc.org>

Dear Friends,

I appreciated James Whelan's recent mention of Antioch New 
England's new master's program in Environmental Advocacy and 
Organizing. For Lisa and others who would like more information 
about this program, I've included an interview with me below that 
will be appear in Green Living's next issue. It might get trimmed a 
little for space, but Marshall Glickman, Green Living's editor, 
described this write up as a solid, near final draft. It should give 
people a fairly solid background on what we are trying to 
accomplish up here in New Hampshire.  

= Training Environmental Leaders  

This fall, the Department of Environmental Studies at Antioch New 
England Graduate School is launching a new master's program in 
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing -- the only such program 
in the country. We've asked the program's director and founder, 
Steve Chase, to tell us more about this new venture which holds 
such promise. If emulated at other universities, advocacy leadership 
training could give a significant spark to the strength and skill of the 
environmental movement. As Steve Chase has pointed out, "One of 
the great ironies of the environmental studies field is that although it 
emerged as a response to the grassroots environmental movement 
in the late 1960s, it has rarely done anything to educate and train 
environmental advocates and organizers." Today, there are close to 
one hundred colleges and universities offering master's programs in 
environmental studies, but not one of them offers a full program in 
environmental advocacy and organizing--except Antioch New 

Q: How did this program come about?  

A: The idea had been rattling around in my head since I started 
adjunct teaching at Antioch about six years ago. I got very inspired 
after reading about activist training programs like the Brookwood 
Labor College, which offered a two year program to train labor 
advocates and organizers in the 1920s and 1930s, and the 
Highlander Center that played a huge role in the 1960s Civil Rights 
Movement. Rosa Parks was actually trained at Highlander a couple 
of months before she refused to give up her bus seat to a white 
man. The University of Michigan also had a master's program in 
environmental advocacy for a while, and it seemed time to revive 
the idea. Being a very progressive place, my colleagues at Antioch 
New England were receptive. Now, three years after I made the 
original proposal, we have addressed the school's organizational 
concerns, developed a coherent curriculum, and will be welcoming 
our first cohort of students this fall.  

Q: What's the advantage of going to school for this, rather than 
going out and learning the ropes via "hard knocks?"  

A: While you can learn an enormous amount by doing any complex 
activity -- whether it's political organizing, playing the piano, or 
teaching children -- there are many benefits to learning in a 
organized way from other people'sknowledge and experience. I 
recently read about an organizer who described the different 
learning cultures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee 
(SNCC) in the 1960s and the United Farm Workers Organizing 
Committee in the 1970s. As he put it, "In SNCC I had learned by 
osmosis. In the Farm Workers, organizing was taught as a 
discipline. There was a method, and you could learn it, and be good 
at it, and then you could teach others." I think it's worth noting that 
this guy reported learning more working with the Farm Workers than 
with SNCC.  

My belief--which is reflected in our program--is that the most 
effective learning comes from a combination of "incidental" hands-
on learning alongside more formal learning opportunities with 
seasoned activists.  

Q: One of the main goals of your program is to train visionary and 
savvy environmental leaders; in a nutshell can you tell me how 
you'll do that?  

A: To develop such advocates and organizers, we're offering an 
innovative curriculum that covers: 1) scientific eco-literacy; 2) big 
picture political analysis, vision, and strategy; 3) organization 
leadership skills; 4) social action skills; and 5) personal growth and 
life skills for the long haul. Our students are also not going to spend 
all their time in classrooms, writing papers, and listening to lectures. 
They're going to have significant field experiences, engage in 
animated discussions, take part in numerous role-plays and 
simulations, do collaborative hands-on projects, and take real 
responsibility for promoting and running the Environmental 
Advocacy and Organizing Program.  

Q: How many students do you expect in this upcoming class?  

A: We are shooting for 8-12 students in the first year, 12-16 by the 
second year, and 14-18 every year after that. We want to keep 
class sizes small to maximize the interactions among students and 
between students and faculty.  

Q: Is there much scholarship money available for students?  

Antioch New England is a small, mission-driven, graduate school 
without an endowment or much outside funding. Because of that, 
our resources for internal scholarship assistance are limited 
compared to many other colleges and universities. However, I am 
setting up a scholarship fund for students in EAO program and am 
putting five percent of my salary into it every year as seed money. I 
had some good successes raising money for the three year 
research and development phase of setting up this program, so I'm 
hoping I can encourage several foundations and major donors to 
support our new scholarship fund as well. Until then, we can offer 
our students low interest loans, workstudy positions, and assistance 
in researching and applying for external scholarships and 
fellowships. Such assistance is certainly out there. We just accepted 
a Fulbright Scholar from Africa into the program. Still, I think it is 
important that we develop an internal scholarship fund for students 
of limited means who want to devote their working lives to 
organizing for environmental protection, corporate accountability, 
and social and environmental justice.  

Q: What are the job prospects for someone graduating from this 
program and making a decent salary?  

A: Much activism is still done on a volunteer basis by engaged 
citizens, of course. Yet, in the last thirty to forty years there has also 
been a significant explosion in paid positions for full-time advocates 
and organizers among local, state-wide, national, and international 
organizations, campaigns, and support networks. These jobs usually 
pay less than professional positions in the private and public 
sectors, but professional advocates and organizers can make a 
living doing this work, stay out of debt, and (with creative planning) 
prepare for a decent retirement. We even did a study on the starting 
salaries for Environmental Education positions compared to 
Environmental Advocacy positions. To our surprise, we found out 
that the advocates and organizers were, on average, paid $5,000 a 
year more than the environmental educators.  

Still, money is not the major motivation of people who go into this 
field. People attracted to professional advocacy and organizing 
positions are primarily interested in finding fulfilling and challenging 
work, being around inspiring co-workers, and helping make positive 
changes in the world. For folks interested in exploring professional 
advocacy and organizing as a career, I would suggest they read 
Melissa Everett's Making a Living While Making a Difference and 
Harley Jeben's One Hundred Jobs in Social Change.  

Q: Can you point to a few factors that make environmental 
advocacy groups especially effective?  

A: Sure. Does the group have a realistic sense of the power of 
social movements to create important social changes or does it 
unconsciously buy into the debilitating notion that you can't fight city 
hall? Does it choose issues that are winnable, offer a meaningful 
victories for its constituencies, and alter power relationships by 
building more effective and more democratic citizen organizations? 
Does the group just respond to problems with a few tactics it is good 
at or is it a learning organization that plans a comprehensive 
strategy and selects whatever tactics will help achieve the group's 
objectives? What kind of attention does the group pay to outreach, 
recruitment, and leadership development? Does the group treat its 
staff and volunteers with respect and encourage a balanced 
approach to activism that avoids burnout? Does it have a clear idea 
when a more confrontational approach is appropriate and when a 
more collaborative one makes more sense? Does the organization 
recognize that any successful social movement will need people 
working as organizers, reformers, rebels, and citizen advocates and 
not just assume that the one role their group plays is the only one 
needed? Are they aware of the difference between playing each of 
these roles in effective and ineffective ways? Does the group 
attempt to increase the diversity of its membership base and build 
coalitions with other groups? All these things make a big difference 
in any environmental group's effectiveness.  

Q: What do you consider a core reading list for environmental 
activists? Can you name 5 or so books?  

A: A good history of US environmental movements is Robert 
Gottlieb's Forcing the Spring. I also encourage students to read 
Howard Zinn's Peoples' History of the United States, Bill Moyer's 
Doing Democracy, and the Midwest Academy's training manual 
Organizing for Social Change. For a good book on running 
nonprofits, I would suggest Berit Lakey's Grassroots and Nonprofit 
Leadership. In terms of activist life-skills and personal growth, I 
would suggest Steven Covey's excellent book on time management 
First Things First, Joanna Macy's Coming Back to Life, and Vicki 
Robin's and Joe Dominquez's Your Money or Your Life. There are 
hundreds of other good books, but this is a good start.  

Q: How will you guard against the possibility that your students 
might come to see themselves as elite "providers" of organizing 
expertise and view less formally-trained activists whom they work 
with as less capable?  

A: A line from a folk song written by long-time community organizer 
Si Kahn answers that well; "it's not what you have, but what you do 
with it that counts." For example, I don't get mad at people with vast 
wealth just because they have it. I only get critical if they don't use 
their resources to support the creation of a just, joyful, and 
sustainable society.  

Knowledge is also a resource that can be hoarded and lorded over 
people, but I believe it also can be used to empower people, 
develop new leaders, build stronger organizations, win new 
victories, and protect old ones. The underlying goal of organizing is 
to help grassroots people use their collective power more creatively. 
You don't get very far in that effort if you treat people 
paternalistically, don't value their knowledge, or don't encourage 
them to take on greater leadership responsibilities. Our students will 
be thoroughly exposed to that outlook.  

Q: Can you point to any creative environmental work to change 
large corporations?  

A: Sure. Consider Rain Forest Action's (RAN) approach to getting 
Home Depot to commit to selling only sustainably logged timber. 
Home Depot knew that RAN had the power to mobilize an 
international boycott against the company if it didn't improve it's 
practices. That was the stick part of RAN's strategy. The carrot part 
was that RAN went to Home Depot's executives and said if Home 
Depot would switch to only selling sustainably harvested wood that 
RAN could help them publicize their new socially responsible 
business practice and give Home Depot a competitive edge in the 
marketplace. This carrot and stick approach was compelling and 
Home Depot made a formal agreement with RAN to change their 
wood selling practices. RAN, in turn, went out to Home Depot's 
competitors and told them that they could close Home Depot's 
competitive advantage if they too switched to selling only 
sustainably harvested wood. If these corporations change their 
buying policies there will create new market incentives for more 
logging companies to shift their forestry practices to capture this 
new market for sustainably harvested timber.  

Q: I would like to turn to your own motivations for committing your 
life to activism and activist training. What got you started?  

A: I mostly credit my mom. I remember sitting with her when I was 
little and watching news programs that showed black protesters 
being beaten by police or sprayed with fire houses because they 
were demanding the right to vote, to have better schools for their 
children, and the right to equal service at stores, restaurants, and on 
buses. My mom would hold me while we watched and tell me that 
these protesters were among the bravest people on the planet and 
that she hoped I would grow up to fight for justice too. I really took 
that to heart.  

My concerns expanded to the more-than-human world in 1970 when 
I left school for a day to attend the first national Earth Day event at 
the college in my home town. I had a note of permission from my 
mom, but the principal refused to release me. I left anyway, marking 
my first act of civil disobedience. The school tried to suspend me, 
but my mom backed me up. She said I learned more in that one day 
than in several weeks in their school. And she was right.  

As the years went on, I just became more committed to justice, 
democracy, and ecological sustainability.  

Q: How do you stay motivated and inspired?  

A: Part of it is my religious faith. I believe that God is the power in 
the universe that allows us to transcend what is, to imagine what 
ought to be, and to help build what Martin Luther King called the 
Beloved Community. Whether we succeed or not, this effort just 
seems the way to live a fulfilling and moral life. It seems important 
to me to make the effort regardless of whether we win or lose.  

I'm also very inspired by the power of grassroots social movements 
to actually win meaningful reforms--even when these reforms are 
opposed by powerful elites. Social movements have improved our 
lives time and again. One of my friends has a bumper sticker that 
says, "The Labor Movement: The Folks Who Brought You The 
Weekend." That makes a great point. There is so much that we take 
for granted about life in the United States that was won because 
citizens were educated, mobilized, and organized to press for 

My hope, as the director of Antioch's master's program in 
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing, is to increase the 
chances for the environmental movement's success by deepening 
the knowledge, skills, and wisdom of a new generation of activist 
leaders. As Si Kahn argues in his book on organizing, "Training is 
one of the most useful things for the long run that an organization 
can do. The more people we train, the more leadership skills we 
develop, the more powerful our organizations can become."  


Steve Chase
Environmental Advocacy and Organizing Program
Department of Environmental Studies
Antioch New England Graduate School
40 Avon Street
Keene, NH 03431
Phone: 603-357-3122  x298
Fax: 603-357-0718
Email: Steven_Chase at antiochne.edu OR schase at igc.org

For information on our Environmental Advocacy and Organizing 

For information about our Individualized, Environmental Education, 
Certification, Conservation Biology, or Resource Management and
Administration programs:

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