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>
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
More information about the Colist