By Rachel Close

I agreed to write this post a couple of days before the US election. When I started writing, the morning after Trump was elected president, I felt pretty bleak about the direction of the world. But then I thought about last weekend which I spent with 25 other people, mostly strangers, who gave up their spare time to learn, share and gain skills that we will use together to fight for progressive change. I felt hopeful again.

The West Kootenay Ecosociety’s 100% Renewable Kootenays initiative hosted an organizer training last weekend. Organize BC’s Anna McClean provided two full days of engagement organizer training co-facilitated by our Executive Director, Montana Burgess. The training explored key concepts of the organizing model used most recently by Barack Obama in his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns, and this year by Bernie Sanders, to quickly mobilize and engage millions of people.

We learnt about and gained skills in the key leadership practices of storytelling, relationship building, structuring, strategizing, and taking action. We shared our own stories, connected with our teammates, built our commitment to the campaign, discussed ideas, and refined our teams. To help the Kootenays become 100% renewable in energy by 2050 we need this solid foundation. It was wonderful to spend this time with such passionate and engaged people who have come together for exactly that cause.

Listening to other Ecosociety volunteers openly share their personal stories and then having a safe and supportive space to craft and tell mine was one of the most powerful aspects of last weekend. The most surprising part for me was to discover just how confronting and difficult I find the idea of telling my story. For a long time I’ve been passionate about social justice but always in a way that has been at a distance from my personal life. I’ve attended rallies, I’ve signed petitions, I’ve learnt about theories of social oppression. I spent the last 5 years as a social worker in Melbourne, Australia carefully cultivating boundaries between my personal and professional lives to maintain self-care so that I could have longevity in my work.

Engagement organizing calls for exactly the opposite approach. It teaches that as organizers and activists we need to share part of ourselves, through story, to connect with others so that they care about the things we care about and take action. Last weekend’s training was the beginning of a long and challenging journey for me. It’s difficult to shift habits that have been entrenched over more than a decade. I’m not yet comfortable crafting and sharing my story but I’m one step further along that path. It would be fairly easy for me to stick with what I know, where I feel safe and unchallenged, to just kind of skip this part of storytelling. But if we are to confront and overcome a problem as big as climate change I think we all need to step out of our comfort zones and challenge the status quo. Starting with ourselves.

Being welcomed into the 100% Renewable Kootenays community has been engaging, fun, meaningful and, at times, confronting. It has already challenged the way that I’ve previously engaged with social movements in a really positive way. It gives me hope that we really can come together and create the change we want to see.

Sign the 100% Renewable Kootenays petition, join our team & support a renewable energy future in your community.

Photo: Rachel (2nd from right) strategizes with other EcoSociety volunteers at the organizer training in Nelson Nov 5 & 6