[Editor’s Note: The 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy (Camino Books 2013) by Sam Daley-Harris has much to teach us. In his May 29, 2013, Fixes column in the NY Times David Bornstein wrote the following about Daley-Harris’ work with the anti-poverty lobby RESULTS which he founded in 1980 and Citizens Climate Lobby which he has coached since its inception nearly six years ago:
We don’t often hear stories like this – stories about ordinary citizens working powerfully side by side with elected officials – particularly citizens who don’t come bearing campaign checks. That’s why it’s important to understand how these changes were achieved and how much more may be possible than most citizens imagine.
Bornstein points to the need for political will to address climate change saying, “The big question is, what useful steps can citizens take to build that will?” If you pose that question to the leading climate scientist James E. Hansen, he’ll tell you to connect with the Citizens Climate Lobby (C.C.L.). ‘They have the potential to be extremely effective,’ [Hansen] said. ‘That’s why I recommend them in my speeches.’ “To understand CCL,” Bornstein continues, “it’s necessary to understand RESULTS, which remains one of the best-kept secrets in development.” Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus called the group his most critical partner “in seeing to it that microcredit is used as a tool to eradicate poverty and empower women.” And former Unicef Deputy Executive Director Kul Chandra Gautam told Bornstein, “To a great extent, it was because of the receptivity created by RESULTS that the United States funding for child survival increased so dramatically [starting in the mid-1980s]. And that led many other countries to come on board.” The child survival campaign has saved the lived of 25 million children according to UNICEF estimates. The following excerpts, from the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy provide insights into the thinking behind Daley-Harris’ new Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation.]
Working to Heal, Repair, and Transform the Break between People and Government
by Sam Daley-Harris
Climate change can be paralyzing. Because it is so big it can produce fear and inertia, and because its causes and solutions are so diffuse it can frustrate and discourage action. Perhaps the biggest challenge for climate activists to overcome is to remain truly hopeful – something Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) has mastered better than any other organization.
That hope was in clear view as I listened to CCL’s monthly conference call that first Saturday in August, 2012. The United States was headed to what would be the hottest year on record. CCL was also going through the hottest year in its five-year history with volunteers hurtling to the following year-end achievements: 537 letters to the editor published (up from 36 in 2010), 534 meetings with members of Congress or their staff (up from 105 in 2010), and 87 op-eds published (up from 20 in 2010).
“If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren,” wrote leading climate scientist James Hansen, “there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.”
The group Hansen was talking about was Citizens Climate Lobby.
So what is going on here? One thing is clear. CCL is the first organization to deeply empower grassroots citizens with a stunningly effective replication of RESULTS’ methodology–so effective that some in RESULTS are asking CCL leaders how they are doing it.
The guest speaker on the CCL conference call, Amory Lovins, had just finished and the moderator moved to a discussion of the workshops from CCL’s International Conference the month before. Elli Sparks, a volunteer from the Richmond, Virginia area, was introduced. Sparks had joined CCL 18 months earlier and often said that when she joined, she was suffering from “climate trauma”. I asked what she meant by that.
My second child has a terrible heart defect and had to have five open heart surgeries. After the surgeries were over and my children got settled at school, I wondered what was going on with the environment. I went to my local library and got Bill McKibben’s book Eaarth. It was the summer of 2010. I read it and wept. My friends had been involved with the Al Gore documentary a few years earlier but I had a kid that I was taking to the Cleveland Clinic twice a year. My daughter wasn’t getting what she needed from me and my marriage had suffered. I had been dealing with survival issues. Now I was weeping at work and at home, constantly crying and I thought, ‘I take 10 years off to start a family and the world falls apart….’
When Sparks joined CCL she had never met with an editorial writer and hadn’t been on a Congressional lobbying visit for 12 years. But now, 18 months after joining CCL, she would describe the workshop she co-led on creating relationships with members of Congress and the media.
I had heard her speak before and was inspired by the work that she and her team were doing in Richmond, but I wasn’t expecting to hear what she was about to say. Her remarks were the purest expression of the transformation that my new Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation sought to create.
….Our director Mark Reynolds likes to say, ‘We’re betting the farm on relationships. Then he tells us that we need to build relationships with members of Congress and editorial writers. Most of us CCL volunteers have never done that before!! What in the world does a relationship with a member of Congress look like? How do we connect with an editorial page editor? Some of us have found models for those relationships in other parts of our lives. Gary in Boston uses the model of a work relationship….
This was a good start, honest and probing, but nothing mind-blowing. That would come next.
My relationship model is different. I adore romantic relationships, so I use romance as my model. That first meeting with the editorial writer… it’s like a blind date, only you’ve decided beforehand you are going to marry this fellow. You are going to be sweet and interesting, but not too intense…. if it doesn’t work out with the editor, you are going to marry one of his friends at the newspaper – the business editor, environmental writer, or city editor. Someone at this paper will find you interesting and compelling – it’s just a matter of being persistent until you find the right connection.
Who talks like this? Certainly not someone still suffering from climate trauma. And you probably wouldn’t hear it from typical climate activists or activists of any kind. It was music to my ears.
….I see the relationship with a member of Congress as an arranged marriage. If you live in her district, the member’s aide has to meet with you. That’s what our Congressman’s legislative director (LD) told us in January . Since then, we’ve met five times with the LD in 2012. We schedule 45-minute meetings with him. He keeps us for well over an hour. He doesn’t want us to leave! Why? Because a good arranged marriage starts out cold and heats up over time. That’s different than a love match, which starts out hot and slowly cools down.
From “climate trauma” to this, and she was just getting going.
…I see the editorial page writer as a painter. His canvas is the editorial pages. His pallet is filled with letters to the editor, op-eds, and editorials. I am his muse, model, and assistant….I want him to fill his canvas with colors that I like, so I’ll have my group send 3 – 5 letters to the editor whenever the opportunity arises. The more colors I put on his pallet, the better chance of having him pick one or two of my favorite colors.
….Last summer, he printed three climate denier letters from international denier groups. At first, the denier letters felt like a blow to the gut. Then, I dug deep for the love language… My editor was proud of his work in standing up for the climate. Those denier letters were in response to his own articles encouraging conservatives to help conserve the climate. He had been courageous in writing those editorials. He was getting national attention because of them. He was not backing down. I thought he might enjoy a pat on the back from across the nation. I called Gary in Boston, a scientist in NY, and our CCL director [in California]. All three sent letters. All three letters were printed! I guess I was right… my editorial page editor likes national attention!!
And then she got to the essence of citizen empowerment and transformation, the breakthrough that eludes almost every national advocacy effort.
….During our conference I met with 20 congressional offices. I met with many folks whose view of the world was very different than mine. Going into their offices was hard. I had to let go of a lot of emotional baggage. I could no longer judge them or hold hostility in my heart towards them. I had to let go of my fear of climate change and my fear that they wouldn’t listen to me. I had to center myself in love. Releasing fear and centering in love… this is sacred and profound work….
And so it is. But how do you start an organization that sets out to create the political will to ensure a stable climate and delivers “sacred and profound work” in the process? It is definitely not a matter of luck but the result of some serious planning and commitment. That was the journey that CCL’s founder Marshall Saunders began when he kept returning to see An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 – three times over a 10-day period.
Actually Saunders’ journey began long before his repeated viewings of the climate change documentary. It’s hard to put a finger on one event in a person’s life that leads to the founding of an organization like CCL, but when I look for clues, I search for existential moments in which the preciousness of life is so profoundly experienced that it launches a continued quest to live a life that truly matters. So what were those moments in Saunders’ life? As you will see, at first, his life was as ordinary as any.
“I was a guy who played everything safe,” Saunders recalled. “I wanted a peaceful life with my wife and two kids and wanted to be left alone.”
But in 1980 Saunders took a human development course and made a contract with himself that said, ‘I trust myself as I seek out new risks and commit to new responsibilities.’
“At first I softened it so I didn’t have to take risks,” he remembered, “but then I realized that risks are at the heart of it.”
Maybe that’s the beginning, shifting from a life of safety to a life that incorporates some risk. But for most people that might lead to taking up sky diving, skiing black diamond trails, or running a marathon or two, all of which require courage and bring some risk but don’t exactly result in starting a life-altering organization that addresses one of the greatest challenges of our time.
But Saunders didn’t hit the slopes or jump out of airplanes. Instead he joined Rotary and started visiting community service projects like the Pan American Institute, a private junior high school for the poor in Tijuana, Mexico.
“I visited the school in 1987,” he recalled, “and Rotary gave about $600 for their library. It is in a really run-down neighborhood, but if you went inside the school you would see that everything was spotless and the kids were well groomed. When the kids arrived each morning they got a broom or a mop and they would clean the school every day. But if you went out the back door the neighborhood was a trash heap.”
At about this time Saunders began receiving dividends from Big Red, his family’s soda company founded decades earlier in his hometown of Waco, Texas. The experience with the school and the new income led Saunders and his wife Pam to eventually provide about 15,000 meals a year to the students. But now life had a new lesson to deliver.
Right after I joined Rotary I had a physical and learned I had prostate cancer….Unfortunately the surgery didn’t get all of the cancer and it is incurable. At the time I was beginning to get family money off the Big Red, I had the desire to make a difference, and now I learn I’m going to die. It became a race to see how much I can get done before I get too sick to do it and die.
But to the great good fortune of Saunders and an untold number of others, he would not die any time soon, but would instead live his life as if he were.
Maybe trusting oneself to seek out new risks and committing to new responsibilities coupled with the specter of death looking over your shoulder are part of what fuel the founding an institution like CCL.
In 2012 I launched the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation to help large non-governmental organizations find and train that small portion of their members who want to go far beyond mouse-click advocacy and create champions in Congress and the media for their cause. Five years earlier I had gone back to RESULTS half time and was traveling around the country starting and empowering grassroots groups in a quest to better understand what made citizen empowerment and transformation work.
That quest helped me identify 13 commitments needed for success which are discussed in this chapter. As I was developing the concepts, my wife wondered if circulating the list was tantamount to giving away the store. I saw her point but also knew that so little is understood about true citizen empowerment and transformation that even if I nailed the list to every tree in the nation and circulated it online as widely as possible, people still wouldn’t get it. There are so many misconceptions on this topic that even if we think we understand a concept, our instincts lead us astray.
For example, one principle that almost every organization gets wrong is the fact that campaigns must be focused if volunteers are to go deep enough on an issue to have real breakthroughs with their members of Congress and the media. But the conventional wisdom mistakenly assumes that if you focus on one issue over the course of a year the volunteers will get bored, which is only true if the curriculum is shallow and the issue lacks vision. What the conventional wisdom doesn’t understand is that gaining mastery on a topic over time – deeply understanding the legislation, players, arguments, and politics – is thrilling for a volunteer and gives them a confidence that is exciting, not boring. Rejecting the conventional wisdom, Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) has focused on a carbon tax and dividend for two years and yet, in the first six months of 2013 their volunteers have had 501 letters to the editor and 112 op-eds published. Is that what boredom looks like? I don’t think so.
While my aim with the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation (CCET) is to spread these 13 commitments that are so critical to deep empowerment, what I mostly encounter are organizations fascinated by the latest technological innovations: Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, on-line petitions, and text messages. Most are uneasy with a focus on personal empowerment and transformation, uncomfortable with the deeper social innovations. While advances like Twitter and on-line petitions are useful tools, I find it misleading to call these tools “social media” when these so-called social media tools often help people avoid the deepest social interactions on which true change so often depends. For example, feeling nervous beyond measure before calling an editorial writer to initiate a conversation on an issue you care about, but picking up the phone and calling anyway, is the first step toward one of those deep personal interactions that are so often avoided.
Why don’t our major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide real empowerment and transformation for even a small portion of their members? I believe it comes down to not knowing what to do, not knowing what works, the fear of failure, and that same fear of being told “no” that keeps volunteers from picking up the phone as described above. It also comes from NGOs taking comfort in the clout they already have, even if that clout is insufficient to reach their ultimate goals.
Taken from Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government © Copyright 2013 by Sam Daley-Harris. Published by Camino Books, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Sam Daley-Harris is the author of Reclaiming Our Democracy. A 20th anniversary edition will be released in September 2013 www.reclaimingourdemocracy.com. He founded RESULTS in 1980 (www.results.org), founded the Microcredit Summit Campaign in 1995 (www.microcreditsummit.org), began coaching Citizens Climate Lobby in 2007 (www.citizensclimatelobby.org), and founded the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation in 2012 (www.citizenempowermentandtransformation.org).