Building a Movement


by Joshua Stearns, SCA Board Member and Alumnus

Bill McKibben’s new initiative, Step It Up!, is creating quite a buzz in the green corners of the internet. Although McKibben has been a long time advocate for various environmental causes through his writing (The End of Nature, Enough, Hope Human and Wild, etc”¦) in the last five years he has become an increasingly prominent face and voice for the environmental movement, especially the fight against global climate change. Through his op-ed pieces in support of the proposed Adirondack wind park, his Vermont Global-Warming March, and his new book Deep Economy, McKibben is charging ahead on as many fronts as possible. He writes with beauty and passion, he speaks with a poetic urgency, and he is quickly proving himself an able organizer as well.

I am always reticent to draw direct comparisons between current and historic figures because too often those sorts of analogies end up hiding more than they reveal about a person or a situation. However, there are lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. and his organizing that I see resonating with the way McKibben is thinking, writing, and working ““ especially in terms of Step It Up!. Dr. King was a masterful organizer, able to not only rally people but also able to connect them. His strength lied in his ability to move people to act together for positive change, to join people not only in mind but in heart. Dr. King understood that while our laws were central to the propagation of segregation and racism, it was in our hearts and minds that the battle to overturn those laws would be won. Because of this, Dr. King did not only stand in Washington D.C. or Atlanta, and give his speeches and lobby his representatives, he roamed constantly throughout the country, he spoke on street corners, in community centers, and in churches. He spoke to people, less about racism, hate, and segregation, the things that were most urgently tearing us apart, but more about justice, love, and community, those things that promised to hold us together. Thus when he spoke about fighting he called on people to fight with love, to fight with care, and to fight with hope. Dr. King understood that a movement had to be local, had to bring people together, and had to have a bold and beautiful vision (his “beloved community”) to work toward. What excites me most about Step It Up! is the way that it is already embodying so many of these lessons.

In his welcome message, on the homepage for Step It Up! McKibben points out that in the fight against global warming we “have science on our side; we have economists and policy specialists, courageous mayors and governors, [and] engineers with cool new technology.” What we don’t have, McKibben continues, is a movement. Step It Up! is different because it is not sponsoring a campaign, running a event, or even trying to lead the way. McKibben and the others who have launched Step It Up! recognize that we are the movement””not the scientists, the policy makers, the engineers””us. If we want a movement we ought not look to Washington without first looking to our neighborhoods. Step It Up! is encouraging locally based actions “a nationwide day of hundreds and hundreds of rallies on April 14.” Step It Up! is encouraging people to come together in the places that are most important to them, the rivers, the churches, the community gardens, and all speak, not with one voice, but with our millions of diverse voices, calling on Congress to step it up on climate change.

Those of us who are active in various issues are bombarded by emails, letter writing campaigns, calls to action, petitions, and various other virtual advocacy actions. However, from the outset, Step It Up! struck me as immediately different, and immensely important. This is a chance for us to focus on those things that bring people together, to build community, and through that community begin to build a movement.