Written by Emily Thai*
In the spring of 2016—my junior year at MIT—I decided that, while doing science is important and had been a lifelong dream of mine, it was beginning to frustrate me. Being in a lab, tweaking concentrations of chemicals by tenths and hundredths, in the hopes of optimizing a device that would someday, optimistically, be useful to human beings, felt inadequate to address the issues of climate change and systemic oppression that the world and its people were facing in the present. So I turned down an offer to intern with a battery company and joined an organization I knew nothing about - Better Future Project.
While MIT had an active divestment group, I had not been involved. I had no clue where to begin my foray into climate activism—at this time, I didn’t even know what the word “organizing” meant. So I perused the Internet for any leads, found BFP, and applied on a whim. When I received my acceptance, I thought it was a mistake—what in my woefully empty resume made me qualified for this? But if it was a mistake, it was a fortuitous one. The fellowship was meant to teach organizing skills, and I grew tremendously in that regard from my starting point of zero. These skills gave me the confidence to jump into campus organizing, and I've applied them to several campaigns at MIT. Yet the program's biggest impact on me was not the skills I learned, but the people I met. Alyssa and Courtney (whose guest blog posts you can also find here) and a community of driven, passionate, and deeply caring activists, which I suddenly found myself a part of, pushed me to learn and grow and be better and supported me in the process. From tough conversations about internalized racism in our movement, to singing silly improv songs about Taylor Swift and oil pipelines, to lying in a field and looking up at the stars, the friendships and experiences have motivated me and changed me for the better.
This year, I'm a "Senior Fellow" - but I hate the term. I would love to say that I took this position in order to help grow the next generation of climate activists or something of that sort, but I find that I'm teaching the fellows, some of whom have just as much organizing experience as me, very little. The real reason I'm here is because I wanted to be a part of this year's fellowship community. I want to contribute whatever and wherever I can, but also to learn from all the organizing trials and tribulations we encounter as we launch a new campaign together. And I can only hope that my presence in some way adds to the sense of purposeful community that I first felt at BFP one year ago.
*This week’s blog post is written by Emily Thai, a recent graduate from MIT, who participated in BFP’s Climate Summer Program last July. Emily returned this year to advise and guide as a senior fellow. “Repeat for the Best Results” is the second of three guest blog posts that will be highlighted over the next couple of weeks.
WEEK 6-- Across all cultures, there are two things that really draw people together: music and art. Phillip and Nate, our Public Actions team, had the wonderful idea of using art to spread awareness about our campaign. Inspired by a the public art demonstrations of the Overpass Light Brigade, we organized a seven day light brigade that focused on various popular Boston destinations.
Night 1: Boston Common, State House
Night 2: North Station
Night 3: Massachusetts Ave. Bridge
Night 4: City Hall Plaza
Night 5: Massachusetts Ave.
Night 6: Arthur Fiedler Footbridge
Each night, around 9 pm, we convene at our designated location, distribute the 15 black poster boards, and line up, ready to draw people in with our light up letters. Some nights we sing, substituting words related to our campaign into popular songs, but mostly we talk with each other and those passing by. For me, these seven nights have been the highlight of the program. There is something powerful about the energy we have as a group when we are out in Boston, holding our light up letters, encouraging people to take photos, post on social media, and sign our petition. While we have seen our campaign spread to new territories this week and finally gain more momentum, it has also given our group the opportunity to strengthen the relationships we have already built with one another over these past two months.
After the hour of our light brigade is up, many of us walked away feeling more excited and hopeful for the future of our campaign. This was felt on the first night when we were in Boston Common, and only continued to grow as the nights went on.
Tonight is our final night of the light brigade. There will be reporters, volunteers, the organizing fellows, and those walking by who choose to join us. I am excited to see how our our peaceful art demonstration will further the momentum of our campaign, in these final weeks and beyond.
WEEK 5-- With the end of our summer program in sight, our conversations have primarily talked about the messaging and future of our campaign. After the teach-in a few weeks ago, we were unsure of how to continue the momentum of our project. With so many opinions and directions to consider, Alyssa Lee, our facilitator, commented that these discussions were some of the most honest and real conversations that she has ever been apart of in the organizing world. We brainstormed, debated, and revisited our goals for the program multiple times before finally coming up with the plan:
- Focus on recruiting volunteers.
- Educate the public about our campaign.
- Strengthen our relationships within the the Aquarium.
The Outreach team --Baelyn, Franchesca, and Gracie-- sent emails to those who had expressed interest in volunteering to gauge whether they wanted to be involved in our campaign. The responses were varied. Some people said they were busy and, sadly, only few said they were able to commit their time. While I was not directly involved in the volunteer recruitment process, hearing their journey and struggles really put into perspective how difficult it is to engage volunteers.
In the midst of the struggle to recruit supporters, Iris, a woman temporarily living in Boston, accidentally found her way into the Democracy Center. While her intent was not to learn about our work, she was very interested in hearing about our campaign and wanted to get involved. We did not expect her to walk into the Nelson Mandela room, but we were happy to gain our first volunteer that day. Baelyn Duffy, one of the outreach fellows, said that it was inspiring to see how with Iris’ initial, albeit brief, knowledge of the campaign, she was very excited to learn more and wanted to help out in any way she could. We were all in agreement that Iris renewed our hopes in gaining additional volunteers for our campaign and meeting her motivated us to work even harder to reach potential volunteers.
Feeling more hopeful, the outreach fellows continued to contact individuals about our upcoming volunteer meeting, Gracie mentioned that as the day grew closer, and the number of people who pledged their attendance remained stagnant, she expressed concerns that the volunteer meeting would be a failed attempt at recruitment. However, she was pleasantly surprised that many attendees were interested in becoming more involved in the campaign after the meeting. Baelyn also noted that the volunteer session also helped the fellows prepare for future gatherings, like the wildly successful Community Potluck we held a few days ago.
In these final weeks at BFP, we are turning to the community to support our campaign’s momentum. If you would like to become involved, please indicate your interest here. With the addition of your voice and passion, we are confident that the conversation we started during our campaign will be able to continue.
WEEK 4-- I’m a beach person. Some people are mountain people, others like lakes, but over the years, I’ve discovered that I’m drawn to the beach. I am unsure if this stems from my California roots or my mother’s appreciation of the sea, but nonetheless, I love the feeling of wind blowing against my face and sand between my toes; I love the smell of salty air and the sound of seagulls as they fly up and down the shore, and despite living on a coast, I had yet to explore the beaches around Boston. I, along with many of the fellows, found myself missing the salty air and the crash of waves, so we collectively planned a trip to Revere Beach.
Revere Beach may not have the best reputation, but it is easily accessible by the T, Boston’s public transit system, which was our only requirement. After a quick internet search, I was surprised by how historic this destination was. Revere Beach is the country’s first public beach and was established in 1896. Since it is easily accessible by the public transit system, this historic coastal town makes for the perfect weekend escape for many city locals.
We rode the the Blue Line to its last stop: Wonderland, which I’ve found to be a mysterious destination. During my time in Boston, I have learned that few regularly ride the Blue Line and even fewer have rode it to its very last stop. When I heard of the “Wonderland” stop, I imagined a utopia, where there are lush plants and butterflies as far as the eye can see. Others say they pictured Alice in Wonderland’s home, where a rabbit hole connects the T stop to an imaginary world. While we knew these weren’t realistic expectations, we were still curious about what the Wonderland stop would reveal.
As we exited the T, we were overjoyed by the sight of sand and ocean. We walked along the beach, feeling the sand between our toes, until we found an open area to lay our towels down. We read, we laughed, and some of us were even brave enough to take a plunge into the ice cold water. Even though the water was cold and there was quite a bit of wind along the coast, we were able to experience the beach day that we had been wanting for so long. I realize that “this” is what I love about being in Boston over the summer. I am able to explore new places, experience the outdoors, and enjoy it all with a new group of people!
Written by Courtney Foster*
As a 2016 summer fellow, I had neither a background in organizing, nor in climate justice work. I had spent my previous two summers working in a biogeochemistry laboratory, and although I gained valuable experience there, I was excited to work in a community built on interpersonal relationships. Via coursework, I learned about environmental and climate justice issues, but I had yet to apply myself to fighting against them. My summer with the Better Future Project allowed me to delve deeply into learning about these problems and their effects on marginalized communities and set me on a new path, one where I would strive to center these struggles in the work I would do in the future.
Returning as a senior fellow this year, I hoped to pass down some of my knowledge about climate justice and campaigning, but most of all, I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that this summer's fellows could have an equally transformative experience. However, my role as "supervisor" quickly fades into the background when I see that I’m just as much a learner as I am a teacher. The countless discussions with the other fellows have furthered my knowledge about justice, and my commitment to working for it. In addition, I have become more organized and better equipped to prepare and map out long-term projects, not just for myself, but for a team. These skills will serve me in all aspects of my life.
Change-making is not without its dull moments and its confusion, its drudgery and its messy array of twists and turns. However, I've come to see that with a sustained and concerted effort, change can happen for those who stick with it throughout the process. That's a lesson I'll take with me wherever I go, and perhaps the summer fellows will too.
*This week’s blog post is written by Courtney Foster, a rising senior at Bates College, who participated in BFP’s Climate Summer Program last July. Courtney returned this year to advise and guide as a senior fellow. “My Experience in the Climate Movement” is the first of three guest blog posts that will be highlighted over the next couple of weeks.
WEEK 3-- Last weekend, we experienced an exciting shift from planning our campaign to actually launching it. On Sunday, we held our first teach-in to collect petition signatures and educate the public about our campaign. We arrived early, applied copious amounts of sunscreen, and filled our bottles with ice cold water to prepare for the long day ahead.
I began the day with a clipboard in hand, standing between a street light and a bus stop, with the goal of collecting signatures for our petition. However, this was definitely easier said than done. I experienced rejection and dismissal, and at first, the experience was quite discouraging. A man driving by our teach-in even made the effort to pull over, approach us, and tell us why are arguments were false and invalid. I knew not everyone was going to support our campaign or be interested in hearing our thoughts, but even so, I was astonished by how quickly many individuals spurned our ideas.
After an hour and a half of petitioning, I collected my first signature. It was amazing to finally have someone reply “Yes!” when I asked if they were interested in learning more about climate justice. One of the fellows, Jordan Mudd, stated that "the most rewarding aspect of petitioning is when someone who didn't know about your campaign gets really excited about it.” This insight really helped him to re-energize and remember why he was putting in the work. Many of us shared this feeling throughout the day. Likewise, once I collected that first signature, I was confident in asking strangers if they wanted to learn about our campaign. Franchesca Araujo, another fellow, also noted that she was disheartened by those who did not see urgency in how climate change affects people, especially those who are most vulnerable. However, she thinks it is important to “focus and cherish those who do care and feel that sense of urgency.”
The main lessons I learned from this experience were:
People love signing petitions.
People like empowering the younger generation.
People want to feel like they are making a difference.
While some people do not care about climate justice, many do, and that is what is important to remember!
Outreach fellow Baelyn Duffy describes her experience this past Sunday as motivating, especially when those signing our petition thanked us for the work we were doing. As Franchesca said before, the energy of the public was at times discouraging, but when we did receive their support, it helped us continue to ask for signatures. After four sweaty, empowering hours, we collected over 200 signatures and walked away feeling excited about the momentum of our campaign.
WEEK 2-- This summer, I am living in Central Square through housing provided by Better Future Project. My hosts, Steve and Sally, learned about the program through their involvement in the 350 Massachusetts Cambridge node and were eager to offer their home to a BFP fellow. Both have been activists since the 1960’s and are still demonstrating their involvement in the community today! Living with them has been a great opportunity to learn more about the history of Cambridge and the unique way it shaped their beliefs.
After breakfast conversations with Steve and Sally, I walk twenty minutes along the Charles River, amongst the commuting cars and ferocious bikers, and make my way to the Democracy Center. The grey wooden-frame building is a former Harvard fraternity, which has been transformed into a community gathering space. The Democracy Center has an interesting layout, with rooms that still retain its original character. Gone are the fraternity relics, replaced with folding chairs arranged in a circle, and bright green walls are covered with large campaign organizing posters. Each of the rooms in the Democracy Center are named after historical activists and feature their portraits: Rosa Parks; Cesar Chavez; and Nelson Mandela. The majority of our time is spent working together in Nelson Mandela’s room. Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I often meditate on this quote as we begin our work each day and I’m reminded just how important education is in creating change.
We begin our day by sitting in a circle and checking in with each other about our weekends, our feelings, and what we hope to accomplish that day. Sometimes we meditate as a group, other times we sing, but no matter what activity we choose, by coming together and starting our day in a communal space, we are able to understand how the group is feeling. While the check in is only part of our morning routine, we continue to check in with each other as we collaborate throughout the day. A simple “How are you?” is commonly heard throughout the often hectic work day at BFP.
There are days when I feel overwhelmed by the weight of our discussions, but just as often I walk home with a sense of empowerment. The sun setting along the Charles River is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day and think about all that was accomplished.
Through this blog, Isabel Falls, a Sociology and Environmental Studies major at Tufts University, will provide her experience and perspective about the Climate Organizing Summer Program. She is excited to be a part of this program because it enables her to continue to learn about the intersections between human rights and environmental changes.
WEEK 1-- After a week of campaign case studies, dips in the lake, endless card games, and nights around the bonfire, the ten Better Future Project (BFP) fellows found ourselves in Harvard Square for our first week of work. We found it strange, yet exciting, to be back together, talking about campaigns and social issues, after initially meeting at Camp Wilmot in New Hampshire. During this week long training away from the hustle and bustle of city life, we sang, we discussed, and we bonded like no other group I’d ever been a part of. While our trainings ranged from talking about group intentions to learning about movement theory, a few highlights included discussions led by Craig Altemose, the co-founder and Executive Director of Better Future Project, the structure of movements, the tools necessary to create an effective campaign, and the process of creating realistic and attainable goals.
One of the most important trainings revolved around our own self-interests. At Camp Wilmot, we dedicated significant time to discussing our individual interests and how we feel personally connected to the climate justice movement. These discussions not only brought us closer, but they helped frame our campaign, ensuring that our messaging speaks to everyone. By distancing ourselves from the distractions of technology, we became more present in our discussions and were able to form the connections we needed to create a supportive and encouraging community for the rest of the summer.
We hope you continue to follow our journey over the next few months as we highlight what we learn, our relationship with Better Future Project, and the impact of the program. If you are interested, we encourage you to learn more about our campaign by clicking here.
This summer Better Future Project welcomes 10 talented and dedicated Climate Organizing Fellows and two Senior Fellows. Our fellows represent eight colleges and are passionate about a variety of climate justice issues.
Aviva Kardener, Tufts University
"I chose to participate in the BFP Climate Organizing Summer Program this summer because it offers an incredible opportunity to try my hand at community organizing with an incredible group of activist peers."
Amber Houghstow, Harvard University
"I chose to participate in the BFP Climate Organizing Summer Program this summer because I wanted to learn how to become an effective climate organizer. I believe this learning process is the best way to maximize my life-long impact."
"I care about environmental justice because climate change is violent and political. Going to college in Iowa, I have seen some of the ways fossil fuel companies and corporate agriculture poison rural areas and push low-income and indigenous communities out of their homes. This summer I hope to learn how I can most effectively organize against this corporate power."
Gracie Jackson, Clark University
"Climate justice has struck my interest because as a psych major, I hope to connect with people to create positive growth not only in their personal lives but in the environments that make it possible. Working in climate justice allows me to examine the intersections between human rights and standing up to the non-renewable energy industries that cause this oppression."
Isabel Falls, Tufts University
"I am excited to be part of the BFP Fellowship because I am able to continue to examine the intersections between human rights and environmental changes and this program has already enabled me to continue to explore these intersections."
Phillip Brown, Clark University
"I am participating in the BFP program because after having seen the devastating effects of climate change in my home country of Jamaica, I knew I had to receive the proper training and experience to fight for disproportionately marginalized communities around the globe."
"I believe that the fight against climate change also combats many other atrocities - racial inequality, the refugee crisis, and corporate power (to name a few), which is why I find my work with BFP to be so important."
Baelyn Duffy, Saint Anselm College
"I became interested in climate change after watching a documentary which highlighted just how serious the issue is. I knew immediately that I had to take action, and an internship for a climate change organization (BFP) seemed like a great first step!"
"I chose to participate in the BFP summer program because it is an amazing opportunity to be working with passionate people committed to learning effective climate justice organizing centered around the impact of climate change on frontline communities."
Franchesca Araujo, Boston College
"I'm committed to climate justice and the ways in which black and brown communities, domestically and globally, continue to lead and pioneer the fight for environmental justice. I am excited about this campaign because it gives us a unique opportunity to understand that climate change is inherently about social justice, and to acknowledge which communities are disproportionately affected by the fossil fuel industry yet ignored by the mainstream dialogue."